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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 Katherine Azmeh
SHOULD I STAY?
Few other countries have the diversity of the UAE – so much so that the country’s first homegrown feature film, ‘City of Life’, was based around this theme. The fact that so many cultures live side by side in relative harmony is seen as a major plus by many. But others say that there is little intermingling of cultures. As one Kipp reader recently commented: “The reality is that each culture tends to live in its own ghetto, with little interaction between one another. The clashes occur when people forget themselves and continue to behave as if they are in their ghetto.”
The inflation rate is currently at its lowest in point in nine years, which means UAE residents are not being hit by the soaring increases in living costs that were seen some years ago. The crash in the property market, and huge reduction in rents, is a major part of this. But there are some exceptions to this, with heavy increases in prices of some products and services. For example, Dubai tuition fees rose by four times the rate of inflation last year. And across the UAE as a whole, education costs were up by 10 percent in the year to March 2010.
Tax and salaries
While anecdotal evidence suggests that the six-figure remuneration packages of a few years ago are now a rarity, executive salaries in the UAE are still very much competitive with the rest of the world. A recent study by NatWest bank in the UK found that – while salary increases were a rarity in Britain last year – there were big increases for Britons working overseas. According to the survey, the UAE saw the world’s second-highest increase in remuneration, with a 17 percent increase in expat pay over the last three years. On top of that, there is no income tax in the UAE, which can save some of the highest-paid Western expatriates around 40 percent of their salaries a year. Many expats consider the UAE – and especially Abu Dhabi – as offering great potential for future growth.
Quality of life
Abu Dhabi and Dubai topped a recent list of the ‘Best Arab cities’, in which quality of life and entertainment options was a factor. For many expats, living in the UAE – with its sun, luxury living, and upmarket hotels – represents ‘the dream’. But some expats do not rank the UAE highly in this regard. According to the Natwest report cited by the Daily Mail, the countries with the lowest quality of life for expats were China, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UAE. “In each of these countries a majority of British workers said they intended to return home to retire,” the newspaper reported.
Do you live in the UAE? What are your impressions of expat life? Have your say by submitting a comment below.