Why peo­ple leave the Emi­rates – only to re­turn

▶ Suzanne Locke meets res­i­dents who said good­bye to the UAE only to say hello again a few years later

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE -

Mil­lions of ex­pa­tri­ates live in the UAE, with many tending to do their “time” – any­thing from an 18-month con­tract to 10 or 20 years – be­fore head­ing home. But some leave and then re­turn a few years on. So is the grass really greener else­where?

More than half of ex­pa­tri­ates have lived abroad at least once be­fore their cur­rent move, ac­cord­ing to HSBC’s Ex­pat Ex­plorer Sur­vey 2019. It sug­gests that more than a third of the 18,059 ex­pa­tri­ates it sur­veyed glob­ally move to im­prove their qual­ity of life (37 per cent) and to progress their ca­reer (36 per cent) – and stay over­seas for the same rea­sons. In the UAE, which came ninth in the Jan­u­ary study, only 35 per cent were first-time ex­pa­tri­ates.

The av­er­age in­come of re­spon­dents was $117,802 (Dh432,600) and the top fi­nan­cial pri­or­i­ties for UAE res­i­dents are sav­ing and in­vest­ing for re­tire­ment, chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and prop­erty, the bank says.

The most im­por­tant fac­tor for se­rial ex­pa­tri­ates to con­sider when mov­ing is tax­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to Paul Cox, HSBC’s re­gional head of wealth man­age­ment for Mena and Turkey. “As cus­tomers’ fi­nances be­come in­creas­ingly com­plex, the need for spe­cial­ist in­ter­na­tional tax ad­vice grows,” he says.

Sam In­stone, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of fi­nan­cial plan­ning com­pany AES In­ter­na­tional, has lived in Dubai for a decade and says he can “cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate the ap­peal” for ex­pa­tri­ates look­ing to re­turn.

How­ever, he also says it is im­por­tant to con­sider the two main rea­sons for res­i­dents to leave in the first place: by choice, when they re­turn home or move on to a new coun­try, or by ne­ces­sity – for in­stance, if they lose their jobs.

“Typ­i­cally ex­pa­tri­ates in the UAE have a three or five-year plan, and move on when they feel they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced and achieved what they set out to do,” Mr In­stone says. “Many use their time to build up a healthy nest egg, so they can com­fort­ably re­tire home to raise a fam­ily or even re­tire.

“On the other hand, if they’ve lost their job – es­pe­cially high-pay­ing jobs – an ex­pe­ri­ence like this can de­ter re­turn­ing,” he adds. “It also takes a lot to move coun­tries, both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, and of­ten it’s done with spouses, chil­dren and pets in tow.”

Here, two se­rial ex­pa­tri­ates, who boomerange­d back to the UAE, tell The Na­tional what prompted their re­turn:

Tariq Bell, 38, a teacher, lived in Dubai from 2007 to 2011 with his Pol­ish wife Karolina be­fore mov­ing to Hong Kong, where they had their daugh­ter, now six.

The cou­ple re­turned to Dubai in 2015. British ge­og­ra­phy teacher Mr Bell, who rents a three-bed­room villa in Town Square on Al Qu­dra Road, left the UAE for a pro­mo­tion and pay rise, tak­ing on a role as a head of fac­ulty.

His wife, an ac­coun­tant, was study­ing when they ar­rived in Hong Kong then be­came preg­nant. The cou­ple were able to af­ford her tak­ing an ex­tended ma­ter­nity break and Mr Bell says they “lived very well” dur­ing their Hong Kong years.

“We trav­elled a lot through­out South East Asia, we bought a house [a four-bed­room villa on the Span­ish is­land of Ma­jorca] and, even though my daugh­ter was born, we still saved a lot.”

But once Ms Bell wanted to re­turn to work, she strug­gled to find a suit­able job in Hong Kong, her hus­band says. Without speak­ing Can­tonese or Man­darin, her salary would have been “pretty low” and they would have had to pay for full-time child­care.

The Bells made the de­ci­sion to re­lo­cate back to Dubai for a bet­ter over­all qual­ity of life, swap­ping their small Hong Kong apart­ment for a house and gar­den. Mr Bell came back as an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal in a Dubai school and was pro­moted twice to be­come vice prin­ci­pal, while his wife now works for a Ja­panese bank in Dubai In­ter­na­tional Fi­nan­cial Cen­tre.

While his pay was higher in Hong Kong and he finds Dubai more ex­pen­sive in terms of food and trans­port, he rates his stan­dard of liv­ing highly.

“If I com­pare our life here to Hong Kong,” Mr Bell says, “we have a much higher stan­dard of liv­ing now be­cause of the space we have, our gar­den and two cars. Dubai is also half the dis­tance back to the UK.”

How­ever, he says he worked shorter hours in Hong Kong.

“The qual­ity of life in terms of work for me was far su­pe­rior in Hong Kong – I felt my ca­reer really blos­somed and grew. Per­son­ally I’d like to be in Hong Kong … but fam­ily-wise Dubai is good.”

Mr Bell re­cently made the big de­ci­sion to take a pay cut and re­turn to a pure teach­ing role, at the same school where his daugh­ter stud­ies. “I felt I wasn’t hav­ing any time with my daugh­ter. I was work­ing very, very long hours and was very stressed,” he says.

“My take-home is the low­est it’s ever been in my ca­reer and we have to be much more care­ful with our earn­ings.

“But I’ve post­poned earn­ing more, for the time be­ing, to make more of fam­ily life be­cause I don’t think you can get that back.”

Lana Allen, 44, a teacher from the UK, and her car deal­er­ship hus­band lived in Dubai from 2004 to 2008 then came back to the UAE four years later, mov­ing to Ras Al Khaimah’s Al Hamra in 2014. The cou­ple have two sons, ages 12 and 10.

The Al­lens bought a villa in The Springs in Dubai a year af­ter em­i­grat­ing in 2004, but de­cided they wanted to go home to Es­sex in Eng­land in 2008. Selling their villa in a day, and with the com­pli­ca­tions of cap­i­tal gains tax to pay if they trans­ferred the money to the UK, they in­stead in­vested it in a Dh1.2 mil­lion off­plan two-bed­room apart­ment in the Royal Breeze de­vel­op­ment in RAK.

How­ever, two months af­ter re­turn­ing to the UK, the re­ces­sion hit. Hav­ing made cash down pay­ments, they could no longer get a mort­gage on the prop­erty and were about to hand back the prop­erty to the de­vel­op­ers when Ms Allen’s hus­band was of­fered a job back in Dubai.

They re­turned, rent­ing a two-bed­room villa in Jumeirah Vil­lage Tri­an­gle and us­ing the now-fin­ished Al Hamra apart­ment as a week­end home. How­ever, with their rent and school fees ris­ing in Dubai at the time, Ms Allen says their land­lord wanted to in­crease their Dh100,000 rent by 40 per cent. They de­cided to move to RAK full-time to live in their prop­erty, which is now worth Dh450,000.

“The way I look at it we’re liv­ing in a prop­erty that’s our home, with a 180-de­gree sea view,” Ms Allen says. “There’s no land­lord, so we can do what we like. We’ve saved on rent and that’s pay­ing for our prop­erty.

“We have the best qual­ity of life in Ras Al Khaimah: we have a whole mix of na­tion­al­i­ties as friends, cel­e­brate dif­fer­ent fes­ti­vals with them and it’s the best ex­pe­ri­ence for my sons.”

While the cou­ple are not strug­gling fi­nan­cially, they still need to bud­get care­fully.

“A lot of peo­ple in the UK think we all earn heaps in the UAE – it’s not like that at all,” says Ms Allen. “You have to watch what you spend. It’s a good life but you have to be care­ful as well.

“Feed­ing a fam­ily of four can cost Dh900 a week and this is the first sum­mer we haven’t been able to travel back to the UK.”

A lot of peo­ple in the UK think we all earn heaps in the UAE – it’s not like that at all. You have to watch what you spend LANA ALLEN British teacher

An­tonie Robert­son/The Na­tional

Tariq Bell with his daugh­ter Eleanor. The teacher and his wife left Dubai in 2011 and came back in 2015

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