x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

So goodbye to all of that

Nearly all UAE expats will move on some day but for families in particular such a move involves a realignment of budgets, forward planning and excellent sales skills.

The Bruce family, who will be moving to Singapore, put funds from selling their books and DVDs towards a school trip to Tanzania. Antonie Robertson / The National
The Bruce family, who will be moving to Singapore, put funds from selling their books and DVDs towards a school trip to Tanzania. Antonie Robertson / The National

There comes an inevitable moment in every expat’s life when it’s time to move on. The process of leaving the UAE can seem daunting, especially if you settled here for some time. Difficult decisions have to be made as to what to keep and what to sell.

For Edward Ljunggren, 42, his wife Natasha and their two children, the move home to Sweden this month comes only seven months after a previous move from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, which was done in compliance with the ruling that those who work for government organisations have to live in the capital. The first move cost Mr Ljunggren Dh30,000 to relocate, develop a garden and paint the walls of his new home in Al Raha Gardens.

Shortly after settling in, they found out in June they would be moving back to Sweden after 15 years in the UAE. The energy company Mr Ljunggren works for gave him a repatriation allowance of Dh35,000, and the family sold off all but their most cherished possessions for Dh30,000. It’s costing them Dh16,000 to ship everything else in 50 boxes (10 cubic metres).

“We’re now down to borrowed air mattresses and camping chairs,” says Mr Ljunggren. “I think the less stuff you have, the less you have to worry about. It took one month of dedicated selling to get rid of everything. It was a lot of effort – more from our side than the buyers. Abu Dhabi Marketplace on Facebook and community sites like Al Raha Gardens Community Facebook group have been extremely useful.

“Buyers don’t like to speak on the phone, they prefer to send messages.

“There are some oddball people out there who ask for big discounts – but you get advice from other users to know who to avoid.”

And it’s not only possessions that expats should worry about.

Jessica Cook, a private client adviser with AES International, warns expats that when they return home and encash their savings plans, there is likely to be a significant tax charge.

“You may also be saving in a different currency to that which you will now be earning in, so it’s worth checking whether you can change the currency of your premium,” she says. “Remember that as soon as you take up employment in another country you will come to the attention of the taxman.”

Lisa Bruce, 45, her husband David, 47, and their children Katherine, 16, and Louisa, 8, are about to embark on a move to Singapore. Mrs Bruce says paying taxes again in Singapore is a concern. During their eight years in Dubai the Bruces feel fortunate to have been able to save more than they expected.

Mr Bruce’s company is paying for the cost of the move, and the family is taking almost everything they own with them as their Singapore villa comes unfurnished.

“We managed to get rid of books, DVDs and such like after Katherine hosted an afternoon tea at our home, and raised Dh1,000 towards funding her school trip to Tanzania”, explains Mrs Bruce. “We also made back Dh70,000 from the sale of our three cars.

“Finding a good school in Singapore has been our overriding priority. For Katherine particularly, we can’t compromise on education. I asked friends in Singapore which was the best school there, and we were so lucky to get her a place at the one they recommended.”

The Bruces’ biggest expense has been the cost of bringing their four year-old Labrador Bruno with them. “We’ve had him since he was a puppy and there was no question of not taking him. But it’s cost us Dh20,000 for door-to-door service with ITS.” Although Bruno will join them when his 30-day quarantine is up, the family is having to say a final farewell to their much-loved Sri Lankan maid, Yasmin. “She’s been with us since Louisa was a week old. If I could take Yasmin with me I would, but I can’t,” says Mrs Bruce.

The Bruces have gone through the relocation process three times already, having previously lived in Moscow, Kuala Lumpur and Baku. ”My advice to anyone planning a move is to get several quotes from different relocation companies – there are many levels of companies in all price brackets. I’ve heard tales of a kitchen bin packed with extremely smelly rubbish inside and kettles packed full of water. These are your precious belongings, so ask friends for recommendations.”

Ute Fitzjohn, from Germany, is relocating to the UK and although she left the UAE two weeks ago, the family’s belongings are still in storage in Dubai waiting to be shipped – as soon as the groupage container is full. “This option is much cheaper than renting a whole container for yourself if you don’t have too much stuff”, says Mrs Fitzjohn. “The only uncertainty is the delivery date as it can only be estimated. It will be confirmed once the container is full, and ready to be shipped.”

Another family who chose to sell most of their belongings and start a new life afresh are the Stonehouses – Duncan, 49, Melissa, 39 and their children Lotty, 9, Barney, 7 and Amelia, 5.

Mr Stonehouse left his job as interim headmaster of Al Khubairat Primary School in Abu Dhabi to become head of a primary school in Bangkok.

“We’re moving to furnished accommodation, so we’ve kept hold of very little furniture – just photographs and premium toys. It was a good excuse for a clear-out,” he says

For Mr Stonehouse, the biggest shock was how much the insurance for the shipping came to. “We were wondering if all our stuff was actually worth what they were charging us to insure it – about Dh7,000. Then we explained that we had about one cubic metre of Lego – it’s not exactly fine art. We then opted for itemised insurance, where we only insure certain items, which is a lot cheaper.”

The Stonehouses made Dh9,000 from selling household items and Dh52,000 from the sale of their cars. Mr Stonehouse admits he left the selling to his wife: “There was a lot of turning up to meet strangers in malls with, say, a lamp and a couple of children’s toys.

“Things seemed to slowly disappear from around the house; tiny things at first, then suddenly something big. When our dining room table and chairs went and that was a significant loss.

“People realise that when you’re moving, you’re desperate to sell stuff and you might have to take a deduction. So if you’re a buyer, it’s a great time to pick up bargains.”

Overall, Mr Stonehouse admits that after seven years in the UAE, the family didn’t manage to save as much as they’d initially hoped. “Since we came here, the cost of living has gone up. But we’ve chipped away at the mortgage back home.”


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