Why making ends meet simply isn’t enough for UAE expats struggling with rising costs

Expats are suffering, writes Nima Abu Wardeh, who responds to the overwhelming number of readers who contacted her after reading her column last week titled: 'Sad expats priced out of their lives.'
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
We came in 2000 with promise and hope

We’re leaving this month being strung by a rope

The rope of high costs, bad mortgage and loans

No cash in the bank, down to the bare bones

This ode is for all, who like us are in stress

Don’t leave it too late to get out of this mess

Before you read on, you might well just say

“It’s all your own fault, why on earth did you stay?!”

After 14 long years of blood, sweat and tears

We couldn’t just run leaving all the arrears

If you’re struggling and stressing over bills you must pay

Just wrap it all up and call it a day

This is part of a poem I was sent in response to my column last week “Expats priced out of their lives”. It nails it for every single person who reached out to me having read the piece.

The message is clear: people are in pain. Today I’d like to share what I’ve learnt from the responses. Two things come up throughout:

• People are having difficulty “hanging on”, as someone put in a tweet to me.

• The serious and ongoing ramifications as a result of the financial crisis and the resulting economic dive in 2009 are now coming to a head.

This is a smattering of what was shared:

“We felt like wallets with legs.”

“My descriptor for ‘the only way to be in the UAE’ is to get a safe and secure salary, guaranteed housing, schools paid for, just do the job you are paid for and, sadly, don’t invest any of yourself into the country.”

Seeing as those who wrote in were mainly entrepreneurs or professionals who don’t get their outgoings covered, this makes sense.

The things is, we’re dealing with an ongoing conflict of wanting to invest – at the very least emotionally – in where we’re living, while “knowing” that one day we will leave.

This is how one astute person put it:

“After you’ve spent more than five years here, you stop thinking of it as a working holiday-in-the-sun and start thinking about it as a long-term proposition.”

This is the story of another entrepreneur who certainly thought of the UAE as a long-term home, albeit temporary: since 2008 he has ploughed more than Dh10 million of profit back into the UAE. Two decades on he’s throwing in the towel.

“My original long-range plan was to live in Dubai until 2025, I’m just leaving 11 years early. Why? I can’t pinpoint any one thing that pushed me over the edge on one fell swoop. It has been about three years coming, more and more discontent, more and more discussing the value of being in Dubai vis-a-vis somewhere else.

“In April of this year our sponsor told us he was going to change the terms of our agreement and wanted more money. Then our trade licence that we have had with no problems since 2007 kept getting rejected over and over again, then our warehouse landlord raised our rents by nearly 100 per cent. At that point my CFO got fed up and recommended we close shop since our profit margins had dropped to very low single digits. I held out for four more months but I’m now done. It just isn’t worth it any more. “

The key for success is sustainability. The ability of people to sustain themselves, and if they can, then by default a city can sustain itself too.

Not too long ago, people suffered the immense stress of having to leave their lives behind either because they were pushed – downsizing, going bust and so on – or because they ran. No one wants that to happen again.

Back to the entrepreneur: “Would I do it all over again? Yes. What would I do different?”

Well, suffice to say that he would have prioritised his ‘forever home’ as a place to invest in.

He ends with this:

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not leaving Dubai destitute but I sure am a lot less well off then if I had left in 2008-09 or even if I hadn’t started any of my companies. Sad but I’ll pick myself up and do it all over again.”

This person isn’t living hand-to-mouth – but many here are. There is a clear call for help from a growing number of expats, along with a desire to make things work for them so that they can continue to live and work in the UAE.

While you think over your own situation, I will leave you with another line from the poem:

We defended this town saying how great it will be

At the end of the day, it’s just “Me, Me, Me, Me.”

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at nima@cashy.me

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Published: December 5, 2014 04:00 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read