Expats in Maldives

We are moving to Maldives!!!

The first reaction is a shriek, a jumping up and down session, a series of yaaaays and hurrahss!! The land of submerged gardens, the necklace of islands, the honeymoon island and God knows what not. Then as the thought gradually sinks in what comes to mind is if it is an island, will we be safe there? What if GOD FORBIDS a cyclone or a storm or a tsunami came? what will the people be like? Will all of them be fishermen? All with their palm printed tree shirts be lying on a hammock and drinking coconut juice? Quickly we set off to google and get to know that:

Maldives is an extensive group of islands 1,192 coral islands to be exact which have been grouped into 26 coral atolls (200 inhabited islands plus 80 islands with tourist resorts). On the map they lie south-southwest of India, in the Indian ocean and are considered part of southeast Asia. When you try to find it on the map, the first time you won’t even see. What you got to do is find the south most part of India on one side that is the east you will see the tear drop shaped Srilanka, on the opposite side that is the west, in the Indian ocean u will see a DOT. Zoom it, and zoom it further….. Thaaaat is MALDIVES!

Capital Male’
Government Presidential Republic
Currency Rufiyaa (MVR) (1USD =15.7 MVR)
Area 300km²
Population 394,999 (July 2011 estimate)
Language Maldivian Dhivehi, English spoken by most government officials
Religion Sunni Muslim, sect: Shafaee
Electricity 220V, 50Hz (European or British plugs)
Country code +960
Time zone Gmt +5

When you reach Maldives, you get to see a different picture altogether. Having looked at all the beautiful pictures you imagine that when you will land you will be greeted by the fascinated view of the Indian ocean, you can actually feel that sparkling blue water. But, if you are coming via a transit flight like what I took via Srilanka, landed at 11pm at the night. So, no fancy view to welcome rather a very small airport. If you want the fancy view, schedule your transit flight accordingly. At the airport you

pass through the immigration they give you a 15 day or 30 days tourist visa depends on their mood and then you come out through the arrival gate. And that’s the end of the airport. Oh yes, a small one however multiple ATMs, pharmacy, internet café, café to grab a bite

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and offices of cellular companies are also located here. This is the airport island, or the Hul-hule island. You take a ferry to Male which is 6 mins by ferry and 3 mins by speed boat ferry charges are 10 mvr And speed boat charges are 25 mvr. But there are no speed boats after 6 pm. Ferry however, goes after every 15 mins and after midnight after every 30 minutes.
Upon reaching Male’ you can take a taxi to your hotel or apartment. Here standard charges are applicable for all taxis (Anywhere in male 25 mvr and if you have suitcases its additional 5 mvr per piece)

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~ferry ride anyone?

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That’s how the ferry looks from inside.

Male’:

Male’ (pronounced as Malay) is a small place (1.7 km long and 1 km square in area) it is definitely not a party place hence acts as a transit for most tourist whose destination is further ahead at the resorts. But in itself it has a different character of its own: narrow streets, cobble stone roads, colorful houses. Hustling bustling typical city environment. Scootys dominate the roads, fewer cars and that too mostly taxis. People usually prefer to go on foot. Narrower streets and that too one way only so as to avoid traffic jams cause one to reach earlier or at the same time on foot. Male is a densely populated city. Majedhee magu being the main street joining the east end with the west. It’s the centre of the city business. One street where you will get everything varying from clothes, sim card, super market for edible items as well as for kitchen items. though i wouldn’t suggest buying clothes from here as a lot of fake items labelled as branded are sold here (wink wink) One thing that you should know in order to prevent any hassle is that most of the shops are closed for prayer breaks 12:30 to 1:30 in the afternoon and 6 to 8 in the evening. Friday is an OFF day when the entire city is shut down before Friday prayers. However, after 3 pm a few shops and eateries open up. Rules for walking in male’, you are the boss, just cross the road and the scootys will stop. No signals here and no zebra crossings either. one more thing to remember is that Male’ is a no bikini zone even at the beaches.

A view of the presidential jetty.

~hello, sea!!

Dress code:

Modest dressing is seen all over Male’. Most local ladies wear a hijab, even the girls. Clothes are casual: jeans, pants with t shirts or button down shirts. Foot wear is of prime importance as you have to walk a lot. Something comfortable and airy.

The water issue:

When you come to Maldives as an expat you are usually provided with an accommodation which may vary according to the job. Basic furniture and basic kitchen items are usually provided. The toilets have a Muslim shower. For those belonging to the Muslim community or even the subcontinent its quite a necessity. The moment you think you have everything covered, done all the required research and have prepared yourself for everything, unexpected situations are there to greet you. (Roll my eyes and shake my head). For us, it was the tap water. We were told for drinking purpose mineral water is to be used and we were prepared for it. What we weren’t prepared for was the tap water. The tap water is either rain water or desalinated sea water.

It is not hard water but it does smell funny and you keep on removing the soap for hours but that slimy feeling will not go. So, after multiple experiments with different products we reached a conclusion that bar soaps don’t work here. Liquid soaps are a lot better. But foaming products are the best. The water is such that it makes the clothes lose their elasticity, steel stuff gets a rainbowy tarnished look and hands smell weird for quite a while after being washed. Secondly, there is no geyser system over here. So, people found it quite funny when we asked about the heating system. Must have thought we were spoiled brats, lol. After much inquiry we found a heating unit which would be installed in the washroom and be attached to the shower unit. It is good to heat water for two people and heats within 30 seconds.

The cooking gas cylinder:

One more thing that we weren’t ready for was the gas cylinder for cooking.

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Well, that wasn’t a real big issue but we found it kind of funny. The cylinder is attached via a hose to the stove. You turn ON the knob, the stove is well-functioning. No issue. It is usually a 10 kg gas cylinder. For a family of two people if you are cooking two complete meals a day, the cylinder usually keeps going for a month but then when will it end,

there is no way to find out. Tried googling, no workable solution could be found. So, it’s your luck could be in the middle of making morning tea or at the end of making a meal. When it ends, you can call the gas company and they deliver a cylinder at your door step within 3 to 4 hours. Once we tried to be real smart and thought

why should we wait for the cylinder to surprise us and placed an order for the cylinder. The guy delivery guy came with the cylinder and checked the ongoing cylinder. He said there is still gas left in the cylinder and refused to give us a new one. So, the rule is when the gas ends it’s your eating out day. No other way about it unless the gas company has sympathy and delivers like within an hour.

Café and restaurants

Till you finally start cooking in your kitchen you can eat at the numerous cafes that are found all over malé.
You get to chose between the typical maldivian environment cafes or a little bit western environment and will be served accordingly.
Maldivian snacks are a must try thing. They are called “short eats”.
With filling of fish or chicken which is usually a little spicy.

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Fish tikki, fish ball (jaw breaker),and chicken samosa

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Cell phone connection, Wi-fi service and cable net:

In Maldives, the services that we got were the cell phone service Oredoo. The packages that they offer are reasonable and good. The 4G service is really good as well. We got Oredoo’s Super net Wi-fi installed as well. They have different packages that you can view on their online page and subscribe accordingly. An installation fees and router fees is taken and then your bill is generated on the 15th of every month. For getting the sim you either purchase from the airport or from their main office in Male which is located at Majeedhe Magu. Don’t forget to take your passport along to prevent another round to their office. They have big queues, so better to go early morning. You can also download their online application on your cell phone to generate queue coupons beforehand.

One more service that we got was the tv cable service of Media net. They too have different packages. For us the family package was quite good as it offered channels from our country as well.
One feature that we figured out at least a month after was that when you have these two services installed together that is Oredoo Super net Wi-fi and Media net we get an additional service of I-TV. Its Netflix kind of service but yes it uses Wi-fi data for streaming.

How I got my medical done:

Although I had the sponsor letter at the time of arrival in Maldives I was given a 30 days tourist visa. To get the dependent visa I had to visit the immigration office with the required documents, form and fees (750 mvr /3 months). The

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main thing is that you have to get your medical done. That means blood test, X-ray chest and a general physical examination. In male you can get medical done from IGMH the biggest tertiary care hospital where forms are given out daily from 6 pm on wards. You take the token, get blood and X-ray done and then you are called next day same time 6 pm where you will visit the GP according to the same token number that you were handed the first day. It’s not as simple as it sounds. When I had to get my medical done a big group of workers had come from other islands for the medical so each day was a four hours thingy (Still gives me shivers). The only good part was that I got to have dinner at IGMH café. The have amazing fish and chicken curry. Fees at IGMH is 1300 mvr. Passport and 2 passport size pictures with white background are compulsory. You can also get your medical done from Hulumale hospital at Hulumale but you have to take an appointment for that. they charge you mvr 450 for it. It’s a two-day thing there as well. PASSPORT and WHITE background PICTURES are essential. Ferry ride per side is 20 minutes long and mvr 25 per side.

Recently another hospital has been given the authority to do the medical as well. It’s a private hospital called Medica. They charge mvr 500 and no fuss either. They take 40 people per day.
How I got my dependent visa:

Once you have all documents ready, medical done, form IM 23 and 30 downloaded, filled and stamped by the work place and fees in hand now you visit the immigration department. Which, for me turned out nothing less than trekking Himalayas. First thing is that you should visit the immigration department at least 5 days before your visa is expiring because you never know when these immigration people issue a new rule (roll my eyes). If you miss the date your visa expires, but still manage to come within 5 days of that date, you will be charged a fine of 500 mvr only. However, if it is even a single day more than that because of any

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reason, the weekly off or even a public holiday they do not consider anything and now a heavy fine is applied which will be decided by the immigration office penalty committee. The fine range may be from 15000 mvr to 50,000 mvr. Oh yes, the zeros are correct in number. The time that I had to apply for visa was a real bad time because the immigration department had installed a new software and they themselves were learning the ins and outs and secondly because of the planning to install this new system they hadn’t issued proper visas for previous 6 months causing big burden on the first day of new year. I was told I had to go early so thinking myself to be very smart I reached at 8 15am only to be told that the token for the day are already finished. My face registered shock like anything. I was surprised that how is this possible as the office opens up at 8am.

Nevertheless, determined to get my thing done the next morning I reached the office at 7 15 am. And the sight I got to see left me baffled. The main gate hadn’t even opened up however there was a long queue already formed outside the main gate. And one of the person had himself made the leader and was giving everybody verbal tokens. As soon as the clock struck 8 am, the doors flung open and everybody ran upstairs. Two floors over the stairs like anything. Looked like a scene from the movie hunger games. Upon reaching the office door at the second floor the queue formed again. A few people who had come in late tried to come in between as well…but the verbal tokens came to our rescue. Sigh. Upon inquiring the guy who had come in at number three got to know that he was there since 5 am. And I going at 7 15 thought I was smart. (slow clap). I had managed to secure a token of 38. thank God for that.

While sitting in the room I realized that since the system was new the immigration office personnel were taking a lot of time and secondly the people coming in were not just submitting a single form rather forms for the entire family. Maximum limit was 5 forms per person and most had 5 forms…by this time one thing was clear my turn wasn’t gonna come any time soon. Since the office was near my home I cam back home, had breakfast, made lunch, had lunch and all this while I kept in touch with the immigration office via their website where the token numbers were showing as they were being dealt by the personnel. At 3pm I finally went to the immigration office. Sat there for two hours when my turn finally came at 5 pm. Only to find out that the background of my passport size picture wasn’t the shade of white that they want. Imagine my surprise, shock and frustration. The lady then asked me to go and get a photo snapped then only and come back within 30 minutes. Since, it was just the last day or else a fine would have been applied I got my ass up, ran to the nearest photograph shop and ran back in record time. Shukar Alhamdulillah they accepted it. And asked me to come after three days.

As a common token is issued for both submission and collection I had to do the same procedure. So, after three days I did the same token thingy, watch over websites the tokens and then did the wait thingy and finally at 3pm got my dependent visa. You have no clue how big an achievement it felt like.
The bank story:

The bank that we decided to open account was the bank of Maldives as it has its ATM located all over Maldives. when we first called in for making an appointment we were shocked on getting an appointment for a date that was one and a half month later. however, the date finally came and we opened up an account. If you open a ruffiya account, an amount of mvr 75 will be deducted every month. In case of a dollar account the amount is $5. The debit card issued to expats cannot be used outside Maldives so, no online shopping.
General information:

Maldives is an island country with practically no industry of their own. The economy runs on tourism. The standard of living is quite high. Every thing that you buy is imported stuff so everything is expensive. You can cut down the expenses by making food at your own home but still it is not cheap. If you are a sea food fan good for you tuna is widely available. Chicken is available as boneless or machine cut 12 pieces in different weights. Its imported from Brazil and then packed in Maldives. Beef meat is imported from Bangladesh. Haven’t tried it as yet but have heard it takes quite a few hours to become tender.

There are two vegetable markets in male’. One is the local market and the other is known as the travelers market and can be found on google map by the name of dhaturuveringe market. It’s a hub for exotic fruits and vegetables. One big fish market from where you can get fresh catch of the day and the best part is that the fish market already has people who will clean the fish for you and remove the fish bone as well.

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~avocados and Egyptian mangoes
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~fresh veggies!!
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Fish market guy cleaning fish for us.
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a view from the fruit market.

For other stuff good supermarkets are here from where almost everything is available but obviously at a higher rate than you are used to. STO Peoples choice supermarket is the most reasonable super market for us. however Agora and Fantasy are also there. Agora is okay rate wise but fantasy….well, you feel like giving an arm or a leg to buy stuff there.

ITEMS PRICE IN RUFFIYA
Chicken curry cut 1.2kg 45
Chicken boneless 136
Cereals 40 -55
Eggs white 2 each
Eggs brown 3 each
Milk 1lit 25 -30
Bread small white 12-15
Bread big white 25-30
Masalahs per box 15 -30
Parathas 5 per pack 25-30
Yoghurt 1kg box 75-90
Butter 400g 85
Pumpkin 1kg 20
Tomatoes 1 kg 60
Potatoes old 1kg 15
Potatoes new white 1 kg 115
Onion 1 kg 20
Onion white 1 kg 100
Brinjal, okra, ridge gourd, snake gourd 1kg each 30-35
Water 500ml 3
Water 1.5 litre 6
Water 5 litre 15

Its better to keep everything in airtight jars and boxes as there is a huge colony of cockroaches and mosquitoes. Which ever floor you may live at, they find ways to sneak into your stuff. We brought injectable roach kill solution from our home country and applied it all over kitchen.We spray the insect kill spray every week, keep the Phenyl balls and whatever google tells to be away from them.

  • Walking is best in Male’. Taxis are seldom free and even when you get one…they move at snails pace.
  • Male’ is a no bikini and no alcohol zone. Also, no dogs.
  • Maldivian RUFFIYA mvr should not be taken beyond Srilanka, as it cant be changed outside that. Dollars are widely accepted. western union is available as well for sending money.
  • Dress modestly.
  • There is no concept of tea leaves here, so get them from home if you are a tea addict. Also masala boxes to cook meals if you are an amateur like me. they are available here but at least 3 times the cost that in our country.
  • Wearing sunblock is essential as UV index is usually Extreme.
  • Take your passport and Absolutely white background passport size pics where ever you go. for sim, for medical for immigration for anything. Better safe than sorry.
  • Bring your medicines along: like ORS, anti-Diarraheol, some thing for heart burn like omeprazole.( spices here have a quite high level ) sunblock and mosquito repellent.
  • Use sanitizer to prevent hands from touching water other than necessary and then smell like rotten eggs.
  • Bring your universal chargers along.
  • The rule followed here is :the locals are always correct. The sooner you accept it, the better it is.
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Injectable to keep away roaches, brought from home country.
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~home remedy to keep away mosquitoes

Maldives is a beautiful country with breath taking sun rises, sun sets and an amazing cloud display. you can never get tired of natures beauty that lies in the midst of the Indian Ocean. Allah Almighty gives you plenty of chances to be awed by picturesque views and say Shukar Alhamdulilah. It’s just been three months here as an expat here and I figured these things out. Still in the process of discovering myself and this beautiful land. More on sightseeing in male’ in my next blog.

~beautiful minaret of the Sultan Masjid
Rasfaanu~ best for watching sun set.

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