We’ve got some friends who are in the process of moving to the UAE at the moment and they were asking us a few questions about the actual move, what to bring with them and so on. Having moved country on several occasions now (UK > Dubai in 2006, Dubai > Australia in 2011, Australia > Abu Dhabi in 2013), I thought it might be helpful for those moving in any direction for me to share my tips for moving overseas and the things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Shipping: choose wisely
Not all shipping companies were created equal so do your research. How much do you think you want to ship? If you don’t have much it might be easier to go air freight as it is much faster, though if you have items of furniture and a lot of things to send this will almost certainly prove cost prohibitive. I have only ever shipped by sea, so  my notes are based around my experiences of that.
Does the company have offices in your departure and destination cities or are they using a third party company as their partner at your destination? This, in our experience is pretty important – a company that has offices in both departure and destination city means far better communication and fewer delays in finding out important information and checking on the status of your shipment. If the company uses a third party at your destination, you will always be dealing with the original company at your departure city, and often there will be delays and difficulties in getting information and updates on the status of your shipment. You also have no control over the third party company that is being used (no doubt it will always be the cheapest – after all shipping is a business!) so this leaves room for all kinds of delays and miscommunications, especially when the two companies may not speak the same first language. In the event of any problems or discrepancies in fees / damages / delays, you may well also find yourself stuck in the middle of a stand off between the two companies, both of which denying all knowledge of the issue and each blaming the other company as the guilty party when all you want is a solution…

Check out online reviews and what previous customers have said about the companies on online forums to narrow the list of companies down to a reliable few, then request quotes from at least four of those companies to compare. If you don’t yet know how much you’ll be shipping and assuming you don’t want an entire container, you’ll be shipping by what’s known as LCL or groupage where one container is shared between several people shipping between the same destinations, so ask for standard quotes to compare prices: five cubic metres / seven cubic metres etc (you’ll notice a large jump in prices if the size goes over the most common size of five cubic metres). Then you’ll also need to look at what’s included:
– Does it include door to door / door to port or port to port delivery? If the costs are for door to door – what exactly does this mean? If you’re not on the ground floor, is there an access charge (at either end)? If delivery is not door to door – how will you drop off and collect your shipment? That will add an extra cost to you
–  Do the costs include all packing materials and packing labour?
– Are all additional costs included? Are there any additional costs that could be incurred at the other end? Taxes, inspection charges at port etc. If there are any possible extras, ask the company to detail these
– Does the price include unpacking at destination and rubbish removal? You might not think about it now, but how are you going to get rid of the mounds of paper / bubble wrap and sea of boxes you’ve acquired once you’re unpacked?!
– Do you need storage either at departure city or destination city? Find out the charges for this. Even if you think you might not need storage at destination city, find out if there is any free storage period and the prices beyond that in case for any reason you come up against a delay (it’s always good to be prepared!).

Other questions to ask:
– If you’re shipping in a shared container, is there a waiting time at the departure port before the container will be filled? Not everyone will be moving on the same day or even month as you, so you might have to wait. How will this delay impact you and your estimated shipping arrival date?
– What is the expected time in port at the destination? How might this impact you and your expectations on moving into your new place etc?
– What kind of assistance and support are they offering you? Do they provide advice on what items can and can’t be shipped? For example, shipping to the UAE prohibits importing alcohol, pork and religious items contrary to Islam (that may mean your Christmas tree has to go!) and so on. You’ll need to know this stuff to make sure you avoid any sticky situations
– What are the payment terms?
– What is the estimated door to door timeline?
– What is the cost to insure your shipping and what exactly does it cover? Read the small print carefully as often (of course) there will be multiple exclusions and caveats you will not have thought of.

As with most things, you tend to get what you pay for and though you may have found the cheapest company, it’s worth thinking about the fact it might not be worth the hassle if you end up having to deal with a third party company along the line or paying a small fortune on top of the shipping costs to insure your items on their voyage.

2. Big decisions: keep it or dump it?
Think about how long you plan on staying in your new country – is it worth bringing all your worldly possessions with you or not? If you’re coming for the long term, then possibly yes… but if you’ve got a relatively short period of time in mind (a couple of years perhaps), then it may not be worth it. Also the answer to this will depend on how much shipping allowance your new employer provides you with! If you have to pay for shipping entirely out of your own pocket then no doubt you will want to keep costs to an absolute minimum.
My general advice on this regardless, is get rid of as much as you possibly can… sell, sell, sell before you go! You’re moving to a completely new country and a completely new life – even the style of clothes you wear is likely to change according to your new life. Also take a look at what things cost in your new country – is it worth paying a small fortune to lug a bunch of stuff across oceans only to find out you could buy it all cheaper in your new home anyway?! No, of course not. The Ikea website is always a good place to start to give you an idea – compare it to the prices of the Ikea in your departure country and it’ll give you a good idea. Sadly, here in the UAE it’s rare to find many shops with decent online stores so it can be tricky to compare beyond Ikea. On moving from Australia though, I was able to sell any Ikea items I had second hand, for more money than they cost to buy new in Ikea UAE.
Also think about any electricals you want to ship – will the plugs / voltage be the same? Will they be covered on the shipping insurance if they get damaged or damp? Take note that it’s pretty common for electrical items to be an insurance exemption in shipping and check your small print!
The other thing to bear in mind is that shipping takes a while… depending on how far you are shipping, it could take anything from six weeks to a number of months. If you’ve lived without all those things for several months, are you really going to want them when they finally do arrive? One thing I hear often from people arriving here in the UAE is that they are super excited to get home and unpack their long awaited items, only to find that on opening the packages, all they can do is wonder what on earth they were thinking when they shipped it all!

If you don’t have time to sell all your unwanted items individually before you go, hold an open house… I sold most of our stuff individually online (I used gumtree.com in Australia) as I wasn’t working so had the time to devote to it, but on at least one occasion found that when people came round to pick items up they would ask what else we had for sale and would start rooting through our cupboards asking if they could also take this and that! So if you’re short on time (and/or patience), an open house is a great way to get a bunch of people round in one go and making offers on your items. Even better if you can schedule the first one with a week or so left before you leave so if necessary you can hold a second one to get rid of the leftovers! You may find (as we did) that you are living out of a cool box in the absence of your fridge and sitting on cushions on an empty floor for the last week, but needs must! You can also always negotiate the pick up date for important items like fridge, washing machine, sofas etc to be right at the last minute and just accept a deposit to secure the sale on the day of the open house.

As if deciding what to ship is not difficult enough, then you’ve also got to think about what you will need to carry on the place with you – both in the hold and in your hand luggage!
Obviously, you’ll need enough clothing to keep you going (until your shipping arrives if you’re shipping any clothes) and to carry any valuables with you on your person – jewellery, laptops, iPads etc along with all your original documents (which can really get heavy quickly!). The key is to carry as little as possible but as much as you need! Again, be as brutal as you can, but don’t forget to think about things you might need on your immediate arrival. Where are you staying when you first arrive? Will you need sheets or any household items at all? Most people will be put up in hotels or hotel apartments when they first arrive so they probably won’t need any of this stuff, but don’t forget to think about timelines again – if you’re shipping your prized Egyptian cotton bed sheets, will these arrive before you move into your new home? If not, you’ll just end up buying new ones anyway! It’s also worth comparing bed sizes between countries as these differ widely – we brought a bunch of bed sheets from Australia with us, only to find they didn’t fit the bed sizes here in the UAE! Even Ikea bed and linen sizes vary between the two countries!

3. A clean cut: finalise your status
Check your paperwork is in order: get copies of your important documents – degree certificates / birth certificates / marriage certificates etc notarised as you’ll need these for your visa / new employer / a whole host of reasons you’d never have dreamed of and it’s always better not to have to let go of your precious originals.
Check with the government and processes in your country and take yourself off electoral roll if you are moving from a country that enforces mandatory voting, defer / cancel private health funds if relevant, organise change of addresses and so on. What you need to do will depend on the country you’re moving from and your individual circumstances so do your research.
Don’t forget to check if you are eligible for a tax refund in your home country since you’re leaving too. It’s always worth looking into this as moving is expensive, and getting a nice rebate a few weeks after you arrive in your new country is always a welcome bonus.

4. Doctor’s orders: medications
If you take any medications don’t forget to check if they are available (and legal!) in the country you are moving to. For example, there are various sleeping tablets and painkillers including codeine that are illegal in the UAE. Check online or with your local UAE embassy for the up to date list.

5. Getting around: selling / buying a car
If you know you’re leaving the country, my advice would always be to sell sooner rather than later – you can always rent a little runabout if necessary for your last few weeks or days if you need to. But selling your car early gives you the upper hand and means you aren’t left worrying about offloading it or needing to sell it at a far lower price than you’d have liked, just to get rid of it quickly. Selling your car early means you’re more likely to get the price you want for it as you have the time to be choosy. That’s exactly what we did when we left Dubai and it worked for us. All my other advice about buying and selling a car in the UAE can be found here since I’ve written at length about this previously.

6. Get organised!
Above all, get organised! You need a plan – especially if you are shipping not just yourself but your family too. You’ll have to think even more carefully about which items can be shipped – no one wants to live through the disaster of a favourite teddy having been accidentally shipped by sea container or left behind!
If you’re shipping books, you might also want to provide an itemised list to your shipping company which will make customs inspection easier at port of arrival, especially on entering a country with a different culture to your own such as the UAE. This way, you’re more likely to avoid inspection costs incurred by in depth delving into your boxes, painstakingly examining each book, and it also allows you to explain any books that might be scrutinised. Just provide an itemised list noting each book title and for any that you feel need further commentary, just mark with ‘for personal use only’ and a brief explanation beside it, ‘received as a gift / family heirloom’ etc.

In the midst of packing - I LOVE my books!

In the midst of packing – I LOVE my books!

And that’s about all I can think of for now, I hope you’ve found this useful! If you’ve got any top tips that you’ve learned through your own experience I’d love to hear about them – or if you have any questions about your own big move – do let me know in the comments below!