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Expats staying in the UAE longer, but stress levels are rising

Expats need to plan how to put their cash surplus to work Creative Commons
Expats need to plan how to put their cash surplus to work
  • Employees from overseas have more disposable income than at home
  • No government pension and free or subsidised education

Expats stay for longer in the UAE than in any other country but workplace stress is a growing problem, a new study has found.

The 2022 edition of the 360° Global Well-Being Survey, compiled by health services firm Cigna, reported that some employees in the Emirates were complaining of unmanageable stress and burnout caused by long working hours.

The average length of stay in the UAE is about four years and five months, compared to a global average of three years and three months, Cigna said.

The company attributed that figure to a “better quality of life, finances and a more stable job market” in the UAE.

However, experts told AGBI that the long term impacts of expat life might not match the short term perks.

“Expats here [in the UAE] typically would have more disposable income [than in] their home country, but it’s what they do with it that will make the difference in the long term,” said Joshua Nash, associate partner and expat financial planner at GSB Capital in Dubai.

“Nearly all UK and European expats will be giving up employee and government pensions outside of manually making contributions, and [they will also be forgoing] free or subsidised education.

“You need to close this gap somehow, and it’s near impossible to do that with just cash surplus or gratuity payments.”

Expats need to plan how to put their cash surplus to work within the first year of arrival, Nash said.

“Generally, people here are aware [living here] is not forever and are keen to put this excess cash to work with the set timeline they have,” he said. 

“Whether they execute this correctly is another matter. The biggest savings and investment mistake I see here is people signing up to long term regular savings contracts. These have extremely high fees and exit penalties, so beware.”

Expats need to be at least £1,000 ($1,116) better off each month to make a move worthwhile, according to Nash.

“I did some quick maths when I first moved to the UAE, and my calculation – to take account of schooling fees, higher cost of living, no employer pension, less employee benefits in general such as share scheme, childcare vouchers, dental and a company car – is that we would need to be £1,000 per month better off to really justify the move from a financial perspective,” he said.

“Then add some on top of this to account for the fact you’ll be away from friends and family for large parts of the year. Is it worth it?

“For anyone young and without commitments, like kids or a mortgage, I’d strongly encourage the move.

“You have very little to lose and a lot to learn, even if it doesn’t result in a long term stay. For those in stable careers and families, a more considered approach is recommended.”

Person, Human, Shoe
Some employees complain of stress and burnout due to longer working hours

The UAE scored 68.2 on Cigna’s wellbeing index – above the global average of 62.9, in the survey of 11,922 people aged 18 to 65. It was the number one destination across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

A psychologist working in the region, who declined to be named, said that this was not surprising, “because it offers a lifestyle and opportunities few other places can, and it’s among the safest places to live in the world.”

However, they added: “You have to account for where and what circumstances people are coming from.

“You only have to look around us in the region and world today to know that many are coming here because of limited or no other options. That isn’t to discount what’s on offer here, but it’s important to make that distinction.”

The psychologist added that the “trauma of having no choice” can be significant. “It’s not uncommon to see expats, even in very successful positions, depressed because they feel enslaved to their employers,” they said.

This was reflected in Cigna’s index for expat stress, with 90.6 percent of expats in the UAE reporting that they were stressed, significantly higher than people living in their home market such as the UK where 74.1 percent of people said they were stressed. 

Cigna said 57 percent of expats in the UAE and 45 percent in Saudi Arabia have been overseas for more than five years.

However, the survey also found that Saudi Arabia is now only of interest to one percent of people planning to move abroad for the first time.

The top destination for existing expats who want to relocate is Canada, followed by the US and Australia. 

Fifty seven percent of young Arabs polled as part of the 14th Arab Youth Survey, which interviewed 3,400 young Arabs aged 18 to 24 in 17 countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), view the UAE as the country they would most like to live in and also the country they want their own to be like.   

The US is still seen as the second most popular country young Arabs would like to live in.

After the UAE, the top five countries they would most like to live in are the US (24 percent), Canada (20 percent), France (15 percent) and Germany (15 percent).

Earlier this year, a report on the work-life balance in 100 global cities named Dubai the most overworked city in the world.

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