Worst mistakes that expats make when moving to UAE

The UAE is an attractive work destination for many people across the world.

However, many who eventually do come to the country for work believe that most of us make some mistakes, which are easily avoidable.

According to a poll run by Emirates 24|7, majority (45 per cent) of the respondents believe living beyond their means is perhaps the worst mistake that expats make when they move to the UAE.

“People tend to splurge when doing up their house, they take up personal loans for unnecessary things and buy a bigger car than is required. And, in the end they fail in maths,” said one respondent.

For 39 per cent not doing enough homework about living costs is the worst mistake.

The UAE does offer a tax-free environment but people often underestimate the cost of life in the country.

The rents and education costs, which make up a big component of an individual’s budget, should be considered carefully.

Moreover, initial costs with taking up a house (the commission of the agent, the down payment of a car etc) are often overlooked.

Underestimating the cost of relocation is the worst mistake for 6 per cent of the participants, whereas 5 per cent believe not preparing a will could be the biggest mistake that people can make here.

Assuming like-for-like cost of living is the top mistake for 4 per cent and 1 per cent believe that not factoring in exchange rate fluctuations is the worst mistake people tend to make.


M R Raghu, Senior Vice-President-Research at Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz) lists for this website some of the worst mistakes that expats make when they move to the UAE.

Poor employer selection: Most of the expats tend to find an employer more through placement agents who invariably oversell the group that they represent.

As all of us know, most of the companies in the GCC tend to be family holdings with very strong management involvement by family members.

Lack of information on companies as well as inability to cross check the status of a company through someone who already works there, is rendered difficult in a country like UAE unless you are already well networked (unlikely).

Hence, in 90 per cent of the cases, expats come to UAE in the hope of joining a company that is professionally run and find that it is not the case.

Poor job selection: Many expats (professionals mainly) make poor job choices.

Most of the jobs have very generic designations like financial analyst, accountant, etc.

In pursuit of money, they come on board with these generic designations without proper job description and then discover that the job has nothing substantial to offer in terms of learning and growth, especially relative what they have been doing back home.

The contrast is stark when you come from India having worked for some of the professional names.

More than the poor employer choice, this aspect can be extremely frustrating.

Emulating peers in everything: Being new to the land, there is a tendency on the part of expats to just emulate what the peers are doing.

In most cases, peers are also caught in the same syndrome as explained above and hence it becomes a vicious loop.

Most of the time, peers tend to live the status quo and hence you see the long years that expats tend to put in the gulf.

Emulating the peers can also be due to poor networking with professionals elsewhere in the world. It may be a good idea to become members of professional associations that can provide you with choices that others are making.

Poor savings and investment choices: While earning tax-free salary is the only positive of this story, most of the expats tend to remit money back home and opt for either real estate, gold or fixed deposits with some exposure to equity markets.

However, the ability to make superior and informed choices is rendered difficult due to geographical distance and quality of information and analysis being made available in UAE.

For example, if you are in India you can be in regular reading habit of say The Economic Times and coffee table discussions also tend to be more qualitative and useful.

But in the GCC you are deprived of such information due to which we tend to make inferior choices based on what friends/relatives say or did.

Poor self-confidence: Due to regulatory reasons, expats do not make that much of an effort to change jobs to either another GCC country or say Europe or USA or India.

This is primarily due to poor self-confidence as a result of staid job functions. This is a strong negative feedback loop.

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