How to relocate from the UAE during the pandemic

Read our guide on closing bank accounts, disconnecting utilities, shipping possessions, selling your car and more

Moving country is a hard enough process in itself, but relocating in the middle of a pandemic can present a number of challenges.

From being able to ship your goods on time, to closing down your bank account, telecoms and utility accounts and selling household possessions or your car, there are a number of hurdles to overcome to ensure you leave the country in a timely and proper manner.

Here we guide you through the key relocation steps you need to take to exit the UAE and how to carry out these tasks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clear your debts

When you leave the UAE permanently, you must repay and close all outstanding liabilities such as loans and credit cards.

“You don't want to get stopped at the airport and detained for trying to abscond,” says Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of financial comparison website “Even if you do manage to exit, having debt collectors chasing you thousands of miles away isn't exactly ideal.”

Most lenders will demand the full settlement of a loan and the terms and conditions of your personal loan contract may give the bank the right to use your end-of service benefits to settle your liabilities, says Ms Musa.

“It is best to negotiate with the bank to make the debt settlement more affordable for you. Banks may even be willing to lower the settlement amount and waive certain fees in favour of a lump sum settlement,” she adds.

Some customers can also strike a deal to repay debt from overseas, if they can show that rental income from a property is enough to repay a mortgage, or they can prove overseas employment will cover monthly loan instalments, says Ms Musa.

While most negotiations can be handled by telephone during the pandemic, bank branches in the UAE are now reopening so check with your lender where you can handle matters in person.

Emirates NBD, for example, says its customers can settle and close outstanding loans and credit card balances through the bank’s online and mobile banking platforms.

Close your bank account

Once your debts are clear, transfer out any remaining balance or savings. This can be done through the bank's remittance services, an exchange house or an app-based remittance service. Most exchange houses have branches open in the UAE, though some have restricted operating hours.
"Once the funds have been transferred, close your UAE bank accounts to avoid incurring a monthly fee," says Ms Musa.

However, not all relocating customers need to close their accounts, particularly if they will continue to service debts from overseas or they own property in the UAE and want to collect rental income.

Emirates NBD, for example, says customers can open a non-resident savings account. Fixed deposit accounts can also continue.

To actually close an account, customers must visit their bank branch, return unused chequebooks and debit cards and cancel any direct debits or standing orders.

Emirates NBD says customers should ensure their end of service benefits are paid into the account before it is closed. Account closure takes an average two working days, it adds.

To close the account, you must obtain a no-liability letter from the bank and ensure any postdated cheques are returned to you.

Another tip is to download your credit report form Al Etihad Credit Bureau’s mobile app. “Read it carefully to ensure there's no discrepancy in your bank records,” says Ms Musa.

Disconnect your utilities

Tenants need to request final utility bills from their electricity and AC providers, says Mario Volpi, sales and leasing manager at real estate company Engel & Volkers.

To get your deposit returned from your utility provider, you must disconnect your account and pay the final bill.

Dewa, for example, says its Move out (deactivation of supply) service is still available during the pandemic.

Customers can request these services through Dewa’s website, Smart app, and its customer care centres.

While Dewa’s Customer service centres are open for self-service only, customers can speak to Dewa’s customer happiness team via video link or connect through its smart app and website.

Once the deactivation request is in, the final bill will be ready within 24 working hours, says Dewa, with the deposit amount adjusted and any credit refunded to a bank account either through Western Union or by cheque.

Cancel your phone connection

Your phone connection along with any home services such as TV services or Wi-Fi must also be disconnected. If you had any equipment linked to those packages, such as a TV box, that also needs to returned, says Ms Musa.

According to du, residents leaving the UAE can still cancel phone contracts before their departure, however, due to Covid-19, all of its operations are handled digitally. They need to give du 30 days' notice to close their line.

"We now provide a Live Chat cancellation option in light of the current circumstances … that is available in the self-service section on both our website and the du app", the company told The National.

Once a cancellation request is in, an agent will confirm the outstanding amount, including out-of-bundle charges, foreclosure fees, and the monthly recurring charge for that month. 
The total amount must be paid within three hours, says du, which also advises emailing to double-check your obligations and that lines are closed.

Sell or donate unwanted items

Before you call in a removal company for a shipping quote, clear out unwanted possessions and donate, sell or discard anything non-essential. This will cut your shipping and storage costs, says Bana Shomali, the founder of ServiceMarket, a UAE marketplace for moving and home services.

Covid-19 presents residents with a challenge, however, as renting a table at a flea market or hosting a garage sale are not possible.

However, you can still sell through dubizzle or Facebook community groups. The transaction can be negotiated digitally through dubizzle’s message service or Facebook Messenger and then they buyer and seller can agree on a safe handover. Options include leaving the item outside your home and the buyer leaving the cash in an agreed safe place.

Sell your car

While car buying stopped completely during the 24-hour curfew in Dubai last month, Imad Hammad, the co-founder of second-hand classifieds website, says business has picked up since the restrictions were eased.

The company said it had 6,000 new private sellers in February, which dropped by about 30 per cent when movement restrictions tightened last month and ownership transfer offices closed in some emirates, such as Dubai.

“Since restrictions were eased, we’re already seeing many opportunistic buyers come out who are picking up great deals during this tremendous supply / demand gap,” he says.

There is also more appetite for online purchases with several sales closing without physical viewings, he adds, however sellers face a “tough market”.

“There is an oversupply of used cars, with Ramadan offers on new cars, financial / repatriation pressure driving distressed sales, and many dealerships curtailing purchasing until sales pick up," he says. "Prices are collapsing. It may actually get much tougher for sellers in the coming months as the full economic impact of the outbreak becomes evident."

As well as finding a buyer, remember to pay off your traffic fines, clear your car loan – you cannot transfer your car without doing so – and stop your car insurance payments. If you close a policy early, the insurer will refund the months you don't utilise.

Ship your belongings

To ship your belongings, ask three moving companies for quotations. Note that all packers follow Covid-19 safety measures such as using face masks, hand sanitisers and gloves and the vehicles are sanitised at the end of each day, says Ms Shomali.

Also check what restrictions are in place for the country you are relocating to.

“Some countries are allowing cargo to move but not allowing people to enter, while some ask that you provide medical certificates, official documents and special moving request certificates,” says Ms Shomali.

A November report from Service Market found the average international shipping cost for a two-bedroom apartment ranged from Dh10,000 to relocate your belongings to Egypt to Dh22,000 to the US, but costs have increased during the pandemic.

“According to our partners, prices have been gradually increasing and there is limited availability. Air freight, in particular, is very limited since the number of operating carriers have reduced," says Ms Shomali.

“Shipping a full container from the UAE to any destination takes around four to six weeks, but due to a complete lockdown or possible restrictions on working hours or mobility of port and shipping workers in the country you are relocating to, you may face some delays,” she says.

Move out of your home

If your tenancy contract is up but you are not exiting the country for a few more weeks or months, you may need to negotiate a longer stay in the property.

“For each day that a tenant overstays (with consent), the landlord can charge," says Mr Volpi. "If the landlord has another tenant moving in straight away, the only option would be to rent again but this time on a short-term basis."

The number of short-term searches on Property Finder have increased by over 200 per cent since the crisis started, says Lynette Abad, director of research and data at Property Finder. However, she says landlords should be flexible about extending contracts on a monthly basis.

"In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, eviction proceedings have been suspended during the Covid-19 crisis, therefore it is highly recommended that landlords are flexible," she adds.

Also, request a move-out permit from the community manager or building management to allow the movers to access your home, something that can be carried out online, says Mario Volpi. Cancelling your Ejari in Dubai and Tawtheeq in Abu Dhabi can also be completed online, he adds.

If you're shipping your belongings but cannot travel yourself due to restrictions, then keep your goods in storage.

“Most international movers provide up to one month of free storage for large shipments," adds Ms Shomali.