There’s No Place Like Home – by Simon Comina

For most expats this city represented a chance for some fun in the sun and a way to boost their savings. But as the years roll by, the ‘Dubai effect’ leaves many hoping to settle down.

There's No Place Like Home

If you’re new to Dubai, beware of all the clichés foreign residents here utter, such as: “I’m going to get really healthy soon” (straight after the next brunch), or “I’m going to start saving all my money” (straight after the next desert staycation).

The one that gets the most guffaws is undoubtedly when newcomers say: “I’m only going to live here for two to three years, maximum.” The reason this amuses residents is simple: most people who come to Dubai for a new adventure, or to boost their career, get so used to the lifestyle on offer – the weather, the lack of crime, the tax-free salaries, and the sheer glamour – that months very quickly turn into years. Years can even turn into decades.

There are certainly many people who try to make the UAE home in a more permanent, fixed sense. Historically, one problem has been the concern that living in Dubai could only be temporary due to the short-stay visas that vanish if your employment situation changes.

But things are about to change that will have a huge effect on the number of people putting down roots, which in turn will give a substantial boost to the property sector.

For a start, the UAE is enacting sweeping changes to its residency system in which investors and key workers will be offered visas of up to ten years, to attract sought-after professionals. Doctors and engineers and their families are among those who will be eligible for these long-stay visas. Specialists working in medicine, science, research and technical fields will also be eligible. At the same time, students will be able to secure five-year visas and exceptional graduates could remain in the country for ten years; at present they must apply to renew their visa each year.

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We underestimate how Dubai can get under your skin. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to leave the emirate to “go back home” only to return a short while later because they couldn’t cope anymore with the realities of life back in their native land.

Thankfully, a more ‘open door’ approach is being spearheaded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who stated recently that: “…an open environment, tolerant values, infrastructure and flexible legislation are the best plan to attract global investment and exceptional talents to the UAE.”

As for the hotly discussed mortgage question, under the current rules an expat can take out a first mortgage up to the value of AED 5 million with a 75% loan to value rate. For any property purchase above AED 5 million, the maximum loan to value for expats is 65%, and for off plan- property the maximum amount loaned would be 50% prior to completion.

But there is a rumour that the Central Bank may soon relax these terms. If they did, there is sure to be a rush on secondary market properties because there are many potential owner- occupier buyers waiting for such a move. These buyers continue to be renters due to the problem of raising the 25% deposit.

Will it happen?

Only time will tell, but real estate industry insiders appear confident. It may have taken some time, but Dubai has come around to the idea that embracing the expats who have been part of the emirate’s incredible global success story is not only a positive thing to do socially, but also makes sense economically. Aside from the effect it would have on the property market, it would certainly boost the economy overall.

Expats typically channel their money into property or savings schemes overseas; funds that could be spent in the local economy if they had the option to settle here long- term. A more permanent, rather than transient, workforce would also bring economic benefits.

Further appreciation of the contribution expats have made to Dubai’s success came recently when the UAE Cabinet approved a law to provide special residency-visa privileges for expats retirees over the age of fifty-five years for a period of five years, with the possibility of renewal, according to specific conditions. This is great news and will certainly offer reassurance to those who have resided here a while, or who are thinking long-term.

As for me, I moved to Dubai from Switzerland in December 2014, a short time after my son was born. In my previous job, I was spending more than six months a year travelling and, after the birth of my son, I wanted things to change. Taking the plunge, both my wife and I resigned to try something totally different – thus we moved to Dubai.

How long did we plan to stay?

Just two or three years of course… It has now been four years and we are really happy living in this vibrant, ever-changing city that still holds such a strong connection to its traditions, while being a forward- looking beacon of progress for the region. Our families love to visit us here, and we love to return to Switzerland (especially in summer!), and we often find ourselves wondering at how fast time is flying.

Today, we call Dubai our home and we are looking to buy our first house, a decision I should have taken long ago. For our son, this is really the only home he has ever known and there is a quality of family life here that we know we are blessed to enjoy.

Indeed, this is a feeling many families across Dubai have. So, let’s see whether even more policies and initiatives will be put into place in the future to encourage people to permanently unpack their suitcases and start thinking of this shiny, inspiring city as ‘home’.

SIMON COMINA
Chief Finance Officer Property Finder

This article was originally published in Property Finder Trends Vol. 5

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