Why the UAE is the world’s 6th-best expat destination to live and work

The Emirates jumped 12 places in this year’s global InterNations survey, driven by the country’s new visa programmes and safe reputation

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When Nina Rezec first visited Dubai in 2005 as a “semester abroad student” at Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, the German native says she was inspired by the city’s multicultural melting pot and opportunity to learn about other cultures.

However, there was also an element of surprise when she realised exactly how safe the city was for a single woman travelling alone.

After travelling back and forth between the two countries to take up a number of internships for two years, Ms Rezec jumped at the chance in 2007 to move to the UAE permanently after accepting a job offer by global consultancy Ernst & Young.

“I fell in love with the city [of Dubai]. It was very different back then … I was very inspired,” the former finance executive, who has just submitted her doctorate on corporate gender diversity and financial stability, tells The National.

“After 17 years of being here, it is home. It’s very safe, especially as a woman — I would not have stuck around for such a long time if it would not have been as safe as it is.”

It is this reputation as a safe and modern city that has contributed to the UAE’s ranking as the sixth-best country out of 52 destinations for expatriates to live and work, up from 18th place in 2021, according to a new survey published on Tuesday by global network InterNations.

The ease of applying for the UAE’s new visa programmes, as well as a range of other reforms that have been introduced since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, also played a part in the country’s high ranking in 2022, the InterNations survey found.

InterNations polled nearly 12,000 expatriates representing 177 nationalities in 181 countries on various aspects of their lives as foreign workers.

In recent years, the UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy, has undertaken several economic, legal and social reforms to strengthen its business environment, boost foreign direct investment, attract skilled workers and provide incentives to companies to set up or expand their operations.

In 2019, amendments were introduced to the Golden Residence Scheme to simplify the eligibility criteria and expand the categories of beneficiaries.

The 10-year visa is granted to investors, entrepreneurs, skilled professionals who earn a monthly salary of more than Dh30,000 ($8,167), exceptional talents, scientists and professionals, outstanding students and graduates, property investors, humanitarian pioneers and front-line heroes.

A Green Visa provides a five-year residency for skilled employees, without a sponsor or employer. The minimum educational level must be a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and the salary should not be less than Dh15,000.

Meanwhile, the UAE introduced a one-year digital nomad visa in March 2021 that allows people to live in the Emirates while continuing to work for employers in their home countries, while Dubai also offers a five-year retirement visa for expatriates older than 55.

“The government system is the best,” one Indian expatriate said in the comment section of the InterNations survey.

Conducted in February this year, the survey covered five categories: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, Working Abroad, Personal Finance and an Expat Essentials Index, which covers digital life, administration topics, housing and language.

Overall, the UAE ranked second in the world in the Expat Essentials Index, and fifth for both the Quality of Life and Working Abroad categories, which cover the likes of career prospects, salary and job security, leisure options, health and well-being, and safety and security.

It placed 13th in the Ease of Settling In category, while expatriates admitted to “struggling a bit” in the Personal Finance section, with the UAE coming in at 34th place. Overall, however, 71 per cent of foreign workers are happy with their life in the UAE, the survey says.

“Once they arrive [in the UAE], over three in five expats have no problem dealing with the local bureaucracy/authorities, 21 percentage points more than the global average [of 40 per cent],” it adds.

“It might help that administrative/government services are widely available online and that it is easy to live in the UAE without speaking the local language.”

Meanwhile, the safety and security, and health and well-being subcategories also ranked highly for foreign workers in the UAE, coming in at seventh and ninth place, respectively, the survey found.

About 94 per cent of UAE respondents said they were happy with the level of personal safety in the Emirates compared with 81 per cent globally, while 86 per cent said they are also very satisfied with the country’s political stability.

“There are actually quite a lot of factors that rank very well by expats in the UAE,” says Kathrin Chudoba, chief marketing officer at InterNations.

There are actually quite a lot of factors that rank very well by expats in the UAE
Kathrin Chudoba, chief marketing officer at InterNations

“One of them is safety … how safe people feel personally and walking down the streets. It has been mentioned quite frequently, how nice it is that people feel very safe and [it is] a stable political environment.”

Seventy-eight per cent of UAE respondents to the poll said it was easy to gain access to a wide range of healthcare services, while both the quality of medical care and availability of health care was rated “very highly”, in sixth place overall, the survey says.

The UAE ranked “quite well” when it comes to the Ease of Settling In category, with 77 per cent of those polled saying they feel welcome in the Emirates, compared with 66 per cent globally.

About 65 per cent also said they are happy with their social life compared with 56 per cent globally, while 69 per cent describe the local population as friendly and 74 per cent consider them particularly friendly towards foreign residents.

Meanwhile, the UAE ranked third globally in the career prospects subcategory, with 79 per cent of foreign workers saying that moving to the Emirates has improved their career prospects. This compares with 60 per cent globally, the survey found,

Sixty-eight per cent of foreign workers are also happy with their personal career opportunities, while 55 per cent are satisfied with the local job market.

“They feel that the local business culture encourages creativity [and] thinking outside the box and promotes independent work and/or flat hierarchies,” the survey says.

“The country encourages ambition, innovation and pursuing opportunities,” one expatriate from Australia said in the comment section of the survey about working in the UAE.

Overall, Mexico topped the global ranking for the best destination for foreign workers to live and work, followed by Indonesia in second place and Taiwan in third.

Portugal and Spain round out the top five, followed by Vietnam in seventh place, then Thailand, Australia and Singapore.

“The top five destinations stand out with regard to ease of settling in and personal finance. They also tend to perform well in the Expat Essentials Index,” it says.

However, the worst destinations for foreign workers include Kuwait, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, Italy and Malta.

“All bottom five destinations have an average to poor performance in the Working Abroad and Personal Finance indices,” it adds.

Meanwhile, Ms Rezec, who now owns a Dubai-based business consultancy, will continue to encourage more people to move to the UAE based on her positive experiences.

“Whoever is asking me to come to Dubai, even if it's only for an exchange programme, I always support that,” she says.

“I'm like: ‘Listen, you will be learning here so much compared to staying in Europe’. Yes, we have a multicultural background as well in Europe and our society but not to that extent [in the UAE] in my opinion.”

Top 10 destinations for expatriates to live and work

  1. Mexico
  2. Indonesia
  3. Taiwan
  4. Portugal
  5. Spain
  6. UAE
  7. Vietnam
  8. Thailand
  9. Australia
  10. Singapore
Updated: July 12, 2022, 7:35 AM