Planning to leave Qatar is like the boss level at the end of a video game, one where your previous battles with red tape and bureaucracy seem like a picnic compared to what lies ahead. Hopefully you’ve learned everything you need to know to prepare you for it.
Take, for example, one of the most useful lessons I’ve learned (repeatedly, the hard way) during my time here: Always remember to ask ‘…and then what?’
In general, administrators here – and those with what you might charitably call a limited scope of responsibility – have little interest in your next steps in a process. Usually, their only concern is their specific area of responsibility, and nothing else.
So if you have to get a stamp from a particular department, they can help you with that; but what generally doesn’t follow is any further information of the “…and then you need to go to X to do Y, but they only open between 4 and 5pm on Tuesday afternoon” variety.
You have to prize this information out like a pearl from its shell; every time, from every interaction. Hence “…and then what?”
For example: because the kids will be moving to another school within the GCC, they need to provide something called a Transfer Certificate.
To get this certificate, I have to get a form from their current school signed off by their teachers, the library (to say they owe nothing) and the finance department (to say we owe nothing).
That’s not all, folks
But wait, there’s more. The UAE’s rules means that I have to get my certificates attested by the government. Here in Qatar that means a trip to see Supreme Education Council’s (SEC) Attestation Unit (yes, there really is such a thing; it’s on C Ring Rd). What they won’t do is attest a post-dated certificate, however, so that will have to wait until after the end of term.
You’d think these would be enough steps to go through, but I remembered to follow my own advice and asked the school’s admissions officer “…and then what?”
Turns out that, as well as visiting the SEC, it might also be worth getting a stamp from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are, of course, on the other side of the city from us in the diplomatic quarter in West Bay.
(Luckily, someone else has trod that particular path before me and shared the details of how you get this done. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks if it worked or not.)
Put it this way, she said, it’ll be a minor hassle to get the stamp while you’re here. If you don’t, and it’s needed, imagine the hassle of having to fly in for the day from the UAE just to get a document stamped. Which is a fair point.
(The same also applies to police clearance certificates, which say you’ve not been in any trouble while you’ve been here, assuming you haven’t been in any trouble while you’ve been here. You may not need one in order to leave the country, but a new employer might ask for one and getting it once you’re outside the country is far from simple.)
And that’s just for the kids, who’ve left a very limited paper trail in their time here. Mrs LC’s equivalent process to leave her employer makes that look like a walk in the park.
Exit stage left
Of course, we have accidentally found ourselves moving at pretty much the worst time of year. International schools are finishing their academic years; non-working parents are flying away from the heat with their kids, and contracts are coming to an end, some less voluntarily than others.
Everybody wants to be done and out of here and now the wheels turn slower with the reduced hours for government departments now that Ramadan has begun. (New in town? Want to know what Ramadan means as an expat? Check out my Ramadan for Newbies post).
The second-hand car market here – which always favoured buyers – has gone into, er, overdrive. Qatar Living, the site whose classified section remains the number one source of used cars, is reporting a four-fold increase in the number of car ads being placed compared to this time last year.
(Our two cars have been listed on three different sites for over a week. Total number of even the vaguest of enquiries for both of them, combined: zero.)
So now we are investigating the cost / hassle ratio of shipping our cars with us when we go. At least our move ‘down the road’ means this is even an option for us. Many returning expats are forced to sell at cut down prices before they leave.
A neighbour tells of a friend of theirs, looking to sell their car for QR40,000 and accepting just QR24,000 for it – and their story is far from unique.
But amongst all the admin and paperwork, our most important job can’t just be itemised on a list and ticked off – and that’s keeping the kids on an even keel while we pack up their world around them.
The past week has brought home the reality of what’s happening to them both, with each expressing in their own way the entirely natural worries and thoughts they have – I’ll miss my friends, I’m worried I won’t make new friends – while daily life carries on around them.
Deep down they know that their worries aren’t going to change the fact that we’re leaving, but that doesn’t negate those feelings.
Kid A at least has the memories of moving here aged 8 to draw on; she’s ending primary school, and in Doha a lot of her friends are also switching schools, moving countries or returning ‘home’. She would have been moving schools within Doha even if we’d stayed, so she was already preparing for big changes in the months ahead.
Amnesiac doesn’t quite have the same frame of reference, having last done this as a five-year-old. Being younger, male and quietly sensitive, he finds it harder to articulate what’s on his mind. Instead, his worries manifest themselves as acting up or a seeming refusal to accept what’s going on.
(“I don’t want to do that,” he said the other day, brandishing a flyer from school about sports clubs for the new academic year, completely ignoring the fact that he’s not going to be here even if he had wanted to take part.)
But the kids are a constant reminder (as if we needed it) of why we’re doing this – to try and give them better options for their future than if we’d stayed in the UK – but those are slippery concepts for the children to grasp, no matter how clued up they are.
Frustrating, slow and difficult it may be, but this is really happening.