You can check out, but you can (maybe) never leave

In every travel or expat experience, there comes a time to leave. And some places make leaving easier than others.

For me, getting out of Abu Dhabi, where I’d worked for five years, was by far tougher than any of my other conscious uncouplings (which, on a scale of rising difficulty, have been from England, Scotland, Thailand, Hong Kong and China).

Even a couple of months staying in, and my exit from, Belarus, were easier to negotiate (thanks to a local who helped with the paperwork, though even she sometimes couldn’t tell me what it was for and my why it was required).

In my previous expat experiences, I was able, more or less, to walk straight out of leased premises and straight on to a plane.

In Abu Dhabi, I had to spend a couple of weeks in a hotel because the fact that I had left my flat had to be verified not just by the landlord, but by the utility companies and my employer.

I also had to offer my employer, and the government, proof that I had paid out any debt I might have had.

Now this may all seem quite reasonable, and it is. What was not reasonable was the time it all took.

Rather than each agency being independent and responsible for ensuring my compliance, as is the case elsewhere, each step relies on another being completed before it can begin. In some cases, I believe, you can get into a Catch 22 situation of not having one document because you don’t have the document you need to get the document you need to get.

The bank alone took well over a month to accomplish the very simple task of closing my credit card and verifying that I did not owe any money. Not for the last time, I encountered people who were unwilling to help even though what was required of them was a very simple and very common task. The bloke behind the desk at the bank headquarters wanted me to go away and do it over the phone.

While all this is designed to ensure that the expat leaves the country with no liabilities, what it actually achieves is to make honest people of good will jump through hoops and spend more money on such things as hotel accommodation, takeaway meals and prolonged goodbyes while each agency takes its good  time to acknowledge the aforesaid expat’s genuine efforts to do the right thing.

What the dishonest people — and I’ve met one or two of them — do is a runner.

They leave the country without satisfying any of the official requirements, and — or so I am told — they rarely get hold to account. In many cases, they simply abandon their stuff for somebody else to sort out, including huge amounts of debt that is never repaid.

I would never do that, but I can understand where some of the are coming from.

When a person literally has just one job to do and can’t be bothered to do it, then there’s a problem that informs the UAE’s efforts to build a strong and sustainable post-oil economy.

I had a great time living in the UAE and I have some wonderful friends there,  but leaving left a bitter taste.

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