Pakistani and vacationing in the Middle East? Think again!

Published: November 15, 2013

The bus driver asked me to walk back from the Saudi border to the UAE border.

I am sure you have had one of those conversations in which you end up making a random plan with a friend. Well, that is what happened to me. I have a friend in Jeddah and while talking to him, we realised that we had not met in a long time and hence, I made a plan to take a short trip to Dubai.

He was going to travel from Jeddah and he managed to find a flight but I could not get a ticket. However, I have crossed international borders before by road, to the Far East and to India via the Khokrapar-Munabao train, so I decided to take the Dammam-Dubai bus route.

This route is managed by Saudi Arabia’s national transport company, SAPTCO. I asked my travel agent in Pakistan to arrange a United Arab Emirates (UAE) visa for me and on October 14, 2013, I was on my way to Dubai.

My UAE visa did not specify if I was allowed entry via road, which made me a little nervous. However, when I reached the UAE immigration booth at the border, I was granted entry without any objections. I cannot explain the relief and happiness I felt at that moment – I was in for an adventure and all the roads seemed to be opening up for me.

After spending two spectacular, fun-filled days with my friends in Dubai, I returned to the bus terminal at Dera,  for my return to Dammam, on October 17. Post a six-hour journey, we reached the UAE side of the border and proceeded to immigration where the officer stamped my passport with the exit stamp.

The bus drove us to the Saudi side of the border, which is about three kilometres away from the UAE border. Once again, we stepped out of the bus and approached the immigration counter. When my turn came, the officer looked at my visa and asked me to step aside. I stepped out of the line, thinking optimistically that the officer would return my passport to me after first dealing with Saudi nationals, since citizens tend to have priority during immigration.

This did not happen.

He said something to me in Arabic, which I obviously did not understand, and returned my passport without stamping an entry on it.

Now, I was really surprised and a little nervous.

Just then the bus driver walked by and the immigration officer said something to him in Arabic. The only words that I could decipher were dakhool (entry) and taera (airplane). I connected the dots and guessed that he was saying that I could not enter through this port on this visa. However, since I had been granted an exit from the same port, I was quite convinced that he was mistaken.

The bus driver then guided me to another room where a senior immigration officer was busy playing the Arabic version of Angry Birds. I tried to explain to him that his colleague was not allowing me to enter Saudi Arabia, despite having a return ticket issued by the government authority and a valid visa. I also told him that I had been allowed to exit from the same port only two days ago. Looking at me disdainfully, he simply shrugged his shoulders and continued with his 399th level of Angry Birds.

Then the driver dropped another bombshell on me.

He asked the officer to address the matter as soon as possible since I would not be allowed entry back in the UAE either. Like a broken record, the official kept saying the same thing in Arabic, which to me seemed that the only way I would be allowed entry would be via air. By this time, my mind had given out, and for the life of me, I could not think of a solution to this crisis.

What the driver did next, was simply unbelievable. He off-loaded my luggage from the bus and asked me to walk back towards UAE.

I looked at him incredulously. How could he expect me to walk three kilometres, on a dark and deserted road?

How was I expected to explain my case to the UAE officials?

In spite of repeated pleas and requests, he simply did not seem to care and left me there, all the while readying his other passengers for their trip to Saudi Arabia. Scared and dumbfounded, I started walking towards the UAE border, all the while cursing my fate.

About 30 minutes into the walk, I saw a bus coming from Saudi Arabia and I frantically signaled to the bus, hoping that it would stop. Fortunately it did and after explaining to the driver why I was walking between borders in broken Arabic, English and sign language, I finally managed to convince him to take me to UAE.

Once there, I tried to explain to the officials, unsuccessfully, that I wanted a re-entry into the UAE since I had not been allowed to enter Saudi Arabia.

Just when I was losing all hope and imagining the worst of circumstances, I found an Urdu speaking officer to whom I explained the entire situation. After listening to my case, he took my passport and left. The worst case scenario, I imagined, was that UAE officials would not allow me entry either, and I would have to spend my time between border areas, until my travel agent arranged a new UAE visa for me. With dread, I thought that I would not be able to stay for that long on the border.

Eventually, I stopped thinking and began praying instead.

After about an hour, the officer returned with a letter from the Interior Ministry. He explained that he had managed to get my exit cancelled. He handed me the letter and instructed me to give it to the officials while making the exit.

I cannot express the gratitude I felt for this kind soul. He had literally saved me from spending a night or more on the highway! Fortunately, after two hours of waiting on the border, a bus carrying Egyptians travelling to Dubai came along and I managed to find a seat with them.

I reached Dubai, caught the first flight leaving for Saudi Arabia and vowed never to try any such adventures in the Middle East ever again!

Mohammad Adil Usman

Mohammad Adil Usman

A proud Pakistani, working for a representative company of IBM in Saudi Arabia as an IT consultant who loves travelling within and outside of Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sami

    i failed to see how any of this has any thing to do with you being a Pakistani … don’t get me wrong … the Saudi officials are dumb and stupid .. but this could have happened to anyone .. not just you .. and remember .. the UAE officials eventually allowed u reentry even though ur passport got exit stamped … and the fact bus terminal ppl don’t speak English is not their fault .. its ur fault u don’t speak Arabic coming to an Arabic country … almost 99% of bus travelers (international trips) in the middle east are Arabs .. why would bus officers need to learn English ??? … instead of blaming them and implying racism .. plan your travels properly next time … cheers !!Recommend

  • JJ

    This is a common situation. Happens all the time. Don’t worry, the port of exit has to take you back.Recommend

  • MUX

    You were incredibly lucky. Could have been lot worse. Being Pakistani has much to do with it. In a report, produced in collaboration with the IATA, Henley & Partners ranked citizens’ visa-free access to other countries as of July 2013 on a 219-point scale:

    Top 5 Best Passports For Visa-Free Travel
    1 Finland, Sweden, UK
    2 Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, U.S.
    3 Belgium, Italy, Netherlands
    4 Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain
    5 Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland

    Bottom 10 Passports For Visa-Free Travel
    89 Nepal
    90 Eritrea, Palestinian Territory
    91 Pakistan, Somalia
    92 Iraq
    93 AfghanistanRecommend

  • Saad Syed

    Yea I gotta agree with Sami, the fault entirely lies with you! You need to check with border immigration authorities before your departure into another ME country. I am also wondering since you are working in Saudia and you probably have residency in S.A why did you need a visa to travel into the Emirates? Not sure how it works but I had heard if you have residency in one of the Gulf countries you don’t need a visa anyhow to cut this short you need to educate yourself more considering you work for a company associated with IBM. It indeed baffles me that you could have asked your HR department or anyone else working in your company for guidance height of immaturity sometimes these hard lessons do indeed serve a purpose instead of ‘yadding’ it out on media you should look within yourself and ask aren’t you at fault here? and you can’t put the blame entirely on the poor drivers or the immigration officer playing angry birds you know how arabs are now come on you work there. Think wisely, think smartly next time you plan a trip in that region!Recommend

  • Shoaib

    I don’t understand the point of the title.This has absolutely nothing to do with being a Pakistani.Recommend

  • PkMountie

    There is no such thing as Arabic country. They are Arab countries or Arabic speaking countries. Do you call Pakistan, urdu country?Recommend

  • Queen

    I dont know why you are implying that this happened to you because you were a Pakistani. Every country has certain visa regulations and the GCC counties are strict in this process. It is true that officials of the GCC countries can sometimes be a pain the neck but they are some cooperative ones too. I am saying this because i have traveled to almost all GCC countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. The language barrier creates major problem in these areas.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    So you went to the border hoping you will be allowed to enter! You should have already verified that before leaving and yes for both ways! Poor planning! All this had nothing to do with you being a Pakistani! That would write a blog on this is a extreme, really!

    For reference, I travel frequently through Hong Kong to my onward destinations. Pakistanis transiting through HK need a transit/airside visa unless they hold resident permit of certain countries. I always check to make sure I meet their (HK immigration as well the airline I am flying with) requirements and not hope I will be allowed to go through. Rules are rules.Recommend

  • Syeda

    Dear Sami
    Of course there is discrimination in the ME towards Pakistanis. Have you looked at the visa regimes of gulf countries. Citizens of western countries can get visa on arrival while Pakistanis cannot dream of that. In fact, Kuwait does not grant work visas for Pakistanis, the last time I checked – while consulting to the government of Qatar on how to make their country more investment friendly. Actually my client country also regularly limits work visas for certain nationalities.
    Now one can argue that Pakistanis are terrorists and so not welcome in most countries. This argument, though logical, is misplaced in context when we consider few simple facts – most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi and heck, the chief – Osama himself was Saudi. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund Islamic militants as we recently saw in Syria so in short, they want to keep away the spawn of their own doing.
    As for Adil Usman’s story there are some facts you are ignoring. (1) He was allowed exit by road but not allowed re-entry. This is an inconsistent policy which I have not seen in my travels to 30+ countries. Actually for most countries, a visa is a visa and you can enter/exit from any port of entry/exit. (2) The guy was playing angry birds while Adil was in a severely difficult situation. This behavior implies arrogance. No wonder Adil felt humiliated (3) Other people on Adil’s bus were allowed to enter Saudi Arabia. He was singled out because of something – maybe because of his nationality. We cannot say.
    You are correct in saying that this does not mean that they are arrogant just to Pakistanis – they could just have inconsistent policies and are just generally arrogant but I think Adil is trying to give them benefit of the doubt.Recommend

  • Adil

    do u call this an adventure or even something worthy enough to be published ? LOL kid you need to see the world. My advice to you is please travel more!Recommend

  • abu salaam

    Sami, the point is that there is very little chance of this happening to a white or arab visitor. Pakistani, Iranian, Indian, or Bangladeshi is dirt for them. If you were well informed, you would be aware of the Saudis kicking out immigrants by the droves recently.
    And there is absolutely no logic in your statement “it’s ur fault you don’t speak arabic.” I don’t think the Saudis would have the courage to say that to Americans at any airport/bus terminal. And besides, you don’t turn away visitors who have spent hard earned money to visit your country on the basis of not knowing your language. Next time you go to Paris (which somehow I doubt you would do), please come back and post your experience.
    Thanks for the post Mohammad.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Right you are, but as someone who has published a blog on ET, I don’t think he chose the title of it. ET gets it wrong sometimes.Recommend

  • Salman

    I’m sorry but this is extremely poor planning on your behalf and you can’t blame it on anyone / anything else other than yourself. If you’re complaining about mid-east, I dare you to try and do that in North-America.Recommend

  • Hitman

    Well Mohammad did make a mistake of not checking with immigration if that visa would allow him entry / exit to and from Saudi Arabia. But the behavior of the bus driver and the immigration officer is also not acceptable. Why would u just offload someones bags and ask him to walk 3 kms? Or if someone is talking with you and ur playing angry birds?That is just inhumane. If someone has made a mistake, they should try to help them, not leave them in the dark. I have spent time in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and agree that these people are very rude towards Asians. And it basically all depends on the person stamping ur papers, if he wants to become a pain, then he can. If there was something wrong with the visa, then he wouldn’t have been even allowed exit in the first place? Unfortunately Arabs are like that and it can happen, thats the reason I will never live or work in these countries ever again.Recommend

  • Anon

    And yet you choose to live and work in the Middle EastRecommend

  • S

    A very mis leading article title. It was due to incompetence of the officer who first let you in, in the first place. Your visa was by air only and he shouldnt have. This sort of incompetence or stupidity is not un expected in ME or back home.Recommend

  • s

    ET does not get it wrong, they do it intentionally, because they only get the article titles wrong when it is about spreading hatred in Pakistanis about other MuslimsRecommend

  • miskeen

    Hhhhhhhhh dear sir did u ever live in saudia othat matter any of the Arab countryRecommend

  • Pappu

    Nothing to do with being Pakistani. Just do your proper homework and follow the rules.Recommend

  • Sangeen Ali

    in Middle East this can happen to anyone with any nationality. it does not depend on your nationality in fact it depends strictly on the Arab individuals who are dealing with you. fortunately, even though i am a Pakistani i have always been treated nicely.
    yes one thing is there, in UAE such situation is less likely to happen with you, and it is only because UAE Nationals are relatively ‘kind’ and the Gov system is better organized.Recommend

  • abdus samad

    if u have a residence permit, then u dont need visa for moving between gcc countries and they will provide the visa on arrival at the border, if you are travelling by bus. I have travelled between oman and UAE and there was no such issue. I had got all the entry and exit stamps on uae and oman border without problem. If ur case is one of 1000s then there is no need to disregard and disrespect Pakistan,Recommend

  • Nasir

    Was the same situation if coming back on personal cars? I was planning to go next week for a visit. but this blog got me thinking now.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    The reason why Pakistanis don’t get visa on arrival in Gulf Arab countries isn’t because Pakistan is a “terrorist country” but because Pakistan is a third world country, it’s the same reason Indians,Filipinos and Nigerians don’t get visa on arrival either.

    If Pakistan had no poverty and a high per capita income, no country would fear Pakistani tourists overstaying on their visas.Recommend

  • Engineer

    Pakistanis living in saudi can get visa on arrival don’t understand y u got your visa stamped from PakistanRecommend

  • Muhammad Adil Usman

    To all those who are blaming me for poor planning. I agree with you all. It was indeed poor planning. It is better to be extra cautious and clarify all the details with regards to the entry and exit routes, specially in ME. However, while issuing a ticket, the SAPTCO guys checked my passport and visa type and then issued me a return ticket which led me to think that the travel plan was fine. I was wrong, it turned out!

    Thanks for reading the article guys!Recommend

  • Ovais

    Its sad you didnt research before taking this adventure. Its a law you had to follow so stop complainingRecommend

  • Raza

    Sorry, but what does this have to do with being Pakistani? Saudi officials do have a bad reputation in this regard; and it seems to me you were quite careless yourself by leaving at short notice with a visa you yourself weren’t sure about. Perhaps a bit of planning in future and advance preparation (like being able to book a flight!!) would save you trouble.Recommend

  • A Saudi

    Can you explain what type of saudi arabia visa you hold? As there is clear instruction about carrier type for each visa (visit/temporary work/umra etc) It can be “Air/Road or open” .. You have to check your carrier type before traveling.. If they allowed you exit from border by mistake doesn’t give you the right to re-enter… Respect the law and get respect in return…Recommend

  • Muhammad Adil Usman

    iqama holders dont need to worry about this….this inconsistent policy is for business visa holders onlyRecommend

  • Fahad

    he was holding a business multiple entry visaRecommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Dude I lived in 18 years in Saudi Arabia and they don’t see Pakistanis at Muslims. They don’t even see us as human beings.

    True story.Recommend

  • C. Nandkishore

    The reason why all Arab countries are quite concerned about Pakistanis is drugs. Every Pakistani is supposed to be a potential drug carrier.Recommend

  • Paksarzameen

    “Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund militants as we recently saw in Syria so in short, they want to keep away the spawn of their own doing. ”

    Actually, it goes further than that. The US and West have backed off from syria, so Saudi Arabia is planning on creating a new force of upwards of 50,000 rebels to fight Al Assad, and who are they turning to, to train those militants? Pakistan. (Foreign Policy mag: Saudis ‘turn to Pakistan to train army for Syria war’)

    Pakistan should not get involved at all, and leave this militarily inept nation to fight its own battles. On the one hand they want our expertise, and on the other they treat pakistanis as inferior scum. Hypocrites of the highest order.Recommend

  • Shah

    The joke is on you Mr. Adil Usman. Saudi immigration guys can’t sort out a Hajj or Umrah flight in less than 6 hours and you were expecting a European experience even when you reside in Saudia? BravoRecommend

  • Dawood

    Try crossing the Canada US border with a Pakistani border and you will be surprised. I migrations officers usually tend to be ignorant public service employees who want to do the bare minimum. This can happen anywhere with a Pakistani passport. Just remember leaving the country and re-entering are two very different things

  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks

    You got to be nuts traveling by bus, I have no desire ever to visit any Arab country, by the way if your skin was white, the Saudi would have welcomed you with open arms.Recommend

  • kashif naqvi

    The best thing would be to get a Canadian nationality. The Green passports unfortunately entices no sympathyRecommend

  • abhi

    but where pakistan is ummah, indians are kafir, still they get same treatment. What a shameRecommend

  • Gratgy

    *I looked at him incredulously. How could he expect me to walk three kilometres, on a dark and deserted road?*
    *About 30 minutes into the walk, I saw a bus coming from Saudi Arabia and I frantically signaled to the bus, hoping that it would stop.*

    Just nitpicking really but isn’t 30 minutes more than enough to walk 3 kilometres?

  • Iram

    Why would anyone want to visit any of these awful Arab places? I’d rather live in a slum in Philippines or something. I’d definitely be treated better. Can’t wait for the oil to run out so that these prehistoric neanderthals can go back to their natural state.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    Just like Indians who say the worst about Islam but yet have no shame staying there.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    What a shame that you Indians don’t have your own newspapers and come here to troll! Please get a life.Recommend

  • fauzi

    India has 82237 newspapers and around 32,92,04,841 readers.
    We just love to explore information from anywhere.

  • TheAverageMoe

    Like I said before, it’s all about a country’s standard of living.

    America is a non-Muslim country, and it’s citizens are allowed to visit the UAE without a visa, because it has a high standard of living, so they don’t have to fear American tourists overstaying on their visas.

    It’s got nothing to do with ideology.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    You mean any information that shows Pakistan in bad light as many Indians have openly commented by the way my comment was meant to sarcastic! Thankfully we Pakistani have not fallen to your levels to gloat on Indians misfortune. Please learn some online etiquettes.Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    That’s BizarreRecommend

  • Baba Ji

    I have been to Saudia once for Hajj … my experience was really out of this world … excellent … BUT I have no intention to visit Saudia ever again … Thanks Allah as Hajj is farz only once in a lifetime !!!! Recommend

  • Hitman75

    Nopes, I’ve been living in Australia for the last 15 years. Left Middle East in 1998 for GOOD.Recommend

  • Tari Pyang

    How dare you mention Philipine a slum?? We have a beautiful country with number of destinations to travel and lot to offer for tourists, what you have in Pakistan except blood and bullet??Recommend

  • Saad Syed

    North-American border crossing is not bad if you have been to the US before. But yea if you’re crossing the border for the first time they’re guna have a very “detail” interview (on the US side) with you but generally my experience has been wonderful. Both sides are very understanding.Considering I only had a pakistani passport with visitor visa.Recommend