This morning I received a comment on my previous post asking if I could cover the topic of travel bans in Kuwait. It’s a very important topic and something that should be addressed, so I’ll do my best.
First and foremost you can check to see if you have a travel ban by following this link. Once you get to that page go to ‘E-Services’ page found on the left. I’ve posted the English version of the page.
I’ve lived in Kuwait for numerous years, have never committed a crime, had only 2 speeding tickets in my name (paid right away), and had no debt. I was not someone who would expect to have a travel ban, yet before I would travel I always had my name checked by friends in immigration ‘just in case’. Now, fortunately, we can check for ourselves by using the link above.
Just last month I was travelling for a few days and asked my husband to do my ‘just in case’ check. And sure enough, I owed a bill to Wataniya from 2009. I had taken a job in the UAE at that time and was leaving Kuwait. I cancelled my mobile phone services, OSN, and internet. But it seems because I didn’t turn in the little box thingie (woman definition) to Wataniya, I was being charged for it. This little thing looked almost like a memory stick, I truly had no clue it belonged to them… especially considering what I paid for that service at the time. Since 2009 I have departed and entered Kuwait so many times I had to have pages added to my passport — yes, THAT many times. Not once was this debt ever mentioned to me, nor did it prevent me from travelling. But, because it did show in the system this time (2012) as a travel ban, my husband went straight to the airport the day before I was to travel and paid the debt. He was handed a receipt in Arabic as well as a paper to be filed in Sulabiya. He was told as long as I showed that receipt I could travel, no problem. Also, he was NOT asked for a boarding pass. As I said, this was the day before my travel plans… I didn’t have a boarding pass. However, Mark of 28AM recently posted of an issue he faced when departing the country and said he did have to show a boarding pass. I certainly hope he was mistaken and this isn’t something they’ve recently implemented since my trip.
Also, as Mark stated, why should a travel ban be used as the first line of action?
Using a travel ban to collect debt is a very poor method, especially if it’s only discovered at immigration as you’re departing. At this point your travel is paid for (perhaps including hotels, event tickets, airline tickets for family, rental cars, etc). You’ve also already checked your bags… and sometimes even pets. Can you imagine the horror of missing the flight with all your luggage and family pet because you owe a few dinars you weren’t even aware of? I get sick thinking about it.
Collecting fines at the airport is brilliant and quite convenient. But why not allow each immigration officer do the collecting? Not necessarily the daunting task of entering it into the computer, removing the ban, and marking the debt as ‘paid’. But maybe just collecting the money, putting it into a sealed envelope, and attaching a copy of the person’s passport? This would at least allow people to make it to their flight on time.
But, why should it get to this point at all? Why not implement an SMS and email notification system when people are acquiring debt or opening accounts? I know most people have kept the same mobile number in Kuwait for a decade and many of us have used our same email address since the 90’s. Maybe they could even go a step further when opening an account and ask for the mobile number of 2 relatives or close friends, giving us the option to add other contact alternatives. This also allows people to understand how much debt they’re facing and gives them time to pay it before making travel plans. For those with smaller amounts owed it’s really not too difficult paying at the airport (if there’s no line), but what about those who have huge debt and no money to pay? They’ve just wasted money on a flight they’re going to miss which could have been applied to the debt itself.
As I said, my debt was from 2009 and it was quite minimal. I was certainly not trying to avoid paying Wataniya, I just had no clue I owed them. Had they sent even one email, or even bothered to ask for their little stick thingie back when I closed the account, it would have been resolved in 2009. If someone had mentioned it one of the numerous times I entered Kuwait in the past 3 years, I would have easily paid it then.
This post is about simple debt, not criminal cases. But even those can sometimes be resolved by paying a fine. But in the instance when a fine will not suffice, there’s a court date (hopefully people are being notified of their court dates). The hearing will either result in a fine or time in jail. People should be made aware of the amount they owe at that time, preventing them from facing issues at the airport later.
Though I do understand some people attempt to leave the country and never pay their debts, that truly isn’t the majority. Why should the typical person, trying to do the right thing, be punished for the few who didn’t?
Kuwait, you’re a wealthy country. Invest a little and make procedures which should be simple… well, simple.