Families leaving the UAE have been urged to steer clear of cheap, unaccredited relocation companies.
Well-established firms that are listed with the Federation of International Movers trade body said residents returning home should do their research and avoid “cowboy companies”.
Summer was already the busiest time of year for such businesses because children are away from school, but the impact of coronavirus has led to a rise in families returning home.
With no official ombudsman and few regulations governing the industry in the Gulf, Simone Percy, the managing director of Dasa International Movers, said choosing the right company was critical.
“There are a lot of fly-by-nights in this industry who establish themselves to exploit a rush on shipping services,” she said.
“After the last global financial crash, many freight companies suddenly became household goods companies – but they are very different industries.
She said those companies wanted to tap into the growing relocation market.
“Many of us think that could happen again,” he said.
There is no regulatory body for removal companies in the UAE but businesses can be affiliated to Fidi.
To be Fidi-certified, a company must comply with more than 200 quality requirements covering all aspects of an international move.
In 2016, more than 150 expat workers returning home paid tens of thousands of dirhams to moving companies in Dubai who failed to deliver their possessions.
Police and Axa Insurance investigated scores of claims made against Dubai Relogulf and later Ex-pat Relocations between 2009 and 2016 for failing to fulfil obligations.
In one case, four shipping containers had been abandoned in Felixstowe, England, for 85 days, incurring huge demurrage costs, the loading fees payable to a ship’s owner.
“As an industry, we do not have the greatest of reputations so we want to show there are a lot of professional companies out there and people will get what they pay for when moving house,” Ms Percy said.
“In difficult economic times like this, people will look to save money and opt for cheaper options when moving house. That is a massive gamble.”
As members of Fidi, movers must sign agreements associated with anti-bribery and anti-corruption protocol while conforming to international standards and transparent audits.
Craig Reilly, chief commercial officer of Baggage Hub, a relocation company in Dubai, said freight companies that dealt with industrial cargo began cashing in on the household removals industry during the 2008/09 recession.
“After the last financial crash, a lot of freight companies became moving companies overnight, but they were often not equipped or experienced enough,” he said.
“We fear that could happen again.
“It is very easy to make a website and begin trading, but cheapest is not always best.
“The small print in some quotations may involve no packing or unpacking, loading or unloading.
“Reputable companies will make it clear exactly what services they provide.”
The International Association of Movers has blacklisted several companies for failing to make shipping payments.
Of those, 12 in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are listed, and more can be found on the list the association publishes online at iamovers.org.
Agata Kozubska, a franchise manager from Poland, has lived in the UAE for eight years but has decided to return to her native country.
“If you have items worth thousands of dirhams you will have to have them delivered home,” she said.
Ms Kozubska, 39, has been quoted prices per kilogram ranging from Dh16 to Dh33 to deliver her boxes via air freight.
“Shipment prices are very high and I live about five hours away from a capital city to which the goods could be delivered in Poland,” she said.
“I think prices of cargo will come down once the coronavirus crisis has passed, so I will keep my stuff in storage until then. I am hoping prices will come down.
“It is important to use established or recommended companies – there are a lot of scams around.”