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Pre-Departure Information

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Visas

All students studying at YCMES are required to obtain a Yemeni student visa. The College can obtain this for you - this generally takes us a week and costs $85. We will send you a scanned copy of the document, and the original will be waiting for you at Sana'a International Airport when you arrive. While we highly recommend taking advantage of this, students may also arrange their own visas if they wish.

There are some restrictions. Passports containing Israeli stamps, for example, are not eligible for Yemeni visas. Pakistani and Iranian passports are sometimes problematic, and visas for students from outside Western Europe or North America may take a little longer to arrange. Furthermore, those students wishing to study for more than one term at YCMES will need to take (and pass) an HIV test in Sana'a in order to obtain a residency visa. We will help you with this, and if you have any questions please let us know.

If you temporarily travel outside Yemen, you will need to purchase a new entry visa upon your return arrival. Please notify the College at least two weeks in advance of any international travel plans you may have, and we will arrange the necessary exit and re-entry visas for you.

Packing List

It is better to bring only essential items. Though you may fear that you are under-packing, remember that you will want to bring back serious souvenirs when you return. Most items needed for daily life can be easily and cheaply purchased in Sana’a, anyway, from toiletries to power converters.

Students should remember to bring several layers of clothing as Sana'a can vary in temperature, especially from day to night. Clothes need to be a little more conservative than most students are used to, and women in particular should be prepared to wear loose, non-revealing clothing. If you are concerned that an item may be culturally questionable, it's probably best to leave it at home. As a general rule pack so that you will not be wearing:

  • Trousers or shirts that reveal your midriff.
  • Blouses or dresses with short sleeves revealing the arms (women).
  • Tank tops.
  • Short skirts that fall above the ankles.
  • Tight or low cut blouses.
  • Any transparent clothing.
  • Shorts in public (both men and women).
  • Camouflage patterns or clothing suggestive of military or police.

Since Yemenis take pride in their traditional clothing, many students purchase and wear these traditional outfits while staying in Yemen.

While most over-the-counter medicines (save a few brand names) can be found in pharmacies here, students should bring a supply of necessary prescription medicines. Most prescriptions can be found in Yemen, but local supply cannot be guaranteed. Birth control and feminine hygiene products are also available, though tampons cannot be easily found.

YCMES recommends bringing a laptop, for which we provide wireless internet, although computers are available on campus for students 24 hours a day. Students may also want to bring a small selection of favorite music, movies, and books, as these items are not always easily found in Sana’a.

What we recommend bringing:

Clothing

  • 2-3 pairs of trousers
  • 2-3 loose-fitting skirts/dresses (for women)
  • 3-4 lightweight, long sleeved shirts
  • 2-3 T-shirts
  • 1 fleece, sweater, or sweatshirt
  • 1 medium-weight jacket (water resistant preferable)
  • Socks and underwear (probably more than two of each)
  • 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes
  • 1 pair of comfortable sandals/flip-flops
  • Sleepwear
  • 1 good belt
  • Swimming suit (conservative for women, so no bikinis)
  • 1 semi-dressy outfit for social functions

Documents

  • Passport original and photocopies
  • 2nd form of ID (eg. driving license)
  • Plane tickets
  • YCMES contact information (when en-route)
  • Copies of important documents (health insurance, transcript, important contacts, marriage license, inoculation records, YCMES enrollment certificate &c.)
  • Extra passport-sized photos (also readily available in Sana’a)

Miscellaneous

  • Small supply of common toiletries (tampons for women)
  • Glasses; contact lenses and associated paraphernalia
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Laptop computer and charger
  • Mobile phone
  • Plug adapter (Yemen uses three-pronged British plugs; power is 220v/50Hz)
  • Small selection of favorite music, movies, or books
  • Ear plugs (if light sleeper)
  • One good backpack or shoulder bag
  • Torch
  • Alarm Clock
  • Necessary medications
  • Medic alert bracelet (if applicable)

Budgeting

Most foreigners find living in Sana’a to be pretty cheap. The basics of living - food, transportation, clothing, toiletries and so on - are low-cost by Western standards. The amount of money spent by a student depends upon the life they like to lead, but the following will give you an idea of prices for basic items:

  • A regular meal at a normal café: 200-500YR (less than $2.50)
  • Ditto at a nicer restaurant: 1000-2000YR ($5-10)
  • 0.75cl bottle of water: 50YR (approx. $0.25)(you can also buy 10l of filtered water for 80YR)
  • Clothing items: generally 500-2000YR ($2.50-10)
  • Toiletries such as shampoo: 300-600YR ($1.50-3)
  • Pack of cigarettes: 130-200YR (less than $1)

There are establishments and stores that stock more expensive or foreign products, and prices tend to be rather more Western there. In general, however, a student who lives reasonably modestly can budget on just over $100 per month (plus souvenirs and travel around the country).

Registering with your Embassy

Students are recommended to register with their embassy or consulate prior to or upon arrival in Yemen. Every embassy has its own set of procedures for registry so students should make sure to research their embassy’s procedures. Most embassies have an online registration process that allows students to receive warden messages or any other emergency information during their stay in Yemen.

Vaccines & Immunisations

For vaccine and immunisation preparation when traveling to Yemen, it is best to consult your doctor or health-care provider at least one month before departure. They will be able to determine specific needs, taking into account your health and immunization history and current risks in Yemen. This timing will allow any necessary vaccines or medications to take effect before arrival in Yemen.

There are no required vaccinations for entering the country, unless you are coming from areas with risk of yellow fever transmission - in that case, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for entry. Make sure, however, that all of your routine vaccinations are up-to-date (eg. influenza, chickenpox, polio, measles/mumps/rubella, and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus). Other general vaccinations recommended for traveling to areas such as Yemen are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and Rabies. Yellow Fever and Tuberculosis are also mentioned, but just as a precaution.

Yemen does have a malaria risk, highest from September to February and in areas under 2000m. Sana'a, being firmly above 2000m, is not affected, and on Socotra its prevalence is limited. Health officials, however, recommend malaria pills if you decide to travel elsewhere in the country, especially in the west. Atovaquone/Proguanil, Doxycycline, Mefloquine, Lariam and Malarone are all good, and most are available in Yemen.

Qat 

Other Useful Information

Time

The time zone in Yemen is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +3). There is no daylight saving, and no need for it at this latitude.

Working Hours

Yemenis work from Sunday to Thursday; the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Friday is the holy day for Muslims and most businesses are closed, although some open after the noon prayer. On other days, business hours tend to be from 0800hrs until noon, and then after a generous lunch break they start again at 1600hrs and work on through to 2000hrs. It should be noted, however, that this is more of a guideline than a rule.

Language

As we hope most of our prospective students are aware, Arabic is the official and predominant language in Yemen. There are many regional Arabic dialects throughout Yemen, Sana’ani and Ta’izi being leading examples, but these dialects are very close to Modern Standard Arabic. This, we feel, is a key attraction of Yemen as a study destination – this is perhaps the only country where fus'ha is not met with complete confusion.

Though the majority of Yemenis speak only Arabic, an increasing number are starting to learn English in post-secondary schools and institutes. The YCMES Department of English is in fact leading the charge here. One may also find the occasional Yemeni who speaks French, Spanish, German, Russian or other European languages.

Currency

The basic unit of currency is the Yemeni Riyal. At the time of writing, the exchange rate was 215YR to the US Dollar, 367YR to the Pound and 292YR to the Euro (exchange rates, of course, are ever changing).

Banks, ATMs and Cash

There are plenty of international banks in Sana'a that boast ATM services. ATMs in Yemen are quite reliable, and prove to be the easiest and most convenient way to obtain cash. Some people, however, have had problems (Visa, for example, seems to work a lot better than Mastercard). As a result, YCMES recommends that students not rely solely upon their card, and bring a assortment of US Dollars as a backup. Traveler’s Cheques should be avoided - only a few establishments accept them and exchange rates are exorbitant. Credit cards are also not widely accepted in shops and restaurants.

Climate

There are three main climate zones in Yemen. The East is mostly hot, harsh desert, the West coast is hot and humid, and the mountains are temperate and wetter due to monsoon seasons. In Sana’a the wet season lasts throughout the late summer and there can be heavy downpours in the late afternoon or evening. It is best to avoid extensive land-based travel at those times because roads may become flooded and muddy.ctical Matters Page 18

Sana’a is located at over 2000 meters above sea level, and therefore does not get very hot in the summer compared to Yemen’s lowlands. The air is very dry and the average temperatures are in the high twenties (Celsius). In winter, however, it can get chilly. At night it can get down to freezing, although daytime temperatures are in the low- to mid-twenties (again, Celsius), which is not the end of the world.

Water

There is no reliable piped water system in Sana’a. Water is delivered in trucks to each house, and then pumped up to a storage container on the top of roofs. Because of this, YCMES recommends students conserve water and not drink tap water (although it can be used for showering, brushing one’s teeth, and for cooking if boiled first). Good bottled water is available pretty much everywhere and is cheap, particularly so if you buy it in returnable 10l jerry cans.

Health and Insurance

The YCMES does not have any on-campus physicians, health facilities or pharmacies. Emergency health services, however, are available 24 hours a day, and YCMES staff are always on call in case of any student illness or emergency. The college assists students with transportation to and from the hospital and any further assistance needed, like picking up medications from a local pharmacy.

The Saudi-German hospital opened in June 2006 near the Sana’a International Airport with modern, clean facilities. It is recommended that all students use this hospital in case of illness or emergency, as it offers the best quality healthcare in Yemen in addition to offering a 25% discount on services to YCMES students. Students are responsible for all medical costs incurred during their stay, and if students need to be evacuated for health or other emergency reasons, the cost of the airfare and any special medical attention will be borne by the student.

YCMES cannot provide students with medical insurance, and highly recommends that all students take out comprehensive travel insurance.

Transportation

Transportation around Sana’a is easy and inexpensive, especially so for YCMES students as the College facilities are located just off Tahrir Square, the city's transportation hub.

The white and yellow taxis are readily available throughout the city, and 500YR will get you to most places in Sana'a (after a little negotiation – remember to fix a price before you get in, and make sure the license plate shows that it really is a licensed taxi). If you are travelling on your own to a specific destination, a cheaper if dodgier option is stopping a motorcycle and hopping on the back, although this option is only advisable for male students and from health and safety point of view not really advisable at all.

There is also an extensive bus system throughout Sana’a consisting of regular buses and small vans called dubabs that follow set routes through the city. These are the cheapest way to get around, with most trips costing around 50YR. New students learn the names of the main streets and bus routes quickly and find travel in Sana’a to be relatively uncomplicated.

sanaa camel

Passports and ID Cards

It is neither necessary nor advisable to carry your passport as identification in Yemen. YCMES recommends that your passport be kept in a secure place – our safe, for example – since a photocopy will suffice for nearly all purposes. You will also be provided with an official student ID card by YCMES when you arrive, which will serve as your official identification on and off campus and allow entrance to College facilities and discounts at certain establishments.

Culture

This is Sana'a in 1971:

Less has changed than you might think, if one excepts the inevitable and slightly alarming urban sprawl. This is Sana'a today:

The culture of Yemen is a combination of Arab tradition, strong tribal customs and conservative Islam.  Visitors to Yemen will often remark on the profound generosity of their Yemeni hosts, and even today, the Yemeni people still hold strongly to their culture and values, in the form of their religion, language, dress, food, and music.  This culture is a little different to that in the West, and needs to be respected by students in the country.

Nearly all Yemenis are Muslims, a mixture of Shafi’i Sunnis, Zaydi Shi’ites, and a few Ja’fari Isma’ilis. As a foreign visitor, people will naturally be curious about you and may often inquire about your religious persuasion, but most Yemenis will treat you no differently for being a non-Muslim.

Though many Yemenis observe traditional gender roles, this is by no means a universal belief.  Women in Yemen drive cars, go to college, have jobs, and, during the 2011 Revolution, turned out alongside men to protest. Yemen, however, is a conservative country, and relations between men and women, particularly unmarried men and women, are often subject to intense social scrutiny. Male students especially should be advised that striking up conversations with women they do not know is frowned upon and will put the woman in an uncomfortable situation. Female students have slightly more leeway when talking to Yemeni men, although a friendly conversation may be interpreted as something rather more by a Yemeni man. Ironically, however, our female students always seem to end up with a much more active social life among Yemenis than do our male students.

Yemenis are very proud of their culture and this often shows in their appearance - both men and women tend to wear traditional Yemeni clothing. For men, this is a thob (a long white or grey robe) with a decorative belt and jambiya (a large, curved knife).  For women, this is a veil or headscarf, and in the cities they will generally wear a balto or abaya.  Some older women in Sana’a, however, still wear al-Masoon, a large, colorful piece of fabric wrapped around the body.

Saleh Mosque

Diet

The Yemeni diet is quite simple. Staples are rice, bread, mixed vegetables, bread, chicken, beef, lamb and bread, with fish in the coastal regions. Breakfast is a light meal that may consist of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, a bean dish called foul, or fasulia, all of which are served with flat bread. Supper in the evening is similar, with the addition of liver or spiced ground beef dishes. Lunch, however, is a bit more of an extravaganza. It generally consists of chicken, lamb or beef, with cooked vegetables and rice mixed with raisins and almonds. Flat bread soaked in buttermilk and covered with tomatoes, onions, and spices is served at most meals, as well as a spicy green broth/stew called salta, served in a super-heated stone bowl.

Salta is considered the national dish of Yemen, and is very tasty. It is made with meat broth, onions, tomatoes, ground meat, eggs, and hilba (a mixture of fenugreek and grated leeks). There are several types of salta available, and some restaurants, as you will discover, are more popular than others for their particular recipe (and the same goes for salta's meatier sibling fahsa).

Traditional desserts include custard dishes and various kinds of sweetened and unsweetened pastries. The most famous dessert is called bint al-sahan (daughter of the bowl), a cake-like flaky pastry with several layers covered with honey and black seeds.

Coffee originated in Yemen and was exported from Mocha, a port town on the Red Sea, making its way to Europe by ship during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Yemen, both the husks and the beans are used to make beverages. A drink called qishr is made by steeping coffee husks in hot water and adding ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom. Qishr is milder than bean coffee and is preferred by Yemenis; preferred by international students tends to be the fresh juice served by stalls on almost every street corner.

Feast