Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: All Taped Up

Every country in the world has its own version of “red tape” – the paperwork and bureaucracy that go with trying to manage millions of people.

I’ve always thought that South Africa was particularly good at red tape. Plenty of forms, plenty of queues, plenty of hassle, plenty of opportunities to drive you insane. The UAE however, has bureaucracy “all taped up” - here administration of paperwork is practically an art form.

There are a few major things that most expatriates in the Abu Dhabi have to have. One is a residence visa, another is a health card and of course, your labour card. You will probably also need a drivers license.

The ease of getting things done here depends very much on whom your employer is and how helpful they are in getting you organised. My husband works for the military, and there helpful varies on a day to day basis. Only one thing is for definite. You will probably need double the paperwork.

Let’s start with getting your residence visa. You need to get a job offer first. Getting your job offer confirmed probably means they will need attested and authenticated copies of your qualifications. This means you have to get this sorted before you leave.

In South Africa, this involves a few steps: To get them authenticated, you have to go to the High Court, and somebody will stamp them and bind them with a pretty little ribbon. Then you have to go to the Department of Consular Affairs, who will also stamp them, and tie another pretty little ribbon around them. You may also need to go to the Department of Home Affairs to get unabridged copies of your birth certificate and marriage certificate. In some cases, you may also have to go to the Police to get a police clearance certificate.

Then you have to go the United Arab Emirates embassy and get all of this stamped and what-have-you’d all over again.

Once you have your job offer, you need to organize yourself a residence visa. This is fairly simple. You need to get a copy of your passport (a certified copy of course) and a copy of your job contract. And some passport photos. Always remember to bring double the quantity the request on the form. They will take them all. You will need to have a blood test done too. Take the paperwork plus the blood test results and submit them to the Immigration department.

The forms will then be typed up in Arabic. This can often be a problem as some of the typing ladies can barely speak English, and getting the correct information on to the forms can take a while. Then you need to purchase your e-dirhams. This is a kind of “smart money” – like a prepaid phone card, except for cash. Because government offices no longer accept cash, cheques or credit cards. Its e-dirhams only. Then hand the forms in to get checked and approved. Then, once this is done, you hand them in and wait for it to be ready. This should take 2 – 3 days. Inshallah of course.

Just a note on the passport photographs. You will need plenty of them. Some people have at least 20 on standby at all times. It is never enough. This explains why there are hundreds of tiny photography studios all over the city.

We worked it out – we think that over the last year, my husband has submitted at least 30 passport photos to various places. No one quite knows what they do with them all….

Then you decide you’d like to bring your family over to join you. To get them residence visas you will need:

  • A copy of your passport (one for each application)
  • A copy of your residence visa (one for each application)
  • A certificate of no objection from your employer (basically this says that your sponsor has no objection to you sponsoring your family)
  • A salary letter (again, one for each application)
  • Your marriage certificate (authenticated of course). You must also have had your marriage certificate translated into Arabic by an official translation service.
  • Your children’s birth certificates (authenticated and translated)
  • At least 4 passport photos of each family member
  • Your spouse must have a blood test too, and the results must also be attached

Then it’s the drill of having the forms typed in Arabic, submitting them and waiting. For three months in our case, because of some or other delay.

Delays happen. But don’t expect anyone to get uptight about it. If you query anything, you will be greeted with a lovely smile, and told that it will happen “inshallah.” The smile, I suppose, is at least an improvement over South African government services.

And basically every time you do anything you will need some or all of the above. From getting a drivers licence (residence visa, copy & translation of original drivers license, blood test, no objection certificate, passport photos) to opening a bank account (residence visa, no objection certificate, salary letter).

They love red tape here. The more forms you have and the more passport photos you submit, the better.

And I haven’t even touched on the complications of getting a visit visa for family, or applying for any of your benefits if you work for the military. Each is likely to require at least 10 pieces of paper.

So if you plan on working in Abu Dhabi. Come prepared. With lots of money for photocopies, and plenty of patience. And lots and lots of passport photographs.

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