Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eee, great!

I have previously blogged about the inevitable half-hour queue to enter Qatar after arriving by air. More recently, I noted the tendency of Immigration officials to find a fresh page in my passport every time they want to apply a stamp. The way to avoid both of these is to have an E-Gate card, a magic piece of plastic that speeds the bearer’s way through immigration and avoids a passport stamp.

Given that immediately after the Eid Al Fitr holiday, the entire population of Qatar will attempt to enter Doha through the same passport control and the queue will be out of the door and halfway to Wakrah, I really wanted to deal with this before my next international trip. And the government will be shut all next week, so today was the last available day.

According to the Firm’s Human Resources department, the procedure for obtaining an E-Gate card “is easy, and takes about five minutes,” so off I naïvely trotted.

1. Go to Doha International Airport
I parked, then asked the security guard at the door to Departures. He directed me down there to the right where, sure enough, was a door and a large bilingual sign: “E-Gate Card Issuing Office”. Bingo. The door was locked, so I asked someone in uniform when the office opened. “Eight o’clock, but it’s Ramadan, so...”

At a quarter to nine, having observed several other would-be applicants knocking on the door like cats stuck outside in the rain, I asked another man in uniform.

“They don’t do E-Gate cards here. You have to go to the Ministry of the Interior Immigration Department.”

It is beyond the wit of Man to erect a sign to that effect, or at least to remove the existing misleading sign.

2. Immigration Department – Door No. 1
Having paid the ludicrous parking charges for my stay in the airport parking, I headed off to Madinat Khalifa to look for the elusive parking space. Traffic signs direct Immigration customers through the forecourt of a petrol station, and the adjacent roads are emblazoned with “No Waiting” signs, even where there is marked on-street parking. One road is signposted as a one-way street, but it’s a cul-de-sac. So crazy, it’s like living in a Monty Python sketch.

Behind Door No. 1 was a seething mass of humanity. There was nobody at Reception, so I queued at the nearby desk and eventually got to ask for an E-Gate card. “Typing,” said the man behind the counter. “Outside.”

3. Typing
Outside was, of course, devoid of typists. I spotted a sign advertising “Typing, Cafeteria & Studio” and headed over there. Again, it was a zoo, but I finally found the one bloke behind a desk who, when he wasn’t busy doing the male equivalent of the shayla dance, checked my ID card, called up my details, printed these on to a form, and charged me QR8.

4. Door No. 1
Back to Mr Outside. This time he directed me to another desk. It seems Mr Outside works for a bank, and undertakes cashier services only. But he couldn’t tell me that the first time, could he?

5. The Business End
At the actual Reception I eventually made my way to the front of a Middle East queue (50 ft wide, 2 people deep) and explained that I wanted an E-Gate card. I was issued with a number and directed to sit and wait.

6. Biometric Data
My number came up, but it then turned out that I first needed to get mugshots, iris scans and fingerprints done. This is exactly as was clearly not explained to me by the bloke at Reception. Over to the booths where a very nice bint in black inspected my ID card, called up my details, and then directed me to stand and provide exactly the same set of biometric data that is already on the system. Why? For crying out loud, why? What is the point of collecting a duplicate set of iris scans?

7. The Business End – again
After going back to Reception, getting a second ticket, waiting, and finally approaching the desk with my form, I had almost finished. The man in white behind the counter needed to see my ID card; the same thing that I’d already shown at Typing and Biometric. Now he charged me QR300.

“Just a minute, it’s QR200 for the E-Gate card. I don’t want anything else.”

“But we will upgrade your ID card with a chip in it, and that’s an extra QR100. Next year the ID card will be combined with the E-Gate card, driving licence, and health card.”

I see: an Ident-I-Eze card.

Then 20 minutes into the “five-minute wait”, I was handed my new ID card which now incorporates the E-Gate information, and instructed to activate it at the machine “over there.”

Job done. Three and three-quarter hours, this “five-minute” job took. I have had to pay an additional QR100 to replace an ID card only two weeks after it was originally issued. The general roll-out of ID/E-Gate combined is scheduled for next year, so I get it early. But if chipped smart cards are available, why didn’t I get one a fortnight ago?

Summary: How to do it right.
1. Immigration Dept, Madinat Khalifa.
2. Go to Typing.
3. Show ID card and get a printed form.
4. Go to Door No 1.
5. Show ID card at booth. Mugshots, dabs and iris scans.
6. Go to Reception and get a number.
7. Show ID card, pay the money, get the new ID/E-Gate card.
8. Activate the E-Gate part at the machine by the door.
9. Get back to your life.



Anonymous said...

What a marvelous contribution you have made to the expat community in Doha....tmil says you should receive a medal of the highest order by providing the "process."

Seabee said...

I't always the same Mr Goat, no way to find out what to do until you try to do it. Only then do you find out there's stuff to do you didn't know about.

We need to compile an extensive guidebook of the 'What To Do Step By Step' for each of the Gulf States...

Grumpy Goat said...

I agree that such a book would be invaluable, Seabee, and I once found one for the UAE. Unfortunately it had gone out of date within a few months of publication.

A single electronic version with regular updates is a way forward. This would be immensely helpful except for those looking to find out how to obtain internet connectivity. Personal experience indicates that government ministry websites, (the horse's mouth as it were), are almost universally either broken or out of date.

Perusing the expat forums can be helpful, but the issue is one of keeping the information up to date.

Martín said...

I have to get a new passport from my country. I-do-not-want. But I knew that before reading your post... =/


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