Dubai’s move to provide a five-year retirement visa for expats older than 55 will boost the emirate’s property market and the overall economy, according to analysts.
“The introduction of a retirement visa is positive from an economic perspective,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. “The highly developed infrastructure, including health, and low tax environment will make this scheme very attractive. A number of sectors should benefit, including real estate and those associated with domestic consumption.”
On Wednesday, Dubai revealed the retiree visa that allows residents and citizens from around the world to live in the emirate if they fulfill one of these three requirements: earn a monthly income of Dh20,000; have Dh1 million in cash savings; or own a property in Dubai worth at least Dh2m.
A retired expatriate and their spouse can apply for the five-year visa with the possibility of automatic renewal online, provided the retiree continues to meet the criteria.
Scott Livermore, chief economist at Oxford Economics Middle East, said that attracting a well-off retired population will further boost demand in the economy while altering the transient nature of the population.
Allowing expats an option to stay for a longer term will “influence their investment and spending decisions”, Mr Livermore said.
"The sectors likely to benefit are real estate, retail, health care, hospitality and entertainment, and, potentially, finance," he told The National.
Expats make up a bulk of the UAE’s 5.2 million private sector labour force and the duration of their stay in the country is largely linked to their employment status. However, the UAE has taken many steps to provide flexibility and has previously announced five-year and 10-year visas for entrepreneurs and skilled expats. It has also provided short-term visas for job seekers.
“We see any easing of immigration rules as a positive step … ,” Carla Slim, senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank, said.
With the latest visa, Dubai is also tapping into the potential of the retiree population – a strong driver of demand in the economies of Florida and other Southern states in the US.
In 2015, people aged over 50 generated around $7.6 trillion (Dh27.9tn) worth of economic activity in the US, according to a report by Oxford Economics titled 'The Longevity Economy'. Direct spending on consumer goods and services, including health care, by those aged 50 and over amounted to $5.6tn in 2015, the report added. Another report by the Economist Intelligence Unit last year estimated the contribution of the older generation to the US economy at $8.3tn.
Mr Livermore said that Dubai could stand to gain “if it is able to attract snowbirds from Europe”.
The retiree visa could also lead to more older expats buying homes in the emirate since one of three stipulations of the visa requirements is property ownership.
“Now that the retirement visa is open for those outside the UAE, holiday home purchases could rise as a result,” said Lewis Allsopp, chief executive of Allsopp & Allsopp, a real estate brokerage. “Dubai is extremely popular with tourists worldwide and a great place for retirees to spend the winter and enjoy all that Dubai has to offer.”
Meanwhile, the retiree visa also offers a sense of security for those nearing retirement age in Dubai. “The Dubai property market will benefit immensely as a result of more expats investing in family homes,” Mr Allsopp added.
“Expats over 50 are not buying homes as often as people in their 30s purely because of the lack of visa as they near retirement age. I predict that many people will now be having discussions with their families about where they will retire and perhaps changing their plans off the back of this new legislation,” Mr Allsopp said.
Talal Moafaq Al Gaddah, chief executive of MAG Real Estate Development, said that Dubai’s move to issue retiree visas showed that the emirate is “a safe haven to everyone”.
Lynnette Abad, director of research and data at Property Finder, said any such decision will “certainly impact the property market in a positive way”.
“Before this initiative, expats knew their time was limited in the UAE, which impacted their decisions to purchase property. This new initiative opens up many opportunities and the ability to plan long term which includes the option to purchase a home to eventually retire in,” Ms Abad added.
With first-time expat buyers required to put down a deposit of 20 per cent on a property worth Dh2m, they would have to pay Dh400,000 upfront, according to Mortgage Finder.
“Currently, many banks in the UAE will not lend purely on retirement income. So, it will depend on what the borrower’s main income source is,” said Warren Philiskirk, director at Mortgage Finder.
The majority of banks also have upper age limits on who they will lend to. Most will lend to employed expat residents up to the age of 65 or 70 for UAE nationals and self-employed expats, said Mr Philiskirk, adding that non-residents are looked at on a case-by-case basis.
Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com, said that the set criteria will give people a target to save.
“People will need to feel confident that they can reach the minimum criteria not just the first time but every five years for renewal also,” he said.
Prathyusha Gurrapu, head of research and advisory, Core, a property consultancy, expects this regulation to open new real estate asset classes such as retirement communities with integrated healthcare that are prevalent in other mature economies.
“The UAE already caters to significant demand from tourism, holiday and second home investors from international markets, with this regulation expected to contribute further to medical and leisure tourism from the retiree resident’s family and friends,” Ms Gurrapu added.