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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Escape from Qatar - continued

By Steve

Back to introduction

Trial the First: or Nobody Knows Anything

Now, I gave my notice in 3 months in advance and they issued the forms shortly after this, all in Arabic of course. So eager and keen, with shiny shoes and winged feet I did set off from the school with my forms, fully armed with all the facts, to the Min of Ed offices.

First stop, the third floor, which is the personnel dept. “No no no not here” they tell me "4th floor first". Oh, this was after they ripped up my form and gave me another one… thankfully, as the new one doesn’t require me to go to the State Library etc for a stamp. Ok so then, first stop 4th floor. “No no no” they tell me, “Your school must be do this first”. Ok first stop the school. Ah. Everyone has gone home. Then I discovered that as the process cancels your sponsorship, it should not be done more than 7 days before you leave… Also, in order to get paid you have to get clearance from your bank, but I couldn’t do that as someone had cancelled my pay for the previous month and so I couldn’t close my bank account…

Trial the Second: The Banks; Who Think They Know, But Don’t

Your primary bank / credit card supplier needs 45 days to cancel your credit card. They will lock your account to the credit limit of your card for 30 days as soon as you cancel it. They will not, of course, tell you that they are going to do this… you can unlock it if you find a guarantor who has an account at the same branch. Anyway, note that to the cancellation period you must add enough time to get the bank’s letter of clearance, without which you cannot get your closing pay or final clearance. In case anything goes wrong I suggest this is done at least a week early. Therefore, at least 2 months before you go you have to cancel your primary bank credit card… not much use if you are terminated on the contracted 30 day notice…

If, like some of us, you got a second credit card with a different bank, i.e. not your primary salary bank, the cancellation times are different. Commercial Bank stopped my 2nd card, and said they needed ‘about’ one week for clearance, but again be warned; I was first told they needed no time, then 3 days, then a week, then 15 days… this last was 14 days before I was leaving… Really, no-one knows anything, but they all think they do. Check everything twice. At least. They eventually sorted it out in 24 hours as I hadn’t used the card for a while and had actually left it at the bank since the previous week, thinking they had cancelled it… They hadn’t. Grrr!!

Of course, having settled my card and cancelled it, I found out when I went back to my primary bank to get my clearance letter from them that they in turn must get one from your secondary bank (if you pay by direct debit) saying you are clear before they issue it. The second bank had just 20 minutes earlier told me that I didn’t need a letter from them… grrrr. As I had yet to be paid I needed the clearance letter, but also needed to keep the account open and they, surprisingly, said that was ok. The Commercial bank letter cost QR50 and it takes them 5 days after you cancel your credit cards (note this is for second cards; they still have the 45 days rule if you also bank with them). HSBC charge QR100 and did it on the spot, but obviously this was 45 days after I cancelled my credit card and I have no other loans. If you have a car loan ask your bank about the procedures.

Trial The Third: or Queuing at Qtel, Who Tell You Nothing

City Centre Qtel are hopeless unless you are bill paying so don’t go there. Ever. Especially for this. In fact the Al Sadd main office is the only place you do this, I was told. You cannot, as for all Qtel services, do it on the phone…

I have only the very simplest Qtel package for my landline and a pre-paid mobile, what could be more simple? I never use the phone except for pre-pay internet. I would expect the system to be basically the same for broadband users, but it may be more complex. Who knows? Well not Qtel for a start! The fourth person I spoke to, at the Al Sadd branch, gave me a phone (which, by the way, didn’t work properly… ) and the upshot is that you have to pay your bill, cancel the service and 24 hours later go back and get your form stamped and a clearance letter. Easy. You must have done this before work will finalise you, leaving you without a phone or home internet until you leave.

You MUST have your ID and passport with you when you fill in the cancellation form (at customer service queue A). Again, once I’d zipped home to get these and returned to Qtel the lovely lady cancelled me on the spot and indeed 24 hours later I got the clearance letter and stamp (at the information desk). The 24 hours gives time for calls to mobiles to get registered. Note that if you have international dialling and/or a post-paid mobile this may be longer. Ask them as they change it all the time.

Trial the Fourth: The Ministry Know-How

So anyway, back to my Employer’s forms… the school filled in their bit, a colleague filled out the guarantor form to say he will pay any bills of mine for up to a year after I leave… and I, fleet of foot, went back, with high hopes, to the Ministry. Fourth floor. Salary dept. No problem, he says as he writes down all this money that I will be getting (considerably more than I was expecting for some reason). And did he look pleased with himself. Until I asked why I hadn’t been paid for November on pay day the previous week. Cue consternation, consultation, exasperation and finally, explanation; It was someone else’s fault. Definitely not his. Ah.

Luckily, some departments are well over staffed and a chap I know from the school helped out. Don’t close your bank account they said, or we cannot pay you until the day before you leave… yeah like I’d risk that! They had to recalculate, re-apply for and re-write (and re-confirm of course) my final pay. And add 20% to it because of the recent pay increases. My Boss pulled out all the stops and they found my papers in the bottom of a drawer underneath a pile of paperclip requisition forms or something in a completely different ministry and I was duly issued with a cheque (correct as well!) a full week before I left! Couldn’t believe it! Then the cheque was taken off me as it was only the cheque to the Min of Ed to cover my eventual pay cheque… not actually my cheque at all. Of course. Money is transferred between ministries on an individual basis, not budgeted and then dolled out. So every single person’s every pay packet must get arranged, transferred, paid in, checked, paid out. By hand. Every month. Wow.

The rest wasn’t so bad really. 1st floor for housing (he wanted my key… I just asked if I could sleep at his house for the next 10 days and he signed the form!) back to the fourth floor to stamp this. Back to the housing guy to sign for gas and electricity, as ours are included, and back to the 4th to get that stamped. Down to the 2nd floor to the supply dept for god knows what reason. No-one checked me in a file or on a computer or anything! In fact they would have got ‘one of the boys’, by which they mean Indians/Pakistanis (they have a little catching up to do around here…) to do it but they had all been given 2 weeks off to fill up the seats at the Asian games.

Trial The Last

So the final bit. All is done. Please sign this part nice Mr. 3rd floor man. “No no no not sign before 7 days you go out Qatar.” Ummm what? I am glad Qatar Airways have a free cancellation and rebooking service, I booked and cancelled four times! Juggling pay by dates just to keep a seat on my preferred flight. I couldn’t get the flight voucher from the Ministry until after all this is completed and while the refund procedure is too not too bad, QR100 I was told, I couldn’t pay for the ticket as of course I had had to cancel my credit card and hadn’t been paid! Again at the fourth time of trying a chap at QA said ok no problem I mark it ‘billed’ and it won’t be cancelled as it looks like you paid. Huh? Oh well, it worked so who am I to complain?!

So back I went 7 days before I was due to leave. I got my Qtel form and everything, nicely timed to finish it all off on the Thursday morning. Except my next stop on the third floor was the travel section, who gave me a new form to fill in at the immigration dept. It is they, not the employers, who have to cancel the sponsorship. Then come back here he said and looked at his watch. No time today do on Sunday. Arrrghh. I had been too efficient for them and now had no internet over the weekend!

So Sunday came and I asked where I should go. I didn’t know where they were talking about so they said try the Post Office as there is an immigration service there. The nice non-English speaker told me to ‘go on roundabout and next and next see bridge’ and desperate hand gestures. I trusted him and duly drove off looking for a bridge. I finally found the traffic police building, you’ll have been there to get your driving licence transferred, and asked a bloke where the immigration dept was. And hey presto there I was… in the right place! But in the wrong room of course. Go to the right side of the building, ground floor, entrance three and get a ticket and wait. It’s really easy when you know how! I just walked around pleading with anyone who spoke English and a nice chap just stopped his queue and did my stamp. Easy. Back to the min of ed to get paid.

Um no, in fact, of course. The final check and staple guy said ‘no this not right’ he wanted the guarantor form stamped, not just signed, and a photocopy of the guarantor’s ID card. No-where on the paper does it say we have to do this so I went to the head of department and ‘suggested’ that they amend the form. Of course no-one knows whose job it would be to do such a thing so it’ll never happen! Anyway there was just enough time to belt the 13km back to the school and then the 13km back to the min of ed. Ok finish finish I said!! No now go downstairs to ground floor. Every peice of paper has to have a paperwork number put on it and a copy kept by a bloke on the ground floor. He worryingly unstapled all my forms and split them up. He smiled and said go 4th floor for pay. I got my flight ticket (3rd floor). Pay cheque? No. The manager had gone home early. Aaarrghh! Come back tomorrow! Next day, it was waiting for me. Humdallah!

Last thing, and a good job I asked as no-one told me… you still have to have the normal exit permission papers to leave the country. And have them stamped at the airport of course. A final note on the Min of Ed: To change sponsorship, and this extends to two years after you leave, a ‘no objection letter’ is required from the previous employers. I am informed by the horse’s mouth that the Min of Ed do not give no objection letters. Otherwise you are free to come and go as a normal visitor.

Overall it cost me only QR200 and, in the end, just over 230km of extra driving around the city! (68.8 on the final day alone!) I quite enjoyed it, as nothing really went wrong compared to what I had heard from other people. One lady who didn’t do all this when she left at the end of last still hasn’t been paid, and probably won’t be. So grin and bear it, it ain’t so bad! There is enough time to do the last day in one go.

So the perfect schedule should look like this:
Choose a day to finish on; Hand in your notice and wait for your forms. Your school does bits, your guarantor does bits. Ask the local boss to check your pay is being counted. Wait. Count 3 days before your leaving date. 45 before this date cancel your credit card and 10 days before cancel any 2nd cards). 4 days before you leave cancel your phone at 8 am, then get your bank letter and then get work to do all their housing and supply bits. At 8am 24 hours later get the Qtel stamp, go straight to the immigration dept and then go to get your pay and flight coupon. This gives 2 whole days spare! Good luck!

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