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.)
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