Former residents share their tips on how to get your affairs in order before you move to the next location
How to ensure a smooth exit from the UAE when it's time to relocate
Life in the UAE eventually comes to an end for all expatriates, but before making your fond farewells there is the daunting task of drawing up the ‘to-do’ list.
Which is why it pays to be organised, according to former Dubai resident Mel Carruthers, who left her “corporate, suburban life” in July last year to grow her professional organising company, More Organised in her native Scotland.
“The admin of leaving isn’t as bad as people make out”, says Ms Carruthers. “I had a master spreadsheet that listed every task we had to do, each task’s dependencies, timescales and cost, and followed it through."
Ms Carruthers and her husband Chris first arrived in Dubai 12 years ago “with nothing but a suitcase each and a cat". "We left with a six-year old son, three cats and a 20-foot container filled with the contents of our home. So many people fail to budget for their exit, but it comes to us all eventually," she says.
Ms Carruthers says the first point on the to-do list should be sorting out your accommodation. Your landlord needs the appropriate notice for the non-renewal of your lease (90 days in Dubai and two months in Abu Dhabi), and remember to leave enough time between the return of your rental deposit and closing your bank account.
British housewife Mimi Harding and her husband, whose lease on their Abu Dhabi villa expired at the end of January, moved into a hotel apartment for the final 10 weeks of their time in the UAE rather than pay for a lease extension at a higher rate.
“It came as a surprise that renting a hotel apartment down in the city with access to amenities was a pretty similar monthly expenditure to the cost of our villa, plus utilities and a cleaning maid agency,” she says. “During our stay in the apartment, the children got to complete their school term, it gives the utility companies time to refund the deposit and the landlord sufficient time to consider the returnable amount for the villa.”
When it comes to education, parents should give a full term’s written notice to their child’s school or nursery of when their last day will be.
Cassandra Pool from Holland lost a Dh2,000 deposit, when she withdrew their two children from their Dubai nursery without giving this notice period. “I knew these where the conditions, but still it disappointed us as we always paid on time and it was impossible to let them know before time,” she says.
For personal belongings, American relocation consultant Naomi Hattaway recommends expats start selling any items they are not planning to take with them up to two months before departure day. “Typically, it’s simpler to have a removals company come in to provide quotes when the only things remaining are what will be shipped,” she explains.
Staying in a hotel apartment has given the Harding family time to sell off those “tricky last pieces of furniture and white goods,” Ms Harding says. When it comes to choosing what to keep, she follows her “golden house rule”. “If you haven’t used it for six months, you have to ask yourself if you are going to need it or use it again.”
Ms Harding, who has moved to six different countries in the last 16 years, has been busy selling her belongings on local Facebook pages, but admits that the process has driven her to “thoughts of madness".
“If you can tolerate the endless questions of ‘last price? ‘Where are you located?’ and ‘How much?’ then Facebook pages are a quick solution to shifting your stuff,” she says. “The number one rule is ‘Cash is King’ - no cash, no sale, no reserving, and the price is at your discrepancy. Hold your ground and don’t get pushed around and remember that price negotiation is a cultural norm for many.”
Nicholla Henderson-Hall, a British digital entrepreneur who left Dubai in December, found it easier to sell her items in mass bundles. “We did a few flea markets too, which were useful,” she says. “Because we didn't want to trail stuff back to the house, we gave the last parts for free.”
The leaving process is somewhat smoother for those who have accumulated fewer belongings. Alexandra Tohme, a digital consultant who left Dubai to head home to Lebanon last June, says she went out the same way she came in. “I literally just got up and left with three bags. I had no pets, no husband, no family, no car and no flat, only a phone line.”
When it comes to finances, any outstanding debts such as loans and credit cards must be paid off and employers require a ‘no liability’ letter from your bank before they’ll hand over a gratuity cheque.
However, banks are open to negotiation if you want to continue paying off debts after you have left.
"Speak to the bank and explain your circumstances and intention to carry on repaying but they may request proof of your new job and salary," says Keren Bobker, a senior partner with Holborn Assets, adding that any end of service gratuity is likely to be retained and offset against your liabilities.
For those with no outstanding liabilities, Ms Bobker recommends closing bank accounts rather than simply emptying them, as you may be liable to pay a monthly fee that could rack up into a hefty sum.
"I have dealt with a few cases where people have been surprised to discover they owe several thousand dirhams in charges as they have not closed an account," says Ms Bobker. "It is also worth noting that if there are no transactions for six months an account will be suspended but charges can continue to accrue. When closing an account, it is always best to get written confirmation from the bank to avoid any potential future problems."
Ms Tohme chose to keep her bank account open, “because I'm a freelancer, and it helps to have accounts in client countries,” she explains. “I’m not sure if it was the right way, but it was the easy way.”
After making Dh15,000 selling items on Facebook and giving away some belongings to charity, the Carruthers family was then ready to call in a relocation shipping firm to shift what was left back home. Ms Hattaway recommends getting quotes from at least three different companies, “then reading the fine print and being fully aware of customs regulations".
The Carruthers picked Allied Pickford’s door-to-door moving service, which included packing, loading and shipping from Dubai to Scotland for Dh22,000, and insurance for Dh7,000. The day before departure, Ms Carruthers also sent three 30-kilogram suitcases of personal scrapbooks, photo albums and artwork by airfreight for £507 (Dh2,580) using sendmybag.com to keep them safe. “I’m a professional memory-keeper, and the suppliers of my albums couldn’t guarantee that they would endure the 60-degree heat expected when our main container was dockside,” Ms Carruthers explains.
It’s not just the safekeeping of material possessions that have to be considered when leaving, but furry ones too. As long as your pet is up to date with their vaccinations, you can arrange for their relocation yourself, and your pet can even fly on the same flight as you.
Pet relocation experts can make the process smoother for those who don’t mind paying a little extra. Ms Carruthers enlisted the services of Pet Express and paid Dh7,000 to have her three cats transported back, which included all fees, crates, flights and vet bills, “and an additional £449 (Dh2,285) for the clearing agent in Scotland.”
For the American Chantel Weeden, an Abu Dhabi resident until December, the most frustrating element of leaving was closing accounts with utility companies. “The timing is crucial,” she says. “You can close Etisalat’s cable TV service any time but gas service clearance is needed before moving, and then only upon inspection can you get ADDC (Abu Dhabi’s water and electricity provider) clearance."
Once the items on your to-do list have been checked off, the only thing that remains is to savour the cherished memories of your time in the UAE. That part can sometimes be forgotten in the haste of leaving, says Ms Hattaway. “Most of the families I interact with are so intensely focused on their new location, that they forget to say a proper goodbye to the home they are leaving.”
Ms Carruthers tried hard to give herself permission to “grieve” for Dubai. “This helped, although I still bawled my eyes out as the plane took off – I think I stopped crying somewhere over Turkey.”
What we wish we'd done differently before leaving
• British entrepreneur Mel Carruthers: I wish I’d tried to sell my car sooner
“I loved my Mitsubishi Pajero car and didn’t want to part with it, so I hung onto it until the last minute. I justified this by needing it for the school run, but foolishly this meant that we were trying to sell my car the week after the schools finished for the summer. The same week, many people left Dubai, and the car market was flooded with expats selling Pajeros. No one wanted it, so in the end we had to sell it to a dealer for much less than it was worth. In hindsight I should have sold the car a couple of months beforehand and rented a car for the last few weeks – I lost about Dh40,000 off the valuation."
• British housewife Ziggy Bee: I wish I’d realised how hard it would be to rent a property back home
“ It took us five months to find a place and move in. Agencies would not take references from Abu Dhabi. We desperately offered a few times to pay rent a year in advance, but to no avail. They questioned very private matters - “why are you coming back?”, “why don’t you have a job?”, and wanted a guarantor from within the UK. On top of this, rental properties were in very short supply. I recommend people make sure they always have enough savings to survive for at least the first six months upon returning home, as well as enough to buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes if you’re returning to a different climate.”
• Briton Lisa Howie: I wish I'd applied for my good conduct certificate from the police
"If anyone wants to work in schools or chaperone any children back in the UK, you have to be have your criminal record checked. And without five years of officialdom in the UK, it is tricky and I wish I had applied for a good conduct certificate from the Abu Dhabi police before I left. If you do it from the UK after you have left the UAE, you have to involve the embassy and the process is more complicated."