Meet the new Chinese arrivals looking to call UAE home

Skilled jobs and good schools attract more expats, while some choose Dubai over troubled American cities

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Living with their family in Dubai, the ease of doing business and the UAE’s safety record are high on the checklist of reasons why Chinese residents are moving to the UAE.

Some are moving back to a city they are familiar with, others will move later this year after Beijing ended stringent quarantine restrictions in place since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of Chinese citizens living in the UAE has doubled to 400,000 since 2019 and about 6,000 Chinese companies operate in the UAE, Chinese government figures show.

A vibrant Chinese population and good international schools are key factors when Chinese citizens make comparisons between work and residency options in Dubai, Europe, Asia, the US, Canada or Australia.

Tour groups from China will also resume this month with the UAE included in a pilot list of 20 countries.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced that Chinese travel agencies could begin outbound tours to countries including the UAE, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Argentina.

My son got good offers from big banks and he selected Dubai. Like him, others will come.
Jiqing Chen, chair, UAE Shanxi Chamber of Commerce

Wu Zixuan left her home in Beijing just before New Year to be with her husband who has been working in Dubai for about 10 years.

Known as Vivi to friends, Ms Wu is keen to stay in Dubai at least until her son Ming, 8, completes his education.

The past few years have been tough as Ms Wu’s husband who works in the petroleum sector was unable to visit them frequently in China due to weeks-long quarantine regulations.

“The basic reason is for family, I want my family to live together,” says Ms Wu, a lawyer who specialises in intellectual property rights.

“I’m also interested in how to support my son’s education. I don’t want to keep changing the environment as he grows older.

“I want a stable situation for my family.”

Choice of schools

Dubai’s choice of schools from the International Baccalaureate to the American curriculum was an added draw.

Ms Wu is no stranger to Dubai having lived in the city for two years in 2018.

She moved back to China in March 2020, just before Covid-19 lockdowns shut national borders, as she was wanted her son to better understand their native culture.

“I went back because I wished my son would have a deep understanding of our language, our poems,” she said.

“But I did not like that my husband could not visit often. It impacted our family and so we decided to reunite.”

Her son’s acceptance at the Dubai International Academy, an IB institution on her shortlist of Dubai schools, cemented her decision to return.

Enthusiastic about Dubai, she ticks of the city’s advantages to friends and family in China who are considering a move.

“Chinese parents think a lot about their children’s education and schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are good,” Ms Wu said.

“I tell my friends Dubai is a good choice - they can start some business here.

“There are so many reasons I came back. I like the people, I like the smiles on people’s faces here, also the city is so international.

“I can feel the warmth. I like the safety of Dubai.”

However, the rising cost of living has come as a surprise when she compares prices to two years ago.

She pays Dh100 more on grocery shopping a week and finds restaurant meals more expensive.

Ms Wu is thankful education fees have not risen. Dubai's government has frozen private tuition fees for three years in a row.

“The prices are getting higher,” she said.

“For people who have lived in Beijing or big cities, they may think it’s okay.

“But it will be expensive for people from smaller villages.

“For people who have the financial ability to live abroad – Dubai may be one of the options but not the only option.”

'American cities just aren't safe'

Bingbing Chen has returned to Dubai, a city he has known as home since the age of five, from the United States.

The spate of shootings in California last week that killed at least 25 people vindicated his decision to leave after finishing a master’s degree in August.

“I have seen how dangerous the US can be like the violence during Lunar New Year in California,” the 25-year-old said.

“Usually California or New York is the place you want to start a business in - but both are filled with violence.”

He had a harrowing first-hand experience some years ago as witness to a mugging near his college campus in Boston.

“The guy covered his face, had a gun in his hand and assaulted a person in front of me,” he said. “That ended everything in my mind about staying in the US.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a victim.”

Mr Chen declined job offers from top investment banks in the US and China and instead aims to grow his parent’s shoe business in Dubai and later build a company of his own.

The emirate’s business-friendly and quick processes are a welcome change from the challenges he encountered when attempting to launch a small business project in the US.

“Dubai is a much better choice for me mainly because of the infrastructure to support small businesses,” he said.

“I want to be an entrepreneur and it was so easy to open a new office here.

“In the US, everything is time consuming. There are different laws in every state and separate federal laws when I tried to growing the family business there.”

He is working to set up an online platform so Lucky Shoes, his family business can attract buyers globally.

Mr Chen is upbeat about Chinese interest in the UAE following revamped visa rules.

“A lot of Chinese companies are looking to start here especially e-commerce firms,” he said.

“There will be a bunch of people seeking opportunities here now that travel restrictions have ended.”

Jiqing Chen, Mr Chen’s mother, promotes the city by telling her family’s story.

A wholesale shoe business she and her husband ran in 1999 has grown to a manufacturing company with three retail stores.

We are a good example when Chinese people ask for more information about Dubai,” said Ms Chen, chairperson of the UAE Shanxi Chamber of Commerce.

“I always advertise Dubai.

“There is a lot of competition in China so people look at investment in Dubai.

“There is interest in the golden visa.

They will also come because their children can study in Dubai schools.”

She spoke of a rising interest among Chinese nationals to make UAE their base.

“My son got good offers from big banks and he selected Dubai,” Ms Chen said.

“Dubai feels like his home country, he understands Dubai.

“Like him, others will come.”

Updated: January 31, 2023, 8:18 AM