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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.

What I’ve Learned Living the Confused Expatriate Life

What I’ve Learned Living the Confused Expatriate Life
by Ms. Hala

Click here to read an exclusive version written for ILoveQatar!

As you may or may not know, I’ve said “salam” to Qatar earlier to this summer, a place I’ve called home for the last five-plus years. If you’re a fan of the rant series, you’ve read on how my expat life didn’t start off so easy.

I’ve documented some of my experiences from explaining my identity in the most diverse country in the region to the hassles of apartment hunting as a single lady. I arrived in Qatar confused and left a little less confused, grown and enlightened. I’m sure if I had known then what I know now, it would’ve been a little bit easier.

So long story short, let me share with you some tips I’ve learned living the confused expatriate life in Qatar.

Expect the Unexpected: When I first came to Qatar, I had a plan in mind: stay for a year, save a bunch of money and head back home. I had never planned to stay for as long as I did, but as they say, “God is truly the best of planners.” I promise you, whatever plans you have coming into Qatar or elsewhere for that matter will fly out the window, quick! You must expect the unexpected, nothing is like how it’s done back home and no one is going to hold your hand through the process. Have a plan, yes, but be prepared and stay open-minded, that’s how spontaneous an expat life can be.

Learn the Language: It’s wonderful that English is widely used in Qatar and most parts of the world. However, I’ve had my fellow English speaking friends complain when someone doesn’t speak English to them, be it a professional or private capacity. I’d have to remind them that the official language of Qatar is Arabic, thus no one is obligated to speak your language. Make an effort to learn Arabic, even if it’s the basics. You can start by joining language exchange groups as well as checking out language learning programs in Education City and Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center – formerly known as Fanar.

Try Everything Once: Being an expat is an adventure to be had! While an expat in Qatar, there’s so much you should try at least once. Head with a group to the sand dunes by Sea Line. Eat a bowl of chicken majbous in Souq Waqif. Enjoy an evening in a dhow boat. Volunteer to walk the shelter dogs at a lovely farm off Shamal Road. Spend the day in the Museum of Islamic Art, it’s free! Enjoy an evening of classical music by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra in Katara. And you must have a cup of hot karak from any of the amazing tea shops all around town.

Befriend a Qatari: In the time you’ve stayed in Qatar, how many Qatari friends have you made? Don’t know where to meet Qataris? Start with everyone’s friendly neighborhood Qatari, Mr. Q (aka my buddy Khalifa). When I first came to Qatar, it was ILQ’s active forums that introduced me to him and many Qataris as well as new expats in Qatar. I’ve connected with Qataris active on social media and learned about their culture, language, and food. I consider many of them now my lifelong friends. So don’t be shy to ask a question, start a conversation and befriend those that have welcomed us into their country.

Share Your Blessings: Realistically speaking, it’s easy for many of us to live a comfortable life in Qatar but that doesn’t mean we forget to humble ourselves. There are many in Qatar living on so little to better provide for their families back home. There are things you can do in your daily lives to keep you grounded. When you eat at a restaurant, any good, untouched leftovers can be given to someone in need. When you buy large amounts of water, leave a bowl of cool water outside your building for stray animals. When shopping in a mall, give a little to the many charitable organizations’ kiosks supporting initiatives in Qatar and beyond.

Professionalism is Sometimes Unprofessional: Being the first and only female manager in my division at one of my jobs in Qatar, I was warned that “we don’t do things here the way you do it in America”. I didn’t understand that until I had to deal with an incompetent agent costing my division delays and lost sales. I was as professional as possible until I couldn’t anymore. I learned with time to stay professional but stern, stand my ground and make sure my team had my back. Again, things aren’t done the same way back home, and one has to adapt, fast.

Do What You Love: My advise to anyone of my peeps thinking of expatriating out of the US (or repatriating for that matter), do it for something you know you will enjoy. A passion to travel and work with a company you know (or at least researched well) will do right by you in the long run. Anything that sounds too good to be true, is too good to be true! Don’t fall these gimmicks, including paying any recruiting or relocation company. If possible, visit the country you are considering before deciding to live there for a long period of time. Don’t move for a high salaried job that you already hated at home. I promise you, you’ll be miserable if you are not passionate about the work, the company or even the country you are deciding to move too.

Dating Is a Hit or Miss: I didn’t expect dating in Qatar would be much different from back home but it was an odd experience. Because Qatar’s population is 80% male doesn’t necessarily mean there are quality men. Trust me, slim pickings. However, it’s taught me that dating while a single expat is a coin toss. You can get lucky or you can feel icky. I did appreciate that chivalry wasn’t dead and even when I had a bad date, it wasn’t as bad as some I’ve had back home. Being a single expat can be tough, especially as a single lady in a conservative country. There’s more on that here.

Nothing Stays the Same: I learned this the hard way after my first visit home. Expect things to change when you visit or repatriate home. As I now try to rediscover my city, playing tourist at times, I’m slowly learning to adapt to the changes. Repatriating is not easy, and in some ways can bring back feelings of culture shock and learning curves you experienced when you first became an expat in a new country. It’ll take time and before you know it, it’ll truly feel home. It took me almost a year to feel at home in Qatar, hopefully, it won’t take me that long now that I’m back home.

To close out this five-year rant series, I’m blessed to have left with more than what I came with. I’ve gained great friendships, career growth, and wonderful memories.

And I’m a little less confused.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Has It Been Five Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala

On June 30th, 2012, I landed in Qatar thinking I knew what to expect. I had never lived in another city in America before, let alone another country so… of course, I was wrong! I thought I was only going to be expat living for a year, a year and a half tops. Of course, I was wrong. I thought I was going to make a dollar out of 15 cents, gold out of dirt, something out of nothing. Of course, I was wrong.

 

It has been five years –FIVE YEARS– since I got off that plane and was hit by the summer’s humid air, freaked out when the cold water taps were boiling hot and learning to sleep with the AC on full blast. I have learned to expect the unexpected and struggled through those last five years to make something out of myself.

 

Along this journey, I’ve made life long friends, laughed my heart out and experienced things I don’t think I would have staying at home, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the world is so grand but our bubble is so small. If I learned anything, anything at all, from being living the expat life, it’s to go beyond the bubble, even for just a moment and live a little in this grand world. Despite it all, for the things I’ve learned, it’s so worth it.

 

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“Qatar” – image courtesy of @ftmalthani

Qatar has an odd charm to it, flaws and all. The expat life here is not perfect but it’s a blessing to experience. As I start packing, not knowing how much longer I’m staying in Qatar (more on that later), I’m at peace. Alhamdulillah, I worked hard, surrounded myself with good people, ate some delicious food and discovered as much of the region as I could.

 

My time in Qatar will always be unforgettable. I can’t image having the experiences I’ve had else where. I’ll always pray for God to continue blessing this beautiful nation and the people within it that make it up it’s beauty. Qatar may be small but mighty and come to think of it, so am I.

Treat Yourself on Your Birthday!

When my family called me from back home to wish me a happy birthday, I was either on the plane or half asleep on the beach. We got to talking about how we don’t treat ourselves enough and how happy they were that I was treating myself with this trip to Muscat, Oman.
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I had a pattern of always working or studying on my birthday. Moving to Qatar and celebrating my first birthday alone in the midst of the roughest year of my adult life put a lot of things in perspective.

I started treating myself as often as possible, especially on my birthday. Every year, I’ve taken my birthday off from work (paid or otherwise) to enjoy a spa day, shopping spree, fancy meals, complete utter laziness and this year, headed on my first semi solo trip.

I took a short trip to Muscat, Oman where the first two days was spent between getting pampered or sitting on a private beach basking in the glory that God created. When my gal pals landed, we head off to a full day of sight seeing villages, beaches, sink holes and canyon walk/climb. When the hell have I ever freaking walk up a canyon peeps? That was exhausting so we ended our long weekend on the beach and a birthday cake filled lunch before we said “ma elsalama Oman”.
Treat yourself peeps because you deserve it… Alhamdulillah.
I promise my Italy rants are coming up as well as my birthday weekend in Oman to follow soon after. =)

Why #iLoveMyJob

Last week, the boss and myself had a conversation that went something like this…

Boss: Whats the status of so and so reports? Did you finish this? Where’s that? I need the final numbers immediately! Blah blah this! Blah blah that!

Me: Really? Slow your roll dude! I’m only one person, one thing at a time man!

Boss: But you are always bragging about how special you are.

Me: Yes, I’m special, not Jesus (pbuh)!

Boss busts into a huge laugh and I’m cleared for about an hour.

#LifeIsGoodAgain

#iLoveMyJob

Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 3 of a Few

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 3 of a Few… Unprofessional
By: Ms. Hala

I have to admit, being part of a management team in a growing industry in this part of the world has it’s perks. Even though I’m technically an entry-level manager, I’m the only female ever to hold a managerial position in the history of this company. Females in this company are about 10% of the entire workforce. So I think that in itself is a huge perk.

I’ve been warned one too many times by colleagues with the phrase, “You’re not in America anymore. Welcome to the Middle East. This is how things work.” Yet I would always remind them that in my opinion, professionalism is universal. You can’t convince me that the lack of professionalism is the reason behind the Middle East’s successful economy despite the rest of the developing world’s economic downfall. It was the lack of professionalism that caused US taxpayers to bail out stupid big banks whom brought our economy to a  recession. So yes, I’m in the Middle East – thanks for the warm welcome – but that shouldn’t mean professionalism is dead.

Right?

Ummm… to some extent. You see, it’s not necessarily where you are working in the world but whom you are working with in the world. Yes, certain cultural etiquettes need to be understood and respected. However, many misinterpret these etiquettes to their advantages. Sounds a little too familiar? This is when I discovered that half the staff, a mix of various languages, nationalities, levels of management, are scared of me.

Yes, scared. Lack of professionalism is the culprit here.

Here’s the shpeal, I manage the logistics of this global division. I deal in large part with clearing and transporting agents, Qatar customs administrators and global suppliers in over 15 countries including the USA. On one lovely day unlike today, I realized that the term “professionalism” to some extent did not exist in the eyes of some people I deal with on a daily basis. I was only about 3 months into my position and the idea of how my job was to deal with extremely unprofessional people hit me, hard.

What the hell am I going to do? How the hell am I going to make it in this industry? How the hell am I going to even last in Qatar?

Damn.

There I was on the phone with the most incompetent person representing the clearing and transport agents behind the delays for our division in receiving units sitting at the ports for days. Paying customers threatening to cancel sales. Sales team members freaking out fearing losing those sales. Managers scrambling to meet their goals before month end just two days away. Our division simply trying to, you know, do business!

It was just me between my division and this incompetent imbecile whom was oblivious to the importance of his work for us. He kept going on and on with this bullshit, one lie after the other in the most unprofessional manner I’ve ever dealt with in my entire working life… I couldn’t take it anymore.

I hold two masters degrees in business, I have multiple years of experience dealing with people of all personalities and here I was unable to take this waste of oxygen anymore. I became the very thing I feared being in my career… unprofessional.

I just held that phone with a tight grip and gave it to this imbecile, cursing and screaming amongst a culture of appropriate and polite manners. “If your fucking company can’t get my shit done on time, I have 20 other cheaper and more competent companies that can! Don’t fucking bullshit me man because I don’t give a fuck! Just. Get. My. Shit. Done. Now! Do you hear me?”

The man on the other line just froze, sniffled and broke down like a two year old kid. He would get it done he said, by the end of the day. I slammed the phone, took a few deep breathes, checked I didn’t break the phone, then placed my hand over my dropped jaw… the entire office within sight had heard every single word I said. I turned around to one of my sales managers applauding me, “YES! It’s about time someone showed them who’s boss! They are always screwing us over!”

I just giggled in disbelief as I whispered, “I made him cry.”

Some had their jaws dropped while others laughed, “you made him cry?!” The rest continued to give me this wide-eyed stare, unsure what to make of me anymore. Conversing what had just happened, this apparently wasn’t the first time these agents had been delaying work fulfillment. They were behind lost deals and damaged goods in the past. Then, my boss called me into his glass office.

Damn.

“What the hell is going on out there?”

“Ummm, I was on the phone with what’s his name trying to figure out what was taking them so long to get our units delivered. And honestly,” I was trying to find that professional lady, she’s here somewhere, I know it. “I couldn’t help it when he started BSing me so I just gave it to him pretty bad till he cried. I know it’s-”

“You mean bitch!”

“Hey!” I responded, that the professional lady was now lost forever, or the rest of the day maybe. “This ‘mean bitch’ just saved your ass there. You’re fucking welcome!”

My boss just laughed, “Good, thanks! Please keep me posted, we need get these units to our customers ASAP. We have to meet our deadline and goals in the next couple of days.”

“We shall, we shall.”

The rest of that day, everyone gave me odd wide-eyed looks. Everyone asked me what happened, whom got the wrath of the American. In a few hours, our work was cleared, units were delivered, everything was good. It shouldn’t have taken me being unprofessional, was the thought at the back of my head. By the end of the day, I was shown an invoiced by one of our accountants, “are we responsible for these fines?”

Of course things didn’t end there, it got worse. The agents had sent us an invoice for their incomplete services, dated days before the shipments even arrived, with fines they racked up leaving our shipments for days at the ports. When I brought this to the management’s attention, they had a fit.

“We need to review all their back invoices.”

“This is a matter of principle.”

“Hala should be in charge of reviewing all these invoices before they go to the accounting department.”

“Right, she deals with them daily, she would be the authority approving whether or not we are responsible for these fines.”

Damn.

A little irked, I shot an email to their head honco on vacation for like the millionth time that if I didn’t get a corrected invoice, they wouldn’t get paid a dirham (thats pennies for you American folk). He of course complied by sending me the imbecil to my office to “clear things up” the next day.

Everyone slyly watched as the guy again started with his bullshit and knowing I might just explode, I took a deep breath and with a loud but very calm tone, “Listen man, don’t fucking start with me again. You guys fucked up and left our units out there for days. You need to own up to that, period.” I found her, I found the professional lady again and this one is awesome! “So you either get me the corrected invoice by the end of the day today or it’s free. Plain and simple, ok?”

He just stared at me and when he teared up, he walked away because he had to “take care of work.” No yelling, no scream, just slightly loud and straight in the face. Professionalism at it’s best, I thought, until I looked around again to the wide-eyed faces. It was official, I was the scary person in the office.

Damn.

“I heard she pushed him against the window, threatening to throw him over if he didn’t get us our stuff.”

“I heard him cry when she yelled at him… why did he even come to the office?”

“I watched her scare him straight while she sat there casually. He’s so much taller than her and he is scared of her. A girl!

“Now she knows how things work in the Middle East.”

Damn.