x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

I have saved money beyond my wildest dreams

If all has gone to plan, at the time you are reading this column, I'll be flying out of the UAE for the last time.

If all has gone to plan, at the time you are reading this column, I'll be flying out of the UAE for the last time. Milestones in life, such as moving to a new country, are a time for reflection, and recently I have often found myself looking back on my five years in the UAE. In the past few months I have felt keen to move on, but I will not forget the enjoyment I had when I moved here, and experienced the exoticism of living in a foreign country for the first time.

In that earlier period, during which I lived in Dubai, there was the thrill of wandering around Satwa in the evening and relishing the fact that I was the only westerner around. It was fun to eat in Indian and Pakistani restaurants several days a week, especially when my presence would generate curious looks from fellow patrons. There was the never-ending activity at Dubai Creek to marvel at, before taking an abra and wandering the bustling streets of Deira's souqs. But, inevitably, reflections on life in the UAE soon turn to money. Finances, after all, are never far from the thoughts of any of the country's residents. To be frank, being in the UAE has enabled me to save money beyond my wildest dreams. Early on, things were difficult, since I took a large pay cut to move to the Emirates. But as the cost of living went up, my pay rose dramatically and my bank balance grew even faster, since I kept a lid on spending.

So my savings are about £20,000 (Dh112,005) more than when I arrived five years and four months ago. More significantly, I have bought and paid outright for a one-bedroom flat in the UK that recently attracted a paying tenant. All of my savings have been sent back to my home country, rather than kept in the UAE or put into an offshore bank account or savings plan. So all told, I have pumped more than £120,000 into the British economy, thanks to my work in the UAE. But during visits to my home country, I have occasionally detected a certain snideness in the attitude of one or two people.

The stereotype suggests I get drunk every evening in bars and clubs, drive a massive SUV, live in a huge villa, spend my weekends at the beach and am generally the type of superficial character for whom money is everything. The reality, for better or worse, could not be more different. Life in the UAE has made me more conscious of the need to save than ever before. I spend less on entertainment than I did in England. My car, when I had one, was tiny. In Dubai I lived in a shabby looking tower block that was uncomfortably hot and humid for much of the summer. I hate the beach and I always do my best to avoid the sun.

So during five years I have not had a lifestyle to "die for", and I am sure I have contributed more to the United Kingdom than I would have done had I remained in my home country and paid income tax. Despite my significant contribution, I've taken nothing back in return. No demands on the National Health Service. No wear on Britain's crumbling roads. No use of the rubbish disposal services of the local authorities. No crimes that the British police had to spend their time solving. The list goes on.

And yet I will not get any thanks. Quite the opposite. Instead I will be landed with a hefty bill for capital gains tax on my only property. Hardly anyone in Britain who, like me, has just one property, has to pay this tax, but I will get stung because it is not my main residence. And that means if I am a UK resident when I sell the flat I will have to fork out 18 per cent of any increase in the value of the flat, above the first £10,100.

So when I come to dispose of my investment and buy a property back home that I actually need to live in, I will be forced by the taxman to fork out a sizeable chunk of money, just to avoid downsizing dramatically. How ungrateful can a country be? dbardsley@thenational.ae