Friday, January 20, 2006

Paperwork in Dubai

A very important part of the decision to allow foreigners to own property was to offer Residence Visas to owners. Prior to this the only way one could live in Dubai was to have a job, with the employer being the sponsor for the Residence Visa. Under the freehold decision, the Master Developer is the sponsor. A slight snag is that they can only sponsor one person, so if the property is in joint names, as ours is, only the first-named owner can be sponsored. The system is that I had to go with ETA Star, my developer, to the Master Developer, Emaar. ETA Star had to show the paperwork and confirm that I was registered with them as the owner. On our previous visit to Dubai we’d spent time with the visa section at Emaar researching what the system was, what we had to do, what it cost, we’d collected the necessary forms and so on. So I was ready with forms completed, money transfer in hand, photocopies of my passport, extra passport photos and all the other paraphernalia they needed.

Inevitably in Dubai, there was a small snag. They said my visit visa should have a hand-written number under it, which Immigration at the airport never bother to add, and it could mean that Immigration Head Office wouldn’t issue my Residence Visa as a result. So that meant a drive to the airport to the Immigration office, explain to the officer what I needed, put up with him grumbling that it wasn’t necessary, wait while he checked the computer and finally wrote the number on my visit visa.

The Visit Visas were for 60 days so I needed to get things moving, but Murphy’s Law was in place again of course. We’d originally been told the apartment was ready to take over in September. I was literally on the internet sorting out flights and hotel when an e-mail came in to say it was delayed a month. That meant we arrived two days before the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset – it’s tough, nothing, but nothing, must pass their lips during daylight hours – food, water, cigarette smoke, nothing. As a result, working hours are cut back to mornings only and very little gets done…and that’s especially true of government employees, just like public servants all over the world. That was going to make it extra difficult to get all the paperwork and services we needed to sort out – Residence Visa being the most vital. Without the Residence Visa you can’t get anything else –not only utility connections which ETA Star had so kindly sorted out for us, but driving licence, without which you can’t buy a car, you can’t open a bank account, get a PO Box (mail isn’t home-delivered), get a credit card, and of course without a credit card there’s so much you can’t do because people don’t trust you, and so on.

ETA Star’s client services person said it would take at least a week for them to process the paperwork which I needed to prove we were the owners. But the manager at our apartment block said leave it to him, he’d sort it out. He did too, he was back the next day with the paperwork and we went to Emaar visa section. We’d been told it would take at least two weeks for the temporary visa, then there’s a medical to be done, cards to be issued, then it all goes back to Immigration for the permanent visa to be stamped in your passport, which was estimated to be at least another week. Add to that the fact that it was Ramadan and you could probably double the time it would take. However, to my amazement, four days after I’d lodged the application Emaar rang to say the visa was ready for me to collect! So off I trotted, found not one person queueing in front of me and was out of the building with my visa in five minutes.

Next step was to go for the medical – blood test for HIV and x-ray for TB – at one of the three government clinics specified. I chose Jebel Ali, which is a small village and vast industrial area with a fee zone and main port only a few minutes drive from our apartment in Dubai Marina. The clinic is in Jebel Ali Village, which I remember from the old days in Dubai. Back then it was way out in the desert - I had a buddy, Sales Manager of Jebel Ali Hotel, who lived there and visiting him was a real drag. Anyway, it now seems just up the road, what was miles of empty desert between Dubai and Jebel Ali is now all built up, with a ten lane freeway all the way. We drove into the village, which hasn’t changed in the twenty five years since I was last there, and went into the clinic to make an appointment for the medical, but the friendly Emarati gentleman said they’d do it now if I’d like to wait. He filled in the forms for me, wanted the inevitable passport photocopies and spare photo. The photo, though, he put on the desk, aimed a camera which was fixed to his computer to it and added it to the card form which was on the screen. He told me he’d print my plastic Health Card direct from the computer and I could pick it up next day.

The small waiting room had perhaps half the population of Bombay milling around, construction workers just arrived in the country and brought in en masse for their medical. They had to be dealt with immediately because their buses were coming back at a certain time to take them back to the labour camp, so I had to wait. But not in with labourers. Oh no. I was told to go to the ladies waiting room. After fifteen minutes or so the security man came and said he was sorry I had to wait, he was doing what he could to get the labourers moving so that I could go in to see the doctors. Somehow they cleared them all in a few more minutes, the fleet of buses arrived and suddenly the place was all but deserted. Five minutes later I was out, having had blood and x-ray taken and with the results due the following day.

Sure enough, I went next day and it was all ready, Health Card plus the certificate to go back to Immigration giving me the all-clear. Of course I couldn’t take it back into Emaar because it was now afternoon…it was Ramadan remember. But I took it all in the following day, again no queue, and gave it to the visa section. Another amazing four days later they called to say the visa was permanently stamped in my passport and I could collect it any time, which I did the following morning.


We read somewhere that some of the foreign banks would allow non-residents to open a bank account, so we found where the nearest HSBC branch was – again it’s Jebel Ali, but this time in the industrial area just outside the gates to the port and free zone. We had a bank draft plus Aussie dollars with us and we wanted to get them into a bank rather than carry them around with us. The bank, like all these sort of places, was packed with people but the Customer Service area wasn’t too bad. The old take-a-number-from-a-machine game and fifteen minutes later we were talking to an Emirati lady in black abaya and shayla, the black robe & headscarf, who spoke excellent English and sorted out the bank account for us. We asked for ATM cards and she fed all the info into the computer, telling us the PINs and the cards would be couriered to us separately for security reasons and to expect them in four or five days.

They weren’t, so after a week we went back to the bank where another Emirati lady checked and said there was nothing in the computer so we obviously hadn’t applied for the cards. Great! We repeated the earlier process, she entered all the info into the computer again and gave us the same story about couriers in four or five days. This time it did happen and, after several calls over several days from the courier company saying they were on the way, the PINs did eventually arrive one day, the cards the next.


Meanwhile, we’d been running around trying to sort out what we had to do for me to sponsor Mrs Seabee for her Residence Visa. Our Marriage Certificate has to be included with the application but it has to be attested first. We were married in England so off we trotted one day to the British Consulate alongside the creek in the centre of Dubai city to get it done. Time-consuming security checks, mobile to be checked in and all that and eventually we got to see an official…who told us that Immigration sometimes rejected their attestation and required it to be done in London by the British Foreign Office. Not always, he said, but often enough to make him recommend that we send it to London. Mrs Seabee decided we should check with Immigration because her visit visa is for 60 days and we really need to get her Residence Visa sorted out.

Getting things done in Dubai is never easy and is always time-consuming. Massive bureaucracy, paperwork, dozens of people involved in the simplest transaction. But before you even battle that inefficiency there’s finding out where the office you want is located, finding your way to it, finding a parking place, fighting the crowds in the offices, trying to make people understand what you want, and trying to understand what they’re saying. Then realizing that they tell you things just to get rid of you rather than giving you the correct information.

The office we had to go to was “in Deira near the Creek next to Etisalat Building”. I knew the Etisalat building so we thought it wouldn’t be too hard. As it’s in the absolute worst part of the city for traffic we decided to go on Friday, the weekend, when the city’s quiet and parking is easy, to find it so that when we came in during the week we’d at least know where we were going. No such luck. Not a sign that we could see on any building to tell us where it was. So the next day Mrs Seabee rang them again, but got the same directions – although this time we got the additional information that it was a white building. Off we went again, fought horrendous traffic, couldn’t find a parking space anywhere so Mrs Seabee wandered off to find the place while I drove slowly round and round the car park for an hour.

Finally she came back, having found the office, which wasn’t “next to” but half a mile away and across a dual-carriageway, found the right department, found the right man and found out that he wouldn’t accept the Embassy’s attestation for love nor money. We had to send it all to the UK to be signed by a Notary Public, then submit it to the British Foreign Office in London for attestation, then get it to the UAE Embassy in London for them to do the same and finally get it back here for me to put in with the visa application.

What did I say about bureaucracy?

So we decided to send it by courier to my brother in England and try to explain what we needed him to do to get all the nonsense done. The Post Office does a courier service so we decided to use them. Another example of how time-consuming things can be. Mrs Seabee had been meeting for coffee with some friends she’d made on internet forums before we came to Dubai. All expats, most recently arrived, most with husbands working here and they’re trying to help each other settle in, make friends etc. Anyway, she asked them where our nearest Post Office is, as they’re very thin on the ground.

A word of explanation. Dubai is a working city, it’s all about trading and working and very little else. Eighty percent of the population are expats who are here to work. They work in offices which all have an office boy who does all the running around, including sending the private mail of the office workers and collecting their mail (they all use the company’s PO Box for their personal mail). No-one but these office boys has any idea what the post office situation is – I didn’t until I tried to do it myself. There are very, very few Post Offices and they’re small, many are very grubby and they're unbelievably crowded. Think Bombay Central railway station. They’re jam-packed with hordes of men pushing and shoving, waving bits of paper about, squatting on the floor sticking stamps to thousands of letters which their company is mailing, and a couple of uninterested clerks behind the counter doing very little to get much work done. It helps if you’re a woman though, so I stand back and let Mrs Seabee push her way to the counter where she gets served a little more quickly.

Anyway, one of her friends said the nearest PO to us is in the Al Quoz Industrial Area, turn off Sheikh Zayed Road (the ten lane freeway that’s the main artery into Dubai city and passes by Dubai Marina) at intersection three, go past the petrol station and pest control building, do a U-turn, ignore the dirt roads but take a right along the made-up road and the PO is up there on the left. We found it at the first attempt, but it took about an hour to do so, push through the crowds and get the forms. Then we had to come back home, complete the forms, put all the various letters, envelopes and stuff into a package and go back to the PO the next day to send it off to my brother. All of this ran into Christmas and New Year, then the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, died and a period of mourning was declared, which ran into the Eid al Adha public holiday. Murphy's Law again.

Finally, after two months, the duly attested Marriage Certificate arrived. Now I could do battle with Immigration to get Mrs Seabee'sResidence Visa.


secretdubai said...

I would not trust the post here for any important documents. Aramex or Fedex everything.

No Name said...

WOW, that's an eye opener. You would think "Yeay residence visa, that's easy" but it appears to be anything but.

I am planning to do the same thing, so the details you've provided was very helpful. I was just wondering how long this all takes, particularly since I have a job and I cannot be away that long.

Would you think that things has improved in 2012 :)

Any advice