Tag Archives: usa

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?
by Ms. Hala

Last summer, I repatriated back to my hometown of San Francisco after living the confused expatriate life in Qatar for five years. As I prepared to write another rant entry, I realized something. I’ve documented some of my experiences of being an expat and a repat but never really on the logistics of leaving. Many have asked for tips and advice on the process of relocating and I’ve got to say, preparedness is everything.

Peeps, if you’re living the confused expatriate life, you have to be ready when the time comes. Sometimes the expat life isn’t guaranteed and sometimes, even when you plan everything out, you realize there are laws and rules you need to follow through on first.

I sat down and made a list of everything I had to do. Moved some things around, checked some things off and before I knew it, I was home. What do I advise? Here’s a few I hope you find helpful.

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Time Can Be My Friend: Many expats, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves relocating either to a new country or back to their respective home nation. Whether it’s the end of our employment contract or it’s just time to go, we need time to get our things together and in order. Seeing many of my friends almost rushed out of Qatar, I knew I needed as much time as possible because things in Qatar do take time. I made sure I communicated with my employer, who sponsors my residence permit (RP), on my flight dates so as to not have my RP canceled until that date. The last thing I needed was to be fined for overstaying a canceled RP. Expats in Qatar have seven days to exit the country from when their residence permit (RP) is canceled or expired before they are fined for overstaying on a daily basis.

A lot of logistics take much longer than necessary and thankfully, time was my friend. I was able to request about three weeks which was a good amount of time for me. If all else failed, and because I’m lucky enough to be from the long list of nations allowed an on arrival visa to Qatar, plan B was to actually fly back. Thankfully, that extra trip and expenses were averted. Using those savings for my summer trip to Italy, woohoo!

Law and Money: As part of the requirement of working in Qatar, you’ve got to open a bank account and have your salary direct deposited every month. Easy! Qatar is also very strict on not allowing expats to exit before clearing all debts. Borrowing in Qatar can be very tempting with low interests but many forget that it’s got to be cleared once before they go. Yikes!

I actually took a loan to finish off paying for my car but cleared it sooner rather than later so that wasn’t a problem for me. I did have a credit card (which I got a bucket load of Qatar Airways miles from!) so that had to be cleared with my bank. Banks will hold your last deposit, usually a lump sum including your gratuity, for a minimum of 48 hours until you are cleared. Some banks take longer and I’ve seen friends freak out for days before whatever they owed was deducted and they were allowed access to their account. Yikes!

Lucky me, I just walked straight to my bank and had everything cleared. I still had 150 Qatar Riyals on my credit card I totally forgot about. I shuddered thinking my last salary deposit would be frozen for days over 150 QR. The bank provided me a signed and stamped letter confirming I was cleared for extra assurance. I hear other countries can be even stricter or have a longer process so I’d advise expats to make anything related to money the number one priority.

You Used To Call Me On My Cellphone: Many expatriates don’t know how long they’ll be in a given country. Some will go with a prepaid plan, easy to handle but over time, can be costly. Once I realized I was going to stay longer, I immediately got a monthly phone contract and cut my costs almost in half. Of course, now that I was leaving and my RP was going to be canceled, I walked into the Ooredoo store and switched my lines to prepaid. I also had to set a cancelation date for my home cable and internet and prepay any costs. Again, the last thing I needed as I exited the country was to be stopped for any debts I hadn’t cleared.

Get Out My House: Unlike most expats, none of the companies I worked for in Qatar offered a company accommodation. Even if they did, I’d probably opt out of it anyway. It sucked finding apartments but I had heard enough eviction stories from fellow expats that I was glad I was in a place in my name when it came time to leave. I even got lucky that my landlord OKed my extra three weeks stay in lieu of my security deposit.

My bigger hassle was my furniture. I’m talking major kitchen appliances, two bedrooms, and a living/dining room. Yikes!

If you’ll be shipping your furniture, this is your second priority, find a shipping company that can at least pick up your packed furniture and handles all the exporting tasks for you. Be on top of it, I had to deal with three shippers for large pieces of luggage I didn’t want to lug around with a pet during my layover in Los Angeles. For whatever reason, moving in the summer causes shippers in Qatar to take their sweet time. So unprofessional! Luckily, I was not planning to ship any of my major pieces of furniture, thus posted my items for sale online and whatever I couldn’t sell, I reached out to a couple organizations to take them as donations.

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Not Without My Kitty: This might have been one of the simplest of my relocation tasks, which I still don’t understand why it was made to be such a hassle. I was asked why I would go through the hassle and costs of taking my cat with me to California. First off, this silly girl here adopted me when I least expected it. I even named her Ms. Doha, after the city she followed me in when she was barely 8 weeks old. She was a large part of my expat life in Qatar over five years. So it was a given, she’s coming home with me!

That meant, I needed to get her documents in order and her spot on the plane booked. Kindly note, not all airlines will take your pet, and I’m not sure why. I had to request and pay the difference to my employer since they were booking my flight home (Qatar Law requires employees terminated or contract completed to be flown home by their employer). Qatar Airways is the only airline allowing pets on long-haul flights into the US. This was a 16-hour direct flight, so I booked my kitty as a medium rather than small sized pet cargo so I can have her in a larger crate to give her enough room to stretch and move. I only got put multiple liners but was misinformed about someone feeding her since it was a long flight. I used an open water and food feeder bowls, which I do not recommend. Especially the water, my poor baby was thirsty when I picked her up in LA.

The US doesn’t actually charge you any fees for importing your pet dog or cat from another country. All that’s usually asked for by most countries are vaccination records, microchip number and necessary importing fees paid upfront. So Ms. Doha wasn’t vaccinated in a while so had her vaccinated, given an antifungal bath and confirmed her microchip scanned at least a month before I left. I also had to take the records to the Animal Resources Department of the Ministry of Environment. There, I paid 10 QR for approval documents. Ms. Doha was on her way to the USA!

I’m not judging but not everyone can relocate their pets with them for whatever reason. Should that be your case, I BEG YOU to PLEASE re-home them before you leave. If you leave them out on the streets, like many expats in Qatar do, you are guaranteeing their death as many domesticated pets don’t survive. Your pet was part of your family, all they gave you was love, and that’s all they ask for in return. Dumping them in the streets is not loving them in return. Be kind and re-home your pets before you leave, PLEASE!!

Click here to read up on tips for expats in Qatar, written exclusively for ILoveQatar!

My Truck Is No Junk: Again, unlike most expats, I owned my car. A sweet 2013 Honda Pilot. This can be a smart investment if you are staying long term in Qatar or anywhere with limited public transportation. However, selling a car in Qatar during the summer is extremely and utterly brutal! I had to not only lower the price at least three different times, I couldn’t sell the car before I left. I can’t keep it in my name when I exit nor was I planning to ship it back home either.

Immediately posted the car for sale and I’d make this a top priority for most as this can be a slow process. Qatar doesn’t have a “Kelly Blue Book” so had to check classifieds on ILQ and QatarLiving amongst others to get an idea of what my car’s value should be. I was cautious if taking it to the dealer as they’d do a buyback for so much less in order to resell it for a profit.

Shipping your car is an entirely different and long process and I’d only do it if it’s worth the time and money. A couple friends did ship their cars from Qatar and even after all costs, the car value was worth it. I’d advise that if you’re hiring shippers for your furniture, make sure they can also handle vehicles. You should be able to ship your car and furnishings in a 20×20 container for around $3,000-$5,000. Obviously, the bigger the container, that costlier it’ll be. Should the process take longer than your time in Qatar, as was the case with me, you’ll need to transfer the car out of your name in order to be able to exit the country. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to put the car in her name and handle the final sale logistics when it was sold, four months later. I hope everyone is as lucky as I to have trustworthy friends by their side.

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This Is Not Goodbye: Leaving Qatar so quickly after being there for five years was not an easy task. I grew as a person, made lifelong friends and saved a decent amount of money despite student loan payments (grrr!). I didn’t tell anyone this but when the plane took off, I went to the restroom and cried bittersweet tears. I was happy to be going home and sad to be leaving. Apparently, this feeling is quite common amongst expats. Many have told me repatriating or even expatriating elsewhere can be hard, it’s starting all over.

However, I think if you keep a link with your expat life in the respective country you were in, it makes it a little bit easier. The Global Foodie Group on Facebook and Whatsapp I started are still buzzing. I speak to my friends in Qatar on almost a daily basis. I’m also looking at visiting Qatar later this year. I’m thinking of it this way really, it’s never a “goodbye forever”, it’s just a “see you later, Insha’Allah!”

I hope my experiences provides you with some tips and advice should and when the time comes for you relocate. What was your experience leaving a country where you lived your expat life? Do share in the comments below.

Your Right to Vote…

I respect your right to vote for what you deem is best for you whether it’s a presidential candidate or a state policy. However, I have the right as a minority to be dumbfounded by those who voted for someone that ran their campaign on hate or a policy that marginalizes a population.

If anyone one of my American friends voted for Trump or didn’t vote at all with the excuse of “it’s rigged” or “my vote doesn’t count”, please unfriend me.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote has put a huge number of the American population such as many of my family and friends at risk of deportation, injustice, violence and death.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote also means a win for the KKK, which in turn will undermine the efforts taken to try to bring the discussion of race relations on the table.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote just determined a supreme court judge that will push Trump ideologies not just for your generation but generations after you.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote is partially responsible for all the wrong that could happen in the next four years and it will not be making America great again.

I hope you can sleep tonight.

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My Public Letter to Mayor Bryan Cadogan

Good Day Mr. Cadogan,

I hope this letter finds you doing well.

 

I’ve read the SF Gate article from this past summer on your efforts to recruit people to move and build a home in the town of Kaitangata (Clutha District, New Zealand). After researching a bit about the beautiful town and seeing the the need for a stronger population and the unemployment rate of two people, I just had to sit down and write this letter to you.

Has your town considered taking in some of the many highly educated and experienced individuals whom have found themselves in refugee camps in many parts of the Middle East and Europe?

I’m by no means middling in New Zealand’s immigration system nor do I understand how it works in such a situation. My country’s immigration system has failed the refugees with ignorant, discriminatory and Islamophobic politics.

I’m not asking you to solve the refugee crisis nor am I shaming you into taking refugees into your town. I’m just curious that a town in need of people has not pushed to take in people in need of a town.

I’m a product of immigrants, like many of my generation in America. My grandparents and parents immigrated from Egypt since the 1960s to California, New Jersey, North Carolina and New York. I have watched them work hard, pay their taxes, vote, speak out and volunteer to support the local communities. This is the same scenario with almost any other immigrant family from any part of the world.

No one takes welcoming, humane open arms for granted.

I’m sure this is what Kai is looking for. Amazing, hard working families going above and beyond because Kai welcomed them in with open arms after the suffering they have endured in the last several years.

Thank you for your time and God Bless.

Signed, Ms. Hala

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 6 of a Few… Two Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala

I’ve passed my two year mark as an American expatriate living in Qatar this past July. WOW! Taking a moment to evaluate some of the things I’ve learned and discovered throughout this ongoing adventure I call #InLivingQatar.

As an expat:

  • I’m to expect the unexpected, period.
  • I know now that nothing is like how it’s done back home (nor anywhere else for that matter) and sometimes that’s a good thing.
  • I’m grateful to this country for not taxing my anything.
  • Not everyone is obligated to speak YOUR language. You live in Qatar, make an effort to learn the language! If you don’t speak a second language, don’t miss out on the opportunity to do so.
  • Home is what you make of it. It’s the simple things from the food to the adventures that make being an expat in the Middle East oh so wonderful.

About myself:

  • Apparently, I enjoy shopping for things other than shoes, office supplies and kitchenware. I mean, when was I ever known to be one who wouldn’t miss a sale at Mango (my new found obsession) or appreciate Riva for the size 4 pants that fit my proudly curvy body? REJOICE!
  • My savings isn’t very happy with the above mentioned self discovery.
  • I simply don’t care anymore about the pettiest of things that just do not matter. I’m too busy laughing at the silliest of things.
  • I’ve always had a thing for men in thobs, living in Qatar solidified it. Seriously, ANY MAN can look amazing in a thob.
I mean, can you resist this "thobi"? No, no you can't (and you shouldn't). #JustSaying
I mean, can you resist this “thobi”? No, no you can’t (and you shouldn’t). #JustSaying

Speaking of men:

  • Dating it’s a coin toss which isn’t much different than it was back home. I’ve realized that when I decided to accept dating someone I probably wouldn’t have dated say three or four years ago.
  • I’m still the least romantic person I know and thanks to my ex for catching on to that. =P
  • Chivalry is not dead and a part of me is still caught by surprise.
  • “Momken netwaseel?” or “May we keep in touch?” has to be the funniest pickup line ever! So polite yet stupid and invasive in so many ways… especially when it’s the 20 year old kids almost every single time.
  • Wearing Ed Hardy outfits, I mean the whole covered from hat to shoes, never has and never ever will be cute. Walk away now.

In dealing with people:

  • If you are not amongst good company, start by being part of a social group be it through Twitter, MeetUp or otherwise.
  • For whatever reason, the most drama queens I’ve dealt with in this country have been men.
  • Don’t be surprised that there’s just as much fake people as there is fake designer wear floating around. It’s really a global epidemic sadly, get over it.
  • This may be the safest country in the world but stop taking it for granted. There are people that can still break into your car, knock on your door at odd hours and simply just not be safe for you to be around.

Here’s to another year of an adventurous #InLivingQatar! =)

A Four Month Report

Happy Eid everyone! I pray you are all enjoying the blessed Eid AlAdha weekend.

As for me, right now, I’m spending the wee hours of the morning in Terminal 2 of the Dubai International Airport (DXB) for my bi-monthly visa turnaround, an attempt to renew my “visitor” visa, hopefully for the last time. Tomorrow marks four months since I’ve landed in Doha, Qatar. Four long, exhausting, fulfilling, exciting and at some point dangerous months. In the last four months, I’ve been caught up with work, trying to get settled into a  place I can call my own and develop some form of a social life.

They call me Doha, Ms. Doha.

As of a few weeks ago, I attempted to get back to my short work outs and walks just to keep my energy level up. Recently I was able to some how get back to reading Aleph by Paulo Coelho which was my first non-food purchase in Qatar. The other day, a cute little kitty followed me half way home and adopted me. With all the time I have on my hands right now before I check out the tiny duty free section, I shall rant away at some of the events that have taken place in my first four months in Qatar…

 

Cool British Accent — After calling a few landlords to inquire about available apartments for rent, I received a text message (or SMS as it’s called here) stating how one very nice man liked my “really cool British accent”. I had to respond because I thought this was a joke but it turns out, that wasn’t the case. I mentioned how I wasn’t British but thanks for the kind words. His exact response (misspellings and all), “I want us to get to know echother more and I promis you I get you discount in very nice apartment. ;-)” I didn’t even know how to respond without being rude so I left it at that. However, a few more call outs over a course of a few days garnered me 3 more similar SMS’ and 2 call backs asking about my marital status.

I did realize that with all of them, I had spoken straight English. To test out the theory that if I spoke in Arabic none of this would’ve happened, I called back some of these same people speaking in my great Egyptian dialect. Of course as always, I was right! Over the course of my search, I now speak only in Arabic unless English is necessary. Now my hurdle is having someone rent out to a single lady but that’s for post.

Right now, I’m not getting much compliments on my British accent.

 

I Swear They’re Real — Shopping and minding my own business one day, I caught a young lady looking me up and down. I flashed her a smile and we exchanged “salams”. No little chit chat, she just straight up asked me, “Where did you get your chest and lips done?”

“God, this is all done by God.”

“They’re real? No silicone? No surgery? Padded bra?” she whispers.

“Nope, just good wholesome fat!” I whispered back giggling with the gal. I showed her that all I’ve had “done” was my lip piercing. She’s still fascinated that I haven’t had any work done. She started telling me about how she’s debating getting her chest done before she gets married. I advised her against it and to work with what she’s got rather than agonize over it. Of course, the decision is hers and I had to remind her that no one gets the final say over her body but her.

Twenty minutes after our conversation, we crossed paths where she flashed me a smile and whispered to another lady walking with her. I’m sure she’s caught up on our little conversation. I couldn’t get my wholesome fat ass out of there fast enough.

 

Yes, I Can Be Both — In my recent dealings with people, I’ve noticed this odd form of racism and need for a nationalistic identity. I have friends that were born and raised in Qatar but they can never call themselves Qataris. They don’t even have a Qatari passport and every year must renew their legal status in the country. I know the government is working on changing these laws (for economical and sports reasons) but my question is, “when exactly?” The idea of keeping it as pure as possible is a bit far fetched to the point of silliness in my opinion. Remember, historically the people of Qatar came from either Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being proud of your nationality, your heritage and it being part of your identity. However, there’s a difference between being proud and being arrogant; enforcing your opinion of one’s identity.

In dealing with Arabs, particularly Egyptian expatriates here in Qatar, they make it seem as if I can only pick one identity, either I’m Egyptian or I’m American. I just look them straight in the face and say, “but I’m both, proudly so.” I’ve even had arguments with random strangers after it was noted that I shouldn’t identify myself as an American.

For the record, I was born in San Francisco, California, USA. My father immigrated from Egypt in the 70’s and my mother followed suit after they got married. To deny myself the right to identify as both an Egyptian American would not be doing myself justice nor my parents for the many dreams they had for their family in America.

Just because most of the world, including Americans believe it or not, don’t agree with some of the American foreign policies, doesn’t mean  that we simply drop our identity as Americans. We are a nation that prides itself in being a melting pot. We come from all over the world, united with ideals and dreams. It is those ideals and dreams that has made the heart and soul of what is good in America today.

So yes, I can be both. I AM Egyptian American.

30 Killed, 2000 Injured in Tahrir Square

On Friday, November 18th an organized peaceful protest was held in Tahrir Square to address the dissatisfaction many citizens have of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (also known as SCAF) currently running the nation since Hosny Mubarak’s fall in February. Of course, the main concern is the military trials of civilians, including that of Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abdelfattah alongside thousands of others.

Friday’s protest took place in Tahrir Square, similar to the many Occupy Movement protests happening here in my Bay Area hometown cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. The reaction from police and the military however has turned this peaceful protest into complete violent chaos!

Police and SCAF soldiers entered the square attacking protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas. Many reported that the tear gas used seemed to be more lethal than those used in the past. There were reports of protesters suffering from eye and nose irritations as well as seizures after inhaling these toxins. And surprise, the tear gas is “Made in the USA”!! A company by the name of Combined Tactical Systems (CTB) seems to be behind the latest in tear gases that are more lethal, similar to those used in Yemen. Ironically, the company’s website address is less-lethal.com. We need to call our representatives here in the USA to stop selling or sending these products to SCAF! CTB’s address and phone number can be found at the end of this rant.

Ahmed Harara

This violent attack also saw several protesters being shot directly in the eye, either from close range or trained snipers. One in particular is activist Ahmed Harara who lost his right eye on January 28th. He lost his left eye on Saturday November 19th amongst other activists who were actually in the hospital with him being treated by the same doctor. He is now completely blind but in unbelievable high spirits. He is my hero!

Later a video surfaced of SCAF and police congratulating each other on shooting a man in the eye! Even if one doesn’t know Arabic, it’s just disgusting and graphic to hear these officers cheer on the shooting and possibly killing civilians they are suppose to be protecting!

Thanks to social media and none to the many state-run new stations, Egyptians were made well aware of these attacks taking place in Tahrir Square. Solidarity protests took place in Alexandria, Suez and surrounding counties on Saturday and Sunday. There were reports of protesters sitting in at several police stations, ministry offices and outside SCAF facilities. The only major report came from Alexandria and Suez when riot police responded with tear gas.

Back in Tahrir Square on Sunday, the Imam of the Omar Makram Mosque tried to call a cease-fire between both sides when police on several occasions attacked the makeshift hospital in the square and inside the mosque. Many doctors carried the injured as they escaped the tear gas bombs. It didn’t last long for I received statements from people on the front lines that they were being attacked again after “the truce” lasted maybe 10 minutes! Many took refuge in near by churches, mosques and homes.

At the American University of Cairo (AUC) on the other side of Tahrir Square, several snipers were spotted on the rooftop shooting at the protesters below. Many protesters were able to escape tear gas bombs and bullets, both lethal and rubber. Again, many tweeted how they were having difficulty breathing and irritation in many parts of their bodies. Others saw many shot directly in the eye, head and neck including several dying on the scene. One very graphic photo shows a 23 year old man shot in the neck. Doctors in the makeshift hospital were unable to save him.

As of right now (Monday morning in Cairo, Sunday night in San Francisco), over 30 have been reported dead and at least 2,000 injured. This is with none stop violence since Friday night, almost 40 hours as I write this rant. What is happening in Egypt is not a second revolution because the first one never ended!

To stay up to date on the latest, please follow me on Twitter, Facebook as well as my updated Twitter list of all those tweeting from the front lines of not just Egypt but Yemen, Bahrain and Syria!

Combined Tactical Systems (CTB)
388 Kinsman Rd., Jamestown, PA 16134
Phone: 724.932.2177
Call your representatives today and ask them to stop supporting this company from selling these lethal tear gas products to SCAF in Egypt!!

FREE AL-MOLOUHY NOW!!

In 2009, Syrian government arrested 17 year old Tal Al-Molouhy for posting “anti-government” sentiments on her blog. Later she was charged for spying for the USA for a post where she asks US President Barack Obama to do more in support of the Palestinean cause.

Today, now 19 years old, Al-Molouhy was taken to court in blindfolded and in chains to receive a 5 year sentence.

This is NOT acceptable!! Please sign this online petition to help voice your solidarity with Al-Molouhy and demand her release!

More information on Al-Molouhy’s case will be posted here as well as via Twitter.

Sources: Reuters Africa