Since Dubai’s economic bubble spectacularly burst, many elements of life in the emirate appear to have changed. International and media perspectives relating to Dubai have certainly changed, along with local sentiment towards foreign nationals apparently. Everything from the property economy to the quality of life in Dubai appears to have diminished…
But is this a true reflection of what life’s like for expats still living and working in the emirate? Following the local police chief’s seemingly barbed remarks against the expatriate community in Dubai earlier this month, we thought we’d get in touch with a few expat readers living in the UAE and ask them whether life has got harder for them since it’s been all change in Dubai.
It seems that there has been more of a reality check than a clear and universal degradation of living and working conditions for Western expats, and that those who are employed in Dubai can still enjoy many of the trappings long associated with life in this affluent part of the world. It’s also true that elements of life have become harder for certain expatriate groups. If you’re thinking about going to live and work in Dubai, read on to discover what you can now expect.
Where once living in Dubai as an expat meant a tax-free, wealthy lifestyle where you were surrounded by affluence and excess, today’s Dubai offers a very much more modest environment for expats – although ‘modest’ in Dubai terms is certainly relative!
Dubai is still home to the biggest, greatest, tallest, most expensive, blah, blah, blah – but much less is made of Dubai’s superlative boasts because the world has seen its economy falter, read about its offshore islands sinking and heard about the local backlash against foreigner behaviour.
Now Dubai is an emirate approached with a little more trepidation, and perhaps appreciated with a little more respect by many.
Earlier this month much was made of the Chief of Police’s comments about a need to place a cap and curb on foreign workers entering Dubai – many have labelled his comments racist, but on speaking to one expatriate, we were told that actually, he has a point.
“Dubai’s local population only makes up something like 15% of the total in the emirate – that’s just wrong. Whilst there are those bitching and moaning and saying that Dubai wouldn’t ever have achieved anything without its massive foreign workforce, I do see that mass immigration has caused real problems in Dubai.
“On the one hand you cannot deny that without the often mistreated Asian community doing all the hard labour and menial jobs, and without the Westerners doing many of the professional and managerial jobs, Dubai would never have expanded and advanced so rapidly and so successfully. But on the other hand, it’s a fact that the locals are uncomfortable being in the minority, and that’s just not fair or right.
“I don’t know why anyone’s surprised that local Emiratis are uncomfortable with their immigrant heavy population. I for one am not surprised that there has been a tightening up on the enforcement of local laws and moral standards and that expats have been caught out by this.
“Back in the heyday it was almost as if any foreigner who came here thought they could behave as though Dubai was a debauched playground. Those who were earning the big money thought they could act like playboys and girls and get away with it. Thankfully that has changed and I for one think that’s a good thing.
“To directly answer the question posed, my life hasn’t got harder in Dubai – but life for those who took the emirate for granted or who believed in the fairytale and lived their life on the edge of their financial abilities have really suffered.”
Looking at some facts to get a feel for how life has changed in Dubai: – there are certainly fewer jobs in Dubai than there were just a couple of years ago as the real estate economy has faltered for example, some companies have withdrawn local presence or gone out of business and because the overall economy just cannot sustain expansion.
Properties have apparently fallen in price by 60% from their peak, with many stating that they have about another 10% to fall before they reach realistic values.
We know that expats have been imprisoned for everything from falling behind on finance repayments to having sex outside marriage, and that there are properties lying empty and abandoned, as well as cars on finance that have been dumped at airports as those expats who fell foul of Dubai’s collapse made a hasty exit from the emirate.
However, according to our research we know that many expats still live and work quite happily in Dubai. They still enjoy the vast shopping malls and excellent restaurants, they can access world-class entertainment, benefit from fantastic weather and enjoy tax-free salaries.
They can live in fabulous homes, employ staff, have their children well educated at high standard schools and colleges, and basically enjoy every element of life that they once enjoyed without restriction – as long as they continue to be wealthy and stay on the right side of well-documented laws.
Summing it up for us, one expat reader stated: “Other than seeing a few of my friends leave Dubai following redundancies, my life hasn’t altered one bit. My job’s relatively safe, my salary hasn’t been cut, I still own my own home and drive a nice car.
“I do all the same things I always did from socialising with friends and colleagues at work during the week, to going to the cinema, shopping and lazing around at the weekend. I’m earning more than I could anywhere else and making the most of that by putting a lot of it away in case my circumstances ever change.
“I know that others have suffered. I know people who have had to leave very fast and who can never return because of the financial difficulties they got into and couldn’t get out of, and that’s really sad. I know that there are Indian workers suffering because they’ve got no money to get home to their families because of the collapse in the building industry, and I also know some people who are really fed up with life in Dubai.
“But at the same time, many expats have never had it so good. Dubai’s not going anywhere, it will recover, and if you’re in now you can make hay and make the most of the fact it’s not so over crowded and out of control any more!
“We all know how we should behave, those who forget the rules probably deserve to be reminded of them. Yes, the laws are different to our own back in the UK and the punishments seem harsher, but really, you don’t have to curb your lifestyle to stay on the right side of the law in Dubai.”
Whether life is now harder for expats living and working in Dubai seems to depend on how badly impacted they were when the economy imploded. Those who retain work can maintain their good lifestyle – others who have not been so lucky have of course fallen out of love with the emirate.
If you’re thinking about living and working in Dubai we would urge you to visit first and make a decision based on what you see and feel once you’re in-country. Remember that you’re a guest in the country at all times – familiarise yourself with customs, traditions, laws and moral rules and be ultimately respectful.
You can get a lot out of the emirate, but don’t treat the country or its citizens with disrespect and expect them to welcome you. You’re not in the State because it doesn’t have local skilled workers of its own, you’re in Dubai because it just doesn’t have enough skilled workers because its population is smaller than its expansion and development aspirations. If expats and Emiratis accept this fact, the entire multinational population with thrive.