Sunday, June 24, 2012

Exeamus omnes

The fact that Residence Permit (RP) holders have to obtain an Exit Permit each and every time they wish to leave the State of Qatar renders the place, essentially, a comfortable open prison. The basic idea of the exit permit is that nobody can leave without someone standing in and agreeing to pay the debts of the resident who's off on his hols, or going to Dubai to see his Beloved Wife for the weekend.

What renders this system ludicrous is that, for an additional fee, a Multiple Exit permit is obtainable at a cost of QAR500 and valid for a year. Putting aside for the moment the new rule that cancelling an existing multiple exit permit now costs an additional QAR500, which wasn't advertised at the time and is certainly not something The Goat signed up for, there seem to have been some additional changes.

Last weekend, The Goat attempted to leave the country with a suitcase full of some of his worldly goods. He used his ID card at the e-gate, and nothing happened. Now the e-gate facility coded on to The Goat's ID card should be valid for three years from August 2011, and it has functioned faultlessly on 23 occasions. The last two had some problems 'with the system' but the reader eventually decided to let The Goat out and back in again.

Last Thursday was a different story. After a total refusal of any e-gate machine to read the card, The Goat was forced to present his passport and lose yet another page to ink. The immigration official advised what the problem was: the exit permit was valid for passport only, and not for e-gate.

The Goat checked with an Emirati friend who had contacts in Qatari officialdom. Perceived wisdom from that source was that The Goat's sponsor had attempted to prevent The Goat from leaving the country and/or had screwed up the paperwork.

After returning to Qatar, The Goat checked with the firm's HR department, where he was told in No Uncertain Terms that any changes caused by HR to his permission to leave the country would have been advised in advance, but no, there were no known changes in Immigration systems.

So which is it? As usual, The Goat merely seeks knowledge of what the rules are, and what has caused a perfectly good e-gate permit suddenly to become a waste of money. And if you, dear reader, have an e-gate card, you might well be interested in learning if you need to do something about ensuring you can escape from Qatar before turning up at the airport.

The poll has now closed and the results are in.
  • 86% reckoned that Immigration had changed the rules and not told anyone.
  • 14% suggested a new conspiracy theory that the Goat hadn't considered.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Taxi? Duh, me

The single biggest obstacle to exporting my motor vehicles yesterday wasn’t the paperwork or the payment. It was transport. I had to get both the bike and the car up to Doha’s industrial area and then pick up a rental car and get to work.

As the container terminal opens at 7am, I set off early, arrived, and dumped the bike. Then I looked for transport back to town to collect my car. Obviously there are no taxis patrolling the grotty, potholed streets of the industrial area at 7:30. I walked a kilometre or so past rows of wrecked cars jostling with new and used excavators to the Jeep workshop, and phoned Karwa for an immediate taxi.

After spending 20 minutes being lied to by a recording about how my call was important, I was advised that: “No taxi available until 12:15.”

How useless is that? The only taxi firm in the country, and every car in the entire fleet is booked solid for nearly five hours. The joys of a monopoly service provider. No, I don’t believe it either.

Eventually, one of the myriad illegal, unmarked, private taxis stopped, and I got  rather expensive ride back to town, grabbed my car, and repeated the entire process.

Again, I waited outside the Jeep workshop. This time I was able to flag down an actual official Karwa taxi, with a meter and air conditioning  and everything. The driver confirmed that Karwa’s call centre was next to useless, and he was fed up with being berated by customers for being half an hour late when the call centre had only given him the pickup information two minutes previously.

In the ancient olden days, Doha’s taxi fleet consisted of millions of wobbly-wheeled orange-and-white cars, erratically piloted by Afghani shepherds. They were very cheap and, crucially, in plentiful supply. It was virtually impossible to walk anywhere in Doha without being tooted: obviously any pedestrian is in need of a ride. Qatar’s effort to make the place a little more upmarket resulted in all these mobile traffic offences being removed from the roads and replaced by a fleet of shiny new powder-blue Karwa taxis. The trouble is that the overall budget appears to have remained unchanged. Instead of millions of crappy cars, Doha now has a fleet of about nineteen shiny ones.

I have complained to Karwa about the inadequacy of the taxi fleet and the booking system whose effectiveness varies from erratic to non-existent. It’s basically a waste of oxygen, and the only benificiary is Qtel. The best answer I ever received was that more taxis were coming soon. Not that this would help my need for one tomorrow at some obscure hour of the morning. (So early, in fact, that the sparrows wouldn’t have even finished their sprout masala.)

I have basically given up on taxis. A pre-booked car has never, ever arrived on time. When I attempted to book an 6am trip to the airport I was told that no cars were available before 8am. When I tried to book 48 hours in advance I was told to call back tomorrow. I’m renting a car for my last month in Qatar in preference to attempting to use the dysfunctional abomination masquerading as a public transport system.

And last night when I emerged from City Centre Doha at around midnight I found what has been going wrong. All nineteen Karwa taxis were queued up outside, plus numerous private limousines. Ah, so this is where they all hide. No wonder I can seldom find a taxi at the other side of town.


Sunday, June 10, 2012


I’m currently navigating the appallingly complex set of rules, procedures and opinions required to export my worldly goods to Dubai. There may be light at the end of that particular tunnel, even though it seems that the solution is to hurl massive sums of money at the problem.

Officialdom, eh? I wonder what it is that turns normal, well-adjusted citizens into misanthropic sociopaths the moment they don a uniform? I went shopping on Saturday. After the atrocious tragedy that was the Villagio fire, that particular shopping mall has been closed, and thus there is a massive shopping mall shortage in Doha. Consequently, up at Landmark the parking areas are full to overflowing and there are cars abandoned all around the mall on any piece of flattish ground that’s within a reasonable walking distance of air-conditioned comfort.

I turned up on my motorbike. Unsurprisingly, all the underground parking bays were occupied, and cars had been abandoned on raised hardstandings and double-parked in aisles. So I asked the uniformed security guard if I could park my bike just here, in an unoccupied corner next to the door. He was adamant that I could not, and dismissed me with an instruction to go and find a space.

I’m surely perfectly entitled to park my motorbike in a car space, of course, and if I’d turned up as the sole occupant of a car there’d be no fuss. But with such a busy car park, isn’t it to everybody’s advantage that I park my bike somewhere that can’t be used by a car? Notwithstanding the outrage of someone who can’t park his Hummer because the only available space is full of motorbike. Unfortunately, the legal position  is unclear. I have heard of tickets being issued to motorbikes “parked illegally in a car space”, and also to motorbikes parked in alleys and on footways because “they should have been parked in a marked space”. At a different mall I have been instructed to “park here” and “no not here; you must park over there” by the same security guard.

My guess is that the security guard has no power over folk who simply abandon their cars in the aisles, and therefore chooses to take out his frustration on the one mall customer who has the courtesy to ask him where he should park his bike.

A similar thing happened a couple of weeks ago over at the Pearl. A group of us bikers rolled into our usual parking area and were shooed away by Security, as this area had been designated for valet parking only. Never mind the cars that had been abandoned there. After we moved to an unoccupied area beneath an adjacent building, more Security arrived and told us that we couldn’t leave our bikes there either. The security guard suggested an alternative place to park but, when this turned out to be a bus stop with an enormous “No Parking” sign, we went back to our original parking area and the rather embarrassed security guard drove away.

In other news, my landlord has decided to be awkward. Obviously I have to vacate the premises, have an inspection done, and then get my security deposit returned. Let’s work backwards.

  • I have to close my bank account before I leave the country.
  • I need a bank account in order to pay in the security deposit cheque.
  • It will take my landlord up to two weeks after final inspection before the cheque is issued.
  • I have to vacate on or before the date of final inspection.

So where do I live? The Ramada? Bates Motel? Someone’s sofa? I’ve already paid rent up to 14th July and I have to leave within a week of my residence permit being cancelled. Allowing a couple of days for the bank to handle cheque clearance and account closure, I will become homeless on 21st June. I’m suspicious that my landlord is not satisfied with three weeks’ rent paid on an empty flat, but seeks to delay issuing the security deposit cheque until after I’ve demobilised and he can grab a further month’s-worth of free money. Maybe I should sell all the furniture from this fully-furnished flat and let him keep the deposit.

Further demobilising expenses involve the multiple-exit permit. This cost me QAR500 and is valid until August 2012. But I can’t have my residence permit cancelled until after the multi-exit is cancelled. And that now costs QAR500. I never signed up to a cancellation fee; this is a new thing dreamed up by da Gubmint a couple of months ago. It’s a ploy to discourage multiple-exit permits, so the reasoning behind punishing people who are trying to cancel is unclear. I can’t simply let it expire, as my residence permit has to be cancelled before that expires in July.

Ever get the feeling that you’re being ripped off at every turn?


Saturday, June 02, 2012

'tardy responses

The last thing I probably need at the moment is more stress, yet this is what I've chosen to inflict on myself. It all relates to the demobilisation process.

Long story short: I don't want to sell my bike; I don't want to sell my car. As there is evidently a process for exporting motor vehicles (why else would export plates exist?), I want to export my vehicles from Qatar to the UAE.

International transfer of motor vehicles is always exciting. For some reason, there has to be a massive pile of paperwork. Some of this relates to ensuring that a car manufactured for one market is acceptable for use in a different market. There are certain fundamentals such as where the steering wheel is, and whether the rear indicators are orange or red and combined with the brake lights.

Updating this post on 5th June, inserted below are my latest findings. Look for the italics.

I did this once before, and have learned my lesson. "Hi, Mr DHL. Here's my motorbike and a big wad of cash. Please deliver it to me in Qatar." appears simple enough, but in practice required that I constantly monitored progress and poked DHL at regular intervals to get the process moving again.

This time, I'm going the other way: Qatar to UAE. It occurred to me that if I put the bike on a trailer and towed it to Dubai behind the car, I could move house with a minimum of fuss. It's not as if a 700km drive is any big deal, after all. But between here and there lies the magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Obviously I have to de-register the car and bike and get them on export plates. These are valid for ten days. Then I need a transit visa so that I'm allowed to enter the KSA, which I'm only allowed to do provided I promise to leave again. No problem.

I suspected that the procedure would be fraught with obstacles, so I started to ask for information. There are many, many people and organisations in Qatar whose job is to arrange import and export, so one might have imagined that someone would know how to do what is fundamentally a very simple process.

"Trailers not permitted." So the money I've spent getting a towbar fitted is a waste. Bugger. I guess I'll not be lashing out thousands of riyals on a bike trailer. In any case, this 'no trailers' thing is surely patent nonsense; I know several rally teams who successfully move cars and bikes between Qatar and the UAE by road, and they use trailers.

You have to go through an authorised agent to get a Saudi visa. Mine told me that there was absolutely no problem with towing a trailer. The small matter of the trailer cropped up after I'd spoken to a helpful gentleman in the Saudi embassy consular section about why my transit by motorcycle had been refused. After I'd told the agent his response to me, the agent called me back and advised that when I'd been told, "Motorbike? No problem," what I should have been told was, "Motorbike? Impossible."

"Cannot own a vehicle in UAE unless you have a residence visa." This is more of a poser, but luckily I have a Beloved Wife who can own vehicles, and she's resident in Dubai.

There remains some debate about importing more than one vehicle, but as it's a car and a bike and not two cars, this is - at least today - not a problem.

"Your wife must come to Qatar and bring a letter of No Objection stamped by the Embassy." What a lot of rot. If you don't know, why do you insist on making stuff up?

It seems that in order to transport her vehicles over land, a Power of Attorney letter from Beloved Wife is required. This is obtained from a Qatar court, or a UAE court, or I can do it on the basis of Beloved Wife's written No Objection to her husband handling matters. Which version is true depends on who's spouting it.

"Cannot transfer ownership in Qatar unless both parties have Qatar residence." A more senior Captain over at the Traffic Police said that this was nonsense, and having a copy of the purchaser's passport and visa would be sufficient.

"Cannot drive without permission of the owner." Well I'd better get a letter of permission, then. Duh.

As above. Power of Attorney letter is required - in Arabic - for land transportation. It's not required for transport by sea, because then Saudi isn't involved.

"Cannot enter UAE without visa." Visa on arrival.

"Cannot leave Qatar by road because your exit permit is only valid for leaving by air." Well I guess I'll have to get a 'Leaving Qatar by Road' exit permit.

There is no difference. It's an exit permit. Period.

"Cannot register bike unless you have UAE residence and a motorbike licence." So it'll have to wait until I've got UAE residence then. I can't get that until after my Qatar residence has been cancelled, and I can't cancel Qatar until after dealing with all of the business.

Having asked about a dozen different professionals in the export business and got nearly a score of different answers, here is what I believe to be the definitive list of Things To Do. It is based on getting the same story from senior people in several different offices:-
  1. Letter from Beloved Wife confirming permission to driver her motorbike.
  2. Copy of Beloved Wife's passport and UAE residence visa.
  3. Go to Traffic Police in Doha and get export plates and transit insurance for the bike.
  4. Ensure export certificate is in Beloved Wife's name.
  5. Go to Doha Port with original sales invoice, original import paperwork that proves that import duty was paid when the bike first entered a Gulf country, Certificate of Origin, export certificate. All vehicles more than two years old are subject to 5% tax based on current assessed value.
  6. Obtain Bayat Al Maqasa, a certificate stating that all taxes are paid. But this is a worthless document if the vehicle is more than two years old.
At this point it would be possible to load the bike into a container, on to the back of a truck, or on to a ferry. However...
  1. Take export certificate and passport to company Public Relations Officer.
  2. Obtain company No Objection to my riding Beloved Wife's bike from Qatar to UAE through KSA. (Essentially this is an Arabic translation of Beloved Wife's letter).
  3. Obtain one-use KSA transit visa. No. Motorbike forbidden.
  4. Obtain exit permit for overland travel. Cancelled.
  5. Load personal effects on to the bike, and travel. Cancelled.
Upon arrival in Dubai, fly back to Qatar and repeat the entire process with the car.

All futile. Can't get Arabic Power of Attorney letter because nobody will say which version is acceptable, and thus overland transport is out of the question. So it looks like Mr Hobson is going to put everything in 20-ft box and float it over to Jebel Ali at phenomenal expense.

Wish me luck.

When all this is over, I'll post the actual procedure in the naive hope that someone else trying to pull the same stunt will be confronted with the same hurdles.



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