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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Expat Insider Survey: Snapshot of a home from home

Making friends, health care and education costs, what did you consider before getting on that plane to a new life? Expatriates across the globe gave their opinions and rankings on the best places to settle in.
Education and childcare costs as well as safety, climate and chances to make good friends were all on top of the ‘to think about’ list for expats. Nicole Hill / The National
Education and childcare costs as well as safety, climate and chances to make good friends were all on top of the ‘to think about’ list for expats. Nicole Hill / The National

What makes an expatriate? The word’s Latin root means simply someone who has moved away from their own country.

What makes an expatriate become an expatriate is another story altogether and one central to the 2015 Expat Insider Survey, which was released on Monday.

More than 14,000 people took part in this study of the world’s expat community.

The new breed of expat is “not the old tradition of someone assigned overseas by the company”, said Vera Grossman, public relations manager for InterNations — a global network of expatriate online communities that conducted the survey. “We have people seeking adventure or even moving for romantic reasons.”

In the UAE, this year’s survey revealed, female expats find greater ease and satisfaction in career prospects, adapting to the local culture and making new friends than their male counterparts.

While the male expats’ satisfaction rating put the UAE 28th among the 64 countries included in the survey about aspects such as finance, cost of living and quality of life, women’s votes ranked it at 13th.

Overall, it came in at 19th. That was below Singapore, Canada and Australia but above many others such as Spain, Britain, France and Japan.

The survey found that UAE expats work longer hours than the global average and that while nearly six out of 10 were happy with their work-life balance, the approval rating was slightly lower than for the rest of the world.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given recent trends in the market, one of the main concerns was the cost of housing. Of those surveyed, 60 per cent listed high rents as a concern, compared with the global average of 42 per cent.

Globally the UAE ranks 49th out of 64 countries for personal finance and 37th for the cost of living.

At the same time there is much greater confidence in the economy than in other countries, and while more than a third worry about medical expenses, nearly three out of five UAE expats think they are getting good health care in return.

“Great quality at a high cost” is how Expat Insider summed up life here.

The country scores highly for family life. Nine of out 10 expat families believe the UAE is a healthy and safe place to raise their children, while about 60 per cent are happy with childcare and 71 per cent — only slightly below the global average — with schools and education.

On the other hand, nearly half of respondents say childcare puts a strain on their budget, a figure that rose to 60 per cent for school fees.

The standard of living is also considered high in the UAE, which ranks 21st in a quality of life index that has Singapore as the best place to live and Nigeria as the worst.

Before moving here, the major concerns, in order, are personal safety (half gave this as a consideration), followed by the state of the economy and cost of living.

Nearly nine out of 10 said they liked living here because it gave them an opportunity to travel and 83 per cent were pleased with the choice of leisure activities on offer.

A snapshot of a UAE expat showed that they fitted a more traditional model. Almost-two thirds were male, they were nearly three times as likely to work in construction as the rest of the world, more likely to be single, and had an average age of 38 — nearly three years younger than the global average for expats.

Among national groups, the biggest was from the Indian subcontinent. About a quarter of those taking part in the survey were from India, four times the global average for expatriates, while 9 per cent came from Pakistan.

Those from the Philippines made up 7 per cent of the UAE expat population, compared with just 2 per cent worldwide.

The survey found that the top reason most people moved to the UAE was that they had been offered a job. Nearly one in five said they were looking for a better quality of life — three times the global average — while one in 10 said their main motive for relocation was financial.

“The UAE is a more traditional assignment for expats,” said Ms Grossman. “They tend to be without their families and don’t stay as long.”

One respondent found in the UAE “a divide between western expats and people from other countries”, while another struck a more positive note: “I like how so many nationalities and people from different cultural backgrounds work together here peacefully.”

Much of the UAE’s popularity is because of the widespread use of English. Ease of communication means the country ranks fifth for language. Many non-Arab expats said they found it difficult to learn Arabic. More than half said it was difficult.

Looking at worldwide trends, the survey found that the boundary between expatriate life and emigration is blurring.

One in four of those surveyed — the biggest single group — said that they may never return home.

One in five said they still had to make up their mind about the decision.

Only 5 per cent said that they wanted to stay overseas for fewer than 12 months.

The age of expatriates worldwide was not a defining factor

either. Four in 10 were over the age of 40 and 20 per cent were over the age 50.

If they were defined by a single factor, it was education.

Eight out of 10 have a university degree. The UAE is among the top-10 destinations for managers, reflected in higher incomes but also longer working hours.

At the top of the list of destinations is Ecuador, attractive as a place to retire because of the balance of its quality of life and relatively low cost of living.

While living the dream is the objective of many who move overseas, the expat life is not for everyone. Common worries included missing family and friends, worrying about future finances and retirement, and for single expats, meeting a partner.

Before moving, one in three listed the weather as a factor in making their decision, along with crime and the cost of living.

The UAE is the most popular of the GCC countries among expats, with Oman coming in as runner up.

Greece’s economic woes have pushed it to 63rd place out of the 64 countries, with Kuwait ranked at the bottom of desired expat destinations, scoring poorly as a place to settle in and make friends. In the UAE, though, almost three-quarters went out of their way to stress the friendliness of the local population.

jlangton@thenational.ae