Friday, June 22, 2012

Licensed to drive, Hitting the Saudi Trifecta

Another great week has past here in the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia that is, not to be confused with the Magical Kingdom which I am sure would have some sort of trademark infringement ;-). From the few bits of communication that I had with Tennessee, it sounds like the family reunion was a great success. I think that Barbara and the kids are now on their way for their westward adventure that will culminate with them joining me at KAUST in the middle of July.

On the local front, because of the inherent amounts of hassle and bureaucracy that come with things I used to take for granted, I continue to celebrate seemingly inconsequential milestones. This week's? Getting a driving license :-)

I went into the adventure with the anticipation that there would be mind-numbing bureaucracy, ambiguous expectations, and poor customer service. I am glad to report that I once again hit the trifecta, but since my expectations were so low I could smile about it and mumble my new favoriate phrase from the movie Madagascar, "just smile and wave boys, just smile and wave"

I was fortunate to have someone to warn me so I was sort of prepared. We met at Government Affairs at KAUST and then had to arrange your own transport to the licensing place north of campus about 45 km. I had already lined up a car and driver (320 SAR/ ~$85USD) and was able to help out a guy so we split the car which was nice. Once we got to Rabigh our first order of business was to get a green folder. I already had one, but since this was the one that our GA rep suggested, and it was only 2 SAR (~0.53 USD) I got one. This worked out because it had some posts for holding paper and it was what was expected.

Next we go to the clinic for our driving physical (60 SAR, ~$16 USD). This consisted of a blood test and an eye exam. The blood test was one that I actually could have studied for. It went like this, "Do you know your blood type?", "A positive", "now go up stairs to the eye exam". (I just hope that I remembered right ;-) Now it is my belief the eye exam is not simply a test to see if you can read signs, but it also tests your ability to follow vague directions, your willingness to wander aimlessly, and even a bit of Latin. As we walk up the stairs there are no helpful signs (in any language) to assist us with our quest. I just happened to see a door down a hallway that said "ophtha office".

 I thought that sounds like ophthalmologist, let's see. We were met by a nice young lady who directed us back down the hall to a waiting area. In the waiting area some of the people had numbers so we went back down in search of such a thing for ourselves. When we were unsuccessful, we asked the woman and she said we didn't need them. After a little while we were led back down the hall where she took each of us into the doctors office, flashed some letters on the wall, and then had us leave the paperwork with the doctor. After a few minutes she brought it back and we headed in search of a doctor in the ER who had to sign and stamp our papers.

From here we went out to the driving facility a few miles away. First we had to get our English driver's licensed translated into Arabic (90 SAR/ $24USD) He was in this little shack across from the actual testing facility and kept pretty busy, but I think he gave everyone the best customer service of the whole adventure. We then paid our license fee (I took the 5 year option @ 240 SAR/ ~$64USD) and headed across the street to window #4 (which was of course empty). Fortunately one of our merry band was already in a different line so we lined up behind him. Once we got to the front we found out that we needed to get a stamp from the windows behind us, so we did and came back.

Then we had to go out for our test drive. There are already about a dozen people when I get there and only 2 cars driving around the middle of the facility and it looked pretty extensive, but they just kept driving. Finally a couple of officers came out and started to get in a couple of other cars. One asked who knew how to drive stick and instantly his car was full before I could get to it. Fortunately they drove one lap and it was my turn. We got in with a guy who said he could drive stick (because there was still a number of people waiting to drive the automatic), but after he stalled it twice trying to start out the officer made him get out and I jumped behind the wheel. We buckled up drove 20 yards, and he said good, now pull over. We played a little Chinese fire drill, and by the time we finished the lap all 3 of use had passed the test.

Now it is about noon and I am thinking that we might make it out before dhuhr (the prayer after midday). We get inside and there is no line  My Muslim Pro app (a must for any logistical considerations in KSA) tells me dhuhr is going to happen a 12:22 so we have about 20 minutes. What do I find when I get to the window? That's right, NOONE! For the next 20 minutes I am anxiously hoping that we will see this officer and he can take our forms. And then we see him with about 3 minutes to spare. As expected, he tells me to sit down until after prayers (just smile and wave boys, just smile and wave). Fortunately there is a cafeteria next door and I was able to get a couple of CHEAP sandwiches (2 SAR).

After prayers, our would be benefactor sits patiently in his chair drinking his coffee and to his credit our line of people didn't bother him a bit. I decided to sit down in a different area that is a bit cooler, but away from the window. After a few minutes one of my traveling buddies comes in and says that the network crashed. Finally about 2:00 we get his final stamp (sidenote: this paper had 7 stamps when it was done, not to mention the signatures that didn't have a stamp) and are then told that the license will be ready tomorrow. KAUST Government Affairs will pick it up and send me an email to come pick it up. So I should probably get it tomorrow or Sunday.

Green Folder: 2 SAR
"Physical": 60 SAR
Translation: 90 SAR
5 year License: 240 SAR
Driver and car: 320 SAR
Winning the Saudi Trifecta: PRICELESS!!


  1. Hi Kent,

    I am curious if you had an American driver's license, why did you have to take the driving test?

  2. I am not completely sure. It was just part of the process to get the drivers license. I am told that if I had a business visa that I would not have had to go through the whole licensing process, but if you become a resident then you have to get a Saudi license. I think part of it is that the roads are dangerous, and this is one way to at least show the ability to drive. So many people lie about what they can and can't do. Even during the driving test, when the manual transmission was the only one available people lied so that they could try and get the test done. In the end it is more annoying than troublesome.

    According to your blog it looks like you are getting ready to start with your own adventure as well. As long as you have a good sense of humor, you will be fine. Things that should be simple and common sense tend to be mind numbingly complicated (such as getting a drivers license ;-) Let me know if you have any questions as you are going through the process.

    Best wishes,


  3. Hi Kent,

    I arrived at KAUST about a month ago. So far so good, I must say. In regards to the driving license, did a GASC representative go with you and guide you through the entire process (especially the Arabic)?