Thursday, July 05, 2012

Opportunity knocks in the Middle East

It was with some reluctance that I left my post at the Museum of the History of Science, so why did I move on?

At the start of the year I was wondering where I might travel in 2012 (being credit crunched did not seem to prevent me from long distance travel in previous years :-).  Just a few weeks later, towards the end of January I received a message via LinkedIn inviting me to consider a career in Qatar.  After some discussion,  I established that this was concerning work in the I.T. department at the Qatar Museums Authority particularly in support of the KE EMu collections management software.  I then had an interview and afterwards a job offer.  It was a hard decision to make, to move away from the comforts and cultural delights of Oxford, but I felt I couldn't ignore this opportunity to explore another culture, gain experience, and potentially build up some savings. I also was reassured that I would have time to write my mother's biography.  So I accepted!

Not having worked abroad before I was unfamiliar with the steps needed to undertake the mobilisation and in this post I wish mainly to share some of what I learnt.  The main thing is to produce legalised copies of the highest level educational certificates (i.e. degree certificates) and similarly for the 'police clearance certificate'.  It took me about 2 months altogether to get these sorted, but I think this could have been reduced to about half that time.  Even then there is still for most people the need to give existing employers notice, which in my case was only 1 month.

Here is how I understand the process now I've been through it, together with a few tips in hindsight, but I make no claims about the accuracy of the information.

For certificates there are three basic steps:

Step 1: Certificates are notarised - notaries have legal powers to verify the authenticity of certificates.  In this case they confirm that a given certificate really was issued by such and such an institution.

Step 2: Legalisation.  The certificates are then sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth who confirm that a notary is duly authorised to act in that capacity.  I think in effect it means that all they are confirming is the authenticity of the notarial stamp and signature; they are not saying anything about the certificate itself!

Tip: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issue apostilles and charge per apostille.  In correspondence with them I learnt that a single apostille can apply to a notarial note that covers multiple documents, but this is only useful if the respective embassy accepts such an arrangement.  So to save cost, it may be worth checking this with the embassy in question before contacting the notary.

Step 3: Attesting by the embassy.  Once the documents have been legalised, they then need to be checked by the embassy of the state or country where you are moving to.

Some further notes and experiences:

re: Step 1: Degree certificates need to be notarised, which notaries typically carry out by contacting the registry for the respective institutions to seek confirmation from them.  Some solicitors have notarial authority also.

Tip: If the notary carries out these requests only infrequently and you have - as I had - several different universities to consult then to minimise the expense you can do most of the donkeywork beforehand by establishing the contact details and verification process (most universities have a set procedure).  Otherwise the notary will probably charge for the time it takes them to establish this; in my case having obtained these details I could arrange a fixed fee.

The response times varied quite a bit; the University web sites sometimes give an indication of how long it takes to process requests and during exam periods it can be several weeks.  In my case kudos to the University of Glasgow, Kingston University and the University of Oxford for not charging fees and promptly giving helpful respsonses.  The other university was the only  one that charged a fee and happened to be by far the slowest to respond - it took a pincer movement from the notary and myself to eventually extract the required information!  

re: Step 2: Legalisation.  If you follow to the letter the instructions on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Web site it's not difficult to complete the form and the response is pretty quick, but you do have to allow a few days as it can only be carried out by surface mail.  I had no problems.

re: Step 3: Embassy stamp.  I phoned up the Qatar Embassy and received a courteous and helpful response.  I was able to establish that I could send the documents in the post and didn't have to appear in person.  So I used Royal Mail Special Delivery both ways (return was prepaid - it requires, though, that embassy arranges for it to be handed over to Post Office staff).  The Qatar Embassy processed this very swiftly too.

What took me longer than expected was the 'police clearance certificate' (i.e. the criminal records check).  Being in Oxford I followed some instructions on the the Thames Valley Police Web site and sent off a completed form.  I received a prompt reply saying that the site was out of date and that I should go to another site.  In the meantime, the QMA directed me to Disclosures Scotland, which must have received a contract for handling such requests for the UK generally.  It's another form to fill in, which can be submitted online, together with supporting evidence of your address and identity.  However, curiously there didn't seem to be a way of submitting supporting evidence with the form - that had to be sent in a separate email, which seemed disjointed.

They say about 2 weeks should be allowed and that was about how long it took for me.

Tip: Give multiple instructions about having an authorised stamp and signature on the certificate so as to present for legalisation by the F&CO (and be prepared to phone to confirm that they will stamp and sign).

It may seem quite a lot of hassle (I had 'flu whilst filling in one form so I sent that one off more in hope than assurance!)  The QMA staff were very helpful and supportive; they didn't pressurise me, so it was fine just to proceed step by step.  By May I had submitted the required documents, handed in my notice, and was well into preparations for the move.  

Final tip: When making preparations to move to somewhere unusual or exotic, be ready for an increased social life (friends and relatives may naturally want to know more as well as say "Cheerio!")...!

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