High living costs force half of expats to consider leaving UAE

Half of employed expatriates would consider leaving the UAE because of the high cost of living, a YouGov survey has found.

Indika H G, a sales and marketing executive from Sri Lanka, is finding it hard to cope financially. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Half of employed expatriates would consider leaving because of the high cost of living.

“The majority of expatriates consider money and saving for the future as an important factor in moving to UAE,” said Alaeddine Ghazouani, research manager at YouGov.

“But the rising costs of living are increasingly holding them back from safeguarding the financial security they have been looking for, which makes moving out of the UAE a serious alternative.”

The National’s survey, carried out by YouGov, found that cost of living (22 per cent), rising rents (19 per cent) and inability to save (15 per cent) are residents’ top three main financial concerns.

The survey polled 1,104 expatriates and Emiratis across the UAE on attitudes towards money, spending, saving and job security.

When asked if they would consider moving away from the UAE because of the cost of living, 17 per cent said definitely yes while a further 33 per cent said probably yes.

Only 21 per cent said no, while the rest were unsure.

Many blamed the increased cost of living on their inability to put away a little money every month.

Indika H G, 38, a Sri Lankan, has been living in Abu Dhabi for nine-and-a-half years.

The sales and marketing executive for a property company said he was finding it harder to cope financially because his salary had stagnated as rents and cost of living had soared. “I don’t save for now,” he said. “The cost of living is very high. Rent is very high. Schooling fees are high.”

The emirate is a very different place from what it was in 2006-2007, he said. “Wages are staying the same while everything else goes up,” he said.

Of those questioned, 67 per cent of westerners are considering moving because of the cost of living. Emiratis and Asian expatriates said it was their biggest financial worry while for westerners and Arab expatriates it was their second biggest fear after rising rents.

More than half (56 per cent) said they faced difficulties in coping with the cost of living.

After rent, the worry of education costs, medical expenses, food expenses and household items were next on the list.

The cost of living was not an exclusive worry of expatriates.

Mai Al Hameli, 26, an Emirati who works as a brand coordinator in Abu Dhabi, said her biggest financial worry was school fees. “Every year the fees are increasing,” she said.

E M, 23, an Emirati student and housewife in Dubai, criticised the cost of rent in the Emirates.

“I got married and moved to Ajman,” she said. “Now I am looking for a house in Dubai and everywhere is expensive.

“I even cross-referenced prices in Dubai and in Barcelona, Spain. The rental prices in Barcelona in comparison to Dubai are about 30 per cent less.”

E M said she worried about money and was considering moving abroad to study. “To be able to pay for a house or rent a house in Dubai or Abu Dhabi – where my preferred university will be – in the long run it will cost too much.

“It will be cheaper for us to study abroad and move abroad.

“The only way for us to afford to study and live in Dubai is to take a loan. Or ask for financial help from family, which we do not want to do.”


*with additional reporting by Maryam Al Shamsi


About this series:

A study into the saving habits of Emiratis and expatriates found a quarter of all employed residents do not save any of their monthly wage. And 69 per cent have not started planning for retirement. The survey found that only 6 per cent of respondents do not have any financial worries. The majority of people’s wages are spent on rent, followed by groceries and household items leaving some residents dependent on multiple credit cards and longing for financial security. Financial experts advise residents to resist overspending to avoid a struggle when faced with unexpected expenses.


In this series:

Majority of expats in UAE sending money abroad, survey finds

UAE Minister of Economy backs The National's survey findings

Coverage from March 8th:

Survey finds 94% of UAE residents have financial worries

Rent is UAE residents' biggest expense, survey finds

Survey finds many UAE residents failing to save for retirement

Click on the image below to bring up a graphic on the survey’s findings