Points to ponder before you leave

Our easy step-by-step guide shows you how to leave the Emirates without catching yourself in red tape.

Personal finance April 24, 2010
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

If you have children, it makes the most sense to move three to six weeks before your destination country's school year starts (and bachelors might want to avoid another summer here). But the vagaries of contract employment in the UAE can make choosing when to go difficult. Leaving before the end of your contract, for instance, could leave you owing your sponsor for some benefits, such as previously paid air tickets or bonuses.

Furthermore, if your company paid the cheque on your flat, you will be responsible for the balance if you leave before the end of that contract. Because your housing and employment terms may end at different times, it becomes an exercise in damage control to figure out whom you would owe less if you had to choose. You can mitigate some of these problems by asking your company and your landlord about finding a replacement tenant. Note that this isn't a right, especially if your landlord has banned this in your housing contract.

Never expect to sever all your ties with your sponsor in just a day or two. Even the most ambitious departure plan will take at least a couple of weeks to implement. And it's always important to plan for the possibility that your end-of service benefits won't come when you expect them, especially if your post-resignation relationship with your employer is less than cordial. If you're worried about your flight home, it might be beneficial to plan your departure at off-peak travel times.

Another transport consideration is your "exotic cargo" - different destinations have different rules for handling pets, for instance. Most airlines won't ship your best friends when the temperature either in the Emirates or at your destination airport rises over a certain comfort level. Finally, consider the tax liability at your destination. If you move to your new country in the middle of a tax year, you may be responsible for taxes on all of your income that year - even what you've earned in the UAE!

It may not be easy to leave at the "perfect" time, but sacrificing small benefits here or there can help avoid major liabilities later.

Making sure your financial affairs are in order is perhaps the most essential step before moving on from the Emirates. When you cancel your work visa, your company is expected to notify all of your banks of your imminent departure, and any final salary payments must be marked as such by law. Be warned - if you have outstanding debts, your bank accounts and credit cards will be frozen immediately until the amount is cleared, or until the institution is notified that you have the means to make the necessary payments. The point of freezing your account is to ensure that there are funds in place to cover any debts. Some banks will take a lump sum from your current account and place it in a temporary holding account to guard against your possible absconding.

In order to receive your final salary or severance package, your employer may also ask you to produce a "No Liability Certificate" stating that you have no outstanding loans or credit card bills that your bank may try to force the company to pay if you default. But keep in mind that, depending on the bank's procedures, obtaining this clearance can take two days - or two months. You are also expected to close bank accounts and cancel credit cards before leaving, because they have been opened under the sponsorship of your employer. This will also take a couple of days. Be sure to take your passport to the local branch, along with all your banking information.

According to Antoine Mourad, a manager at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, you can subsequently open a non-resident account and deposit any funds you wish. However, no chequebook is included, and your credit card limit will likely be lower. The best advice, Mr Mourad says, is simply to plan ahead and get your financial house in order before taking the leap. Banks are very reluctant to let you leave without clearing your debts, and can even take preventive measures to ensure expatriates settle up. "If somebody wants to leave the country with a loan and no intention to pay, we inform the airport, and if he leaves we contact the collecting agency abroad in his country," Mr Mourad says.

Housing can be a tricky situation. If the lease is under the name of your company (or accommodation is provided by the employer), you may need to vacate the property just days after visa cancellation. This time period will vary depending on your contract, and whether you have good relations with the company. Therefore, it is a smart move to determine where you stand, as you may need to make alternative housing arrangements before leaving the country.

There are two loose ends you must tie up regarding housing. The first: utilities. At least a week before flying out, plan to visit DEWA or ADDC - each have several locations in their respective emirate - to pay your bill and receive a utilities clearance certificate.

Be sure to take your passport along, as well as your DEWA or ADDC reference number, which can be found on the utility meter at home. The deposit you made when you first opened the account will be returned to you, after being used to pay off any remaining balance on the bill. But before acquiring your final clearance, DEWA and ADDC will send out a representative to read your meter and clear up any remaining fees; this typically takes a few days.

The second chore is your "media" - telephone, TV and internet. If you have a landline, take a trip to Etisalat, get your telephone disconnected, pay the final bill and receive a clearance certificate. Home internet gets more complicated: you may need to wait for a technician to come to your flat to physically disconnect you, which will take a few days. Satellite subscription services, such as Orbit Showtime or ART, will also require you to wait for a technician, or even take your decoder box to a retail location.

Note that prepaid subscriptions, such as Wasel with Etisalat, do not need to be cancelled. However, any kind of mobile subscription, such as on your iPhone or Blackberry, must be cancelled in person at your local Etisalat or du office. Finally, if you found your own apartment, but your company paid the rent, you must provide a maintenance clearance from the owner of your apartment, confirming that everything is in good shape for the next tenant.

Whether you are resigning or being laid off, the minimal notice period is generally 30 days. Fortunately, once you have passed this threshold, most of the bureaucracy should be handled by the company - although you'll need to be patient with your own (much smaller) pile of paperwork. Of course, the company will want copies of most of the clearance letters listed on this page, including those from your bank, utilities provider and landlord. But visa cancellation is the most important task.

First, the company will ask for your passport, along with the passports of any family members living under your sponsorship. These documents will then be taken to the Immigration Department, and when they return the visa will be stamped as cancelled. This can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. There is no charge for the process. But once this step is complete, expatriates are suddenly on the clock. You will have a maximum of 30 days to leave the country. If you exceed this deadline, there is a charge of Dh25 per day for the first six months, and up to Dh100 every day afterwards.

If you need extra time in the country to sort your affairs, one helpful way to avoid fines if you come from a qualifying country is to acquire a visitor's visa at the airport, entitling you to an additional 30 days. In terms of transportation, your company will be expected to provide a one-way ticket to a location of your choosing. If you have completed more than a year of service, you are entitled to an "end-of service gratuity" or severance package, which amounts to a minimum of 21 days of basic salary (listed on your contract) for each of the first five years of continuous service, and 30 days for each following year. Meanwhile, if you are laid off, you can expect a severance equivalent to three months of basic salary.

Your final payment or severance package will be issued once your work visa has been cancelled. Your sponsor will deduct the balance of any unpaid loans or school/housing fees from this pay packet. Overall, leaving your job is not complicated, but it is essential to budget your time properly once the visa clock starts ticking. Good luck.

Theoretically, shipping by sea costs less than transporting your goods as air cargo, but important considerations can bring the final prices much closer together than you might think. Many items can't be shipped by normal sea cargo, such as pets (see next section), and furniture or other large pieces would cost a fortune to send by air. First things first. Categorise your belongings into lists of what you want to send onward and what you want to bin, donate or sell. Many items are obviously one or the other - for instance, that Dh300 Ikea sofa in your guest room would cost much more than its actual value to ship.

Items you're on the fence about selling may be worth an ad on souq.com or dubizzle.com to see what you are offered. It's best to ask several moving companies for quotations. Make sure that the company gives a full door-to-door quotation. Some of them give door-to-port quotations only, which would require you to separately move your goods the rest of the way. There are different ways of shipping goods by boat. Paradoxically, the larger and more voluminous your stuff, the faster (albeit more expensive) sea shipping can be.

"If your volume is small, you can use a groupage and share with others - but this can take about 15 to 18 weeks," said Kevin Wieczorek, the branch manager of Allied Pickfords. Most companies have ever-larger options up to full shipping containers. According to Mr Wieczorek, a family of four sending belongings and furniture would need about 24 cubic metres of space, which would cost about Dh30,000 to ship to the UK.

If you need it there faster, air is the way to go, but airline cargo operations are much cheaper than popping your things in the post. Etihad Crystal Cargo charges about Dh14 per kilogram to New York and Dh10.30 per kilo to London, although their office is at the airport, so bringing your stuff there for a quote takes time. It takes three to five days for you to receive your baggage, including flight and customs clearance. Finally, consider sales tax or VAT liabilities. If your goods are relatively new, you may have to declare them with customs.

To ship your car home, you must first eliminate any outstanding loans. In fact, expats require a clearance from the finance department, or your bank needs to certify that you fully own the vehicle. The next step is to deregister the vehicle from one of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) centres in Dubai, or the Traffic and Licensing Department in Abu Dhabi on Al Saada Street. Take your registration card with you, along with your driver's license and the license plate number. However, be sure all speeding or parking fines are paid before arriving.

These authorities will then inspect of the vehicle and provide you with the paperwork needed to ship it overseas. Customs clearance and delivery takes about five days to the UK and US. Everything must be paid upfront. Fees will vary, but expect to pay at least Dh10,000, and perhaps more depending on the location and size of the car. Many people prefer to avoid the time and hassle of shipping, and instead sell their car. Try posting an ad on online marketplaces such as autosouk.com, uae-autos.com, autodealer.ae or dubizzle.com.

While you may consider selling your vehicle rather than shipping it home, beloved pets are an entirely different matter. This process can be long and expensive, and you should consult a veterinarian, as rules vary based on your destination. Core documents include a valid health and rabies inoculation certificate, signed by a qualified veterinarian, so make sure these procedures are up to date. Timing is especially important, because many countries, such as the UK, will require a six-month waiting period after the most recent shots before admitting the animal. If you enter the country before this point, your pet may have to be quarantined.

A good place to look for pet shippers is The Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International. Visit their website at www.ipata.com for a list of companies worldwide. And at the end of the day, be prepared for a hefty expense. Shipping your pet to the UK, including the price of a rabies test and travel crate, is Dh13,279. Shipping to the US will cost about Dh15,000, while Australia tops the list at nearly Dh18,000.

If you have children at school, there are two main documents you must obtain prior to departure. The first is a "report card", or a certificate showing the grades the child has received throughout the year. This record is essential for proper placement in the next school he or she attends. The second document is the official transfer letter, which will enable your child to switch from their UAE school to one in your destination country.

"People just need to tell me beforehand, either by phone or in person," said Layal Saraieddin, a registration secretary at the ABC Private elementary school in Abu Dhabi. "I will provide them with the forms, which takes usually about a week." Once you get the transfer letter from the school, there are still a few other steps to take. You first need to have the letter signed by the UAE Ministry of Education, then the embassy of your country.

Tuition fees are generally non-refundable. Each school has its own policy, so make the appropriate inquiries ahead of time. Some charge for tuition per quarter, some per term, and others want the entire year's tuition up front. You may be able to get some of your money back, so why not ask? And note that it is important to think about the schools at your destination. Decide whether your child needs to go to a private school and whether you need to apply weeks or months ahead of time to enter the school of your choice.

Also, as in the UAE, the school year varies from country to country. Problems can arise if you pull your kids out at the end of the UAE school year in May, only to find that the year began in April at your destination. But remember, you can avoid any potential conflicts simply by planning ahead. If you know you will be leaving your job a few months into the school year, it might make sense to set your children up at their next school ahead of time.

And consider hosting a party or setting aside time for your child to socialise with friends, and encourage them to keep in touch. Moving to a new place can be difficult for young people, and guidance on your part could go a long way.