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How to end your UAE or Qatar debt nightmare

Bearded man in a suit, ponting angrily at an old fashioned landline telephone
Crippling. But can you escape?

Irresponsible lending

Every expat knows the story. On any given workday you may receive upwards of five calls from loan and card agents aggressively trying to sell you credit. Westerners are used to banks being cautious when given loans and cards but this is not the case in the Middle East. The highest risk countries are currently the UAE and Qatar.

The UAE has a different approach to lending. If you will accept the loan, then they will give it to you. Minimal questions are asked, and even less checks as to your ability to make the payments are made. They don’t need to lend responsibly because they can literally throw you in jail for an unlimited time for missing payments. Even those not jailed are given a travel ban, meaning they can never leave Dubai until the debt is paid in full. Paradoxically, they are not allowed to work in the UAE, because of the police case for the debt. If they can’t work, then how can they pay their debt?

With rent needing to be paid a whole year in advance, expensive school fees and the other high financial outlays that come with life in the UAE, most expats give in to the pressure and accept the credit.

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Plans disrupted

In general, expats borrow within their ability to meet the repayments. They know the dire consequences for non payment but life can throw curveballs. People are made redundant, fall ill or their circumstances otherwise change, making payment difficult or impossible.

In the West, struggling customers would speak to their banks and work out a plan to restructure the loan. In the UAE they pack up quietly in the night and head for safety, fully intending to renegotiate but from outside of the “danger zone”. They want to pay but without a metaphorical gun to their heads.

Fury unleashed

The banks at this point often shun all pretence of reasonable behaviour. They can refuse to negotiate, instead demanding immediate, full payment of the outstanding loan.

They engage UAE based debt collection agents (DCAs) who can threaten, harass (you, your family, your new employers, and even your clients and customers) and make your life a misery. These DCAs even sometimes engage Interpol to chase unpaid loan or credit card debt. The aim is to have the debt victim arrested overseas or extradited back into the clutches of the UAE and jailed until a family member sells a property to pay the outstanding amount.

The banks also employ ruthless UK based debt collection agencies, who are actually able to enforce loans that would sometimes not even have been approved in the UK, and apply laws that would not be permitted in our country; Such as a full 15 year statute of limitations, instead of the 6 allowed in the UK.

What next?

At this point you are treading a tightrope. Not engaging with, or ignoring the UAE creditors can enrage them and cause them to become more and more aggressive. On the other hand, trying to deal with them and show willingness can encourage them to think they have an easy target in their sights. They can turn up the heat, believing that their tactics are about to yield a payoff.

Many UAE debt collectors work without a basic wage, and only get paid a percentage of whatever they can persuade a debtor to pay that month. If they think they “smell blood” they can intensify their efforts.

Ignoring UK DCAs can allow them legal avenues to gain judgements by default. However, communicating with them opens you up to the possibility of inadvertently saying or doing something that can jeopardise your position legally.

Debtors who have left the the Gulf are at significant risk of being subjected to an Interpol Red Notice which can lead to their detention abroad. This risk can be mitigated and steps can be taken to prevent this occurence.

So what DO I do?

Don’t talk to them, but don’t ignore them seems like contrary advice. To clarify: engagement is essential, but only if you have a solid understanding of the UAE debt universe and international debt law. Also (this is very important), you need nerves of steel. By this we mean, you need to be able to cope with stress and recognise when you are being emotionally manipulated, versus when the threats are real.

Unless you have experience in this field it is infinitely better to get help and advice from people who do.

Every case is different, so there is no “one size fits all” strategy that can be thrown at every UAE debt case. What you need to do is get your facts straight, including an approximate timeline of events, the amount of banks involved, the amount of total debt, and the amount of separate cards and loans involved.

When you have the above information as accurately as you can muster, then get in touch with an organisation like ourselves at Detained in Dubai. We (or an organisation like us) can then help you determine the best path forward, estimate your best outcome and help you prepare to escape the situation with the minimal possible stress and damage to your finances, mental wellbeing, relationships, career and everything else affected by the situation.


Detained in Doha is an NGO formed by expert Radha Stirling to assist people who have become victims of injustice in Qatar.

Detained in Dubai was founded in 2008 by UAE expert witness Radha Stirling, the international authority on UAE law. Advisory to government, high profile clientele, leading $1bn litigations, PR expert, reputation management, litigation support, crisis management.


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