Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dubai Muscat

Obtaining visas is a regular feature of expat life and a topic on which many who work here in Dubai can wax lyrical on for hours. Unlike GCC citizens who have the ability to move freely around the Gulf countries similar to Europeans within Schengen Treaty countries, the majority of expats require a visa for the country they wish to visit for work or pleasure. Virtually every company of any size will employ a PRO whose daily task it is to acquire visas for visits or for permanent residence in Dubai and Kevin's employer is no exception. With several hundred employees in the region this particular PRO is an expert on obtaining visas quickly and efficiently. As Kevin visits for work countries such as Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan, USA and Libya we too have built a wealth of visa knowledge which often proves totally useless in the face of officialdom.

Some GCC countries issue visas on entry for certain classes of passport so for example as British expats we can drive or fly south to Oman or to its northern enclave Mussandam and obtain the relevant paperwork at the border for a fee. Though recently Sharjah decided briefly that you could only cross the border at Dibba if you had an official letter from a tour company or hotel temporarily preventing resident expats from indulging in camping amongst some of the most beautiful mountain terrain here. OK we thought what could be simpler than to race a yacht to Muscat?

There was some indecision by various parties as to whether we would be granted visas on arrival or whether they should be acquired in advance. As no conclusion was announced by the appointed date (last Saturday) it was decided as a crew to try to go through the process locally. Of the crew, all but two are UAE residents and six of these had their passports available - well it was a start. The crew flying in later in the week would have to wing it when we sailed into Oman.

The aforementioned PRO kindly volunteered to assist. After some research he told us the Omanis needed two passport sized photos for each person, our passports, a letter of invitation for which the NOR (Notice of Race) would suffice, a copy of the boat papers and a completed form which he would obtain from the consulate in Bur Dubai on Sunday morning. If the documents were submitted on a Monday morning before 11am then the visas would be issued that day and available for collection after 3pm. First hurdle was that they wouldn't let him take the forms away, no problem the PRO would complete them when he got there with the other documents on Monday morning.

Monday morning the first panic is a crew list but easily resolved with an emailed copy of the entry form.Then the consulate reviews everything and asks where is the Skipper? Well err he is not here.... sorry we can't process this request. Turns out we needed a representative authorised by the Skipper, the PRO is not employed by him so won't do, why couldn't they have let him know this the day before? Ah well that's par for the course here, official information is often spoon-fed on an as needed basis. After some discussion it was decided we had two alternatives: Firstly try again tomorrow appointing the Skipper's wife Clare (and co owner of the boat) as his official representative via a letter written by the Skipper. Secondly risk arriving in Muscat without visas and take our chances with the rest of our crew. All this going on whilst Susie was helping Clare and some other press ganged volunteers to take the boat in question to be lifted and weighed at DIMC marina on Monday morning. Having internet access on the phone is amazingly useful at times.

Later in the afternoon as we headed home from DOSC we called the organisers to see if any new information had been obtained by them. Yes they confirmed visas can be obtained on arrival. Phew! Now attention could be turned to collating the UAE departure forms (name, passport number, nationality with colour copies of passport and residents visa page attached) to ensure they reached a faceless immigration official by 9am Tuesday morning! After all this actually racing to Muscat and then back to Khasab should be fairly straight forward.