Welcome to the resource page for Canadians moving back from Arabia! Here you will find useful information, and tips from other Canadians, specific to your return from the Arabian Gulf region.
The main Moving Back to Canada resource page has links to a full set of resources for you to access, so be sure to check it out as well.
This resource page has a special place in my heart: We spent 6-1/2 years in the UAE before returning to Canada. I will always remember my time in Arabia as some of my favourite years in life. And when a diplomatic uproar broke out between Saudi Arabia and Canada in 2018, I felt it personally. To me, the Saudi students having to leave Canada was an incident I had a personal connection to, because I taught many Saudi students myself over the years - some of whom have become my friends.
Yes, I know that the reality of life for expatriate Canadians, Brits, Americans, Aussies, Lebanese, Indians, and the millions of "workers" from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and other countries is different from what the average Arab citizen experience. However, the feeling of life moving forward and progress happening in the UAE and other parts of Arabia is infectious for most people living there - Arabs and expatriates alike.
Colleagues, clients, friends, and business contacts in Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait reflect that they are also in the region to build better lives, and they do sense some of the same energy in their countries that I felt in the UAE.
What is the experience like transitioning from Arabia back to Canada? Needless to say, returning to Canada is quite a big shift. The longer you live in Arabia, the more striking the differences. Some are pleasant differences, some are unpleasant. And of course whether you experience these differences as pleasant or unpleasant depends largely on individual lifestyle preferences and personal values.
Challenges (or not!):
Summary: Arabia is very different from Canada in terms of lifestyle, geography, weather, and many other variables. Taking the time to look carefully at both the positives and the challenges as they apply to your particular context, and doing so well ahead of a move back, can set you up for a successful new life in Canada.
Because Canada and Arabia are so far away from each other, moving your belongings becomes a significant question. Here are some considerations:
Most people have to decide if they are going to return with their full household of furniture and belongings or only their personal effects.
A full household? Plan to use a 20' or 40' sea container ("sea can"). Most of Arabia imports more than they export by sea container. Having an empty container delivered to your villa or flat, getting it packed, and then sending it by ship to Canada is very common and relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of doing so in western countries. Another benefit of a sea container is that you lock the container yourself and unlock it in Canada. No-one but you has access to the contents. It is a very satisfying "click" when you lock it yourself!
Note: A sea container can take 30-60+ days to reach the port in Canada (east or west coast) where it will be taken off the ship and put on a train or truck. Plan accordingly for this time frame.
If you plan on shipping a smaller set of personal effects, you can use a "less than a container load" ("LCL") shipment method, which is usually just a bunch of boxes on a shipping pallet and the whole thing shrink-wrapped. This is a much less expensive shipping method than a whole sea container, but it may take longer and your belongings are not as secure as with a sea container. Be sure to NOT ship anything valuable if you use this method!
Finally, a third method - and the one we used when returning from our first expat experience - was to air freight a few boxes with us on the plane when we left, in addition to our suitcases. This was surprisingly modest in cost and we had the benefit of our belongings arriving with us and being able to pick them up the next day. But this method only works if you have only a few boxes.
Household goods moving companies make most of their profits on two parts of the process: Packing and insurance. Which is why, of course, their salespeople push you to pay for both if you are shipping your belongings with a sea container. And they can sometimes tell you that you can't get insurance unless their staff pack the container (not true!) From my experience, you can pack the container yourself and skip the insurance, unless you have valuable and fragile antiques, for example. The odds of something bad happening are quite low and I have heard that those very few people who have put in an insurance claim on something broken have not been satisfied by the insurance company process or payout.
If your move back to Canada is paid for by your employer, pay for packing and insurance. Why not? It is not your money. If you are paying for your own move, or receive a fixed amount for the move in cash and have the time and energy, have a container delivered to your building or villa, hire some help for a few hours, and pack the container yourself. You can save quite a bit this way and have the emotional satisfaction of locking your container yourself once it is packed. A nice secure feeling.
One of the key questions clients ask me is whether to sell their overseas real estate holdings when they move back to Canada. While there are many experts who can advise them, there are a lot of motivations that these experts bring to the discussion. A real estate agent? "Sell it!" (because I make a commission on the sale). A financial advisor? "Sell it!" (and invest the funds in my high-fee mutual funds!) Friends? "Keep it! Prices will be going up!" (we don't know this, but really hope this will happen because we own real estate and want it to go up!).
All different perspectives and different motivations.
I take a different perspective in working with my clients. My central question:
"What is right for you, at this stage of your life, for your overall investment and savings picture, and for what your life will look like in Canada in the future?"
I can do this because I have no conflict-of-interest, hidden agenda, or knowledge-based bias. I am only interested in what is best for my clients, given their context, goals, and needs.
Here are some factors that may help you with your "keep" or "sell" considerations:
Check out the related resource on this site: Buying real estate in Canada.
Converting and sending your money to Canada is pretty straightforward, but also requires some care to ensure you are getting the best exchange rate. Moving gold and investments requires even more care. Here are some thoughts that may help:
Banks and credit unions in Canada made over CAD $42 billion in profits in 2020. Do you know why? Because they capitalize on peoples fears and inability to understand and act on options available to them. One example is exchanging and transferring funds across borders. Banks charge the highest fees for the privilege of them doing your foreign exchange.
When you are sending large sums of money home from Arabia in preparation of your return, the fees can add up to thousands of dollars. And these fees are usually hidden in the "exchange rate" you are given. The price for "trust" you pay when doing a bank-to-bank exchange and transfer of funds is very high.
Another option exists! Consider the use of a foreign exchange company to do your currency exchanges and transfers to Canada. You can save yourself lots of money! Check out some options, with testimonials from other returning Canadians, on the Transferring Money and Foreign Exchange page of this site.
Transferring money from the UAE, specifically, to Canada? Check out the tip in the UAE section, below, from a Canadian who shared his experience.
"Can we bring $350,000 in gold bars with us on the plane from Dubai to Toronto?"
This is a real question I received some years ago.
The answer: Yes.
My suggestion: No.
If you have a lot of gold and expensive jewellery to be brought back to Canada, I strongly suggest the use of a specialized "bullion" and valuables courier company. They have the expertise and security systems in place for such international movements and your risk of theft will be zero compared with bringing valuables with you on the plane.
This is a more complicated question and one that requires a bit more digging for information on your part. If you have your funds locked into a high-fee investment scheme, you may not be able to move your securities at all. If you have bonds or stocks invested through a broker in Arabia or offshore somewhere else you may be able to transfer them to a broker in Canada. And finally, if you have securities investments with an American broker, you must transfer them to Canada when you return to Arabia. Canadian residents cannot have broker accounts in the U.S. I found out the hard way when I was unceremoniously booted from E*Trade in the U.S. when I returned from the UAE to Canada.
Most important question: Check into your rights, options, and the tradeoffs of those options now, as you begin your preparations for moving back to Canada. It may take some thought, research, and time to move securities investments to Canada...or to cash them out instead and simply move the money to Canada.
The school system in Canada is very different from that of most schools in Arabia, private or public. Over the years many Canadians living in Arabia have engaged my professional support with questions of moving their children to the Canadian education system (young, teens, or entering post-secondary). I do have some inside expertise as I have been a university faculty member for 14 years here in Canada and was also closely involved in the K-12 education environment, too. Some considerations:
Transitioning younger children to the Canadian school system is the simplest age range to work with. Whether your children are attending a British, American, or an International public school in Arabia, the stakes are pretty low in terms of grades and adjustment when moving them to Canada. They are young enough to transition easily. Social adjustment is the central question you generally work with. Children under 12 are usually pretty easy to move to a Canadian public school, which is the choice of most people moving back.
This is the age range that presents the most challenge socially and emotionally. They have been going to school with friends for some time now and moving them to a completely different country, system, and social milieu is hard on them. Care must be taken to ensure the move is done with lots of lead time, care, and support for your teenager(s).
"When we moved back to Canada my sister and I cried for a year. We didn't want to leave."
Grades are also starting to become a challenge if your teenager is closing in on the all-important grade 12 scores, which are the grades that determine entry into post-secondary and access to scholarships. In general, moving a teen during grade 11 or 12 is by far the hardest time to move them back to Canada.
Paradoxically, young adults are generally happy to be one their way when they graduate high school abroad and anticipate entering post-secondary studies in Canada. At this age, and before they leave, the challenges I have heard about are all experiences their parents are having with them leaving! The parents are very concerned as to how their son or daughter will apply for and get into a good university in Canada. In addition to this concern is "how does my son/daughter get scholarships?"
See the University and College in Canada page of this web site for more information and support for teenagers and the Canadian higher education system.
Please note that preparing your teenager to succeed in a Canadian university or college and in a life on their own is a very important thing to do. The reasons are detailed in the University and College in Canada page. From the stories I have heard in recent years and personally witnessed I cannot underestimate the importance of preparing your teenager ahead of time for life on their own.
One final note: Researching and applying for college and university in Canada takes time from abroad. Be sure to begin the process mid-way through grade 11 if entry in September of the year they graduate is desired. 18 months ahead is a good time to really dig into college and university entry planning for people living in Arabia.
The health care system in Canada is quite different that of all countries in Arabia. While many Canadian nurses and doctors work in Arabia, they do so in systems that operate with principles and practices that are "westernized", "local" or a mix of the two.
Understanding these differences is important if you are retiring to Canada, have chronic or worrying health concerns, or have medications you wish to ensure continuity of when you move back to Canada.
Key differences include how you access health care, how procedures are handled and paid for, how medication is accessed and paid for, and the general philosophy towards health care.
The central concern Canadians moving back know about is the 3 month waiting period that is required in several provinces, including BC and ON. This is generally an easy problem to solve: Most people pay for a "visitor to Canada" health insurance plan from Blue Cross or CAA/BCAA. These plans cover returning Canadians as well as visitors.
I have created a dedicated resource page to help Canadians returning from the U.S. understand the health care system here. Even though this is targeted at Canadians living there, it will also be useful for Canadians living in Arabia:
Health Care in Canada - How Canada's health care system is different from the U.S. system.
Moving back from the UAE can be the easiest of all the countries in the region. From the experiences with several clients and my own experience moving back twice, the UAE has the most sophisticated logistics system for moving your household goods, the easiest bureaucracy to navigate for exiting the country, and the most friendly financial system. This does not mean that everything will be easy, just that you may be able to move back to Canada more easily than from other places in Arabia.
A key recommendation: Seek referrals and experiences of other expatriates and company HR offices as to the best moving company to use when returning from the UAE. The company we used was "Leader Pack". They did a great job. And a funny story:
A few years ago a moving truck pulled up to my condominium building here in Canada. In the open door were boxes. As I walked by, I had a moment of deja vu: The boxes were labeled "Leader Pack". It was a couple of teachers and their son returning from Al Ain, moving into my building. We have since chatted many times. They love being back in Canada.
Another company to consider is INCHCAPE. They are a shipping company primarily, however they do household goods moves. G. Miller shares his experience in 2020 using them to move from Abu Dhabi to British Columbia:
The shipping experience was trouble free. The great relief to me was that shipping by boat is based on volume, not weight. Depending on how fast one wants delivery, there is the option of sharing a container. INCHCAPE did a great job from estimate to packing, delivery, and set up. The most important thing for the [Canadian] government was to have the shipping contents list (prepared by the company) ready on arrival in Canada and again when the goods arrive. Since Kamloops [BC] is an international airport we cleared customs in mere minutes when the shipment reached us, right on time, 90 days after leaving Abu Dhabi.
Per the earlier note on transferring and exchanging funds not through your bank, here is a story from a person who returned to Canada from the UAE:
For anyone coming from the UAE specifically, I found that UAE Exchange was the quickest and most economical place I could go to transfer my money back to my Canadian account. The UAE banks have pretty high fees in comparison and can take a while. UAE Exchange made it pretty simple.
- Thank you, Mr. D. Nichols for sharing your experience!
Note: I heard in June 2020 that UAE Exchange, a commonly used foreign exchange firm that is quoted above, had problems with fraud and the UAE Government had to intervene. My client who shared this got his money back, but noted that with the exodus of expatriates from the UAE taking place in 2020 life is a bit more uncertain in the country. Suggestion: Use a Canadian or UK foreign exchange firm instead (see the Transferring Money and Foreign Exchange page on this web site for companies my clients use and trust).
I have had several clients who have moved back to Canada from Qatar in recent times. Their central concerns were timing of their move back, logistics, and financial.
Ken T. generously shares his knowledge and guidance from his preparations for leaving Qatar as he moved back to Canada:
Exit permit is required to leave country
Usually supplied by your company giving you authorization to leave. It means they are satisfied that you have not debts or other issues.
Ensure all company items are returned such as company laptops, ID’s, keys, etc.
Resignation and Bank information
When you resign, your company most likely will inform your bank. Your bank will then ensure you have no loans and your credit cards have no debt. If you do, you will not get your exit permit as they have to be cleared first. Your bank may even freeze your credit cards when they are notified. Be prepared not to have active credit cards after you resign. It is best to cancel your credit cards before you resign and have cash to look after your day to day living.
You may have to give up to three months notice depending on your contract. Once you resign, they will not allow you an exit permit until you leave for good. This means do not expect to travel outside the country for the three months.
Ensure you resign on a positive note with your company. If for instance you don’t give them proper notice, they may deny your exit. They may also withhold any amount of money owed to you at their discretion. The company and country is always right. Usually your company will have a check list of items you need to clear before they sign off.
Your in country personal bank account may be used to pay any possible debts you may have or someone may think you have. An example of this is that your landlord suddenly feels you owe him for damages to your villa that you did not do. For this reason, it is best you remove all money from your account before you resign. You should have just your day to day living amount in it. This will ensure you are in charge of your money.
Your Residents & Utilities
Amazingly your landlord and utility company also gets notification of your departure. Ensure your resident is completely paid and you have had your villa inspected for damages and paid and received your clearance. Same for all utilities as you will need to cancel and get a letter saying you owe nothing. If you do not do this, you will be denied your exit. This includes cable TV, Internet, phone packages, villa utilities, etc.
Ensure you have paid off your car loan and sold your car. Again make sure you have all the paperwork. Speeding violations also need to be cleared as you will be denied leaving the country if you have outstanding tickets. Ensure you get a driving record from your insurer.
Your company will cancel your resident permit. This will require you surrendering your passport to them while they process this. This may take up to 2 weeks. Exiting the Country pre-maturely
You may get out of the country on a holiday and decide you will not return because you have outstanding loans. This generally is not a good idea because they do try to track you down. And you may also never travel through the middle east as your name is on a watch list.
Alcohol Permit You need to cancel your alcohol permit if you have one. And obviously you can not take any alcohol out of the country.
Sea shipments take about 3 months from the middle east. Plan ahead and complete this before you resign. An air shipment is also available and it is cheaper to air freight it if you have 10 boxes or less.
My clients from Saudi Arabia have a common element to their moves back to Canada: Their employer pays for and arranges their move. This has long been the case for oil industry employees and their families, who live on the "compounds" that everyone has heard about, but it is also true of teachers, health care specialists, and other professionals.
I bring this up because unlike a move back to Canada from the UAE, where you can arrange your move and handle all the paperwork yourself, clients in Saudi Arabia have had their employer help them arrange and navigate the move because the system is not as streamlined as the UAE, for example.
In late 2020 and in 2021 my clients moving back from Saudi Arabia have consistently noted that "things are changing here". The oil industry is going through changes, the economy of Saudi Arabia is changing, nationalization of the workforce continues, and the society is changing. These changes are not necessarily in and of themselves "bad" but are accelerating the plans of many expats to return to their home countries, including those moving back to Canada.
What are your thoughts on life as an expat in Saudi Arabia and if and when you might consider moving back? Please share your considerations! (Thank you!)
Oman is a quiet country. You hear very little on the public stage about what goes on in Oman. This does not mean that nothing does, just that it seems to quietly go about its business with little attention from the world.
Moving back from Oman has not posed Canadians any significant challenges that I have heard about. Can you add your thoughts?
Clients moving back from Kuwait have had mixed experiences of living there and moving back due to the war there and reconstruction that followed. That was now some time ago, and Canadians now living in Kuwait and moving back do not seem to face and significant barriers and concerns. Can you add your thoughts to this topic?
Please share your ideas, considerations, and experiences relating to returning to Canada from Arabia. I will post them here as help for others. Along with a credit to you will be a big thank you on behalf of the many people you will be helping!
Latest update to this page: April 2021