Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More visa delays

Ruh roh.

It's been about one week since I learned that I needed something called a "visa block number" from my Saudi employer before I can even send the application package in to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington, DC.

Now I'm getting worried because I haven't had so much as an acknowledgement of my need for the information, which suggests to me that my contact is on holiday somewhere and not available by either e-mail or Skype. Unfortunately, I have no back up contact in S.A.

I've been holding off making local and family announcements of my plan until I have the visa firmly in hand.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 block number!

I was just ready to mail in my visa application package to the Saudi embassy in D.C. this morning when I remembered that I had talked to a woman there who had advised me to call them to make sure everything was in order first.

Good thing I called. Turns out that I need something called a "visa block number," which is supposed to be supplied by the employer.

One problem I'm having is that I've used up my cell phone minutes for the month thanks to the 50 or so calls I've had to make to various numbers at the embassy. Therefore, I'm in the somewhat embarrassing position of calling and then begging them to call me back on my land line at home. They've actually been pretty good about that.

I fired off a Skype and an e-mail to my contact in Riyadh to see if they can get the required info. I find that Saudi e-mails don't come through reliably to my regular personal e-mail so I need to send all communications to my contact's personal e-mail, doubled up with a Skype message. That works pretty well. If need be, I can also use my Arizona State University e-mail, but I don't check that very often during the summer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Calling the Saudi Embassy...and calling

The past week has been spent with some 50 or so calls to various numbers at the Saudi embassy in D.C. and the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission in D.C. to get clarification on various aspects of the visa application process.

After numerous fruitless calls, most of which ended with a voice recording saying that the person's mailbox is full, I finally managed to get through to a couple people and even got call backs. Of course the people I got through to didn't have the information and, further complicating things, gave me incorrect numbers to call or else forwarded my call to recorded messages (with the anticipated full mailbox). But they were all polite and seemed well-meaning.

The current issue is that that in the past month, S.A. has initiated an online application form -- that is, a form that must be filled out and submitted electronically. However, there are three problems.

1. The process for uploading a "person picture" is so convoluted that it actually requires a separate piece of software to get it to work. On the plus side, that software is free...once you know where to find it (which requires a call to their IT person...see below).

2. There is a $10.50 fee for submitting the form...but, according to my source, the credit card process doesn't work much of the time, specifically on Thursdays/Fridays when the Saudis are not working. The very nice stateside IT fellow was as amazed at this as I was and was quite apologetic. Apparently the process -- which is mandatory now -- is still in beta testing and they haven't quite worked out all the quirks. There is, interestingly, a private firm that will do the form for you for $70USD.

3. The electronic form has a number of mystery items such as "ID" and "Reference" which simply show up without any explanation or context. And there are other items, such as "Date of entry" (presumably arrival date in SA since it's on the same line as Transportation) that have no place to enter information.

I did manage to finally get my picture inserted in the form and, as anticipated, the Master Card payment failed to process. I'll try again Saturday or Sunday.

In other news, I've had a couple bites on renting my house, but nothing solid yet. I haven't been spreading the word far and wide because, frankly, I'm not completely convinced the visa will ever come through.

I have also been checking out what to do with my car for the next year. I can probably just park it in the visitor lot of my townhouse complex, but not sure how the neighbors will feel about that. I have someone, the guy who will be managing my property while I'm gone, who can start up the car every month to keep it in condition. Or I can rent a storage facility for about $100/month. Or I can possibly find a friend with an extra garage space -- but most people in Phoenix fill up their garages pretty full with all their stuff since homes here don't have basements. (In fact, many neighborhoods have streets and driveways filled with parked cars, even when they have two- or three-car garages, simply because people prefer to use their garage space for storage, workshops or to protect their valuable ATVs.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All docs now ready

July 8, 2009

I just got my medical report back -- three originals, two copies of each -- so I believe I now have all the documentation I need, ready to compile for the Saudi Arabia Cultural Ministry in Washington, D.C. I had gotten my police report in the mail from the city a few days ago.

However, it now turns out that one of the university transcripts I had them (the University) send to the SACM was returned, with a note indicating that I was not a student at the moment. So I had to call the SACM and explain that I was a teacher, not a student, and the transcripts were sent to document my degree. I then called the University, explained the matter, and they'll be mailing them out again.

I've got the actual visa application filled out, with only a few minor questions. I know I'd better get this stuff off to SACM pretty soon, but I can't seem to get their stated contact person to contact me.

I'm now starting to get concerned about renting my house so I'm going to start placing ads today.