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Mixed reception for UAE’s Golden Visa discount programme

golden visa Esaad card Supplied
The card offers discounts including to fees for education establishments such as the Kings School in Dubai

Some experts accuse initiative of being mere ‘window dressing,’ while others praise its ingenuity

Dubai has bolstered its Golden Visa scheme with associated discounts to help attract high-level entrepreneurs, doctors, academics and creatives to its shores.

The government announced this week that it would provide its Esaad privilege card – originally only for public sector employees – to recipients of the five and 10-year visas free of charge.

The card offers slashed prices on sectors from flights and schools to hotels and fast-food chains.

There are deals offered at 7,237 outlets in the UAE and across 92 countries worldwide.

“This initiative supports the leadership’s vision to make Dubai the world’s best city to live in,” Abdulla Mohammed Al Basti, secretary-general of Dubai’s Executive Council, said in a statement to UAE state news agency WAM.

“It also aligns with their directives to provide golden residency holders with a range of incentives in addition to the stability that the long-term visa offers.”

So far, 65,000 people in Dubai have been awarded the Golden Visa since the launch of the long-term residency scheme.

Neha Thomas, head of marketing at business setup advisory firm Creative Zone, said she had seen a rise in queries for Golden Visa applications since the addition of the Esaad programme.

“The five- and 10-year golden visas have already been quite popular with foreign business owners and investors. So, those individuals who were genuinely interested in getting long-term UAE visas will now have a great enticement to go for it sooner,” she added.

Text, Paper, Business Card
Esaad card

First approved in 2020 in line with a wider effort to attract top talent to the country, Golden Visas are awarded to people who have made outstanding contributions to the UAE, have highly prized abilities, or who work in industries regarded as vital to the economic growth of the country.

“I think what the Golden Visa programme is really trying to do is to make expats a little more permanent and more committed, and to see this as the place they’re going to be in for many years, as opposed to living here and investing elsewhere,” Graeme Erens, CEO and executive creative director of Dubai-based Genius Loci, a collective of leisure and destination brand designers, told AGBI.

Erens added that some of the discounts offered by the Esaad privilege card are significant and would help manage cost of living challenges for individuals and businesses. 

The latest S&P Global UAE Purchasing Managers’ Index, issued in July, found that rising energy costs and higher wage bills were biting into profit margins for UAE companies.

“The thing I always say about rewards programmes is that they really should be rewarding,” Erens said. 

“For anybody who is living in a large city like this, the cost of living is quite high. So, any discounts on general life expenses and things like school fees probably could be an attraction.”

Esaad cardholders can benefit from up to 40 percent discount at certain schools in the UAE, and up to 80 percent at some universities. 

“Those are big percentages you’re talking about,” Erens said. “And anyone who has got kids in school would find that percentage huge.”

However, Dubai-based independent wealth advisor Saahil Menon disputed the appeal of the programme. 

“I think it’s quite paradoxical to award golden visa holders a discount card since the overwhelming majority of them are high-net-worth individuals who need this facility the least,” Menon told AGBI. 

“Hence, I think this is merely window dressing and unlikely to appeal to recipients.”

Perks on offer with the Esaad card

Retail and entertainment

  • 40 percent off at IMG Worlds Of Adventure
  • 15 percent discount at Bloomingdales
  • 15 –20 percent discount at Galeries Lafayette
  • 40 percent discount on diamonds at Adnan Jewellery
  • Six percent discount in all Sharaf DG stores and five to 20 percent discount on online shopping for electronic devices, accessories and maintenance at Sharaf DG
  • 15 percent discount on the total bill, with minimum order of AED15 at McDonalds
Palace, Mansion, Housing
Hospitality discounts including Kempinksi Palm Jumeirah

Travel

  • 25 percent discount on airline tickets base prices with FlyDubai
  • 50 percent discount on best available rate at Al Habtoor Palace Hotel Dubai
  • 50 percent discount at Kempinski Palm Jumeirah

Education

  • 40 percent discount on school fees at the American School of Creative Science
  • 30 percent discount on school fees at Brighton College Dubai
  • 20 percent discount on school fees at Raffles International School and Raffles World Academy
  • 20 percent discount on school fees at Kings School Dubai 
  • 20 to 70 percent discount on fees at British University in Dubai 
  • 20 to 80 percent discount on fees at Canadian University in Dubai
  • 25 to 50 percent discount on fees at Murdoch University in Dubai
Person, Human, Clothing
Healthcare discounts including at Dubai London Hospital and Clinic services

Healthcare

  • 35 percent discount on medical services at the Iranian Hospital in Dubai
  • 50 percent discount on consultation and 30 percent on other services at Saudi German Hospital
  • 30 percent discount on all Dubai London Hospital and Clinic services
  • 40 percent on all hospital services in Al Zahra Private Hospital Sharjah

Business services

  • 40 percent discount on car rental services with Europcar
  • 30 percent discount on domestic and international shipping fees with Aramex
  • 10 percent discount on labour charges in maintenance and 30 percent discount on spare parts at Al Ghandi Auto
  • 50 percent off on remittance fee at Al Rostamani Exchange

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