No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?
by Ms. Hala

Last summer, I repatriated back to my hometown of San Francisco after living the confused expatriate life in Qatar for five years. As I prepared to write another rant entry, I realized something. I’ve documented some of my experiences of being an expat and a repat but never really on the logistics of leaving. Many have asked for tips and advice on the process of relocating and I’ve got to say, preparedness is everything.

Peeps, if you’re living the confused expatriate life, you have to be ready when the time comes. Sometimes the expat life isn’t guaranteed and sometimes, even when you plan everything out, you realize there are laws and rules you need to follow through on first.

I sat down and made a list of everything I had to do. Moved some things around, checked some things off and before I knew it, I was home. What do I advise? Here’s a few I hope you find helpful.

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Time Can Be My Friend: Many expats, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves relocating either to a new country or back to their respective home nation. Whether it’s the end of our employment contract or it’s just time to go, we need time to get our things together and in order. Seeing many of my friends almost rushed out of Qatar, I knew I needed as much time as possible because things in Qatar do take time. I made sure I communicated with my employer, who sponsors my residence permit (RP), on my flight dates so as to not have my RP canceled until that date. The last thing I needed was to be fined for overstaying a canceled RP. Expats in Qatar have seven days to exit the country from when their residence permit (RP) is canceled or expired before they are fined for overstaying on a daily basis.

A lot of logistics take much longer than necessary and thankfully, time was my friend. I was able to request about three weeks which was a good amount of time for me. If all else failed, and because I’m lucky enough to be from the long list of nations allowed an on arrival visa to Qatar, plan B was to actually fly back. Thankfully, that extra trip and expenses were averted. Using those savings for my summer trip to Italy, woohoo!

Law and Money: As part of the requirement of working in Qatar, you’ve got to open a bank account and have your salary direct deposited every month. Easy! Qatar is also very strict on not allowing expats to exit before clearing all debts. Borrowing in Qatar can be very tempting with low interests but many forget that it’s got to be cleared once before they go. Yikes!

I actually took a loan to finish off paying for my car but cleared it sooner rather than later so that wasn’t a problem for me. I did have a credit card (which I got a bucket load of Qatar Airways miles from!) so that had to be cleared with my bank. Banks will hold your last deposit, usually a lump sum including your gratuity, for a minimum of 48 hours until you are cleared. Some banks take longer and I’ve seen friends freak out for days before whatever they owed was deducted and they were allowed access to their account. Yikes!

Lucky me, I just walked straight to my bank and had everything cleared. I still had 150 Qatar Riyals on my credit card I totally forgot about. I shuddered thinking my last salary deposit would be frozen for days over 150 QR. The bank provided me a signed and stamped letter confirming I was cleared for extra assurance. I hear other countries can be even stricter or have a longer process so I’d advise expats to make anything related to money the number one priority.

You Used To Call Me On My Cellphone: Many expatriates don’t know how long they’ll be in a given country. Some will go with a prepaid plan, easy to handle but over time, can be costly. Once I realized I was going to stay longer, I immediately got a monthly phone contract and cut my costs almost in half. Of course, now that I was leaving and my RP was going to be canceled, I walked into the Ooredoo store and switched my lines to prepaid. I also had to set a cancelation date for my home cable and internet and prepay any costs. Again, the last thing I needed as I exited the country was to be stopped for any debts I hadn’t cleared.

Get Out My House: Unlike most expats, none of the companies I worked for in Qatar offered a company accommodation. Even if they did, I’d probably opt out of it anyway. It sucked finding apartments but I had heard enough eviction stories from fellow expats that I was glad I was in a place in my name when it came time to leave. I even got lucky that my landlord OKed my extra three weeks stay in lieu of my security deposit.

My bigger hassle was my furniture. I’m talking major kitchen appliances, two bedrooms, and a living/dining room. Yikes!

If you’ll be shipping your furniture, this is your second priority, find a shipping company that can at least pick up your packed furniture and handles all the exporting tasks for you. Be on top of it, I had to deal with three shippers for large pieces of luggage I didn’t want to lug around with a pet during my layover in Los Angeles. For whatever reason, moving in the summer causes shippers in Qatar to take their sweet time. So unprofessional! Luckily, I was not planning to ship any of my major pieces of furniture, thus posted my items for sale online and whatever I couldn’t sell, I reached out to a couple organizations to take them as donations.

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Not Without My Kitty: This might have been one of the simplest of my relocation tasks, which I still don’t understand why it was made to be such a hassle. I was asked why I would go through the hassle and costs of taking my cat with me to California. First off, this silly girl here adopted me when I least expected it. I even named her Ms. Doha, after the city she followed me in when she was barely 8 weeks old. She was a large part of my expat life in Qatar over five years. So it was a given, she’s coming home with me!

That meant, I needed to get her documents in order and her spot on the plane booked. Kindly note, not all airlines will take your pet, and I’m not sure why. I had to request and pay the difference to my employer since they were booking my flight home (Qatar Law requires employees terminated or contract completed to be flown home by their employer). Qatar Airways is the only airline allowing pets on long-haul flights into the US. This was a 16-hour direct flight, so I booked my kitty as a medium rather than small sized pet cargo so I can have her in a larger crate to give her enough room to stretch and move. I only got put multiple liners but was misinformed about someone feeding her since it was a long flight. I used an open water and food feeder bowls, which I do not recommend. Especially the water, my poor baby was thirsty when I picked her up in LA.

The US doesn’t actually charge you any fees for importing your pet dog or cat from another country. All that’s usually asked for by most countries are vaccination records, microchip number and necessary importing fees paid upfront. So Ms. Doha wasn’t vaccinated in a while so had her vaccinated, given an antifungal bath and confirmed her microchip scanned at least a month before I left. I also had to take the records to the Animal Resources Department of the Ministry of Environment. There, I paid 10 QR for approval documents. Ms. Doha was on her way to the USA!

I’m not judging but not everyone can relocate their pets with them for whatever reason. Should that be your case, I BEG YOU to PLEASE re-home them before you leave. If you leave them out on the streets, like many expats in Qatar do, you are guaranteeing their death as many domesticated pets don’t survive. Your pet was part of your family, all they gave you was love, and that’s all they ask for in return. Dumping them in the streets is not loving them in return. Be kind and re-home your pets before you leave, PLEASE!!

Click here to read up on tips for expats in Qatar, written exclusively for ILoveQatar!

My Truck Is No Junk: Again, unlike most expats, I owned my car. A sweet 2013 Honda Pilot. This can be a smart investment if you are staying long term in Qatar or anywhere with limited public transportation. However, selling a car in Qatar during the summer is extremely and utterly brutal! I had to not only lower the price at least three different times, I couldn’t sell the car before I left. I can’t keep it in my name when I exit nor was I planning to ship it back home either.

Immediately posted the car for sale and I’d make this a top priority for most as this can be a slow process. Qatar doesn’t have a “Kelly Blue Book” so had to check classifieds on ILQ and QatarLiving amongst others to get an idea of what my car’s value should be. I was cautious if taking it to the dealer as they’d do a buyback for so much less in order to resell it for a profit.

Shipping your car is an entirely different and long process and I’d only do it if it’s worth the time and money. A couple friends did ship their cars from Qatar and even after all costs, the car value was worth it. I’d advise that if you’re hiring shippers for your furniture, make sure they can also handle vehicles. You should be able to ship your car and furnishings in a 20×20 container for around $3,000-$5,000. Obviously, the bigger the container, that costlier it’ll be. Should the process take longer than your time in Qatar, as was the case with me, you’ll need to transfer the car out of your name in order to be able to exit the country. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to put the car in her name and handle the final sale logistics when it was sold, four months later. I hope everyone is as lucky as I to have trustworthy friends by their side.

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This Is Not Goodbye: Leaving Qatar so quickly after being there for five years was not an easy task. I grew as a person, made lifelong friends and saved a decent amount of money despite student loan payments (grrr!). I didn’t tell anyone this but when the plane took off, I went to the restroom and cried bittersweet tears. I was happy to be going home and sad to be leaving. Apparently, this feeling is quite common amongst expats. Many have told me repatriating or even expatriating elsewhere can be hard, it’s starting all over.

However, I think if you keep a link with your expat life in the respective country you were in, it makes it a little bit easier. The Global Foodie Group on Facebook and Whatsapp I started are still buzzing. I speak to my friends in Qatar on almost a daily basis. I’m also looking at visiting Qatar later this year. I’m thinking of it this way really, it’s never a “goodbye forever”, it’s just a “see you later, Insha’Allah!”

I hope my experiences provides you with some tips and advice should and when the time comes for you relocate. What was your experience leaving a country where you lived your expat life? Do share in the comments below.

Picture of the Day

Throwback Thursday to accidentally on purpose finding sweetness at a classic spot in Burlingame. Royal Donut has been around longer than many of the eateries on famed Burlingame Avenue. Grab yourself a chocolate old-fashioned today!

Travel Link Up – My Travel Wishlist for 2018

Travel bloggers come together monthly for the Travel Link Up, a fantastic way for bloggers to write about a particular travel theme while reading and sharing each other’s posts. This month’s theme is one’s travel wishlist for 2018. This rant will be my first with the travel link up, finally!

IMG-20170909-WA0034-01.jpgOne of my goals for 2018 is to travel more than I did last year. This, in part, is sparked by two things. One, my plans from last year was put on hold because of my repatriation back home. And two, this year’s destination wedding season is in full swing and I couldn’t be happier! This is an opportune time for me to revisit favorites as well as discover new places.

So here’s my travel wishlist for 2018:

San Francisco Bay Area, California

I’ve been playing a tourist in my hometown since repatriating last summer. There’s so much for me to rediscover as I eat my way through the city and the Bay Area as a whole, really. Like trekking the hiking trails in Sausalito, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, checking out the latest exhibits at the Asian American Museum, observing the marine animals at the historical Monterey Aquarium and show some love to the businesses reopening in the Napa Valley areas.

New York Tri-State Area

DSCN0211-01.jpgI’ll be heading to the New York area in the early summer for my cousin’s wedding! After dancing the night away, I’m going to try to cross a few things off my list that I didn’t get a chance to do during my last visit. Like, go see a Broadway show. I mean seriously, how have I been to New York City so many times and not see a single Broadway show? Preposterous! This year, I must see a show and I’m spoiled for choice with new ones coming out as early as March 2018, wow! I’d also like to head to Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s been on my radar as I hear they’ve got a booming food culture there.

Sicily, Italy

IMG_20160723_131933-01.jpegLater in the summer, I’m heading to the magnificent island state of Sicily for my dear friend’s wedding! I’ve been through most of Italy in 2016 but not to Sicily. Thus, my friends and I are planning to stay about a week to check it out in all it’s glory once we’ve recovered from dancing all night or two long. I’m being told that Mount Etna is a must when visiting Sicily. This should be a good way to work out all the food I plan on eating.

Dubrovnik and Fort Lovrijenac, Croatia

Another trip missed last year was Croatia. As a history buff, I’m anxious to see the ancient coastal city of Dubrovnik. Of course, I can’t be in Croatia as a huge Game of Thrones fan and not head to Fort Lovrijenac, where it’s the setting for Kings Landing. The scenery alone is a great backdrop for this historical fantasy. Here’s to taking a seat on the Iron Throne!

Luxor and Aswan, Egypt

IMG_0180-01.jpegSince I won’t be far, seems a short trip to the Middle East is in order. It’s been a good number of years since I’ve been to Egypt and of the few times I’ve been, I have yet to visit Luxor and Aswan. As a history buff, these historic provinces have so much to offer and I’m still making a list of all the things I need to explore. I do plan on going with a tour guide of sorts as to not miss out on anything.

Bali, Indonesia

I was so close yet didn’t get a chance to go as planned for my birthday last year. I’m hoping to make it this time around and explore the bounties the island has to offer. Fingers crossed there won’t be another volcano eruption, otherwise, I’m checking out Mount Agung and the surrounding towns.

Paris, France

This country, specifically Paris, is a coin toss for me because as much as I’d like to go, the fact that hijabs and niqabs are banned in its many public places doesn’t put me at much ease. I’ve almost never had a problem outside of airports during my travels but that’s not the expectation I have for Paris. However, I’d do anything to just sit in one of the eateries facing the Effiel Tower and eat my heart out.

Do you have a travel wishlist for 2018? Do share!

A Tourist in My Hometown

A Tourist In My Hometown
Repatriating Ain’t Easy
By: Ms. Hala

That feeling when you realize repatriating ain’t easy. Not close to how easy I thought it would be at least. Then again, neither was my first year as an expatriate when I first moved to Qatar back in 2012.

IMG-20170909-WA0034-01.jpgI know I need to give myself a little more time to adjust to life back home. Yet the longer it takes, the more anxious I get. Looking for a new job in a competitive market isn’t making anything easier but I’ve managed to keep my sanity with a few side gigs.

Since repatriating back home to the great city of San Francisco, where I was born and raised, I’ve come to find myself playing tourist. Unlike the times I’d visit home for a few weeks a year, I’m finding myself rediscovering a city I once knew like the back of my hand.  So much has indeed changed, gentrification is in full effect here, yet much has stayed the same. And with this post begins my new blog series on my life in repatriation mode.

20171109_160557-01.jpgI can’t deny that the first month or so of playing tourist has been a whole lot of fun! I encourage all my peeps reading to come visit this city of mine and explore its wonders. I’ve already had out of town friends and family come visit so it’s been nice to explore a few corners of this city with them.

Click here for my ILoveQatar article on the top things to do in San Francisco!

Discovering the great gastronomic culture I’ve grown up with has been an adventure in and of itself. It’ll also require me to quickly join a gym if I’m going to keep eating all this good food. Until then, I need a taco fix, pronto!