Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Why I won't be going back to Dubai

As I’ve told you, I kinda liked Dubai because the city is bonkers, the weather is nice and it was a nice place to spend a few nights. I also briefly mentioned that I had to get a visa for Dubai and glossed over the detail because I was willing to let that one slip…

I hold a Mexican passport (YES, even after all this time) and this document certifies me as a Mexican citizen and general undesirable in most countries in the world. Yeah, that’s right – but it’s ok, I have grown used to being treated like dirt (or, when I’m lucky, just merely ignored) so I wasn’t surprised when I learned that I’d need a visa for Dubai.

The Dubai visa system is a little different from others I’ve experienced: it mainly requires for someone to sponsor me for my visit – luckily this can be done by the hotel you’re staying in. So once the hotel is booked, they send over a bunch of documents that need to be filled and a list of requirements. I dutifully filled out the form and sent copies of my passport, my photo and my credit card… scary as it sounds. The reason for sending in a scan of the credit card is that they not only take payment from that (around £200 I seem to remember) but they also take a fee of around £1,400 (around USD$2,060) as a deposit on any ‘fines that the visitor may incur.’ Yes, you have to hand over money for fines you haven’t even incurred!

At the time I thought this was cheeky and annoying but did it as I had no choice if I wanted a visa. So I sent over all my stuff and waited for the visa to turn up – which it did and I was able to visit the UAE. Besides, I would get the £1,400 back once I was out of the country without incurring in any fines. I thought it was a bit steep as my overall credit card limit is £3,000 so this meant less credit was available for shopping. In all, a minor inconvenience… or so I thought.

The real kicker is what’s happened on my return. The £1,400 fee is actually taken from the credit card (not simply held) which means that when the statement turns up, the charge is there. So now I have to pay £1,400 in order to clear the balance on my credit card?! When my statement turned up with the highest balance I have EVER had, I passed out and then called the hotel immediately – where was my refund? I finally got an email the next day confirming the refund had been done and the slip from the bank machine to prove it (however, I did notice they did it on the day I called, not the day I’d left Dubai 2 weeks prior.) The refund itself would then take a further 7-10 days to appear on my card.

In the meantime, what to do? If I don’t clear the balance interest will be applied to my card and if I pay it I will then have to somehow get it back from the bank (not to mention finding the £1,400 to pay the card in the first place!) After numerous calls to the bank, we worked out that the refund should be in just in time to make the payment date. So we just paid the rest of the balance.

Next month I get another statement confirming the refund but – and this is the irritating part – because of exchange rate fluctuations, the amount refunded in AED doesn’t match the amount originally charged in GBP! So the refund is not quite enough to cover the balance but also, for some reason I got charged a transaction amount for BOTH the original charge of £1,400 AND the refund!! So as the refund didn’t clear the balance, I also have to pay interest on the whole statement amount… anyway, the whole thing has cost me an additional £250 on top of the £200 to pay for the visa, not to mention time and effort in trying to work it all out (and to date we are still trying to work something out with the bank).

I realize that this isn’t all just Dubai’s fault – my bank has been pretty cheeky too in applying charges to refunds and in the fact that the buy and sell exchange rate amounts are different… but I wouldn’t have had to go through all that if the UAE government didn’t have such ridiculous rules in the first place. Also, the way the timings are worked out means that it is impossible for the credit and the refund to happen in one statement period - even on a quick trip like ours. So everyone presumably gets the same inconvenience as we did.

This has now been enough to put me off returning to the UAE. The hassle is simply not worth it and it’s a shame because I think it would have been a nice place for a family holiday but NEVER AGAIN.

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