21 July 2016

Dr. Taher Y. Kagalwala - Expat in Taif, Saudi Arabia

Dr. Taher Y. Kagalwala - Expat in Taif, Saudi Arabia

Dr. Taher Y. Kagalwala is a 54-year-old specialist Pediatrician who practices in the Al Muwayh General Hospital, Al Muwayh, Taif in Saudi Arabia. Originally from Mumbai, India, Dr. Kagalwala decided to relocate to Saudi Arabia after 25 years of working as a pediatrician in Mumbai as he felt that he was in a groove and wanted to expand his practice. Another reason for his relocation was to be able to increase his income and provide more for his two daughters. Dr. Kagalwala has been living by himself in Saudi Arabia since November of 2011, and was able to get a job through an interview in April 2011 in Mumbai. He noted that it took him 6 months to complete the various requirements and formalities before flying out to Taif for his appointment back in November of 2011.


Aside from struggling with foreign culture and language when he first arrived, Dr. Kagalwala noted that his most difficult experience as an expat in his host country involved meeting the various requirements after reaching Saudi Arabia. “The main hurdle was for me to get my residence permit, my Saudi Practicing License, and my Classification requirements as a specialist Pediatrician,” Dr. Kagalwala said, adding that the amount of money he needed for these requirements was quite large so he had to borrow from various sources such as his friends overseas and from the Hospital director.


It is common for many expatriates to encounter some document or paperwork-related challenges after arriving in a foreign soil. Like Dr. Kagalwala, expats may find themselves with some additional requirements to complete which can cost plenty of time, money and energy. To remedy this, expatriates are advised to consider getting assistance from professional immigration services, which can help them with immigration-related requirements, as well as informing them with the laws and policies of their host country. Additionally, availing of relocation services  can also be helpful, as relocation companies often offer visa-processing services as well.


Find out more about Dr. Taher Y. Kagalwala’s experiences in Saudi Arabia in his full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I hail from Mumbai, India.


Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: I was practicing as a Pediatrician in the private sector in Mumbai since 1986. After nearly 25 years of practice, I was finding myself in a groove, and unable to expand my practice further. The concern for my growing daughters and their ever-increasing needs in the fields of education, personal grooming, etc. made me turn to Saudi Arabia to boost my income and to expand my horizons.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: I am currently appointed by the Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a Specialist Pediatrician at the Al Muwayh General Hospital, Al Muwayh, Taif, K.S.A. This is a small village with our hospital being a 50-bedded basic hospital within the Makkah region.


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I got the job through an interview conducted in Mumbai in April 2011. It took me over 6 months to complete the various formalities before I could finally fly out to Taif, the regional city for my appointment in mid-November 2011


Q: How long have you been living in Saudi Arabia?

A: I am here since Nov 2011 (3 years)


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?

A: The most difficult time were the first several months, as I struggled with foreign culture, a foreign language and a less than adequate knowledge of the norms of this strange country where the most modern medical equipment exists hand in hand with centuries old customs of female privacy and so on.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A:  The difficulty was not in getting the various documents initially, as they were arranged by my recruitment agent in India itself. However, the problem was in meeting the requirements AFTER reaching KSA. The main hurdle was for me to get my residence permit, my Saudi Practising License, and my Classification requirements as a specialist Pediatrician. The amount of money needed for this was huge, and I did not get salary until I had worked there for almost 65 days! I had to borrow the money from overseas friends and from the Hospital director to meet those immediate needs, as I had never imagined that the MOH would not give advance salary to its new employees, or take over 2 months to give me my residence permit! (You see, unless you have the permit, you cannot open a bank account, and unless you have THAT, you cannot get your salary credited to you).


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I am living alone, but I do have a fellow-Indian doctor who is my room-mate.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Saudi Arabia? How did you manage to find a social circle in  Saudi Arabia?

A:  It was quite easy to make professional friends in the hospital. They were from different countries - such as the various Middle East nations, and also South Asian and Far East Asian countries. The chief ones are Egyptians, Sudanese, Syrians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Filipinas. They were doctors, nurses, cleaners and service personnel. The social circle grew slowly. I was not easily accepted among those who have their families with them. However, with bachelor doctors like me, I was readily accepted. The first Saudi friends were also the employees of my hospital, such as Pharmacists, office personnel, and others working here. However, it took a year and a half before I was invited to the house of one of these people. Even today, my acquaintances with Saudi people are of a passing nature. They are friendly, but choose not to increase their friendship to a social level.  I have made friends with the locals as well, outside the hospital, but none of the friendships are "involved" if you know what I mean.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: There is nothing much to do in my village. However, Saudi Arabia has hidden treasures which you should look out for by searching for them on the web, asking Saudis and sniffing around. For example, the Southwest sector of KSA is as tropical as you can think, though it does not come anywhere near the tropical forests of, say, India or South America. There are historical places, natural wonders, etc. here as well, but the new expat must first settle down before he/she begins to explore this nation. Females do not have the same freedom here as males, and cannot drive cars or go off on their own to visit places of attraction, but they can arrange this through the agency of their employers.


Q: How does the cost of living in Saudi Arabia compared to your home?

A:  A cup of coffee in Saudi Arabia is costlier, but reasonable, as it costs about 0.7 to 3.0 USD. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant costs about 2-3 USD, while a meal in an expensive restaurant costs around 20-25 USD. I’ve never tried cigarettes, and wine is illegal and unavailable.


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?

A:  It is something that I discover every day! The food here is mainly meats-based and non-spicy, a far cry from the typical multifarious, spicy Indian food. The people here are just like those from anywhere else in the world, but the locals are the rustic Bedouins, not very different from their ancestors who roamed the deserts here a hundred and more years ago. They are simple, have a lot of traditional values and knowledge, and are mainly involved in raising livestock, chiefly camels, goats and sheep. They are, however, quite egoistic, and do not respect expats as much as we would like them to. They are proud of their culture, their ethos, their religion and the fact that their monarchy is one of the richest nations of the world, thanks to the oil they produce and market to the rest of the world.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Saudi Arabia?

A: The three positives here were a) a much higher income than that which I was able to earn in India before I came here b) the ability to perform religious pilgrimages to the holy mosques of Makkah and Madina and to perform the Hajj as my required duties as a devout Muslim and c) Enough free time to pursue higher studies. I am currently preparing for the final installment of the Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics, U. K. I am also pursuing a doctorate in Healthcare Management from a U.S. based University. I don't think I would have been able to do all this had I been in India. The main negatives are the fact that my family of a loving wife and two daughters is not with me. I do get to stay with them for over 2 months, when I go to India on vacation, but that still isn't the same thing as staying with them round the year. In addition, I miss the democratic atmosphere of India, and its many different ways of enjoying myself and finding things to do. I have had to put my previous hobbies like jungle trekking and birdwatching on the back-burner as these things are not available here in the KSA.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course, I miss my family, is that even a question?


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I call up my family almost every day, and Skype with them at least once in a fortnight.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A:  I am looking at moving to the UAE in future, as I feel I have stayed as much as I wanted to in the KSA.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Already answered in the spaces above.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: I have learned so much from them, who am I to give them advice. I do have advice for those who plan to come to KSA to pursue their dreams of financial security and so on. They should prepare for some hardship. As the government here is very strict about observance of Islamic principles, they should not openly practice non-Islamic religious practices; they should come to KSA with at least SR 5000 if they are going to come as a doctor. They should not bring their family with them initially, but only from the second year onwards.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: Do read my blog http://drtaherofarabia.blogspot.com/ and also visit http://www.blueabaya.com/ and I read about Saudi Arabia in Wikipedia, explore the geography through Google Earth or Google Maps.