Lockdown fatigue tempts expats to make move from Asia to UAE

Recruiters in Dubai see a 20 per cent increase in enquiries from people looking to move from Singapore

The Urquhart family moved from Singapore to Dubai this year. Photo: Alex Urquhart
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Hundreds of families have moved from Asia to the UAE in the past six months, with the country proving an attractive destination because of the way it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estate agents, schools and recruitment experts said they had seen an influx of highly paid professionals fed up with lockdowns, home schooling and new waves of coronavirus cases.

We've seen a 60 per cent increase in enquiries from expats looking to move to Dubai from Asia this year
Harry Tregoning, Tregoning Property

Dubai in particular is considered a good option for families, thanks to its high vaccination rate, a return to in-school learning and open restaurants and bars.

The UAE has won international recognition for its pandemic strategy, with Abu Dhabi topping a new global ranking of 50 cities for their Covid-19 response in which Dubai placed fifth.

Alex Urquhart, 44, a British mother of three, lived in Singapore for 11 years before she moved to Dubai this summer.

"We were considering moving to Dubai in 2022, but the catalyst for us moving this year was Covid-19," said Mrs Urquhart, whose husband works in shipping.

"Life in Singapore was really restricted, and we had friends in Dubai telling us the situation was under control, and that was a real pull for us.

"Then Singapore went into another lockdown, and we just thought it was going to be lockdown after lockdown.

"Also Dubai is so much closer to home, and with a negative PCR we can just hop on a flight and travel. That's a real draw. In Singapore now that isn't possible, there's no knowing if you can get back in again."

Dubai recruitment expert David Mackenzie echoed that sentiment, and said several European headhunters from Singapore and Australia have approached his company looking for positions because the pandemic has made them realise they want to be closer to home.

"We've had a 20 per cent increase in people coming from Singapore because they're fed up with lockdown, and people are leaving Hong Kong because of the Chinese takeover, plus property prices there are skyrocketing," said Mr Mackenzie, who is the managing director of Mackenzie Jones Group.

"Dubai has a similar benefits package of tax-free living, nice weather, a good environment for the kids and English is a standard language. So expats are naturally looking to the emirate as an alternative."

Open borders vs quarantine

Singapore's zero-Covid policy has kept borders mostly closed since March 2020, and regular social lockdowns have been imposed every time case numbers creep up.

Regular travel to and from Hong Kong has also been curtailed since the start of the pandemic, and incoming passengers are required to quarantine for 14 to 21 days in a government facility.

These restrictions are contributing to an exodus from the island states. Figures from Singapore's Ministry of Manpower shows the number of workers from overseas declined by almost 14 per cent in the year ending December 2020.

Meanwhile, an American Chamber of Commerce survey in Hong Kong in May 2021 showed that 42 per cent of surveyed expatriates are considering or planning to move away.

Nearly two thirds of respondents cited the new National Security Law as a reason, while Covid-19 was mentioned by half of respondents, who said quarantine made it harder for them to travel and visit their families.

Dubai estate agent, Harry Tregoning of Tregoning Property, said he has seen a 60 per cent increase in enquiries from expats looking to move from Asia this year, and fewer people choosing to leave.

"I've had dozens of enquiries from expats in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia who are looking to move, and there're so many families we've run out of big villas for them," said Mr Tregoning, who is from the UK and has lived in Dubai with his family for 11 years.

"People just got fed up with the endless lockdowns – some children have been home-learning for a year now. They look at Dubai, and it's a really appealing alternative."

The draw of in-school learning

The influx of expatriates from Asia is also being felt by Dubai schools, with admissions enquiries staying busy over the summer, when they normally go quiet.

James Monaghan, the principal at North London Collegiate School, said the number of people attending his online "meet the principal sessions" increased by 75 per cent during July – mainly the result of overseas interest and families wanting to move to Dubai.

"We have seen a shift this summer, with an increase in enquiries from countries experiencing tighter restrictions," he said.

"This has come particularly from areas where students have been online for extended periods. These include China and India.

"Parents facing further online schooling are certainly showing interest in moving to Dubai specifically to ensure face-to-face learning moving into the year ahead."

Updated: September 09, 2021, 9:44 AM