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Getting to Saudi Arabia

saudia-arabia-ladies-only

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’ve arrived on the final leg of my Monster Trip of 2009.

I’ve wanted to share some of the details behind my visit to Saudi Arabia for a while, but as you read this article, you’ll probably see why I had to wait before writing about it publicly. Also, fair warning that this will not be a short story.

But first… hey everyone! Important Notice

I’ll give you the full, unedited version of how things went down in Riyadh, but before I do, I want to clarify that I do not go out in the world looking for misadventures. Sometimes I see travel writers focus on what went wrong in an exaggerated, bragging fashion, and I think that’s a sign of an amateur. I do not purposely double-book myself on two flights home from Asia, for example, nor do I enjoy the process of getting put out on the street at midnight in Mongolia. Those things may be part of the journey, but if I could get a do-over, I’d take it.

All that to say when I write about nearly getting deported from Saudi Arabia after arriving without a valid visa, I would have much preferred to have had a very non-eventful arrival. If you get the chance to go to Saudi Arabia – well, to be honest, I’m not sure you’d want to, but I’m getting ahead of myself – I’d definitely advise you to do things properly and wait for the incompetent embassy staff to give you what you need before you jet off to Riyadh.

Background

Long before I left on my trip, I dutifully applied for a 72-hour transit visa that would allow me to hang out in Saudi for a while in between Kuwait and Hong Kong. The forms were tricky (much of the information was only in Arabic) and not very welcoming – I had to sign a waiver about the death penalty, among other things. Thankfully I’m not a woman, or I wouldn’t have even been able to get started with the process.

I sent the forms off with my duplicate passport and waited. After a week went by, I started calling the Saudi consulate in New York. “It’s coming,” they said, although they said so without looking up my information.

When I called again, they couldn’t find my application. Then they did a background check and said my request was denied. When pressed for details, we figured out that they did the background check on my dad. Uh, wrong guy – he’s not coming along. Then they said I couldn’t come because I didn’t have a business sponsor. Uh, I only applied for a 72-hour transit visa, which doesn’t require a sponsor. You kind of see how this is going, yes?

I kept calling and kept being told it was on the way, but I knew better than to expect much. I left for my trip on a Sunday, and opened the mailbox on Saturday afternoon with a mixture of dread and resignation. Alas, it wasn’t there.

At this point I had to leave, but since I could still travel with my original passport, I kept up hope. I continued to call in via Skype, Jolie pitched in to make some calls as well, and a friend in New York did some checking in too – the idea was to sufficiently annoy the consulate to the point where they’d hand over the visa just to get rid of me.

After a couple of days and many phone calls, they gave in and agreed to issue the visa. Success! They would issue it by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, and a friend in New York would pick it up for me early on Thursday morning. I’d be coming into JFK late on Saturday night, leaving again on Sunday night, and my friend would leave the passport for me at my hotel.

What could go wrong?

And then, the big letdown…

The next day, my friend went to the consulate in Manhattan to pick up my passport. At first there was some confusion. “Chris who?” My friend went through the story with them. Then they found it – or actually, they found my name on a list.

“Oh, we mailed that to Portland, Oregon this morning. We knew it was urgent, so that’s why we put it in the mail.”

Yep. Can you believe it?

After six hours (true story, no exaggeration) of repeated phone calls, lots of double-checking, and so on, they finally gave me the visa – but sent it to my home instead of keeping it in the consulate so I could actually get it in time.

When I got the news, I shook my head in dismay, but I also got online and started researching. If the passport could arrive early enough to Portland, maybe I could receive it by FedEx in Amman or Kuwait just before flying to Riyadh.

Unfortunately, even with FedEx, there wasn’t enough time. The passport still hadn’t arrived in Portland, and due to the 4th of July weekend, it’s arrival was almost certain to be delayed by at least a day. No luck there.

That was out, so what could I do? Rerouting the trip at this point would be costly and tedious – I had just rerouted in Portland before leaving, and that took several trips to the American Airlines counter. While it is technically possible to reroute from anywhere in the world, this kind of ticket is dependent on people who understand how it works, and I couldn’t be sure of that where I would be.

The Idea (“In the name of Allah the merciful”)

I finally settled on a third way. The passport couldn’t make it to me in time, but hopefully it would at least arrive in Oregon before I went on to Riyadh. If I could get a high-quality scan of the visa page, maybe I could convince the Saudis to let me in.

I wrote a short letter explaining the situation, and had a friend write an Arabic translation. Friends in the Arab world or students of Arabic, feel free to enjoy this PDF.

(I left out the part about “Even though I am not a Muslim, at least I am not a woman, so I hope you will allow me in” – probably better not to get into that.)

As I was coming off the plane, I had a bad feeling that it wouldn’t work out. To be fair, I often have pre-trip anxieties and other funny feelings along the way, so I can’t say my premonition scale is very accurate. This time, however, my premonition turned out to be closer to the truth.

I looked at the various counter queues and prayed for a sympathetic official. It didn’t really matter, though, because someone else pulled me out of line before long. I was taken to the office of the immigration supervisor, where I had the chance to plead my case.

I went through the whole story, explaining the delay in processing the visa from the New York consulate, how I had been traveling while the visa was approved but hadn’t been able to get the passport, and so on.

The supervisor and his deputy listened and nodded during key points of the story. At the end, he smiled and said, “No English.” Under normal circumstances, I would have found that funny, but as it was I needed to be understood. I showed him my Arabic letter, which both of them read while looking back and forth at my documents.

The supervisor phoned someone else up who turned out to be the deputy manager of the airport. After a while, I was handed the phone. The deputy manager explained to me (in English, naturally) that there was no way I would be able to enter Saudi Arabia. I objected and asked for his help.

“I know, my friend, but I can not allow you into my country. It is forbidden. You will have to change your ticket and go back to Amman.”

I tried appealing on various grounds, but was interrupted at each step. What to do? Finally, I asked, “Sir, are you here in the airport?” He said yes, and I asked if I could meet him in person. It was partially a stalling tactic and partially an attempt at making a more personable appeal. There was a pause, but he said yes.

Great. On to the next step.

I had 40 minutes to wait, which of course was an incredibly long time when you have been told you are in the process being deported. The upside of waiting so long, however, was that with each passing minute, I knew the odds of going back on the flight I came in would go down. (Those flights turn around quickly, usually in about an hour.)

I started running through the possibilities —

Option 1 (best): Convince the authorities to let me enter the country. This was still the goal.

Option 2 (not good): Convince the authorities to let me enter the transit area, where I would stay for more than 50 hours before my flight to Asia on Cathay Pacific. Hopefully they’d have some kind of internet access in the transit area, but everything else would be very basic.

I know what you’re thinking: staying in the transit area for more than two whole days was the second-best option? Yes, really – that’s why I was worried. I don’t normally count airport stops, but if I was forced to camp out for 50 hours in Riyadh’s airport, I might be willing to make an exception.

Option 3 (not good): Get deported back to Amman, buy a one-way ticket on Saudi Arabian airlines two days later, use that to return to Riyadh in legitimate transit this time, and transfer to my Cathay Pacific flight.

Option 4: Re-route the OW ticket yet again. See above: this would be very difficult to do on location in the Middle East. Just as with Option 3, I also wouldn’t be able to say I had been to Saudi Arabia, thus necessitating another trip later.

The Decision

By this point at least six officials from the airport had become involved. Two of them spoke English, and the deputy airport manager was slowly warming to me. He told me of a recent trip he made to visit his brother in New York. For some reason they also went to Arkansas, and so I immediately became an expert on Arkansas. “You know that’s where President Clinton was from, right? And Wal-Mart, too?”

I do what I have to do. After more than half an hour of discussion, I could tell their tone was changing. Since I don’t understand Arabic, I mostly kept smiling and offering helpful suggestions whenever I could chime in.

In the end, they let me go, subject to the supervision of Royal Jordanian (the airline I came in on) and the Sheraton hotel. This made for a comedic couple of days, because every few hours someone from the hotel would call my room to check on me. “Is everything OK, sir?”

“Well, I can’t find the minibar, but otherwise, I’m great.”

“OK, sir. We’ll call again shortly.”

In Riyadh

By now most of you know that I write more about the process of travel than the destination. Some people love this and others don’t, but the thing is that there is no way I could possibly be an expert on everywhere I go. Other people do that much better than me, so I generally leave it to them. As far as I know, I’m on the short list of people who are willing to crash-land in places like Saudi Arabia and try to talk my way into the country.

Anyway, let’s talk about Saudi Arabia. I was there a short time, but it’s fair to say that I’m not really a fan. Women have effectively no rights. Foreign women aren’t even allowed into the country without being accompanied by their husband or father. Ladies, if you don’t have a husband and don’t want to travel with dad in tow, it seems you’re out of luck in Saudi.

Not that you’re missing a lot. I went to happy hour at the Sheraton, which offered a choice of orange juice, apple juice, or tonic water. Under ordinary circumstances I would have asked for a little orange juice to go with my vodka, but after the airport experience I was beaten into submission. Since the hotel staff were already calling my room every three hours to check on me (“Sir? Just making sure everything is alright?”), I decided that no other troublemaking would take place.

During the day I worked out in the fitness center and went to shopping malls. That’s pretty much all that a non-Muslim, Western visitor can do in Riyadh, so that’s what I did.

I ate light meals in the Club Lounge at the Sheraton. No one checks ID there, presumably because no one ever comes to crash the apple juice happy hour. If you ever find yourself without plans in Riyadh and get tired of the mall, head on up to the 5th floor of the Sheraton and enjoy some free cheese and crackers. If you’re lucky, you might even get a Sprite Zero.

Final Notes

After receiving four phone calls and two knocks on my door during the final day, I checked out and headed to the airport in a taxi. The local manager of Royal Jordanian came by the Cathay Pacific counter to deliver my passport and ensure I went through the immigration area. “We want to make sure you get to your flight,” he said. Thanks, I thought. I’m sure you do.

I went in the airline lounge, where more orange juice and tonic water was on offer. A couple hours later I boarded the Cathay jet. One hour after takeoff I had a glass of cabernet and looked down at the desert below. I went to Hong Kong and then on to Kuala Lumpur, where I’m based for most of this week before going home.

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Image: “Ladies Only” Shopping Mall

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    61 Comments

    • Glad you made it in (and out!) … loved reading this story. Sounds like exactly what I would do (though hopefully when I make it to Riyadh I’ll have a slightly less eventful entry).

    • Sean says:

      Chris,

      For some reason, I really enjoyed this article! I am not usually one to enjoy in the hardships of others, but this made for some very interesting reading. Maybe it is because you don’t get to hear a first hand account of someone traveling to Saudi Arabia very often. Nonetheless, I am very glad to hear everything worked out in the end, and that you are on step closer to achieving your goal!

      Sean

    • Fabian says:

      Great read, Chris – I think you were really lucky and this is a good example for trying desperate things and getting to ones end!

      We EU and US citizens are so very, very, incredibly lucky to have the right passports and thus not having to deal with such issues too much. For a Colombian travelling to our countries, even TRYING to do what you did in Saudi Arabia would be nothing but impossible.

      Hopefully, one day the politicans will understand that they cannot stop the globalization of the people. I wish the best to every Mexican jumping the fence, every African getting on a boat to Lampedusa…

    • Nick says:

      Impressive. kudos for just getting in. but very captivating read. definitely makes my own and most others’ travel mishaps or struggles seem humorously trivial. enjoy malaysia! i’ll be in hong kong soon enough myself.

    • David Cain says:

      Glad it all worked out (somewhat) Chris. Made me laugh… apple juice happy hour, sounds like a real riot.

    • Paula says:

      I have friends who lived in Saudi Arabia for 2 years while he did a construction project. She rarely went out of the apartment complex. Said it was a great experience, but doesn’t miss it a bit.

    • Chris,
      That reads much like a story my husband tells of getting dumped out in one of the Soviet block countries in the early sixties without a transit visa. He had been hitchhiking and when the fellows who picked him up decided he didn’t have anything of value to steal, they tossed him out the door.

      He had to do some quick talking too…

      Needless to say, it worked out in the end, but must have been as much a circus as your “pass through.”

      Save travels!

    • Rebecca says:

      I can’t believe I’m enjoying these emails so much. I was wondering how this Saudi trip was gonna go…

    • Carla says:

      I really enjoyed reading this as well. I was curious how your visit to Saudi Arabia would turn out and I got my answer.
      Interesting fact that foreign women visitors must travel with their husband or father. Dad’s out, so I guess I need to find myself a hubby.

    • Hussein says:

      Loved the story, didn’t expect much less.

      Hate to admit, this is Saudi, lots of restrictions.

      Have you been to Bahrain yet? (My Country) you will love it here..

      Saudi people come to Bahrain every weekend to breathe.

      Keep us updated with these great stories and change the world Chris

    • Angie says:

      Hysterical and horrible all at the same time! Guess you didn’t try to smuggle in mini bottles of Vodka, huh? 😉 Safe travels as you go…

    • Kevin M says:

      What would you have done differently if you had the visa and entered Saudi Arabia without incident?

    • Annmarie says:

      Yikes….. Sounds, uh….. frustrating, limited and sorry… boring, malls??? I only go to the mall when my ten year old wants to go to Claire’s to buy crappy jewelry. Its kind of like the same experience you had, traveling to feel trapped, they probably had a GAP.

      Take Hussein’s advice and go to Bahrain.

    • John says:

      That was an impressive story of hardship, Chris. All of that effort just to go to an ultimately tame excursion in Saudi Arabia… it’s amazing. It’s great to see how dedicated you are in traveling and, most of all, achieving your goal.

      I wish you could’ve had a smoother time. Nonetheless, you’re on the last leg of the trip. Congradulations!

    • Hilary Jones says:

      Great story Chris. I travelled worldwide for many years for work and miss the adventure. There’s nothing like a story about events which though difficult at the time, mellow with age. This was definitely some adventure and will be a great one to talk about through the years! As a woman, I never got to go to Saudi – my male colleagues got those gigs. Looks as though I didn’t miss much. Glad you’re safely in Singapore.

    • Lake says:

      Great story. I think you’re amazing for trying to talk your way in, first of all, and I’m glad all turned out well. Could you tell us more bout the waiver you had to sign?

    • Alex says:

      Made me laugh pretty hard, though it probably wasn’t laughable for you while you were living it. Did anyone try to stop/intercept the package they mailed from the embassy to your home? If caught in time, it can be done.

    • Larry H50 says:

      Great read! You were successful, because you didn’t fold your tent and give up. There is usually a way. In my travels, I used to live by the “it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission” rule. Of course I didn’t try that when surrounded by automatic-weapons toting airport security in Germany.

      I always enjoy your telling of the process of the travel. You have a way with words and thoughts.

      Onward!

    • Even as one that loves to travel, this does not sound fun Chris. But I’m glad you shared it all – helped to pave the way for the rest of us 🙂 And I’m glad you share the piece about women in SA – while I’ve read alot about it, the first hand experience you’ve had just makes it all the more real and equally as disturbing. As usual, can’t wait for the next post…

    • Jennifer says:

      I feel very sad realizing that no woman can ever do what you are trying to do, Chris. No woman can ever go to every country. That’s just…depressing.

    • anjowi8 says:

      Chris:

      A male friend who went to Saudi to visit his dad says that when he got picked up at the airport, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes once he was in the car on the way to the hotel, and the guy driving nearly had a fit.
      The driver did this not because he was a non-smoker, but because it was during the month-long holiday called Ramadan, and smoking is against the law in Saudi, at least during Ramadan, and the driver was afraid they would get pulled over…not to be issued a ticket or even to be arrested, but to be summarily shot and killed!

    • Aaron says:

      Chris,

      Great writing, and entertaining, as always. I enjoy hearing about your journeys, and look forward to more.

      Safe travels,
      Aaron

    • Wow. What an adventure. I guess I will never have a chance to visit that country since I have no husband and way passed the age where I travel with my father.

    • e says:

      I hope the Saudi’s learn to be happy with the world and with themselves, somehow. And that their women will be free soon and the men will celebrate their love and beauty.

      I’ve been fortunate that all of the middle eastern people I’ve met – Iranians (male and female), Jordanian (male), Palestinian (male and female) and Iraeli (female), were all exceptionally cool and kind people. Of course, they were all here, enjoying the freedom of the US. The Jordanian did have a wife back in Jordan in a burka, but that’s not to say she was oppressed, necessarily. I should have asked him to describe her life a bit more, I suppose.

      Glad you met your goal safely.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Chris,

      Finally! The results of the Saudi leg of the trip… Great story, although I admire your lack of capitalization on the negative events of travel. The interesting part is that those complications are usually inevitable (especially if you are going to Saudi Arabia!) My brother had some college student-exchange friends that I hung out with a bit from Saudi Arabia. Very sweet guys… and a very interesting culture. They made me capsa, and we sat on the floor and they taught me which hand was the right one to eat with. I’m thinking that’s as close I ever want to get to the actual country. Great article! 🙂

      Karen

    • Great persistence, Chris. Wow.

      I have crossed Saudi Arabia off ‘My Next Vacation’ list. It was sitting at #32,432 previously so it won’t be too big a deal.

      I live in Vancouver… you should hang out here for a few days! We have a million things to do and women are treated extremely well here. 🙂 I may even be able to fit in some time with you in between my Skeleton training for the 2010 Olympics.

      Thanks

    • J.Renee says:

      Glorious! Chris, you lived my dream! I’m very sad to hear about the husband/father fact. You and you alone would be able to talk yourself into Saudi. Glad you got your well earned wine in the end 🙂

    • Pam Belding says:

      I’m so glad you made it through all of that craziness safe and sound. This article is the exactly why I subscribe to you. You are funny, persistent and a wonderful writer. Enjoy being anywhere but Saudi and have a refreshing cocktail while your at it!

    • haha, great story Chris. You can tell in the writing that you are less than pleased with the situation, but I am always an admirer of the way you are able to plead your case in situations like this.

      Ahh, nothing like a drink to wash the stale taste of the Middle East away 🙂

    • Ola says:

      It would be interesting to see how many countries in the world a woman travelling on her own would be able to visit.

      Since I am not a Muslim and I am a woman, and especially an unmarried one, with a father who’s not into international travel – I think I’ll have to postpone visiting Saudi Arabia until my circumstances change. Or theirs.

    • Amira says:

      very funny and interesting..good experience though 🙂

    • Jo Moss says:

      We have been working in the Middle East for four years (my partner Qatar, Saudi) me Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain. Now we are both in Doha. Your experience is so typical of how life works (or doesn’t) in this part of the world. It drives all us foreigners completely mad! Two more years for us and then we leave insanity to return to our (thankfully) normal lives.

    • Andi says:

      I don’t know…I’m not a fan of people bragging about their misadventures to prove that they are a “real traveler,” but they sure make for interesting stories!!! I didn’t want yours to end it was so intriguing. So glad you made it into the country. I hate SA’s treatment of women, however if given the chance to go I would. I just need to find a man that will take me. 😉

    • Ian C says:

      Wow. Interesting read. There’s always issues like this with non-Westernized non-English speaking countries. Its fantastic that you maintained your composure, and were able to negotiate entry. Not sure I would have been so successful.

      I would say to other readers, who are thinking of postponing travel based on your story, and the hardship you had to go through; that they should not, and if they want to visit Saudi Arabia, go through the process and apply. Everyone’s journey is different, and just because one person has trouble, does not mean that everyone will get the same treatment.

      Good luck, and great post 🙂

    • Wow! At least you have a story to tell people when talking about Saudi Arabia now. Instead of got there, went to the hotel, drank some orange juice, did some shopping, got back on the plane.

      And it’s a great warning to anyone, especially women, who are thinking of passing through or visiting this country.

    • Nate says:

      This was just an incredibly entertaining read. Glad everything worked out for you. I’m amazed at your ability to fight away stress.

    • Ari Herzog says:

      Fascinating story, Chris–along with the link from January on how to request a second passport. I never knew!

      This is especially useful as there’s a possibility I may fly to Riyadh this fall–though at the invitation of the King so I’d likely not have the potential deportation issues you experienced.

    • Wow, what a crazy story! I am glad you made it in (finally!) After all the set backs, I might have been more than a little discouraged after the first few.

      I am looking forward to reading the rest of your journey in visiting all the counties of the world.

    • Nicole says:

      Reading this makes me grateful I was born in NY.

      I have way to much to do to imagine being stifled.

    • Ian Byrd says:

      What an amazing story! Thanks for reporting on your adventures. I’ve discovered your blog this summer and can’t wait to share some of your experiences and ideas with my gifted sixth graders when school starts up again. They’ll love your outside-of-the-box living!

    • Etsuko says:

      Chris,

      I was wondering when I saw your tweets about wanting to find someone who can translate something into Arabic. Now I got the whole story. Did you end up finding a help by twitter? If so, that could make another great story on how useful twitter can be.

      I’m glad they let you in & let you out safely!
      Etsuko

    • Oliver says:

      I am surprised Royal Jordanian didn’t check your visa before letting you board for the flight to Riyadh. After all, they’d be responsible for transporting you back in case of deportation. And maybe even a nice hefty fine?!

      Oh, and I can think of an option #5…. that would have been truly unpleasant.

      I think Saudi Arabia is fairly low on my travel ‘to-do’ list :). Loved Jordan earlier in the year, though.

    • Adrian says:

      Great story Chris, and top marks for perseverance. If it’s any consolation I don’t think you missed out on much had you got in as originally planned.

      I went to Saudi on business a couple of years ago and although I had no problems getting in or out, the week in kingdom was still plagued by miles of red tape. I was working at an oil refinery and staying in a purpose built workers compound 19 miles away. As I was just visiting I had to get a temporary security pass for both the refinery and the compound every day, handing in my passport while in each place. I went through 8 security gates every day – it added an hour and a half to what was an 11 hour day to start with.

      Never been so pleased to leave a place!!

    • Tiffaney Derreumaux says:

      I’m astonished and impressed that you talked your way into Saudi, Chris. When you were saying you were going, I really thought it just wouldn’t happen or you would pass some time in the holding tent. My dad lived in Saudi Arabia for ten years, so I know the hassles very well. My trip got delayed many times because of visa problems, when my dad was waiting on the other end for me to spend the school holidays with him. His company had to come up with accommodations and watch out for me during those times, so the company was trying hard to get me in and they are used to dealing with the embassy.

      Now, I feel a bit guilty because I didn’t tell you the things that you should try while there. I know Jiddah and not Riyadh, so I wouldn’t have been able to give you specific places to go and you probably wouldn’t have been permitted to go to those spots anyway. But I could have told you to ask the hotel staff to get you certain foods that are much better than cheese and crackers.

    • Bram says:

      While I can understand Chris’s difficulties with his time in Saudi Arabia (I did have a chance to visit for two weeks in 2005), I also think that this post has a sense of entitlement. I understand that Chris went through all the hoops to get a transit visa, but in the end he tried to enter the country without one in hand. As someone who had the same problem on a visit to India and tried to talk my way in, there is a sense of entitlement in assuming that the country should just change its policies to accommodate one’s travel whims. It’s something that we as Americans often don’t think about. Think about the challenges that face many of the world’s peoples when they show up in the US. Do you think that US officials would just let in any Iranian or Venezuelan who doesn’t have the paperwork?

      As for your time in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is just one part of Saudi Arabia. The city is not exciting, but to say “During the day I worked out in the fitness center and went to shopping malls. That’s pretty much all that a non-Muslim, Western visitor can do in Riyadh, so that’s what I did” is just not true. I was staying at the Ritz-Carlton, but yet I went into downtown Riyadh. I visited the main square. I saw the original fort (heavily reconstructed) that was at the heart of old Riyadh. I walked through the bazaars. I talked to locals. I visited museums. I actually made it a point to experience as much of Riyadh as I could.

      And if you really want to see a different side of Saudi Arabia, visit Jiddah on the western coast. The city has been the main port of entry for Mecca for over a thousand years. The old city has beautiful architecture and winding streets. There are people from all over the world living there. Many of them are Africans who shared incredible stories about their time living in Saudi Arabia. Jiddah is a far more cosmopolitan city than Riyadh.

      At the same time, I do want to make it quite clear that I believe there is horrible patriarchy and racism against South and Southeast Asians in Saudi Arabia. There are many other problems as well, but that is not all Saudi Arabia is.

    • Rasheed says:

      I’m not surprised to hear what happened to you since you didn’t have your transit visa with you.

      But as always in Saudi, if you can charm the officials involved in your predicament they will usually bend the rules a little for you.

      I bet a Saudi, or any other foreigner, arriving in the US without a transit visa wouldn’t be allowed into the US!

    • Joe says:

      Chris sorry to hear about your Saudi woes… but that’s a funny story! It was like a traffic accident, I just couldn’t look away. You handled the whole situation very cleverly though, and if nothing else… it made for some great content. Hope you are enjoying a little more “freedom” where you are now.

    • A Saudi says:

      Enjoyed reading your story, I am surprised and impressed the Saudi’s let you in without the visa. Your experience could have been better if you had some help in my country. Without a guide it can be very boring or even worse.

      I would be interested in being a guide for a first time visitor; interesting to observe the observer.

    • Wyman says:

      I really enjoyed your mis-adventure.

      I was a teenager there in the 50″s and had a little better experience. One Bible/family and no products made by Jewish companies.

      We lived in Aramco company camps that allowed Arabs in during the day to work, but not at night. The Indian service workers also lived in a separate camp. My brother and I used to go to the Persian Gulf fishing with them on the weekends. The camps are now integrated.

      Girls could travel to nearby Arab towns and the three company camps on Aramco (Arabian American Oil Co) company buses. We always had a soldier with a single shot rifle to “guard us.” Women did not have to wear burkas but had to cover arms and wear dresses, no pants.

      I had a few Arab friends at work and helped them with their English and math lessons. I also snuck them pastries from our commesary that they loved. Some Arabs loved us and others were not very friendly. In all it was a great two year experience. We attended high school in Beirut, Lebanon. We had a ball. It was before the 15 year civil war.

      Most Arabs act very differently when out of the country. Double standard for sure. What men do would cause lose of head for any woman.

    • Chris says:

      @Bram – a few comments earlier –

      I think entitlement would be assuming that the country would automatically let me in without the paperwork. As mentioned, I did not assume that at all and was actually quite worried that they wouldn’t. The issue in this case was that they did actually issue me a visa, thus granting permission, but I didn’t receive the second passport in time.

      It is true that the U.S. (and many other countries) would not allow most Iranians or Venezuelans in without good paperwork, but that is somewhat irrelevant to my situation.

    • Haider says:

      Hi Chris!

      I didn’t know your trip to Saudi was so eventful (in a bad way!)

      I’m glad you’re safe and sound now, and that you were able to share this story with us.

      I hope next time there won’t be a next time! Haha!

      Haider

    • Colin Wright says:

      Maybe someday they will change their tune about women visitors from other countries. Until then, however, they will not have access to all intellectual and interpersonal benefits that we gain from having (at least legally) equal rights for both sexes.

      This story definitely makes me want to ‘crash land’ in new countries, rather than planning my trips so extensively. I might have to try my hand and such negotiations after I’ve got a few more locations under my belt 🙂

    • John Burgess says:

      Actually, foreign women are permitted in Saudi Arabia, on their own (i.e., without a sponsor) if they actually have something legitimate to do. Female journalists, for example, have no problem getting visas. Women on the rare tourist visa are also permitted entry. Tourist visas, though, are usually only granted for groups, not individuals.

      Saudi bureaucracy is not fun to deal with, though. When you combine ambiguously written regulations with less-than-superbly educated bureaucrats–more than a few of whom are happy to exceed their authority if they think the regulations are wanting–makes for headaches, no doubts about it.

    • I’ve done the around-the-world ticket thing myself, and have explored Asia, Africa, Latin America & Europe. But I’ve never had that big a run-in with travel officials. Thanks for reminding us how important it is to plan ahead, keep your cool when things don’t go as-planned, and never assume it can’t be done just because someone says “it can’t be done.”

      I appreciate the info for women travelers. I wouldn’t go to the Middle East without my husband, because of the potential for harassment. But it’s good to know the rules.

    • Wow Chris, this was hell of a story, very well written and kept me interested. I’m glad you could be finally spend your transit time at the hotel and mall rather than at the transit area in the airport.

    • Ken says:

      Chris, congrats on negotiating this situation successfully. It sounds like a crazy experience.

      I assume that you know this but wanted to post it just in case you do not: AVOID DEPORTATION FROM ANY COUNTRY IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE.

      Being deported from ANY country can make you inadmissable to many other countries. At the very least, it can require that you go through a special visa approval process even for countries for which you would normally not need a visa as a US citizen.

      “Have you ever been deported from any country?” is a standard question on most visa applications. Answering YES is not going to make the visa process easier!

    • Jasper says:

      Hi Chris,

      Nice site. I’m not surprised at what happened to you but believe me, even us with a visa has had a hard time coming in.

      First time i got here (with visa and all), they made me lose my connecting flight to Jeddah. Why? Because they need to check my portable harddisk for porn!

      Yeah, it was stupid. I told them that I am working in Jeddah for over 2 years so I do know not to bring anything illegal but instead they detained me for over 5 hours making me miss my connecting flight.

      To top it off, my Saudi sponsor didn’t bother booking me a hotel or have someone meet me in the airport. Tried calling their mobile but got no answer.

      I could go on and on…

      As for women, they have rights… it’s just something no one discuss. Trust me, you think they don’t have certain rights but actually they are the closest thing to being untouchables. As I said, long story.

      Drop me a note when you happen to pass by Jeddah. ^_^

    • yowza. glad you’re on to greener pastures- though the apple juice happy hour did give me a chuckle!

    • Chase says:

      As I often say, “The Journey is the Destination.”

      …and sometimes the journey just gets a little bit whacky.

      Glad your “Plan #1” panned out!

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