Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: Word of Advice Part 2

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Word of Advice Part 2

I tried to touch on the economic factors at work here in the U.A.E. as well as the rest of the world in my Part 1. Now I will explain how certain peculuarities of life here combine with these factors to make things a little more difficult for the expat trying to make a living here.

Most companies in the Emirates who hire employees from abroad have what is called "expat packages". These include free housing (or housing allowances), school tuition for dependents, free medical insurance, transportation and of course the negotiated salary. Another perk is the Settling Allowance. For me it was a lump sum 5 figure amount that was deposited into my local bank account a few days after reporting to work. The purpose of this is to ease your transition into a foreign country and to give a new employee the means to set up house. That means appliances and furniture to start.

The Settling Allowance is usually not a gift. In my case if I left my job after the first year I would owe 60% of the allowance back to the company. If I left after two years I would owe 30% and if I stayed for three years I would owe nothing. So it is kind of a loan or deferred salary. And a very good reason to stick-it-out.

Another thing is that when you open a bank account here, you are literally bombarded with credit card and personal loan offers that have obscenely high limits. Combine this with the presence of every high-end retailer of automobiles, fashions, home decor, gourmet restaurants, rock concerts and every other angle of "the good life"and the temptation factor is high.

So you have a newcomer with a tax-free salary, free or subsidised housing, massive credit limits, $10,000+ cash in the bank and a job that seems it will last forever. You can see the temptation to buy that Porsche he or she always wanted and furnish the villa with all the best stuff within the first few months of moving to the Emirates. The banks are very helpful in arranging that. I got a 5 year loan, no money down, for a brand new car after being employed for only a month.

Fast forward six months to a year in our new employee example. The global economy tanks and the new expat is told he or she is being made redundant (fired) and in addition to losing the residence visa, the employee will have 30 days to find another job or be deported. Let's say the expat owes $70,000 in auto and personal loans in addition to the portion of the settling allowance to the company (may be waived in involuntary dismissal).  Also if the employee signed a lease-rent is usually paid in advance for 6 to 12 months-he or she would lose that too, at least another $50.000. 

The U.A.E. is unlike Western countries in that are no bankrupcy laws allowing an individual protection from creditors for a while to work things out. You go to prison, simple as that. So you see the danger of indulging yourself in the many temptations here until you are sure you are on stable ground.

In a nutshell, you get fired (or get tired), have to leave, and you owe money, the employer tells the bank, the bank tells the government, the government tells Immigrations and you get stopped from leaving the airport and possibly go to jail instead of home. I don't know what happens after that but I am sure it is not pleasant.

My advice to anyone here already or thinking about relocating here for employment is to be as frugal as possible during your first year. Don't get credit cards or take out personal loans from local banks as so many that I have seen do. It's easy money but one could end up paying dearly for it. 

Keep your debt back in your home country where there are laws to protect you. Keep as much as you can of your settling allowance in savings. Don't do as I did and buy a brand new car with a 5 year loan commitment. Instead get a cheap car on a month-to-month lease. Accept free company housing if offered, don't sign a long-term lease on your own.

The whole idea is to keep your local U.A.E. debt to a minimum until you are sure that things are going to work out well for you.  This is especially true for families. If you get too much underwater money-wise and things turn sour, you will have a problem.

This is a good place to live if you know the rules and toe the line. Long term is the way to look at it to save money in the Emirates, but that is not always going to happen in today's screwed up economy. You never know what is going to happen in this volatile part of the world, either. Keep it light, you'll do alright!


Anonymous said...

good peice of advice, btw, what car did you buy :)

Ace said...

Nothing exravagant, a Jeep Wrangler.

Anonymous said...


Ace said...

You avoid going outside for any length of time for the Summer months. The rest of the year is very enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Great advice and other blogs. What are you doing over there? You know any teachers and how they like it over there?

Expat From Hell said...

Hi, Ace: I found your blog through an expat blog website. We have an opportunity to move to AD in August, after four previous postings elsewhere around the world. Wondering if you have any thoughts and reflections on your time there that would be of interest to us.

Best regards to you.

Kent Brown

Ace said...

"Great advice and other blogs. What are you doing over there? You know any teachers and how they like it over there?"

I am in the airline biz....I don't know any in the teaching profession...sorry.

How well people like it here depends on many personal factors.

Ace said...

Most of my impressions are written in my blog posts.
I am going to read your blog by the way. Looks interesting.

It is hot in August, but if you do relocate here then, you can be assured you will get the worst out of the way early.