If you Google ‘leaving the UAE’, you’re sure to stumble across hundreds of articles about closing debts and cancelling visas, so if you’re looking for more of the same, please stop reading now because this sh*t is for my hustlers trying to make that last-minute-paper before you dip out of the (sort of) tax-free zone for good.
Six years deep into the two-year stretch I originally came to the UAE for, I’m finally packing my bags and saying goodbye, and with my newly acquired thoroughbred Arabian husband and beautiful multiracial baby in tow, you could say that I definitely thrived in the UAE. Tomorrow, we embark on the final stage of a journey that has been over a year in the making; seven and a half hours down the road, back home, in London!
There’s so much I can say about my time in the UAE, and over the coming months, I hope to share some of the best and worst of my experiences. For now, I hope you enjoy this money, time and sanity-saving guide as much as I enjoyed compiling it.
Tip 1: make quick-cash, slow!
When you leave, you’re probably going to have to get rid of all of your furniture and excess belongings.
If you want to make ANY money off of your electronics, furniture, household items or clothes, I recommend beginning the selling process at least THREE to SIX months before your actual leaving date.
My husband and I both work in digital*, so we decided on a strategy that tackled online and offline buyers because we had no idea where to find our customers and we were selling everything from designer shoes and bags, to our faithful toaster.
*We probably spent way too much time selling things, but we met at work and fell in love over projects, so we approach most of life’s challenges with zealous project management, scheduling, targets, and delivery.
How to sell on dubizzle
If you live in the UAE, you’re probably already very familiar with the free classifieds app and website, dubizzle, and with six in 10 UAE residents buying or selling something used in the last six months, you could say the secondhand business is booming.
Getting rich on dubizzle isn’t easy, but if you can swallow the poor app user experience, glitchy in-app messaging notifications and painful listing process, then trust me, you will eventually move everything you want to sell. However, if you plan to unload an entire home, be prepared to spend at least one hour every single day replying to ridiculous messages from people who want to haggle AED 100 for your AED 6,000 television.
We eventually made over AED 5000 from dubizzle, but it took months of following up with insane hagglers, no-shows, ghosts, and time-wasters. dubizzle is NOT a spectator sport, you have to be proactive and follow up with every interested buyer. You will be shocked at how often someone will simply forget to reply to you with a deal confirmation, simply assuming a sale has been agreed.
I sold the same microwave to five people before I pinned down someone who would actually show up and collect the thing!
Apart from the money we raised through household items, we also sold my husband’s car on dubizzle, but we put his car for sale before we even knew if we would be leaving, as we were seriously concerned about how long it would take to sell. My husband DID eventually find a buyer, but it took him three months and a paid, premium dubizzle listing to make it happen.
My top tips for listing and selling
1. Be super selective about your listings.
Clothes do NOT do well, electronics and big-ticket items do VERY well. If you’re going to insist on listing clothes, don’t be that person who takes a picture of a white sweater balled-up on white bed linen so no one can see wtf you’re listing. Hang it on a hanger, take a proper photo. Also, no one wants your sweater so probably don’t even do this, it’s just not worth the effort.
2. Didn’t sell it? Delete and relist.
Sometimes we relisted items twice and even three times. Often, changing a photo or the price really helped. You can edit listings too but if I had something up for a while with NO messages, that generally meant it wasn’t going to get any traction at all.
3. Last price?
There is this bizarre phenomenon on dubizzle where people think that the price you’ve listed for your item is like a joke price or a price you’ve accidentally valued your item for, and the REAL price, the “LAST PRICE” can be obtained from you (the seller) by throwing this question into your inbox about 1000 times a day.
With this in mind, always buffer your prices.
If you want AED 100 for a cupboard, list it for AED 120. Then, when an interested person does message you, you can dramatically and suspensefully cut AED 20 off the cost, leaving them feeling like an absolute legend for making you lower your price.
The cupboard will sell for the AED 100 you wanted, you’ll be richer, they’ll be cupboard-ier, the world will keep on turning.
Selling stuff via Instagram stories
If you have a network of UAE based expat friends, chances are they need things too. Any items I struggled to shift on dubizzle, I filmed and posted on my Instagram stories. And, within a day or two, we sold most of our bedroom and living room furniture via a friend of a friend on the ‘gram. If you can find one person to buy all of your furniture as a package, it is MUCH easier to offload.
Incidentally, you should follow me, my captions are almost too good, my photos are also okay.
Dubai Flea Market
We heard about this weekly event from a friend and decided to give it a shot because we thought it might be a good place to get rid of all of our pre-loved knick-knacks, clothes, and other accessories that don’t sell well online.
We purchased a table for AED 300 (we shared a table with our friend to make the cost less painful) and showed up on the morning with suitcases packed full of gear, ready to set up our table with all of our wonderful things.
As we live in JLT, we booked a table at the Jumeirah Lakes Towers Park event, but when we showed up almost an hour before the scheduled opening time, the market was already in full swing and to be quite honest, utterly out-of-control.
We hadn’t even unpacked when bargain hunters started swarming all over our things, literally grabbing things out of the cases and snatching things out of our hands as we tried to unpack. It was intimidating, uncomfortable and definitely nothing like any flea market I’ve ever been to before.
If you’ve ever played Call of Duty in zombie mode and spent hours desperately shooting through waves of mindless undead, then you are already quite close to a Dubai Flea Market experience.
In fact, if you actively enjoy Call of Duty in zombie mode, then you may find trying to sell your things at DFM quite relaxing.
The crowds are fickle and the things you own will not end up making anything CLOSE to what you expect they are worth in their secondhand condition. I priced up designer dresses for AED 50–100 and ended up flogging most of my things for AED 10–20 at a push.
Basically, if you’re desperate to make a few dizzles and you’ve got a TON of decent things to shift, it MIGHT be worth paying for a table.
My husband and I made just under AED 1000, and while we have absolutely no regrets because we love trying new things, it’s not something we’d do again in a hurry.
Take my Junk
If all the above advice and the stack-of-cash photo have failed to entice your inner salesperson, you can forget everything I’ve suggested and simply call 800 JUNK.
My friend hired Take my Junk to clear her apartment after she’d sold everything she could possibly sell, and she said they took about 45 minutes to completely gut her place, leaving her with exactly nothing to shift or worry about apart from her actual luggage! My friend is also my personal trainer and I trust her with my glutes, so I can 100% vouch for this testimonial.
This is the one I know most UAE expats already do, but if you’re not already giving your maid or nanny every little thing you don’t use or need anymore, then are you even for real?!
We always give our nanny any extra things we have but don’t need or use anymore. Sometimes she packs the useful household items into a box and cargos them back to her children in the Philippines, so they can benefit from them too. This is by no means a fair repayment for the incredible amount of hard work that the people who support our lives in the UAE do, but if you have good quality things that someone else can benefit from, why not give them to them? We sent our DVDs and books to our building security team and they definitely appreciated them more than we’ve done in recent times!
Also lol. DVDs. Why did those happen? Thank God for the weightless cloud that is Netflix.
Tip 2: make peace with your landlord
Talk to any expat in the UAE and they’re sure to have at least one landlord horror story. The best thing you can do? Be a good tenant. Unfortunately, at some point in your leaving journey, you will need your landlord to help you, and it’s so much harder to vacate your apartment if you’re battling a disgruntled owner.
Personally, I’ve found that letting my husband deal with our landlord since day one is healthier than me talking to him because I’m more likely to pull a Game of Thrones season 8 finale Daenerys Targaryen than accept that we are responsible for things like changing out faulty light bulbs when we first moved in.
Key points to remember when you’re moving out
- To avoid penalties, check your contract and give your landlord the correct period of notice required to vacate.
- Know your rights. By law, you are entitled to receive back your entire deposit; minus the amount your landlord will need to repair and repaint once you’ve left. If you’re living in a studio or a one bedroom, this amount ideally shouldn’t exceed AED 1000. Unless you’ve been living like an absolute animal. In which case, don’t expect to receive back your deposit at all.
Elaborating on the above point, so many people have told me that you don’t have to repaint the property and that it’s the landlord’s responsibility. That’s not something I’m going to delve into, but I do recommend shopping for your own repainting quote and sharing it with your landlord because if you rely on them, they will likely pick the most expensive painter on the market and happily extract that amount from your deposit.
Disclaimer: these are personal tips, not legal advice. If you have any doubts about your rights as a tenant, do visit the RERA website or contact the hotline.
Tip 3: cancel, close, khalas!
If you want to leave the UAE relaxed and able to re-visit at a later date without being detained, do remember to close your credit card debts and pay all of your bills in-full before you get on your plane back home.
Once you resign and put your leaving plan in action, cancelling your visa is your employer’s responsibility, this can take up to a week to process, so make sure you bake cancellation time into your exit as you will likely need to hand over your passport for a few days.
If you can, ask your employer if they can keep your visa until you’re only a few weeks away from your flight, not having a valid Emirates ID is crippling and it becomes difficult to do anything official once you’re no longer a resident. Your healthcare is also tied to your visa so it can be seriously stressful and costly to not have valid cover if you get sick in your last few weeks in the country.
The usual suspects
Etisalat, Du, DEWA, EJARI, chiller, Emirates NBD (or whoever you bank with) and, your building security.
Make sure you call and notify all of the above parties of your intention to leave the country.
Some companies, like DEWA, DU and your chiller aka air conditioning provider, will often have deposits to refund to you. Make sure you ask about any deposits you may be owed and do follow up because they won’t chase you to give back your cash once you’ve left.
Recent changes also dictate that mobile numbers will only stay valid three months after visa expiry. After which date, your number will be deleted, and you will need to get a new line.* Worth bearing this in mind if you have an open bank account with a UAE number attached to it.
*Disclaimer: this is what I’ve been told by Etisalat, do check with them directly as their policies tend towards ever-shifting, rather like the desert sands…
It’s essential to think through all of your assets and conscientiously consider shutting down anything that will not serve you on the other side of the world.
Telling your building security what date you plan to vacate your place is also highly advisable. Try to drag your sofa into an elevator at 10 pm on a Sunday night and heads will most definitely roll.
Moving all that money you made
Between bank transfer fees and exchange rates, be prepared to lose some of your money when you’re in the process of shifting cash back home.
You can’t get around transfer fees unless you fly home with all of your money in a briefcase, but what you can do is exclude your bank from being the middleman for your international transfer, and make some cheeky savings by putting your money through a currency exchange marketplace like CurrencyFair. CurrencyFair provides fantastic rates for AED to GBP transfers.
We were recommended CurrencyFair by a friend, and we’ve been super impressed with the service, my husband works in finance, so when his eyes light up during a transfer, I generally take this as a positive sign.
Moving all that stuff you bought
Finding a reputable cargo company that won’t charge you the earth is tricky.
I called a million providers before I found a company that we could trust and afford, and I’m sharing their details here because I’m a selfless philanthropist.
GSC Movers came and collected our boxes, packing, wrapping, weighing and taking inventory on-the-spot in our hotel room.
GSC charged us an extremely competitive flat rate of AED 17 per kilo, and they provide a door-to-door service from the UAE to the UK. Some cargo companies may initially sound great, but when you ask about the airport customs clearance and delivery, you’ll end up uncovering hidden costs. Do your homework and definitely shop around. Or use GSC Movers. This is not an ad.
My favourite quote was from Aramex, they quoted me over AED 16,000 for 50 kg. To say I laughed hysterically down the line is putting it lightly.