Starting from the early 2000s, Dubai began to create a world-wide buzz. It had something to do with the opening of the Burj Al Arab hotel at the end of 1999; then there was the Dubai Cup, which suddenly started attracting international attention as the world’s richest horse race. And finally, there was the emergence onto the international scene of Emirates Airline and the new Dubai International Airport (DXB) as major players in the global travel business.
This awareness that “something exciting was happening out there in Gulf” didn’t happen overnight, but went from a whisper at the start of 1999 to a deafening shout by 2003. During those years, the expatriate population flooding into Dubai went from an exciting wave to almost tsunami-like proportions. So what exactly moves these legions of opportunity-seekers to uproot and relocate?
The salaries are good…
That goes without saying. We’ve all done the numbers game and the bottom-line, expressed in dollars and cents, or pounds, shillings and pence looked sufficiently attractive for us to take the plunge.
The salary magnet factor applies to all the expats working in Dubai or other parts of the Middle East. Even the labourers from the Indian sub-continent, whose monthly wages and living conditions have pained the consciences of many residents are doing better than they could possibly have done in Pakistan or India or Bangladesh.
For the frugal, the cost of living in the late 1990s and early 2000s was considerably lower than in the UK, the EU countries, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. It’s more expensive now, but it’s still OK, provided you don’t follow one of Charles Dickens’ famous characters and get into a Micawber-like lifestyle where you manage to spend twenty shillings and sixpence for every pound you earn. There are plenty who manage to do this, encouraged by the luxurious temptations and easy credit available.
…and there’s no tax.
That’s right; so even if you are earning exactly the same amount net per month as you would be in your home country, you are better off by the percentage of your salary that would normally either go directly to the taxman, or have to be paid at the end of the financial year. To put that bluntly, it is not unusual to be 50% better off in the UAE than working at home.
Now, I should add that while no tax is deducted, or due to be paid to the government in Dubai, there may well be implications for you when you eventually relocate home again, so seek professional advice on future tax implications before heading off and slapping a down-payment on a Bentley Continental.
As at this time of writing, the UAE government does not have reciprocal tax agreements with other countries and probably won’t tell how much you have earned if asked. But that doesn’t mean the taxman at home won’t want to know what’s been going on. And if you don’t have a clear and transparent strategy to deal with this, you may be placed in the uncomfortable position of being presented with an estimated tax bill instead. And that’s the taxman’s estimation of how much you probably owe, not what you think you should pay. You should always remember who’s holding the trump cards in the pack at this time.
Up the corporate ladder you go! But watch out for snakes
You can progress in your chosen career path very quickly in the UAE if you are hard-working and able. Sometimes you can progress further than you ever dreamed possible. That’s because the expat work force in the UAE is transient.
There’s not the same waiting around for seniors to retire or die; they go home instead, often after just a few years. There’s also quite a bit of corporate lateral moving which takes place. You make your mark in your field, and you’ll pretty quickly find yourself hearing of opportunities in related areas, with associated financial incentives to make the move.
But don’t forget that others will be hungrily eyeing your job as well. Make a mistake or annoy the wrong person and it can all end very abruptly. There are no unions or professional bodies that will safeguard your rights like they will at home.
Bigger and better houses than back home
In most cases, if you compare what your Dubai housing budget would get you by way of rental accommodation in London, Paris, New York or maybe even Auckland, you are better off in all cases in Dubai. Bigger, roomier, far more facilities and spaces. It is not uncommon in the mid-range housing to have maid’s bedrooms and bathrooms, in addition to bedrooms and bathrooms for family members. This is true of apartments as well as villas.
To put this into context, a two-bedroomed plus study villa at the Arabian Ranches – a well-regarded expat gated community off the E311 highway – currently rents for around AED 160000 annually. Translate that into your home currencies and check home real-estate rental prices to compare what that would get you.
But don’t forget to look closely at the pictures in the link provided to see what it gets you here. Note the two full bathrooms, the large toilet downstairs for visitors, the store room, in addition to the living room, dining area and kitchen. Also, note the garden (looked after by a gardener at little expense).
The peculiar demographic of Dubai and the rest of the UAE, is that as a percentage of the total population, UAE nationals barely amount to 20%. This means that the vast majority of the people you will be mixing with will also be fellow expats, from all corners of the globe. While there will be plenty of opportunities to meet and mix with your fellow countryfolk, I truly believe you are missing a great opportunity to increase your own global awareness and understanding of other cultures if you restrict yourself just to fellow Brits, or Kiwis or Canadians or whatever.
I can think of one young expat who has started his own business here. During his university years, his close friends on campus were a tight-knit little group consisting of an Italian (with an Egyptian father), a Serb, an Egyptian, a Pakistani and an Iranian (with a French mother). They have remained good friends getting on for ten years later, and oh yes, there have been some inter-cultural weddings!
The crime rate in Dubai is very low. In eight years, I have not seen a single incident of violence, or threatened violence anywhere. Your homes are also safe: break-ins or home invasions just about unheard of. Read about it for yourselves in The Courts section of the daily Gulf News.
Outdoor activities all year round
Most expats regard Dubai as having a year-round summer climate; it’s just that some periods are more summery than others. That means that the swimming pools – and many of the villas expats live in either have their own, or share a larger pool with a group of dwellings – are in business almost all year round. The same applies to the sea: I tend to be less keen in the cooler months of December and January, but it’s still warmer than the sea in a lot of European locations in full summer!
Barbecues in the back-yard all year round? Yes indeed, though the humidity in the summer months might actually send you indoors to do the actual eating.
Rugby? Football? For sure, but again, in the hotter months, practises and even the games themselves take place after dark, but under full floodlit conditions. You will have to accustom yourselves to the humidity for any of the more physical sporting activities though.
Your gateway to the world
No matter where you are from, Dubai is an incredibly convenient hub to visit other places in holiday times. If you are British or European, you are just seven or eight hours away from most destinations in South East Asia, fourteen hours from Australia. If you’re an Australian or a Kiwi, Europe is just six to seven hours away.
No one from the southern latitudes would dream of heading to Europe if they had only a week of holiday time, but from here, it’s all perfectly possible. Long weekend? India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Maldives: they’re all within easy reach and you have lots of competition in the airline industry keen to take you there.
The glamour factor
I’ve left this one until last, but I hinted at it in the introduction. Simply put, Dubai remains the coolest destination in the Middle East, arguably the world. Apart from the glamorous hotels, the polo and the fashion outlets, celebrities flock here, and fashion designers and top watch/jewelry brands have major launches here to which you may be invited.
There’s a bit of competition coming from Doha and by rights, Abu Dhabi should be able to show Dubai a clean pair of heels, because Abu Dhabi can simply outspend all the other six Emirates put together – including Dubai. But so far at least, Dubai remains supreme. It was the name that captured everyone’s attention first and it will take quite a while for it to lose that allure and appeal.