For many expats, the recurring question is when to make the break and return home for good. Unfortunately for some, the decision will be made for them, with the current economic situation forcing many companies to downsize. 

Regardless of whether the reasons are personal or professional, moving back home is a daunting prospect for many.

“A complete mix of emotions from shock, depression and surprise that we are not there,” says Australian national Monique Meadows, 39, whose family were suddenly uprooted from Dubai and relocated to Boston in March.

“We had been in our Victory Heights home for less than six months. We thought we would be in Dubai for at least five more years,” says Meadows. “Our son was in waiting lists for schools.”

What her family miss the most, she says, is their son Dante’s nanny Lyn Josue, who was a part of their family and didn’t move with them. The Filipina nanny could not go with the family since she did not meet US criteria, Meadows says.

Three to consider

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to focus on the scope and detail of the task ahead but Mel Syers, Marketing Manager at Allied Pickfords, says there are three things you must consider when choosing a removal company. 

First, she suggests getting at least three quotes before making a decision. Then she says it’s important to read the fine print. “Make sure to ask about or look up a mover’s policies on terminal/destination terminal handling charges, packing and unpacking fees, worker insurance and delivery fees involving addresses on higher floors,” says Syers.

Finally, she says it’s essential they are accredited by FIDI, a federation representing companies specialising in international removals and relocation. “Accredited companies undergo rigorous and regular assessments by external professional boards to maintain that status, so the slightly higher fee they might demand is really a small price to pay for peace of mind,” she says.

Niyaz Ali, Managing Director of Dulog Removals, suggests not to blindly trust internet-based search results while choosing a moving company as they can be manipulated using search engine optimisation tools and the easy registration processes in the web portals’ listing services. 

Due diligence

“What you should look for in a service provider are its number of years in business and client reviews on its Facebook pages,” Ali says. “However, nothing is more powerful and reliable than getting a word-of-mouth referral from a colleague, friend or a family member.” 

Irish expatriate Peter Rae was among the unfortunates caught out when shipping his family’s belongings to South Africa. He chose a local company that was Dh4,000 cheaper than the international competitor, but when he later checked its accredited international mover membership, he discovered it had lapsed a year earlier. “I’m sure that problems can arise with all removal companies but my advice to anyone in the UAE is to use only globally recognised brands even though they charge more,” says Rae.

His container is still waiting on the docks in Port Elizabeth and he’s hoping his mishap can serve as a cautionary tale. He also says it’s important to check the company’s social media to see what people are saying about them. Meadows wishes she’d benefited from word-of-mouth too. Her husband’s employer chose the moving company for their relocation and she didn’t get the chance to ask around.

“Since we started talking about this company we found out terrible things,” says Meadows. There were several delays in collecting their shipment. Her biggest tip is to streamline household contents ruthlessly.

Kerrie Hawkins, a 42-year-old Australian who lived in the UAE, agrees. “Realising how much stuff you have and sorting through everything, it takes longer than you think,” she says.

Moving money also requires planning. “Firstly, you have to know what the banks in Dubai are going to do with your gratuity if you have credit cards or loans,” says Hawkins. 

Support groups

After ten years in Dubai, she’s found the repatriation process difficult, but credits friends new and old with helping her through it. “I’ve had loads of support, both physical such as a place to stay and help with moving and emotional support as well, which is essential,” she says.

“Online groups have helped too. I’ve joined some Facebook groups too for residents, and cat and dog owners too.”

I Am A Triangle and its offshoot I Am A Triangle Dubai are two groups that provide support to “global nomads, expats, repats and NGOs before, during and after repatriation".

Expats on the Move can also offer support and many of its members are discussing the pros and cons of a return home from Dubai.

Going it alone

It’s not always necessary to outsource your relocation. Kerrie Hawkins owns a fully furnished apartment in Dubai, so she went back to the UK with three suitcases, her dog and her cat. For those who have more than they can carry, but don’t want to use a packing crew, there’s always the option to just purchase the container space and load it yourself, but make it easy on yourself with these guidelines:

- If the container is delivered to you, inspect it carefully for holes or damage before the driver leaves.
- In general, put large, heavy items such as white goods and furniture on the floor and up against the back wall, then stack lighter items on top.
- Pack tightly to maximise usable space and minimise friction that can cause damage.
- Make sure all appliances are clean and dry.
- Pack fragile items in new, strong boxes with plenty of bubble wrap or packing paper.
- Put mattresses on the sides of the container, keeping one to load last before you close it.
- Use pillows, blankets, toys, empty boxes and spare packing material to fill in spaces.
- Pack a box of things you will need at the other end and place it close to the door so you can get it easily.
- Write the contents of each box on the outside and which room it belongs in.
- You can tie items to the side of the container to the rings that are there, but you’ll need to supply your own straps.

For more  details many global moving companies have handy packing checklists on their websites.

Tips for choosing movers

-    Only use an accredited international mover.
-    Ask around. Word-of-mouth is a reliable indicator 
of customer satisfaction.
-    Likewise, check out social media profiles and feedback.
-    Read the fine print to avoid being surprised by hidden charges.
-    Shop around: compare at least three quotes.
-    Always consider the quality of service alongside the quoted price.
-    Insurance is peace of mind.