Register for our free newsletter

Latest News

UAE expats: Don’t you like being #1?

UAE expats: Don’t you like being #1?

Forbes ranked the UAE the #1 Least Expat Friendly Country-a ranking Eva Fernandes thinks is both misleading and rather inconsequential.

January 16, 2012 4:22 by

A lot of feathers have been ruffled by a recent article published by Forbes claiming the UAE is the #1 least friendly country for expatriates. Proud residents of the UAE have taken to Twitter (where else?) to stand up for their expat love of the Emirates under a hash tag that best summarises their argument: #UAEFriendly.

Consider the following tweets:

“Why worry about Forbes ranking? Dubai was bashed by many foreign publications a while back yet we know it stands high!” – Khawla Al Marri (@KhawlaMarri)

“I have travelled the world and the UAE is maybe the most tolerant place I have settled in. Forbes, rethink your list.” Giorgio Ungania (@giorgiotedx)

“I have been made to feel welcome and valued by the residents of UAE I’ve met regardless of origin.”- Fergus Clarke (@clarkefergus)

My, my! Quite a lot of UAE love being expressed here—but my fellow expats, before we all belt out Ishy Bilady from the top of the Burj Khalifa, let’s take a breather, shall we? That’s right. Deep breathe in and exhale. What exactly were the criteria of the survey?

Between May and July 2011 HSBC surveyed 3,385 expatriates in 100 countries. And yet due to insufficient respondents the lists rank a total of only 31 countries (must be scientific enough by some standards).

Forbes then considered the results of the survey with the following four categories: ability to befriend locals, success in learning the local language, capacity for integrating themselves into the community, and ease in which they fit into the new culture.

While they found New Zealand to be among the most expat-friendly country, the UAE was considered #1 for the country least friendly for expats. Keeping the UAE company on that list are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and India.

Alright, so before you fly off the bat into righteous rage about the bias in Western media and the wonders of living as a tax-free expat here in the UAE, consider how the country ranks across the four criteria used. How many local friends do you have? And no, we are not talking about your colleague ‘Mo’ who you occasionally greet when you are awkwardly stuck in an overcrowded elevator. We are talking, Mo-invites-me-to-Iftar-at-his-ancestral-home kind of friends. And just how fluently can you speak the local Khaleeji dialect?

Chances are you answered in the negative to the two questions—but wait, that is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, that doesn’t quite mean that the survey is even right at all. It just means that the law of probability is in order.

Consider the unique status of the UAE in regards to its rather special mix of demographics. With an Emirati population making up for barely 10-20 percent of the overall UAE population, it’s not hard to do the maths and figure out just at what point Emirati-Expat integrations are likely to be.

If you are a typical expat and don’t work in an office with Emiratis, chances are your only exposure to Emiratis would be at Heritage Village.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and by no means are we suggesting that expats and UAE nationals are avoiding each other,

but that with an expatriate population as high as 70-80 percent, statistically speaking the numbers themselves suggest that the kind of ‘integration’ other host countries can boast, are a lot less likely in the Emirates.

Going by this logic, it only makes sense that the other Gulf countries, which have somewhat similar demographics to the UAE, are also ranked rather low on the list.

Perhaps one of the reasons this rather obvious ranking has evoked many a defensive testimonials from UAE expats and Emiratis alike is because some have taken the title ‘Least Friendly Country to Expats’ to mean that expatriates aren’t the most unhappy expats in the world—which is preposterous, of course.

The fact is, the massive expatriate population of the UAE, whether the country likes to acknowledge it or not, have created their very own UAE-expat culture. It is a scene that is made up several different social circles (not quite a melting pot, but more a mixed salad) that newbie expats take a little time to break into. Once they find their fit, they have friends, adopt the special language we speak as expats and often stay for years on end. Some may never break into the circle and chose to join in the ever-so-popular sport of cynical Dubai-bashing. Kipp not included, of course.

So, the point is—devoid of a proper understanding of the complex structure of the demographics UAE and the nature of expatriate life here in the Emirates, any expatriate-related ranking will be grossly misleading and consequently rather inconsequential. Which is precisely what this article from Forbes really is.

Tags: , , , ,


  1. Andrew on January 17, 2012 7:21 am

    Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s the most friendly country in the world for expatriates it’s by no means the worst, and I count myself lucky enough in that at about half of my closest friends are Emiratis.

    Even going on the four categories listed, I can’t quite believe Saudi Arabia isn’t number 1. Then again if the people they polled lived on Aramco compounds, it would be rather similar to home.

  2. mike ali on January 17, 2012 7:31 am

    no one should care about such survey or any media talk. uae, saudi or any gulf country not forcing any one to come and stay. any one can check number of new companies been established or number of residents or visitors or transit passengers and then compare to see how uae friendly.

  3. chaz on January 17, 2012 11:28 am

    quite right Mike and the same people are all robots with no thoughts of their own, nor allowed to express them. Ideal employees. I want some too!

  4. Ben on January 17, 2012 10:28 pm

    For a white man with a high position all these things are wrong if not in the property owners category. When you are a normal expat (majority) and a property owner then what guides your opinion is elsewhere but doubt Forbes interviewed the latest?

  5. Andrew on January 18, 2012 9:08 pm

    Nice one Ben, so white people aren’t “normal” expats?


Leave a Comment