The Visa Run: Quintessentially Qatar
As a male trailing spouse, my visa situation is a bit more fluid than if I were a woman in Qatar.
Were I the one with the high-flying job, my wife could simply get sponsored by me, all in less time than it takes to get to a Pilates class.
But Qatari red tape still seems a little flummoxed by situations like mine; a vague sense of “don’t ask me, this wasn’t in the manual” hangs over my dealings with bureaucracy.
The good news is, my wife could sponsor me as she earns more than the legal threshold (currently QR10,000 a month). But on the basis that I might at some point get a full time job, we decided not to go through the hassle of getting sponsored once, only to have to go through it all again if/when an employer took it over.
But as that’s looking about as likely as The Pearl’s alcohol licence being reinstated, we might need a new plan. Because saving time and hassle on encounters with officialdom, I am not.
I am now on my fifth or sixth different visa in nine months. Tourist (30 day). Extension (30 day). Family Visit (30 day). Extension (Five months). Tourist, extension, wash, rinse, repeat…
Having run out of extensions, and it still being too soon to reapply for another Family Visit Visa (you need to leave three clear months for that), I needed to go on a visa run to start the clock from zero again.
I was supposed to be meeting a friend in Dubai, until her work trip got cancelled at the 11th hour. By then however, I’d already booked my flight, so I made her feel guilty for a bit, but the fact remained: I still needed a new visa.
“I’ve got to take the kids to school in the morning” isn’t the most compelling reason ever to let someone into a country.
“Is that normal in your part of the world, then?” she asked. Because – let’s be clear – the visa run may be as much part of life here as karak or labneh, but this is not how most people spend their time. Backpackers adding a few more weeks’ lazing on a Thai beach, maybe. Trailing spouses: not so much. “I’ve got to take the kids to school in the morning” isn’t the most compelling reason ever to let someone into a country.
So I spent the day in Dubai, at the mall. When in Rome, and all that.
I found a massive, actual bookshop in the Dubai Mall (called Kinokuniya, on the second floor) and spent most of the day – and quite a bit of my wife’s money – there.
Arriving back in Qatar, I queued patiently (Brits would win Olympic gold at this) in the longest immigration queue I’ve ever seen in Doha. I watched with mounting jealousy as QID owners whizzed through the e-gates, while I waited over 45 minutes to extend my time here by another month.
I paid the visa fee with my QNB card, which triggered an automatic SMS to my wife, the account holder (a system more commonly used to alert husbands to their wives’ spending).
She texted back almost immediately. “That took a long time.”
“Yep,” I replied. “But I’m on my way home now.”