For most people, leaving the UAE to return home, or to begin a new life somewhere else, is a considerable challenge. But it's an eventual reality for most expatriates. Since moving to the Emirates, odds are you know someone who has moved on. Perhaps they accepted an exciting career opportunity, became homesick, or were made redundant in the wake of the financial downturn. Whatever the reason, slogging through paperwork, packing, paying the bills, looking for health insurance, and taking the children out of school can be a costly headache.
To avoid the hassle - and the debts - some people choose to do a runner, jumping on a plane with no intention of coming back. But this is hardly a prudent option, nor is it an ethical one. Expatriates who abscond from debts could be blacklisted from re-entering the country for years to come - if not forever. And as soon as you enter an Emirati airport, even in transit, you could end up having problems with the local authorities.
Absconding will also eliminate your end-of-service gratuity and final payment, which in this country are linked to proper exiting procedures. Fortunately, for the majority of us, departing from UAE life is a sweet sorrow, and it pays to end your time here responsibly. If you follow the right steps, the process can be relatively painless. For Vincent Bouquain, a farrier at the Equestrian Club in Abu Dhabi, leaving the UAE has been smooth.
After arriving from France in April 2009, Mr Bouquain, 38, found a job the following month, and signed a one-year renewable contract. "But before I finished my first year, I had to undergo back surgery for a hernia, which got me stuck home for a month and a half," he remembers. "A staff member told me two months before the end of my contract, in March, that it would not be renewed." Despite the unpleasant circumstances, two months' notice was more than enough time for a single man with no children to think about the future, update his CV and plan the transition.
"Since I am living in a company flat, I will need to leave the place, but they have not given me any deadline yet," Mr Bouquain says. "It is not like they are kicking you out." As for the visa cancellation, he says his company is in charge of the procedure. "I have no idea how long that will take, but so far nobody has asked me for my passport and we are three weeks from the deadline," he explains. "The only thing I signed was the letter of non-renewal of my contract."
Mr Bouquain also visited his bank and asked if his account could be kept active. He's leaving the UAE next month, but hopes to return in mid-August to find another job. Therefore, the bank agreed to keep him as a customer. "But I will need to cancel my credit card because it is linked to the employer," he explains. "I can still keep my ATM card." Mr Bouquain says he plans on leaving furniture with a friend, eliminating the hassle of shipping his possessions.
However, not all cases are this straightforward. Many expatriates have far more variables to consider, such as children, pets, furniture and outstanding loans. And since we are all different, each one of us will have to deal with unique situations and challenges. For example, Laura, a teacher at a British school in the capital, is worried about her faithful, long-term maid. The 40-year-old Briton preferred to withhold her full name, as she has yet to inform her employer that she'll be leaving in the near future.
"She has been with us for almost eight years taking care of the kids," say Laura, the mother of two children, aged eight and three. "The maid is part of the family now. It breaks my heart to have her sent back to her home country because I know that she does not want that. But if we leave we should put an end to our sponsorship." Indeed, Laura will be legally obligated to do so by visiting the immigration department. Both she and the maid must present their passports and the maid's labour card.
Another expat, Philip Agius, a 39-year-old architect from Australia, had a hard time selling his car and closing his bank account when he left the Emirates last summer. "I was very conscious all the time about having any debt left when I arrived at the Abu Dhabi Airport," he says. "I was just paranoid about it because of the stories I have heard about being caught and who knows what." Mr Agius had reasons to be concerned. In fact, he had two loans from his bank - one that he took out to cover a six-month rent advance on his apartment in Dubai, and the other for a car. He did not wish to reveal how much money he owed.
"Selling my Ford Focus was a nightmare," he remembers. After posting a handbill advertisement on a Spinneys bulletin board, Mr Agius received incessant phone calls from people for weeks offering what he considered to be ridiculously low sums of money for his car, a 2005 model. "They were all telling me that I would never get more than Dh12,000, because there are so many cars on the market and everybody is leaving," he explains.
Mr Agius held out, and was eventually rewarded for his patience, selling the 2005 Focus for Dh20,000. But other problems soon presented themselves to the departing expatriate. His car was registered in Dubai, while the buyer lived in Abu Dhabi. Therefore, Mr Agius had to transfer the registration. "I am lucky I was not working, because it took me three days of my time," he remembers, saying the process was arduous.
Mr Agius took the car to the Dubai registration office, where he was required to fill out several forms. His license plate was then removed, and a special temporary plate was issued to him. Next, he drove down to Abu Dhabi, picked up the buyer and processed the rest of the paperwork and registration at the licensing department in the capital. Of course, Mr Agius had to pay off his car loan before he could actually sell the vehicle, and he had to spend his end-of-service gratuity payment to do so.
He experienced other hiccups with his bank. At one point, after salary transfers from his employer ended and he still had loans with outstanding balances, the bank froze all of his accounts. Mr Agius says he had to visit the bank and have an extended meeting with several representatives to explain the situation. Even his final airport experience was a hassle. As Mr Agius approached the check-in counter, thinking all his troubles were behind him, the attendant told him he was carrying excess luggage to the tune of about 10 kilograms.
"I had to either pay an exorbitant amount to take it on the plane, or go to a special counter where I can send it by post," he says. For Dh14 per kilogram to New York, or Dh10.30 to London, Etihad Crystal Cargo, for example, will ship your excess luggage. Note that it will take three to five days for you to receive it on the other end, including flight and customs. The whole process of exiting the country took Mr Agius a good six weeks. But in the end, after a meaningful and productive time in the Emirates, he is happy to be home.
"It has been very tough going home," he says. "I have been back for nearly a year and I have worked only six months of it. I only got a full-time job recently. But although it was a tough transition, it has been really enjoyable." firstname.lastname@example.org