Moving out of the UAE is akin to kicking a bad habit. It requires determination, support, and above all, time. There are those who skip the program and try to go cold turkey (you might call them "absconders," a term I had rarely heard used pre-UAE but is part of daily lingo here). This strategy is risky and rarely works in the long run, so we decided to go the route of legitimacy. After all, we want to be able to pass through the UAE in the future without being nabbed by the airport facial recognition software.
This goal required jumping through many hoops and waiting in many lines, each with their own peculiar pacing and pitfalls. There really should be some kind of support group for this endeavor, but alas, all those who succeed have, by definition, left the country. The only people around to advise you are those who have either never tried to quit or have fallen off the wagon. So I've decided to document our journey. It won't be exactly the same as yours, but perhaps will provide some guidance and encouragement when you find yourself in need.
Step 1: The first step to recovery is always to admit you have a problem. In our little analogy, this means quitting your job. Your employer is typically your sponsor, and without the permission of your sponsor you are legally not free to go. In the States we have a custom of giving "two-weeks notice" of resignation (if you're feeling generous you can give one month). But my UAE employer requires SIX MONTHS notice in order to leave without financial penalty. If your goal is to change employers, the 6-month rule is nearly impossible to keep without a) making a giant leap of faith that you will find a new job after you quit or b) staying with your current employer until you retire. Smart little buggers, they are.
I was fortunate that Sam found out about his acceptance to FSU exactly 6 months before we needed to be in Tallahassee for his fall semester, so I barely made it under the wire. At this point, my HR rep handed me a list of clearance letters and signatures that I must obtain in order to get my final paycheck and gratuity. Yours may look different from mine, but there will be a list, and it will be long. You can count on it.
Step 2: Plan your escape. One-way flights out of the UAE are steep, especially in the summer. Many companies pay for a repatriation ticket (mine did), but if you shop around and buy your tickets far enough in advance, you can pocket the extra cash. Once you know your drop-dead date for leaving the UAE, you can make a checklist of deadlines for the remaining steps. The key to reaching your goal in good health is good planning.
Step 3: Deal with your stuff. The longer you live in the UAE, the more baggage you'll have. Figure out what you want to take with you, what to sell or give away, and what to trash, and at what point you should do each of these things to put off "roughing it" as long as possible. Shipping an entire household from the UAE to the US is painfully expensive and takes about 2 months to reach the destination, so if you have a flat full of IKEA furniture like we did, the best plan is to sell it all to a newcomer. In our case, my replacement at work is moving into our apartment when we leave and taking all of our furniture and appliances for a lump sum. This is the absolute best scenario - if you can figure out a way to make this happen, do it!
Step 4: Shut down your cable, internet and phone services. The weaning process begins now. In your last days you will be stripped of all things that make you feel at home here. This will make your determination to get out of dodge even greater, so embrace it. Etisalat requires one month notice to cancel all accounts. It took us a total of 5 visits to make this one stick, but it could have taken 3. Here's how to do it:
Exactly one month before you want your accounts to close, go to the main headquarters on Airport Road (the building with the giant golf ball on top). It may seem like a shortcut to call the service line or go to a branch, but this is a trap and will cost you a couple of hours of your life only to start again at ground zero. Go to the fourth floor and get a ticket for "Cessations." Bring your passport and last bill with you. They will schedule your account to close (and all services to shut off) one month to the date.
On the scheduled shut-off date, you should find by that morning that you can't get online. At this point, go back to headquarters and apply for a clearance certificate (also on the fourth floor). They will give you a ticket stub and tell you to come back the following day between noon and 3 pm to meet with the man at counter #17. The counter number may change, but I suspect the Wizard of Oz feel of it won't. On your third and final visit, show the appropriate "man behind the curtain" your ticket stub, he will tell you your final amount owed (estimate ahead of time and bring enough cash with you for this), and after payment will give you a clearance certificate. Take it, Dorothy, and don't look back.
Before you start to hyperventilate, let's break for the night and resume the remaining steps tomorrow.