Shipping our Dog to Saudi Arabia (part 2)

By | July 25, 2011

The following is a guest blog post from my husband, Kevin.

Muttley finally made it to Saudi safe and sound on Wednesday. His journey was ultimately a success, but we had some major unexpected hurdles along the way. We hope that by sharing our story here, others can learn from our experience.

This post follows on from Claire’s previous post about importing Muttley into Jeddah, here is where I take up the story:

The “OK to Forward” saga

Claire and I arrived in Jeddah in the early hours of Monday July 11th, and we knew we had just a couple of days to get settled in the house before Muttley’s arrival on Wednesday. Safe in the knowledge that all the dog paperwork was complete, Claire and I were able to focus on settling into our new surroundings. I reported into work on Tuesday, while Claire stayed home and worked. My first day on the new job was going well, until I received a phone call from Claire saying that Christine (the export agent from Whitehouse Kennels) had contacted her and told her we had a problem.

They were not going to allow Muttley to fly unless Lufthansa received an “OK to Forward” message from Saudi Air Cargo. This was surprising to us, as we could not understand why a Lufthansa flight into Jeddah needed a Saudi Air Cargo authorisation. We did know however, that the clock was ticking, as at this point Muttley should be on his way to Heathrow for his flight to Frankfurt where he was due to spend the night. It was clear that we had to go to Jeddah airport with all of Muttley’s paperwork and try to sort this problem out. I left work and Claire booked a car to take us to Jeddah Airport. We had little idea of where we actually needed to go, who we needed to speak to, or what the process for requesting this “OK to Forward” was, but we knew we needed to do something to make this happen. Claire donned her Abaya and we jumped in the car.

We arrived at Jeddah Airport and followed the signs to Saudi Air Cargo. As we followed the signs to cargo ,it became clear that this was not an area that the general public normally had access to. There was very little signage in English, and there were no other women in sight. Claire and I took one look at each other and decided that it would be best if she stayed in the car with the driver.

The car pulled up to the first barrier at Saudi Air Cargo and I jumped out of the car and headed over to the guard house. I introduced myself to the guard, and it soon became clear that he did not speak any English, so he called over a more senior looking person to translate for me. I explained that I needed to get an “OK to forward” and the reply I got back was “come back tomorrow, they have finished for the day”. I looked at my watch, it was ten past two in the afternoon. How could they be closed for the day? I persisted with them and explained that it was very important, but all they kept on saying is come back tomorrow. I knew that tomorrow would be too late as Muttley would not be allowed to fly today without the “OK to Forward”.

Eventually, they got frustrated and told me to go down the road to the next gate. I jumped back in the car and we headed down to the next set of offices. These offices were again clearly not designed for people off the street to come into and wonder about. I followed a few corridors until I found a set of offices with Saudi Cargo above the door. I wondered in, trying to be as polite and respectful as possible, and I explained my situation to the first person who looked up and spoke English. Again they did not understand the problem, so at this point I called the Lufthansa cargo rep in Jeddah and asked them to explain to Saudi Air Cargo what we need. Once that conversation had finished, the same answer came back. They are closed now, come back tomorrow.

It was about this time that a young Saudi man with perfect English came over to help. He explained that even though Lufthansa are the importers, nothing comes in or out of Jeddah without the approval of Saudi Air Cargo. He explained that what normally happens is that the import agent in Jeddah works directly with Saudi Air Cargo to arrange the “OK to Forward” back to the importing airline. He was surprised that this had not been done for us by the import agent, and he agreed to help us, but again he explained that that the team that process the “OK to Forward” only work until 2pm. It was now clear that Muttley would not be joining us on the 13th.

The young Saudi man then extended an offer of kindness and hospitality that is typical of all the Saudi people I have met so far. He offered me a cup of tea, and we sat in his office chatting. For the sake of his privacy I will not name him here, but I will say he was a great guy. We chatted about life in Saudi, and in the USA (where he studied) and by the time I had finished my tea we had swapped contact details and made plans to meet in Jeddah after Ramadan. The friendliness and generosity shown my this young Saudi at Jeddah Air Cargo is typical of the friendliness, and helpfulness that I have experienced from many Saudis since our arrival.

In the end, he agreed to talk to the “OK to Forward” team the next morning on my behalf, and all being well I would not need to make another trip out to the airport to get paperwork done.

Sure enough, the next morning an email and a text message arrived from him telling me that the paperwork was complete. It was frustrating that we had to go through this, as we understand that this is normally facilitated by the import agents in Saudi, but as Claire has explained in her earlier post, we ended having to do this ourselves.

Back in the UK

Meanwhile back in the UK, Muttley would have to stay another week before he could get on a flight to Jeddah. Along with the extra kenneling costs, Muttley would need to see the vet again 96 hours of his flight, and get all that paperwork re-processed in the UK. This, of course, lead to additional fees – and I’m sure a massive headache for Christine, the export agent, who ended up having to do the job twice.

One week later

Christine booked Muttley in for a flight exactly one week after the original one. The whole week I was dreading the collection process. The thought of having to navigate the Saudi import process filled me with dread. Fortunately my father-in-law, Rick, also works as KAUST and he very kindly agreed to come along and help.

On the Wednesday of his arrival, we tracked Muttley’s inbound flight online, and we saw that he arrived at JED on time at 19:05. We set off for Jeddah in a large SUV, and we were on the airport grounds by 20:00.

Arriving at Saudi Air Cargo

We were a little confused where we should report to once we reached the airport, as we knew that he was flying in Lufthansa, yet we could not find any details of the Lufthansa cargo services at Jeddah. When we arrived at the airport and followed the signs to cargo it soon became clear why this was. All air cargo, regardless of inbound carrier is handled by Saudi Air Cargo. This also explains why Saudi Air Cargo had to send the “OK to Forward”. So again I presented myself at the first gate at Saudi Air Cargo and went into the glass box security office. This time things were much smoother than my previous visit.

Rick and I were shown through the security office, and pointed towards loading bay 18 where the import office was located. The loading area between the security gate and the loading bays is a filthy, smelly, rubbish strewn area with emaciated feral cats roaming about. We presented ourselves to the first official person we saw in the cargo area, and told them that we had a live dog to collect that arrived on the 19:05 Lufthansa flight. The look of surprise he gave when we mentioned “live dog” was just the first of many such surprised looks we received the entire evening whenever we mentioned Muttleys arrival to anyone working there.

The man checked his list and told us that the cargo had not arrived yet and to come back after 21:00. So we turned round, trudged back through the dirty smelly loading area, and back to the security gate where we told the security guards we would be back at 21:00.

Patience

We cooled our heels for an hour and at about 21:10 we went back and headed through the nasty loading area, and into the cargo office at loading bay 18. We were then told that the paperwork was not yet available, and to come back in 5-10 minutes. There were no seats in this office for visitors so we left there, walked back through the loading area, and back through security to a little cafe that is located next to security. One thing that everyone had told us about the collection experience was to stay patent and polite no matter how frustrating the process gets. This is the reason why we did not wait in the cargo office. We did not want to be seen standing over people waiting for them to do their jobs. we wanted to be respectful and show that we were patient people.

Back and Forth

At 21:30 we left the cafe, went back through security (again), back through the loading area, and back to the cargo office. We handed over our airway bill number and sure enough, after a little searching about behind the counter, they located our paperwork. There was a small fee to pay at this point (75SAR if I recall), and to pay this we had to visit another window in the cargo office. Once payment was made, we were given the Airbill paperwork, and told to go down the hall to the customs office.

We found the customs office and handed over all of our paperwork. At this point the customs officer pulled out all of the paperwork that was attached to Muttleys crate, and begins to examine it. He soon noticed the dogs import health certificate, and after reading it carefully, he sent us to the quarantine department next door. His final words to us were “If quarantine say this is OK then come back to me”, so we headed over to quarantine.

Final destination: Riyadh

The quarantine office was the nicest of the offices we visited that evening, and that was just as well, as it was the office we were to spend the most time in. We presented all our paperwork to the quarantine officer and he examined the forms carefully. It is about this time that things started to unravel. He pointed at the import authorization letter and told us that this letter has Riyadh as the final destination of the cargo, not Jeddah. He said that this was a problem and that we should see the customs person. This was not a problem that we could have spotted ourselves earlier, as the entire form was in Arabic. The lesson here is to have someone who speaks Arabic to check all your paperwork!

With our hearts in our mouths we went back to the customs officer, and he explained the same thing to us. That the paperwork was wrong. We asked what could be done to fix it. There was much sucking of teeth, and pointing at the paperwork and nervous waiting on our part at this point.

Best Stamp Ever

After what seemed like an age, the quarantine officer entered into the customs office and asked us to follow him back into the quarantine department. When we arrived back in the quarantine office we were joined by another young Saudi who spoke reasonably good English. He explained the problem and told us that they would need to get authorization to correct the form and release the cargo. The older quarantine officer was making lots of calls on his mobile while we sat with the young officer, and judging by the tone of the conversation and body language, he was attempting to get authorization to help us out.  Eventually the older quarantine officer printed out a from completely in Arabic. The younger officer then helped us complete the appropriate sections in English. When the form was complete, we handed it over to the senior quarantine officer, and with a big broad smile he pulled out his official stamp, and with a windmill arm motion he stamped our import certificate, gave it to us and sent us on our way back to the customs office.

So much paper

At the customs office the customs officer then informed us that he needed a copy of the visa page of my passport, and he also asked why we did not have the red Airway bill document. Heart in mouth time again, where did we last see the Airway bill document? Why were we not given our copy back? So again we went back to the quarantine department where we explained that we think they had kept our copy of the Airway bill. The officer gave us all of the paperwork he had collected on us, and invited us to look through it. At this point we found our copy of the Airway bill, as well as a very nice hand written card to us from Christine at Whitehouse Kennels. As quarantine kept ALL of the paperwork from the shipment, we would not have seen this note if we had not had the chance to look through the stack. Meanwhile the senior quarantine officer had made a copy of my passport. So with passport copy and red Airway bill letter in hand we again said our goodbyes to the quarantine department and headed into the customs office.

We handed over the paperwork again, and were informed that we now need to pay a fee of 45SAR. So back out of the customs office and down the hall to the collection desk to pay the fee, then back to the customs office with a stamp on our form indicating we have paid.

The Home Straight

We sat patiently with the customs officer while he completed several pages of forms, and eventually the printer spluttered into life and out popped another 2 pieces of paper. The officer handed this paper to us, with instructions to give one copy to the gate security office on the way out, and another to the people in the warehouse to collect the cargo. Finally we were in the home straight, all we needed to do was to give the paperwork to the warehouse, and they would bring us our boy Muttley. We handed over the paperwork and held our breath. By this time it was 11pm. We knew that Muttley had landed at 7pm. The sun was down by the time he landed, but that was still 4 hours he had been on the ground in the Arabian night heat. We were under strict instructions to call Claire as soon as we could see Muttley was OK.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably no more than 2 minutes Muttley’s crate was rumbled around the corner and our boy came into view. He was standing up, and both his water bowls (With funnels attached from the outside so they could be re-filled without opening the crate), were still full of water. A result! One healthy, but very smelly dog was delivered to us, and loaded into the back of the SUV.

Mission accomplished!

Here are a few of our lessons learned from this experience:

  • Use an export agent if you want your sanity in the last 96 hours before you move
  • Use an import agent to do all the import work for you! – Don’t try to do it yourself
  • Have a native speaker check all your paperwork – Don’t trust others to have done their job correctly
  • Be patient and humble and polite throughout the process.

Final thought.

Although though the process is slow, rigid & unfriendly the people we met there were just the opposite. Honestly, everyone there really tried to help us, they were all very friendly, and welcoming. I have found this friendly, helpful attitude a lot in my short time here in the Kingdom, and long may that continue.

 

[UPDATE September 2014: I have published a blog post with instructions for moving your dog from USA to KAUST]

Follow me on social media:
  • Claire Sale

    Well, Muttley isn’t a terrier so we didn’t have this problem. He’s a lab which is a permitted breed, and we classified him as a “guard dog”.

  • Hi Claire, I am hoping Sam can give an indication of their experience with Oscar.

  • MarykedeBeer

    I cried reading this! I am so happy that Muttley made it you guys safe and sound. I have two English Bulldogs back in South Africa, we moved to Al Khobar in July 2012. We miss them so much but have doubts about relocating them to Saudi, mainly because of the heat.

  • Aww!!! Thanks for your kind words. It must be so hard to be away from your dogs!

    I knew an English bulldog that lived at KAUST for awhile and is now in Dhahran. He was one of the laziest dogs I’ve ever met and perhaps the only dog I’ve ever seen affected by the heat here in Saudi. All the other dogs seem to adapt just fine, but this one — well, lets just say they only walked him early in the morning and late at night. He’s an absolutely lovely dog though!

    I don’t know if this is a breed-related thing or just an issue this dog had?

    I hope all is well for you in Khobar and that if you decide to move your dogs this post is of some use to you!

    Best,
    C

  • milky1018

    You are so sweet for doing such act. Legal papers and documents are needed for shipping pets, quarantine is required I believe. http://www.aztecontainer.com/

  • AJ

    Hi Claire, your blog made me cry. So glad all worked out with Muttley. My husband and I (British) are considering moving to riyadh with our 1 year old German shepherd Monty from Johannesburg where we have been based the last year. Monty is all set to move back to the UK at the end of this month but a fabulous opportunity has arisen in Riyadh. Wondering if you are able to let me have any details of import agents to help with the import licence and paperwork. I am petrified of having issues and where I am the level headed one, it will inevitably be my husband that will have to sort it out at the other end if anything goes wrong.

    Also so nice to see positive comments on bringing dogs to KSA. So many negative comments on expat forums :( thanks for any help.

    AJ

  • Hi AJ — thanks for your kind words! All the forums can be a bit terrifying, but I am here to assure you that I know tons of dogs that have successfully made it into Saudi. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve heard of any stories personally that were worse than ours, so be reassured that our successful move was more troublesome than most.

    A german shepheard is a good breed to bring here. You’ll need to classify Monty as a guard dog, which, considering his breed, will be easy to do.

    I don’t know of any import agents in Riyadh. I understand that the one in Jeddah, called Jeddah Vets has reopened. Perhaps you can call them and see if they can help – or at least point you in the right direction?

    Good luck on the move!

  • Phuong Hoang

    Dear Claire, I will start my Master degree at Kaust in August. I am from Vietnam and want to move my cat there. Could you give me advice on imports pet forms or requirements needed? Will they allow me to have cat in the dorm?

  • Hi Phuong,

    Congrats on being accepted to KAUST!

    As far as I know, unfortunately students are not allowed to import pets. I recommend speaking with your relocation advisor about the rule and see if it applies to you. If you are able to bring your cat, I recommend joining the pets at kaust facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/KaustPets/) to get advice on imports. I don’t know anything about the cat import process.

    Best wishes and good luck!
    C

  • Dorothy Cruz

    Hello Claire and Kevin, I gotta say what a relief it was to read your post. I have just arrived and I am hoping to bring my pets over as well this summer. But I have read so many horrifying stories that I almost told my husband that we might have to do the year apart. I think you gave some sound advice with being patient which is absolutely key I hear in KSA. If I may ask I know your posting is a couple of years old but what compound or apartment did you stay at that allowed you to have pets (if you remember)?

    again thank you so much, Dot

  • Hi Dorothy –

    Thanks for your kind words and I hope your move here has been a good one!

    Are you only moving here for a year? If so, it might be worth finding someone to foster your animals for that short period of time. The journey can be hard on animals and the cost is very high. Also, there isn’t a lot for animals to do here, so they tend to be couped up inside all day. There are no dog parks that I know of, for instance. I imagine even paying for a high-end fostering situation would be more cost effective (and less heart-wrenching) than moving your animals there then back again in a year.

    We are living at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. We live on the compound that includes the University and this is only open to people working at the University. By your post, I am guessing your looking for a compound in Jeddah? I’m not really sure which compounds in Jeddah are amenable to having pets, but you could ask on this facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/24597253992/ and they might be able to help you.

    Good luck!

  • Zilley Ahmed

    Well!

    First of all hats off as your way of explanation let me to read each and every word.
    I laughed a lot on some of the situations and appreciated your patience also but over all i will like to suggest some words to you.
    Try to write for any newspaper or books publishing company i hope you will get success as you have guts in explaining the reality in form of words, now see no matter when all this happened but after reading all i felt the whole situation as this all happened to me.
    Best of Luck and now i postponed my plans to ship Husky Pup to my native country.

  • Aww, how kind of you! I have never really considered any other writing besides blogging – I’m glad someone out there thinks I’m coherent enough to be published properly! I think my husband will be honored as well. Thank you.

    Sorry to hear your delay on your plans to ship your pup. I hope you can find a good solution for your family – dog included.

    ps – I love huskies!

  • Zilley Ahmed

    Never let any chance to go from your hands whatever way you have used to describe this whole situation it is really appreciated and it let me to remember Morcopolo’s Journey and the rest of all those historical trips written by world fame writers. They were not having any idea before to write that their words will be rewarded in an honorable way so i recommend to publish this whole your experience of KSA. As you know KSA has a large number of expatriates and all of them live here like as in their own country but some peoples are disturbing the Government systems otherwise as per my experience they are not so much bad they are good also.
    Best of luck and i hope you could understand why i have used opposite words in the last as an expat you could better understand best of luck with your blog and life.

  • Lorena Cortés

    Hello Clarie.

    Excuse me, do you know if by Riyadh can I travel with my dog o small race? Or by other Arabian State or Airlaine?

    It has 7.5lbs of wiight and really really I need travel with it.

    Many thanks

    Lorena.

  • Hi Lorena – I’ve never been to Riyadh and don’t know much about the rules around dogs there. My impression is that the best airline for dogs in and out of Saudi is Lufthansa. Maybe you can contact them or a company that specializes in this topic.
    Good luck!
    Claire