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The expat dilemma: ‘Should I stay or should I go?’

The expat dilemma: ‘Should I stay or should I go?’

Analysts are bullish on the UAE economy. But for many expatriates, the decision to stay or head home depends on complex cultural and personal issues, and not just financial concerns.

April 27, 2010 3:44 by

Despite the turmoil of the financial crisis and Dubai’s debt problems, analysts are bullish on the UAE. Investor confidence has posted marked gains following the announcement of Dubai World’s restructuring proposal, and the Emirates as a whole is now seen as an economic bright spot in the region.

The net effect has been a boost in business confidence, which makes for reassuring news for nationals and expats alike. SHUAA Capital last week announced a “dramatic, positive change in investor sentiment towards the UAE,” according to the results of their GCC Investor Sentiment Index. Words like “sustained market recovery” and “driver of sentiment” were used to describe the upbeat attitude about the Emirates.

In light of the reassuring news, many expats who were considering moving home are again grappling with financial, personal, and lifestyle questions related to staying on in the region.

Of course, many have already left the country. Miriam, a 30-something architect from Beirut, opted against renewing her contract with a UAE firm, choosing instead to return home. “It just didn’t make sense economically to be paying such high rents,” she told Kipp.

Others have been put off making a move to the UAE. Amy, an American working in Lebanon, told Kipp that she decided not to take a contract in Dubai because of lifestyle issues. “For me it’s the lack of pubs, nightclubs, and ambience. It can’t compare to what we enjoy here,” she says.

But millions of foreigners remain in the UAE (expats account for more than 80 percent of the population) and thousands more arrive every week. They are drawn by numerous factors, ranging from the salaries on offer and the lack of income tax, to the lifestyle and culture.

Here are some of the issues – good and bad – cited by expats pondering the question, ‘should I stay or should I go?’

Do you live in the UAE? What are your impressions of expat life? Have your say by submitting a comment below.


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  1. DEV ANAND on April 27, 2010 7:20 pm

    My opinion is stay in UAE. This country is excellent, better than any other/comparable ones with very less
    crime rates, lesser descriminations, good salaries (with no taxes on income), good people respect the
    expats, comfortable & very safe. I live here for last 27 years, now has to leave with tears (since retired)

  2. Sally on April 28, 2010 8:18 am

    After all expats are guests here though guests who have to work for their living and living costs of others. In a environment that fosters glamor and riches there are lot of sacrifices guests put up with. Wise decision is to pack up and lead a normal respectful life in a non artificial society. Making a living is not the same as making a life.

  3. Ailsa on April 28, 2010 8:37 am

    For those of us fortunate enough to still have stable jobs, the answer surely has to be stay! Coming from the UK the lifestyle we have here is vastly different. In the UK, okay we have more freedom but with that comes taxes, crime, chavs, dodgy weather, recession, lack of jobs etc etc
    Many people complain about Dubai but it still holds a great deal of pluses for us. The weather, the friends we have, the glitz and glamour, the different cultures. We plan to retire (very early ;)) to the med in 4 years time, by then it will be 8 years we have spent here, 8 (hopefully) wonderful years.

  4. Miss Anne Thropic on April 28, 2010 9:11 am

    Lesser discriminations? Jobs are filled based on nationality, with lesser pay for certain nationalities, and it is even legal to specify nationality if you have an apartment to rent out.

    And it is sad that someone who has lived here for 27 years and no doubt worked hard and made a positive contribution to the UAE cannot retire here if they wish.

    I am looking forward to moving on from here soon after almost five years. I’m even looking forward to paying taxes again – with taxes come rights.

  5. Andrew on April 28, 2010 9:58 am

    There’s a million reasons why I might want to move somewhere else, but when you’ve lived in a city (Abu Dhabi, in my case) longer than anywhere else and most of your friends are here – you kinda get attached.

    I will jump ship eventually, but only when I finally decide I’ve tired of life here and it holds nothing else for me. Unlike some who come here for their careers, I could be earning loads more if I went to a major western city, but I don’t fancy the (additional, non-work) stress and/or commute that usually entails.

  6. Bob on April 28, 2010 12:15 pm

    Been here 4 years and the happiest day will be when I am on a qone-way flight out of here with all the money I made. You don’t live here you just exist here.

  7. Junky on April 29, 2010 1:40 am

    Look at all the prostitutes here willingly selling themselves to a place they hate just to make a quick buck!

    If you’re in a place for a few years, you should either like it and stay there, or hate it and get out. There is no grey area.

    Finally, I think it is silly to say that with taxes come rights. What sort of rights do you think you have in the US where an electoral college does the voting for you? what right do you think you have when you need a budget of millions in order to voice your issue? You call that rights? I call you a blind sheep.

  8. DENISE-THE-MENACE-ONCE-AGAIN on April 29, 2010 7:44 am

    Can we not try to LIVE at least a bit , and not just exist…(Bob??)

    I think its a false premise that you spend couple of years of your ‘youthful’ middle years thinking you;re just existing (for money, or whatever reason…) and will make an effort at LIVING later on… We all can , and should, try to put efforts to make our today more meaningful than Bob’s idea…Take care of today and tomorrow will take (good) care of itself…

    Hope someone thinks twice on reading this…And hey, have a good weekend ahead !!!

  9. Anupama V. Chand on May 1, 2010 5:35 am

    It is a sad but true reality that we are all expats in a foreign land, and more than in most other countries, you are made to feel like an outsider in the United Arab Emirates, from the moment you land with your luggage and those rose-tinted glasses (and dreams) that you lose somewhere within your first month in the country – to the moment the immigration authorities put that exit stamp on your passport for the last time as you say masallama. You are made to feel like an “illegal alien” every step of the way – from being finger-printed and retina-scanned for a job to standing in long lines and being turnd dwn when you try to apply for a visit visa for a loved one, family or friend to come and see you….indignities whih do impact the very soul, if you are a sensitive person who believes in living and letting live. Yes, there’s the security ( or atleast there used to be till recently) that this country so proudly reminds the world about, there’s the great weather ( six months of a yer, anyway!) and there’s all the material comforts money can buy….but the reality is definitely that if you have a better deal back home in more thriving economies, this might be the best time to cut your losses and leave……these are small compensations for a dignified life, lived with even half the financial comforts the UAE cdan beguile you into believing you ca have by living here…..and no, this is not a tax haven – never was, never will be. If you’ve got pots of money, and are willing to splurge, your life can be really great – but, if you are the hard-working, money-saving kind, you had better rethink your priorities if you are looking at making the Emirates your home, for the long-haul. From rents to education to visas to road taxes, we have all types of money levies that the rest of the civilised world calls taxes! Add to that the culture of consumerism it teaches our kids, which they can never quite leave behind, wherever they go…and you have to wonder how you can keep the balancing act on…..

  10. Tak wong on May 1, 2010 1:48 pm

    ‘Hell’ is the next best word to describe life in the Gulf. Among Gulf states, I think UAE is much better, but there are so many reasons which make you most uncomfortable when it come to appreciates some of the good things which many of the expatriates may not get when they stay in their own country. As a person I value freedom of speach, free press and equal justice to all irrespective of nationality. Unfortunately none of the above three are available. This is what makes these countries like hell. I do understand if the above is given to everybody, the local population may not be able to survive and live the present luxury life. But what the present local population is doing by exploiting the law they are treating the rest of expatriates as bonded labourers.

  11. Tisha on May 1, 2010 7:02 pm

    I believe the most important thing that this place requires is ‘JUSTICE’ and discipline! They spend more time in catching innocent people and letting the thieves go freely…That is because the law is weak! With all the downturns that it has faced, if they have focus on these 2 aspects and have a strong law that they are able to see through, not only on papers, then they can stand a strong nation. We have been mugged by 2 developers and 1 of our developer is in the jail. He holds an escrew account too, but our money has no way coming out of the escrew account which is being enjoyed by the Land Department!! The land department tells us to file a case, meaning pay to the court and the lawyers for a case whose developer is already in jail and escrew account is available! This is injustice! These incodents would make any investor to think twice before buying a property in this land!!

  12. Junky on May 1, 2010 8:21 pm

    Have to chuckle at Junky’s comments, about as self-righteous as they come. And in regards to the US electoral college, it works?

    Pipe down son.

  13. Miss Anne Thropic on May 1, 2010 10:10 pm

    Junky, what are you talking about? Prostitutes here are generally trafficked women who have been promised other jobs. Do you really believe the prostitutes are are having a happy time with their passports confiscated, in debt to their pimps and being forced to have sex they really don’t want to be having?

    And I am not American so that is a ridiculous comment too. If I was a taxpayer, I could write to my MP about the police choppers that flew over my apartment for no good reason until 2am the other night, I would have any criminal charges against me explained in a language I speak, I would not be effectively owned by my employer who sponsors my visa, I would be able to send my kids (if I had any) to a free government school, it would not be up to my employer as to whether or not I have access to healthcare… I could go on but I fear I’m wasting my time.

  14. Sameera on May 1, 2010 11:51 pm

    I lived in Dubai for 27+ years of my life, infact I was born there. Having relocated from there, I’m finding it really difficult to adjust anywhere else. Infact everyday is a struggle. I’ve summarised my emotions about leaving Dubai in a blog post titled “From the eyes of a Simpleton Ex-Dubaiite”

    I hope to return soon to the place I call my hometown – Dubai.

  15. SALIM on May 24, 2010 10:23 pm


  16. Miss Anne Thropic on May 27, 2010 8:27 am

    Plus there’s Salik, expats paying higher DEWA bills to subsidise the locals who get free power and water, traffic fines which aren’t always fair (I’ve had speeding fines when I know I’ve either been asleep or out of the country), tax on eating in restaurants, car registration fees, government-owned telecommunications companies, the National ID card farce…

  17. Rammer on June 1, 2010 8:29 am

    In my opinion, we all have reasons to be ticked off. Our biggest frustration is that we cannot say anything or vent our frustration to anyone. No one is willing to take that risk. your comments are all valid, and each of us has had his share of good and bad experiences, which has frustrated us. If you put this in a strainer and strain it, The fact is that we are all here on our own accord, and this is the real issue.If any of us had any better place to go to, we would not think for a minute about staying here under these conditions. But we don’t so we need to make the best out of what we have. We had a saying back in Venezuela “If lemons rain on your head from the sky, then learn to make lemonade” meaning accept what you get and make the best of it.

  18. Balkan Beauty on June 1, 2010 8:41 am

    Bye-bye Dubai!!!!!!!!! One does not live there, he simply exists. The only motivation that kept us going for almost 4 years was the 6 figure monthly income. The only pleasure was the Burjuman and when the next door Dubai mall opened. Just found out that the LV bags have slightly lower price tags here in Basel, my new home, which is heavily taxed but one can LIVE here and this is all life is about! Dubai is nice for holidays but only arrogance and incompetence can survive there for longer periods of time. The chaves are not in the UK, they are all around Dubai, imported from the UK. All the nice people I knew there left or have plans to leave as soon as they can afford it.


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