It will be a year now since I first came to Riyadh. Gawd, that journey started with a toothache! (Looong story.) It was my first time to travel abroad alone. Thank goodness I’m such a worry wart but I’m not suggesting you worry down to the littlest details too. Just enjoy the journey! (Hah! Kaya ko nang sabihin ‘to dahil pinagdaanan ko na eh noh?! Hehe!)
Are you up for this desert’s challenge? You should be!
1. Research, research, research
Days before your flight, you should already know the basic information about Saudi Arabia. If you’re a first-time Saudi OFW, you should have listened to your Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) carefully. Do not take it for granted (even though at times, it turns out to be a sales pitch for banks and remittance centers). For first-time Saudi visitors (families of OFWs), research about the country, its customs, weather, and dos and donts. Ask your relatives and friends who are already working here. You can also get information from the Net by going to the POEA forum and sites like VirtualTourist. Visit the blogs of Saudi-based bloggers too (ehermn). Our kabayans are very helpful, just ask nicely. Relax! Breathe in and out and go!
2. Be airport-savvy.
a. Be early.
Be in the airport early. The roads going to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport are jammed (wag kang umasang hindi traffic, walang himala sa lugar na ito!). A good 3-4 hours before your flight provide you ample time to say quick goodbyes to your family (ang iyakan at tagubilin moments ay dapat tapos na sa bahay), check in, and go through immigration. And just in case a problem arises, you’ll have enough time to look for a solution (ex. excess baggage).
b. Appear like it’s not your first time.
A good tip is this: when you enter the airport, stand still for a couple of minutes and take in your surroundings. Look for your check-in counter with your eyes, not with your whole body walking to and fro (anoveh, hindi ito sequel ng Lost o Amazing Race). Once you locate your counter, approach it calmly and wait for you turn. Stop fidgeting! Wait a couple of minutes more and there’s surely someone who’ll chat with you. Talk effortlessly. Stop saying “hindi ko nga alam ‘to pare eh!” (Dude, I have no idea!)
Wear comfortable clothes. We suggest your usual blouse or t-shirt, a jacket, denim pants and easy to remove shoes.
c. Don’t cram your whole house in your luggage.
Know the baggage limit of your airlines and do not go over it! (Kaya nga “limit” eh!) Bring one comfortable hand carry where you can put essential items that you’ll be needing inside the plane. Know firsthand the things which you can and cannot carry. For example, avoid bringing liquid stuff in your hand carry. Do not bring wine, pork products (yes, that includes pork and beans!), drugs (they will behead you, swear!) and pornographic materials (leave that FHM magazine behind!). This will give you a hassle-free process in the immigration and customs counters. As for USB devices, laptops, and hard disks, the Saudi immigration officers might or might not check it. It depends on your timing, really. So just to be sure, erase all pornographic files in there!
d. Ask if you must!
We said “airport-savvy” not “know-it-all.” Don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you already know the basics, we’re sure there are some things you’ll forget and you’ll eventually learn on your own. If you’re stumped on something, look for a guard or an airport officer which can answer your questions or direct you.
e. Learn to say “no.”
Granted that you are very helpful, avoid people who will ask you to bring their stuff in your luggage, especially when you did not reach the baggage limit. Some Filipinos tend to abuse first-timers. Do not accept them, not because you don’t have a heart, but just to be sure you do not implicate yourself in any illegal things. Who knows what’s inside those padala and pabitbit?
3. Bring the necessary documents.
Do not forget your passport, ticket, and employment contract (OEC). Have your employee’s or relative’s contact numbers written down because sometimes, your cellphone can let you down. It will be helpful if you can set your Philippine numbers to its roaming settings so you can contact anyone once you land in the Kingdom (Here’s how: Globe/Smart). OFWs do not need to pay travel taxes. OFW dependents like wife and children are exempted or given discounts on the said fees. Oh, and bring extra cash in Saudi rials just in case. A good 100 rials (around P1,200.00) might suffice. Have your money changed in the Philippines.
4. Relax and savor the in-flight moment.
Whether you are in the economy, business, or first class, enjoy the flight by availing the amenities and services available to you. Do not waste the opportunity to try airline food even if most of them suck. Chat with your seatmate but learn to respect his/her privacy. It can really be a hassle when someone wants to use the loo and you’re sitted on the middle chair but be patient, you’ll probably be excusing yourself too. And girls, do not believe men who say it’s their first time too and ask for your phone numbers.
5. Survive your stop-overs.
If you’re not flying Saudi Airlines, chances are you’ll be having a stop-over in the plane’s country (ex. Etihad Airlines [Abu Dhabi, UAE], Gulf Air [Bahrain], Cathay Pacific [Hongkong], Emirates [Dubai, UAE], Qatar Airways [Doha], etc.) so be sure to know the schedules. Stop-overs can last a couple of hours so entertain yourself by going around the airport and chatting with people or whatever your heart fancies. Just don’t forget the time of your connecting flight. Some stop-overs do not require you to alight the plane. The plane’s just restocking food or refueling.
6. Fill up your disembarkation/embarkation/landing cards.
Do not forget to fill up your D/E cards once the plane landed. Usually, the flight attendants give out this card but if they don’t, you can find them near the immigration counter of the airport. You have to give this card to the immigration officer. Prepare your passport and employment contract.
7. Patience, dear, patience.
You probably have heard now that surviving the King Khalid International Airport is your initiation rite as a Riyadh-bound OFW. The immigration counters take time, especially now that they’re implementing the finger scan policy. But be thankful that this is already the new millenium because if you heard the horror stories of those who went here years and years ago, you wouldn’t want to be here anymore. Hehe. At least they have those powerful scanners already for luggage checks (oh right, don’t forget to grab your luggages from the conveyor belt!). Although sometimes, custom officials tend to get carried away and once in a while do their jobs in the traditional way.
When they say, “kalas”… it doesn’t mean you have to disassemble your luggage. It means “finished”… you’ve landed in Riyadh, baby!
8. Oops, not so fast!
After you’ve cleared the immigration and custom counters, male OFWs and dependents can go ahead and exit the airport gates but if you’re a female OFW, (nurses, domestic helpers, etc.), you have to wait at a lounge where they’ll be announcing your employers’ names. You will not be allowed to go out if not accompanied by your employers. You are allowed to go out the airport and travel to your housings without the abaya for this time only. Most employers bring abayas already but if you do not have one, don’t worry about it. Just make sure that once you’re already up and about the city, wear one!
For OFWs, your company should provide you with coasters/transpo. Most of the drivers are waiting at the arrival area with signages so better keep your eyes wide open. Now here comes a tricky thing: when the freakin’ driver doesn’t show up! This is where the contact numbers come really, really handy. If you know the address of your villa/company then take an airport taxi (again, an airport taxi!). Do not be fooled by those ibang lahi (other nationalities) offering taxi rides. Some might scam you.
So there you have it. (We might have skipped a lot of items so other kayabans outthere who are experts on travelling, feel free to add your insights on the comment box.) It’s rather a long read but we hope you find comfort in the fact that we were once like you too, beginners. And there are a lot out there who for the first time will start a journey that you yourself will have to know if it’s worth it.
Good luck, kabayan!
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”