Counting the cost of shipping your belongings from the UAE

For expats planning to relocate this summer, finding the best deal to move their possessions requires careful planning

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., June 13, 2018. Description:Photos of a case study for a Personal Finance story for Alice on shipping goods (challenges, cost savings, choosing a shipping company).  (L-R)  Sascha Ritter, Jona-11 mos, Bettina, Linda-6 and Caja-4.
Reporter:   Ann Marie McQueen
Section:  Business

It is that time of year when many expatriates move back home and need to find a way to relocate not only themselves but everything they have accumulated while in the UAE.

Any international move is stressful, but trying to work out the prospects of shipping can be daunting for even the most seasoned of expats – whether their company is paying for it or not.

A recent report by ServiceMarket, a UAE online marketplace for international and local moving services, found that India, the UK, the US, Canada and Pakistan are the top five destinations for expats leaving the UAE.

ServiceMarket estimated costs to 10 destinations based on shipping the contents of a two-bedroom apartment, requiring 25 cubic metres of space. The most expensive destination is the United States, at between Dh20,000 to Dh22,000, while the cheapest is India, at Dh11,000 to Dh12,000. The best way to cut costs significantly is called groupage, which is when belongings from several people are grouped together to fill a container. However since containers do not ship until they are full, this works best if you are not pressed for time, ServiceMarket advises. Shipping by sea is more expensive than by land, however it is the less risky option, says the company.

ServiceMarket advises any mover to fully insure their belongings, get at least three different shipping quotes and read through some of the 10,000 reviews on their website. Price and quality should be the top considerations.

“The biggest mistake people make is that they just pick the lowest cost shipping company,” says Bana Shomali, co-founder of ServiceMarket. “People who adopt this approach often end up handing over their belongings to inexperienced and uncertified shipping companies. While comparing moving quotes to find the most affordable option is a good strategy, you shouldn’t compromise on quality because doing so can result in delays, losses, hidden costs, damages and many hassles.”

Recommendations from friends and colleagues, online reviews and price comparisons are all tools necessary when deciding which company to go with, but to get an even better handle on the reputation of the company you are choosing, consider one that has been internationally certified.

Jesse Van Sas is the general manager of FIDI, the Brussels-based umbrella organisation for international removals. Launched 70 years ago as a networking organisation, FIDI eventually moved into accreditation and is the largest out there. There are 601 companies in 100 countries that have earned approval through FIDI’s reliance on the FAIM Standard, more than a dozen of them located in the UAE. That accreditation process involves a comprehensive EY audit every three years and yearly internal audits.

FIDI assesses each company on a variety of criteria, including what the 85 per cent of corporate customers are looking for: compliance. That means standards, data protection, bribery protection, the quality and breadth of their supply chain, accounting methods, as well as consistency and communication.

“The good thing about working with a FIDI member is that the quality is certified, and what that means practically is that at the end of the day they will set expectations and they will make sure they come true, so that they will not promise you anything that will not come true,” says Mr Van Sas. “We are not saying it’s damage-free, because no one can claim a damage-free move, but if there is a claim, then there is also a process behind it to deal with that claim, to ensure you receive compensation.”

Here, three expat movers reveal the logistics and cost involved in shipping their possessions out of the UAE:

Sascha Ritter

Cost to ship: Dh31,200

When the time came to deciding on a moving company there were two deciding factors for Sascha Ritter, an instructor at Zayed University, who is relocating with his wife, Bettina, and three daughters, aged 6, 4 and 11 months.

Mr Ritter, who is moving his family of five back to Germany this summer, already knew he was shipping back two Volkswagen minivans – which sell for more than three times the price back in Germany – and he wanted to be able to fill them with boxes on the shipping container to save space and money.

Not all shipping companies allow customers to use space this way, as he learned when he asked former expatriate friends who had shipped their cars. He also wanted a company that had a linkup with a firm back home who could do the slight modifications necessary to get his two vans on the road. As they are still sorting out jobs, the family is not entirely sure where they are going to live and wanted as few hassles as possible when they land.

Mr Ritter had met a fellow German who worked at Pangaea Cargo, so ended up choosing that company rather than relying on online recommendations or interviewing a number of companies. The family have downsized their belongings as much as possible before assessing what they had to move, and are paying Dh12,900 for a container for the cars and Dh18,300 for a container for the family’s belongings. He is paying an addition 1.5 per cent of the value of all the goods, which he lowballed at Dh130,000, to have them insured in case of damage or loss.

“Everything is perfect with them so far,” he says.

The family is also paying the German Veterinary Clinic an additional Dh13,000 to handle all associated certification and transportation costs for the two street cats they adopted during their 10 years in the UAE. The cats will fly home with them on Etihad Airways in cargo. The flights would have been cheaper on another airline, but as one of the cats is a Persian mix, and many airlines have a ban on flying animals with flat faces between May and October, due to the potential breathing problems they may face in the heat, they went with Etihad, which accepted a letter from the veterinarian saying the one cat was a mix and would be fine.

“It was never an option to leave them here,” he says. “If it was just me I might find a friend to take care of them, but the kids love and they are part of family.”


Read more:

Should UAE expats ship their car home when they relocate?

Shipping tips for UAE expats returning home

How to ensure a smooth exit from the UAE when it's time to relocate


Jean Glen

Cost to ship: Dh12,000

Jean Glen, a holistic therapist, and her husband David learnt the hard way last July, when they left Abu Dhabi after four years to move back to their native Glasgow.

After getting five or six quotes they decided to go with Leader Relocations, which had the most reasonable quote of Dh7,000 to move the contents of their small one-bedroom apartment in the Arc Tower on Reem Island. But when they decided later to add their refrigerator, washing machine and a dresser, the price escalated beyond anything they considered reasonable – almost double, to Dh12,000.

“There was just no way out of it because we were running on a deadline and it was quite scary,” says Ms Glen. “So it left us short of cash at that moment.”

The couple felt they had to pay the higher price, but believe it was too high for the service provided.

“They know you are under pressure,” says Ms Glen.

If the couple had to do it all over again, “we would have left the white goods for certain”, she adds. She advises others to downsize as much as possible, decide exactly early on what is worth shipping - and then stick to the plan.

Otherwise the move went very smoothly. “It was all very stress-free,” she adds.


Read more:

Leaving the UAE? Here’s how to do so the right way

Financial pitfalls of UAE expatriates returning home

Are you liable for income tax while living in the UAE?


Kay Miller

Cost to ship: Dh20,000

This English teacher at Abu Dhabi’s Rabdan Academy ended up shipping home a number of goods last year when she and her husband were moving to China. The relocation was later abandoned and they ended up staying in Abu Dhabi, downsizing from a villa to a one-bedroom apartment. They chose Leader Relocations, a company in Dubai, based on the price, which was the best out of the four quotes they sought out. Leader also moved them within Abu Dhabi.

“They did a brilliant job, a really good job,” says Ms Miller. “They kept me in the loop when the boat was due to arrive, and when it arrived.”

It cost Ms Miller Dh20,000 for a portion of a shipping container shared with another family, and she paid a small percentage of insurance on top of that. The move happened amid several news stories of shipping gone awry, one where a company went out of business and another where a ship sank, so she wanted to make sure her belongings were safe above all else.

Ms Miller said company quotes can vary significantly - by about Dh5,000 - so it is important to have a budget and service level in mind before embarking on the process.

“I wanted a reasonable price that I didn’t feel I was paying over the top, and I was being ripped off,” she says. “And I wanted someone who sounded like they cared and keep in touch and put my mind at rest.”