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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.

My Public Letter to Mayor Bryan Cadogan

Good Day Mr. Cadogan,

I hope this letter finds you doing well.

 

I’ve read the SF Gate article from this past summer on your efforts to recruit people to move and build a home in the town of Kaitangata (Clutha District, New Zealand). After researching a bit about the beautiful town and seeing the the need for a stronger population and the unemployment rate of two people, I just had to sit down and write this letter to you.

Has your town considered taking in some of the many highly educated and experienced individuals whom have found themselves in refugee camps in many parts of the Middle East and Europe?

I’m by no means middling in New Zealand’s immigration system nor do I understand how it works in such a situation. My country’s immigration system has failed the refugees with ignorant, discriminatory and Islamophobic politics.

I’m not asking you to solve the refugee crisis nor am I shaming you into taking refugees into your town. I’m just curious that a town in need of people has not pushed to take in people in need of a town.

I’m a product of immigrants, like many of my generation in America. My grandparents and parents immigrated from Egypt since the 1960s to California, New Jersey, North Carolina and New York. I have watched them work hard, pay their taxes, vote, speak out and volunteer to support the local communities. This is the same scenario with almost any other immigrant family from any part of the world.

No one takes welcoming, humane open arms for granted.

I’m sure this is what Kai is looking for. Amazing, hard working families going above and beyond because Kai welcomed them in with open arms after the suffering they have endured in the last several years.

Thank you for your time and God Bless.

Signed, Ms. Hala

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Note: After writing this difficult rant, I was hesitant to publish it publically. I decided to keep this rant private and only after four years, to share it publically.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 4 of a Few… The In Between
By: Ms. Hala

Ever have a feeling you couldn’t figure out, understand or map out? And when you do, a bit of guilt creeps up on you? This is the feeling I have right now as I fly back to Doha from San Francisco.

My two weeks home after a year away had brought up a lot of mixed feelings and emotions I’m having a hard time figuring out. I couldn’t wait to go home, my happy place. I purchased my tickets so in advance just to be sure I was going to be home in time for Eid ElFitr.

It was absolutely amazing to once again break my fast with my family after two and a half Ramadans spent either in Egypt or Qatar. Eid was a spectacular holiday weekend, from the prayers to the nice get-togethers allowing me to see family and friends I hadn’t seen since I moved to Qatar.

However, this trip made me realize that I’m now in the in between.

I was back in my city, my town, my home yet felt odd and a bit out of place. A lot of things changed in the last year and being that I wasn’t part of that change brought upon this odd feeling within me. Every day I heard a story or two about this and that happening during my time away.

I was received at the airport by my sleepy nephew whom smiled the entire time. Didn’t cry once when I held him for the first time and kept him in my arms for hours. I swear, this child’s presence made it easy on me when I found out that I no longer had two happy cats waiting for me at home.

My boys got sick a while after I moved and it was decided that they should be given to a vet for better care. I was upset, even wept because a part of me had hoped that I’d come to find everything as I had left it, the normality of coming home to kitties greeting me at the door like I had never left.

Some found my hurt over my lost kitties amusing while others sympathized with me. Those that found it amusing didn’t understand how I expected things to stay the same for a year.  Those that sympathized were once in my shoes, came back home to find that things had changed too. Based on the illness my family described to me, I now have a sinking feeling that one or both my kitties may have passed away. I just don’t have the heart to call the vet and find out.

Aside from this sad news, I did having a good break. I stayed home the first few days with a lot of mixed emotions to deal with but happy to be home, nonetheless. I watched everyone sleep, go to work and go about their day. I cared for my nephew and watched him laugh, cry, enjoy his bottle and sleep like an angel. This child is such a blessing to our family, especially to me. With little Salem around, my mother had officially stopped asking me to make her a grandmother (that year at least).

Two weeks flew by like a mere few minutes. A long happy flight brought me to San Francisco and a longer somber flight is bringing me back to Doha. Before my departure, everyone felt the need to ask when I was moving back home. I had already survived a year as a confused expatriate and I’ve committed to another year when my contract either ends or is renewed.

A part of me wants to stay longer as there is more to discover in this part of the world. A part of me wants to go home

I’m now in the in between.

Confused yet focused. Lost yet in place. Determined yet unmotivated. Strong yet weak.

A Father’s Day Reflection

Last night, I called Baba in Egypt to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. He was excited I called (because he forgot to tell me he was going to Egypt for the summer) because he had forgotten it was Father’s Day. Of course, we ended up having our usual political and religious conversation. I then spoke with my older cousin Mohamed, a father of five, whom I consider a father figure.

After all the phone calls last night between Egypt and California (my poor phone bill), I feel asleep in awe of how something as simple as a phone call can uplift someone’s spirits. I feel asleep reflecting on all the amazing fathers I know.

I had written on a similar reflection back in 2009, Praises for Fathers, the first Father’s Day after the passing of our Amuh Ibrahim.

This year, my little brother became a father for the first time to beautiful baby Salem. He has made us uncles and aunties for the first time too. And boy do we have giant footsteps to follow…

Sleeping Next to Daddy
Sleeping Next to Daddy

Baba’s relentless struggles to do all that he could for his children.

Mama’s simple amazement of being both a mother and father to her children.

The uncle’s dedication to pave a life long path for my cousins, siblings and I.

The cousin’s unity, many of whom are both fathers and uncles to amazing children of their own.

I know my siblings and I have a lot to learn from you. And for that, I thank you. I pray you all had a great day of celebration on this highlighted day of celebrating the gratitude we hold for the blessing that is you, every day.