While for many people the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seems to be defined by Dubai the truth is that there is more to this area than this particular emirate. This is an area of the world which has been dominated by oil for many years although recently the authorities in the region have invested wisely in different areas of the economy to try and offset the eventual reduction in oil revenues in the future. So what are the challenges faced by expats in the UAE and are there any specific reasons for this?
In order to be able to address this question, Expat Forum has run a poll on behalf of Barclays International Banking, mining out quite interesting challenges faced by the expat community based around the Gulf area.
Loneliness (38.71% of the vote)
While loneliness has been put forward as the number one challenge for expats in many regions of the world it is perhaps it more obvious “choice” in this particular area when you consider the number of people moving from the Western world to the Middle East. There are many reasons why the loneliness may well become a problem which include cultural differences, finances, treatment of women, as well as the highs and lows of what has been a very buoyant economy over the last decade but one which has most certainly deflated of late.
Many people are tempted to move “lock, stock, and barrel” to a new country purely and simply because of employment opportunities and money. However, while those who have employment in the region upon landing may well be able to integrate into a new social circle and a new social network almost immediately it is those left to look after children and the home who very often suffer serious bouts of loneliness. As we have mentioned on numerous occasions, loneliness does not necessarily mean being alone because it is possible to feel lonely in a crowded room of strangers.
As a consequence, while finances are obviously a major part of any move overseas it is vital that all parties are considered when looking to begin a new life. True, there will be inevitable periods of loneliness for all parties involved upon initially landing in the country but how these are overcome is up to the individuals and the group themselves. It is vital that you “get out and about” at a very early stage because of such has been the attraction of the United Arab Emirates of late that there will likely be fellow expats in the region who can assist with the “settling down” period. Those who suffer in silence are the ones who will suffer worst because the pressure will build like a pressure cooker and at some point it will blow up!
It is very easy to automatically assume that each and every individual who moves to a new country will at some stage adapt but in reality this is not always the case. There are some people who find the cultural differences between East and West so severe that they are chronically lonely and chronically homesick and just “have to get out”. The trick to combating loneliness is not only to get out and about to also speak about your problems, your issues and your concerns. This is one issue which needs to be addressed by all parties involved.
Cost of living (27.42%)
Finances are obviously a major concern to anybody looking for a new life overseas and cost of living takes in the vast majority of expenditure. Whether looking towards property, a social life, and utility services or indeed your weekly shopping bill these are all issues which need to be addressed and investigator well before you even seriously contemplate a move to the United Arab Emirates, or indeed any other part of the world.
One issue which is becoming more and more apparent is the fact that too many people automatically assume that they are moving to a like-for-like situation with regards to the cost of living. In reality the cost of living in the United Arab Emirates will be significantly higher than the vast majority of countries in the Western world purely and simply because it is a relatively expensive country in which to live and employment opportunities, if they are secured, often attract significant income for skilled workers.
As a rule of thumb, it really pays off to start your financial planning before moving abroad, as you can save yourself not just time and money, but unexpected disappointments.
It is very often the things which you take the granted in your former homeland which may well cost the earth in your new homeland and while United Arab Emirates as a whole is very much at the top end of the technology curve it is not a cheap place to live. They may have the latest telecoms, the best Internet systems, very impressive public transport network and other such facilities at the end of the day you do pay for these.
When the initial boom began in Dubai over 10 years ago the authorities were very keen to keep down any potential tax liabilities for those moving to the region. However, after the boom and bust scenario certainly materialised in the region the authorities were forced to go cap in hand to fellow emirates to bailout Dubai and effectively secure the reputation of the region. As a consequence, it is unlikely that the authorities will be able to maintain the relatively non-existent taxation system in the United Arab Emirates in the medium to long term. This is not to say that employment opportunities will not be forthcoming in the future, and indeed will not be attractive compared to the Western world, but the authorities will need to be self financing at some point.
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of comparison websites which will help you with the task of comparing the cost of living in the United Arab Emirates to any other country in the world. You need to make full use of these services to ensure that you are fully briefed and fully ready for the challenges ahead – challenges which will in some cases push you to the limit in the early days.
Relationship problems (11.29%)
If there is one area of the world their relationship problems are likely to come to the fore the very early stage in your move it is the United Arab Emirates. This is an area of the world where, while progress has been made, the treatment and expectations of women are very different to those of men. As a consequence, if you’re moving to the country with a wife or partner there is every likelihood that relationship issues will rear their heads fairly quickly and unless addressed at a very early stage they can exacerbate other problems as well.
While it would be wrong to put off those who are looking to move to the region it would also be unfair to allow expats to go there with their blinkers on. Relationship problems are evident in everyday life, whether in your natural homeland or a new homeland, and it is the way that you address these problems which sets the basis for the future. However, in many ways some of the issues which you will encounter as a couple in the United Arab Emirates will be out of your hands and you may well be fighting a losing battle if you believe that you can change the heart set on the minds of the local community and the local culture.
We also have to say that many people do move to the United Arab Emirates as a married couple, and the family, and settle down to life in the region very quickly. However, generally it is those who have done their homework and fully appreciate the differences between “East and West” who will settle down quickest and give themselves the best chance of a successful move.
Cultural differences (8.06%)
If there is one area of the world were cultural differences have been very prominent over the last decade, i.e. between East and West, it is the United Arab Emirates. As we have touched on in some of our earlier articles, the authorities were very keen to attract the more skilled workers to the region in the early days when the economy was relatively flat which led to the police force and other enforcement agencies “turning a blind eye” to many Western practices which were in many ways against the local culture and local practices.
However, even the relatively lax approach to cultural clashes in the early days that some people feeling isolated by the cultural differences. One example, which has improved over the last few years, is the treatment and the expectations of women in the region which is very often in direct contrast to that of the Western world. This can make it very difficult when families and groups of people move to the region for employment and opportunities because any issues with regards to female expats will at some point affect the overall group. This can then lead to pressure building, relationship problems, and financial issues and indeed has seen a number of expats return home due to certain areas of the lifestyle in the United Arab Emirates.
The old saying “when in Rome do as the Romans” is certainly one which has been forgotten by many expats over the years. This is not to say that any overseas country should not be compassionate and accommodating for other cultures but the truth is that if you choose to move to a region of the world which has a very different culture then you will need to adapt first and foremost. However wrong this feels, however reluctant you are to make changes to your lifestyle truth is that it is your choice to move to the region and your choice to accommodate and compromise or else move on. There have been many developments with regards to cultural clashes and the accommodation of different cultures in different areas of the world but the truth is that there is still much work to be doing in this particular area. It will be interesting to see how the United Arab Emirates fares in the future with regards to attracting skilled workers as and when the economy rises again.
The healthcare system in the United Arab Emirates is second to none with the latest technology, latest hospitals and the latest surgery all available across the board. However, private healthcare is an issue which needs to be addressed before you even seriously contemplate moving lock stock and barrel to the country. There are many health insurance companies now operating in and around the United Arab Emirates because of the growing influx of expats to the region and the major requirement for healthcare cover.
Whether you’re moving as individual, as a couple or as a family there will be relevant healthcare cover available even before you land in the country. It is easy to place healthcare cover to one side but the truth is that you could have an accident or you could require treatment at any time. It is also worth noting that without healthcare cover you may well be left liable for significant healthcare charges which could literally run into thousands. Even if you have a well-paid employment in the region upon landing there are few people who could cover an early healthcare bill that could blow a major hole in your budget!
Health cover is becoming a major problem for many expats around the world because far too many automatically assume they can get it “tomorrow”. The truth is that you need healthcare cover “today” and you need the peace of mind that if required there is medical attention available to you immediately.
If you want to keep your old health care but upgraded so you can benefit when abroad, it would be a good idea to set up an international account that allow you to pay for your monthly fees from overseas.
Other issues (6.45%)
Aside from the issues which we have covered above there are also other factors to take into account which include issues such as: –
The authorities in United Arab Emirates very often take “instant decisions” across a variety of areas which can the time seem somewhat unfair. There was also limited scope to appeal many of these decisions the matter how hard done by you feel.
It has also been suggested that children find it difficult to settle down in the United Arab Emirates with one particular voter highlighting the plight of his 16-year-old daughter who has struggled in the region. The well-being and the mental health of your children are factors which should very much be at the forefront of your thoughts in the early days.
It was always obvious that somebody would mention the price of alcohol and the restrictions on alcohol in the United Arab Emirates. It would appear that the price of beer is “insanely high” in the view of many expats.
The issue of red tape goes very much hand-in-hand with the issue of the authorities who very often make snap decisions based upon the bare bones of information required. This is something which is understandable when you bear in mind the number of people applying to move to the region but does not make it any easier for those at the front of the queue. If the red tape you are facing is normally related to your quotidian banking, the quick win is to open an offshore bank account .
The United Arab Emirates, and in particular Dubai, have been very much at the forefront of the minds of many expats over the last decade. While there is no doubt that the economic boom times of years gone by were for many the main attraction, and many left when the economy collapse, there is still a hard-core of expats looking to move to the region. However, many people describe Dubai in particular as “East meets West” which has led to a number of cultural clashes.
Loneliness is becoming more and more of an issue for many people in the expat community and the cultural differences between East and West often exacerbate the problem in the United Arab Emirates. There are specific issues for ladies in the region who are expected to act in a certain manner which is not always compatible with what they have been used to in the Western world. Even though there has been progress with regards to the treatment of women in the Middle East many people would argue that only the surface has been scratched and much more work needs to be done in this area.
The issue of the cost of living is also something very much at the forefront of the minds of many expats because while it can be easy to be attracted by the money on offer in the good times, this does come at a price. The cost of living in the United Arab Emirates has to be one of the highest in the world although as a percentage of working salaries, especially the good times, it may not be quite as bad as it looks. However, if, flight we saw just a few years ago, the economy crashes, salaries under pressure and unemployment grows, would you have enough in reserve to fund your lifestyle in the region until economy picked up?
There is no doubt that the United Arab Emirates has much to offer, is fairly underdeveloped with regards to the economy and has the potential for significant growth in the future, but at what price?