Visa changes: Expats imagine a life after work in the UAE

The UAE Cabinet has approved a plan to allow non-Emiratis to remain in the country once they have retired

happy smiling active senior tourist couple together on sightseeing vacation through United Arab Emirates
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Ziad Salloum may still be more than two decades away from retirement, but the father-of-three still worries about what the future might hold for his family.

Despite having been born and raised in the UAE, longstanding legislation prevents him from remaining in the country after he finishes working.

All that could now change, however, with the announcement yesterday of a Cabinet-approved plan to allow non-Emiratis retirees to stay in the emirates if they meet specific criteria.

From next year, residents aged 55 or over will be eligible to secure a five-year retirement visa if they own properties worth at least Dh2 million, have at least Dh1 million in savings or have an income of more than Dh20,000 per month.

On Monday, Mr Salloum, 39, a successful French lawyer, reveals he had only spent eight years living outside of the UAE.

He says he lived in Lebanon as a student and spent time in France, but that the emirates is the only country he considers home.

“I can’t see myself going back and living in Lebanon," the lawyer at Salloum and Partners in Abu Dhabi said. “I’m French but I never grew up in France.

“I love going to Paris and travelling the countryside but I don’t know where I would go if I didn’t have the option to stay here.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - November 24, 2009: Ziad Salloum, stands for a portrait at the Beach Rotana hotel, he is campaigning for the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce Elections.
( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  RC004-ZiadSalloum.jpg

Being brought up and living in the UAE for decades has had the same impact on thousands of other non-Emiratis.

And following the government announcement yesterday, many have welcomed the chance to remain in the country after retiring.

Nikki, 45, who did not want to give her full name, said she has lived in Dubai for nine years and now ran a health and beauty firm.

Born in Ireland, she also sees the UAE as her home, and would like to remain after finishing work.

“I only had this conversation with a friend yesterday, before the news came out,” she says. “I messaged her last night to say we can buy the rocking chairs now.”

The UAE remains a huge draw for thousands of residents due to its combination of great weather, tax incentives, and lifestyle choices.

The sun shines year round, while fantastic golf courses and beaches are also a big draw for those looking to retire.

Despite this Nikki has concerns about the initiative.

First, she argued, the public transportation system would need to be improved significantly as many retirees no longer drive.

"That infrastructure is not here yet," she says. "I would be very keen to see how they will do this in 10 years' time because it would take at least 10 years to instil confidence in people and encourage them to buy property if they've not invested already."

The prospect of the five-year renewable visa also worried her, she concedes. She said relocating to another country could potentially be difficult enough at start of a person's retirement, and would likely become even harder in older age.

"My fears are for when you hit 75 or 80 – then what happens?" she said. "At what stage will they stop you?"

The expense of health insurance is also a concern – and one of the biggest worries shared by residents discussing the plan in a flurry of posts on social media yesterday.


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“It’s nice to have it as an option and know you won’t be obliged to leave,” wrote one member of the British Expats Dubai Facebook page in a discussion on the topic.

“The cost of medical insurance would play a major factor though.”

Many are also worried about the cost of living in the UAE, which can be substantially higher than in Europe.

“It's a start and gives people options,” said one person on social media. “However, having experienced the change in cost of living here in Dubai over the last two decades I think it is untenable for many.

“Living costs have ballooned out of control. For many it wouldn't make financial sense to remain here even if they meet the criteria. Probably wiser to find somewhere with a great lifestyle and lower costs.”

Questions over the cost of living and healthcare were critical to consider, said Nikki. "These are the questions we have to ask ourselves," she said.

"If they can get the infrastructure right and build the right type of property for golden age people, who will of course contribute hugely to the GDP of the UAE, it could be very successful.

“And I do believe that they will do it. They are very quick in coming up with ideas."