Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not changing the PIN 'more secure'?

I recently got a new VISA credit card from a bank in Qatar. The system-generated PIN for the card came in a tamper-evident envelope by postal mail along with the card.

Following a well-known security best practice, I decided to change the PIN on the card immediately. So today, I went to my nearest ATM machine and inserted the credit card. There was no option to change the PIN from the ATM machine.

Puzzled,I went ahead to call the bank’s customer care unit at about 17:45 today, the 10th of January. An impolite, yet ignorant customer care agent answered my call and I had an interesting discussion. Here’s a re-collection from memory:


Me: I have a QIIB credit card and I want to change the PIN. How do I do that?

Customer Care Agent: You can’t change your PIN.

Me: What? What if I NEED to change the PIN

CCA: They will issue you a new card.

Me (more puzzled): What if someone sees my PIN and I want to change it immediately?

CCA: You have to contact your branch. They will cancel your card and issue you a new one.

Me: WOW. Is that your bank’s policy? Why??

CCA (stereotypically): This is from Credits Card Department – they told us like this.

Me: Usually, all banks tell us to change our PIN regularly – its safer.

CCA (rude, and arguing): No, no – THIS (not changing the PIN) is safer.

Me (agitated): What if I’m shopping with my credit card at a store and while I’m entering my PIN someone sees the PIN. What do I do?

CCA: You shouldn’t let others see your PIN.

Me: I know that. But what if someone sees it? (repeat) All banks ask us to change our PIN regularly for security purposes.

CCA: Didn’t you know about this when you applied for the card?

Me: No

CCA (rude and blunt): This is the year 2010. How come you don’t know?

(I should have probably asked him that question first)

Me: I know this is the year 2010. And I know that changing the PIN regularly is more secure. For your information, I work in the Information Security space and I know what I’m talking about!

Just tell me if it’s your bank’s policy not to allow changing PIN on credit cards?

CCA: Yes. that’s the policy.

Me: OK – that’s all I want to know, I already know it’s 2010. Good bye.


That was a thoroughly agitating experience.I don’t know if all banks follow this policy, but to me this is ridiculous. I’m leaving this thread open to your comments – write a comment below on what you think about this encounter and the PIN change policy.

As for me, I’ve decided to keep a lower credit limit and use the card solely for online shopping, where I don’t need to enter a PIN.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cigarettes only for kids


Sign outside Lulu Hypermarket in Riffa, Bahrain:

“Tobacco Sale is restricted to individuals below 18 years of age”

Poor adults.

Bowels for sale?

I picked this up at Carrefour in Qurm City Center. :-)


bow·el (boul, boul) n.

1. a. The intestine, gut (the part of the alimentary canal between the stomach and the anus).

Hmmm… I think they meant ‘bowl’.

Exporting a car from Abu Dhabi to Oman

1. Pay all your fines. As per the new law, you may even half to leave your car in the police compound for about two weeks if you have jumped a red light in Abu Dhabi. So make sure you plan well ahead.
2. You can export a car in your ownership even if your residence visa is canceled. Get your vehicle tested from the vehicle testing centre and get your vehicle fitness certificate. Tip: You can do the whole process at an ADNOC filling station – it is faster because there are less people. Try the ADNOC filling station at Samha.
3. Get a fresh third party insurance policy for 4 days with UAE coverage.
3. You need to take your UAE license, vehicle ownership card(mulkiya), the new 4-day UAE insurance policy, clearance letter from your bank (if mortgaged) to the traffic dept.
4. You also need to remove your Abu Dhabi number plates (yourself) and take them with you to the counter. It’s a good idea to check how these were fixed before you go to the traffic dept. If the plates were riveted, then you need to have the tools with you.
5. On providing the above documents and plates, and payment of a fee, you get the vehicle export certificate, a clearance letter for your previous insurance company to release any pending amounts to you, and an authorization to get new export plates.
6. If you did this at an ADNOC filling station, they provide you the blue export number plates. If you did this at the traffic dept in Abu Dhabi, you need to take the authorization to the License Plates Factory within the same compound and get the new plates by paying 50 dhs.
6. Fix the shiny new blue export plates to your car, keep all the papers safe and leave the country within 3 days. It is OK to stick the blue export plates with clear tape, but make sure its reliably affixed to your car. Make sure you leave the country through the border mentioned in your export certificate.
7. At the UAE side of the border, you have to prepare a bill of lading through one of the private agencies that have set up shops in the border checkpost. I used the Shikleh (Wadi Jizzi) border in Al Ain. You need to spend around 100-120 dhs for this letter. Your vehicle engine and chassis numbers will be checked by a customs officer. If you do not speak Arabic, you might end up doing a lot of legwork and being asked to wait unnecessarily.
8. Go through the UAE immigration. I exported my car after I got my Omani Employment visa and canceled my residence visa in Abu Dhabi. So this was like a final exit from the UAE for me and a first entry to Oman.
9. Drive across the border in to Oman. After a few kilometers you will reach the Omani checkpost. At the Omani side, go through the immigration. Since I was entering Oman for the first time on an employment visa, they stamped the residence in my passport from the border checkpost. The Omani immigration officers at Wadi Jizzi are very friendly and understand English well.
10. Purchase Omani insurance for your car. Dhofar insurance has a kiosk inside the immigration building at Wadi Jizzi. One week’s insurance for RO 8/- is good enough. Once you enter the country you need to obtain a 1 year insurance policy before you register the car.
10. Drive in to customs. The customs officers understand very little English and do not be surprised if you find yourself waiting in queues with truck drivers trying to bring goods in to Oman.
11. The customs officer will check your vehicle chassis and engine numbers and ask you to pay 5% of the value of the vehicle as customs duty. The value of the vehicle is based on what value is printed on your bill of lading from UAE. Most of the time the customs officer adds some amount to it, assuming you have lied on your bill of lading. It will be good to have your car’s receipt/bill issued by the dealer in UAE from whom you bought it in order to win the trust of the officer, and avoid having to pay more duty than you are supposed to.
12. Once you pay the duty, the customs officer gives you an import certificate, and a letter from the commerce ministry, both of which are in Arabic and are needed for registering your car in Oman. Make sure you get these, otherwise you will have to drive back all the way to get them!
13. Drive in to Oman. If you are a new resident (like me), you need to get your fingerprinting, health check and ID Card (smartcard), and also an Omani driving license before you can register your car.
14. You can drive the car around in Oman till you get these right, but its a good idea to obtain the 1 year comprehensive insurance policy for your car asap. You will need to do it before your register the car, anyway. The insurance company will also give you an application form for registering your car.
You also need a letter from your employer which states that they have no objection in you owning a car.
15. Get your driving license converted. See my blog post on that.

16. Go to the traffic department, get your vehicle tested (free of charge, unlike UAE). They will write the test result on the application form that the insurance company gave you.
17. Apply for registration – documents required are the application form with vehicle test pass, Omani driving license, ID card, and a credit/debit card for paying 30 riyal registration fee. They don’t accept cash payments. You also need to remove your Abu Dhabi export plates and carry them with you.
18. You will receive the vehicle ownership card with your new vehicle registration number. The whole process is quick, within 2 hours max, including the vehicle testing.
19. They will also give you an authorization for getting new number plates made. If you registered your car in Al Qurm traffic dept, you need to take this authorization to the petrol filling station near Al Harthy complex/Sultan Center, where there is a license plates factory. Simply produce the authorization and they will provide you the plates (free of charge, unlike UAE). You may have to wait a few hours though – during this time do not drive your car without a license plate!
20. You can get your shiny new yellow Omani license plate riveted to your car from the petrol station for RO 1/-.
Hope this helps. When I wanted to export my car I found that there was nothing on the internet that helped me with the steps. Each traffic dept knew only about their process, there was never a big picture. So I hope this helps all those of you moving to Oman/Muscat and exporting your car from UAE.
PS: You do not have to pay duty in Oman (or any other GCC country) if you have the receipt which states that you have paid duty for the car in the UAE (or any other GCC country). This basically means, that if customs duty was paid for a the car in any GCC country, it doesn't have to be paid again. If you purchased you car in UAE, you can try asking your dealer to give you this receipt. They might give it to you if you're lucky.

IMPORTANT UPDATE (9 Aug 2014): I have left the UAE a long time ago and I do not know the current process. Please do not post questions asking me about your situation, as I am not the best person to answer. You can approach the authorities directly or speak to a freight/moving company.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Converting to an Oman driving license

I exchanged my Bahraini driving license for an Omani driving license a few days ago.

The process is simple and takes only about two hours. You basically need to get a form filled up in Arabic and get the signature and seal of your employer. You need to bring a copy of your residence card, two photographs with blue background, original driving license from GCC country, and a copy of that license and your Debit/Credit card.

I went to the Al Qurm ROP office, and gave the documents to the reception. The person in the reception asked me to go for the eye test. The officer in the eye test section, checks your existing license and tells you if it can be converted or not – after that you do a simple eye test, and get the report.

On returning back to the reception, you get a token to wait in Hall No. 1, where the payment is made and Omani license issued. The officer inside this section checks your license and authorizes the issue of the Omani license. Once it is authorized you pay RO 20 by your credit/debit card and collect your new license.

Your license issued from the other GCC country must be at least 1 year old and valid to be eligible for exchange.

You also get to keep your old license (unlike UAE), which is good.

Legal action against trolleys!

Just sharing a funny message I found on the way:

Outside a supermarket in Muscat

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Passed the Driving Test

I had my road test today at Abu Dhabi. I went to the Muroor (traffic dept) early this morning and after paying 50 dhs for renewing my learner's license (green card) and another 40 dhs for the test car, I found myself a seat on a crammed minivan, tightly packed with male test-takers.

Female test-takers do not get packed in a van, they get their names called for the test and they drive in and around the Muroor compound.

A uniformed officer took a roll call inside the van and off we were. The first test-taker from our batch was called outside the van, and he was asked to drive the test car. There were two police officers (examiners) inside the test car - one in the front passenger seat and the other in the back.

The van carrying us followed the test car, and from time to time the test car would stop and a new test-taker would be picked from the van. Each of us in the van would have a turn to drive the test car. Each 'test' lasted about 2-3 minutes and results were given in hand immediately. On finishing the test, the test-taker can hop back in the van.

My turn at the wheel was somewhere near Carrefour on Airport Road. I was asked to take a U-turn at a traffic light and then drive straight across a roundabout and then the officer asked me to stop the car, and my test appointment was returned to me with a remark stating that I passed the test.

I got back on the van, and they took me back to Muroor where I showed the appointment slip (with the 'passed' remark), one photograph, copy of passport, and 200 dhs. Within an hour, I received my UAE driving license. The license is valid for 10 years.

Most important things for the test:

  • Use mirrors well. Look at the rear view mirror even when not necessary.
  • Indicator lamps.
  • Entry and exit of roundabouts. Follow all rules, and indicator lamps again.
  • Making U-turns. Control of the car during and after U-turns.
  • Out of a batch of around 11 people who were on the van, only 3 or 4 failed the test. The examiners were reasonably polite and professional.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bringing the spouse to Abu Dhabi

I got married and brought my spouse to the UAE in July. I'm sharing the process here for anyone who might find it useful.

Being an Indian citizen there was some paperwork that I had to get done from India. Like any Muslim wedding, mine was recorded in the register of a mosque at my home town in Kerala. In order to obtain a "Marriage Certificate", I had to print the contents of the certificate on a Rs. 50 stamp paper. I then took it to the Khateeb/secretary of the mosque that conducted the wedding and he signed it, and placed the seal of the organization.

Next, I had to get it "attested" by District Notary, then send it to the state capital (Trivandrum), where the Home department will attest it. Next, it has to be sent to the Home Ministry in New Delhi for a further attestation and then, the UAE Embassy at New Delhi, where they attest it again and stick a AED 100 UAE revenue stamp on it. This process (from District Notary attesting it till the UAE embassy attesting it can be done through an agent who will take care of the hassles for you). I paid the agent Rs. 2700 (Indian rupees) to get it all done and I believe it was worth the cost.

Then, I brought the marriage certificate (which by now, is covered with seals and signatures) to the United Arab Emirates. Next, I took it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abu Dhabi (on Airport Road, next to Carrefour) and paid them AED 100 to stick another stamp and attest it (again). I came back to collect it the next day.

Tip: You can reach the Ministry by taxi or you can take bus number 54.

Once I had all this done, I got the marriage certificate translated in Arabic (the organization I work for got this done for me, at my expense) and then my employer applied for the residence entry visa for my wife. Under the urgent track (100 dhs extra or so), you should receive the visa the next day.

The process is not very complicated (except the attestations part). The important thing is to make sure that both your name and your spouse's name is EXACTLY as per your passports. This is really important - I've heard that even a minor spelling error can cause your application to be rejected.

Once I got the visa in hand, we booked tickets and I asked the airline to send a visa on arrival message after showing them the original visa. On the day of arrival, I just delivered it at the Visas section in Abu Dhabi Airport (with a fee of 25 dhs) one hour before the flight arrived.

It is good to inform your spouse that a retina (eye) scan will be done at the airport on arrival.

Once my wife entered Abu Dhabi, I took her for medical tests at the New Medical Center. After obtaining medical insurance, the Residence can be stamped in the passport.