Friday 30 September 2016

Shining city in the desert where the living is easy and no one pays taxes

When RTE's George Lee went to Dubai to meet the Irish people who had joined the trail to the desert, he didn't realise they wouldn't want to come back to Ireland

George Lee

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

Dubai, one of the seven emirates that makes up the UAE, is a city of amazing contrasts
Dubai, one of the seven emirates that makes up the UAE, is a city of amazing contrasts

For a country that experienced one of the most spectacular property market bust-ups in the world outside of Ireland in 2009, the attitude among those who live in Dubai is remarkable.

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Skid-marks of the last economic crash are still everywhere to be seen. Yet the air is filled with a sort of brashness, a confidence, and an absence of economic doubt.

It's a mix that's hard to ignore.

I spent almost two weeks there - filming, travelling around the place day and night, speaking to as many people as humanly possible to find out about the lives of the Irish living there. It was intoxicating.

An enormous investment programme has kicked off. It is in preparation for Expo 2020 - the six-month-long global trade fair to be held in Dubai in just over four years time.

The abandoned half-built skyscrapers littered around the city from the crash seven years ago are up and running again. The big money is back.

I understood before I went that Dubai is not entirely representative of the UAE. I knew it had a reputation for being far more liberal and international in its outlook. But I wasn't really prepared for the positivity and the sense of optimism that I found.

I must have asked virtually everybody I met about how long they had come for and how long more before they go home. Everybody - and I mean everybody, not just the Irish - said they had had stayed longer than they originally came for, or were planning to stay longer.

Not one single person told me they wanted to go home.

The Irish in Dubai have a very good lifestyle. The teachers I met said they earned a little bit more than they did at home - but that they got to keep all of that money. There is no income tax, their accommodation expenses are fully paid, as well as health insurance and other benefits.

A top pilot told me how he might bring home about €5,000 a month in Dublin - but he gets €8,000 into his hand in Dubai, as well as having his accommodation and healthcare paid for.

An Irish car sales man told us that he earned between three and five times what he made at home, and loved the fact that he got to keep every penny.

An Irish woman we feature in the documentary told of the enormous business she has managed to build up organising about 24 Emirati weddings per year with a total spend of about €18m.

It's hardly surprising then that they are in no hurry to go home.

I spoke with quite a few entrepreneurs and business owners and was impressed with the type of opportunities that they can pursue and the extent to which they have been able to grow their businesses.

They described it as a "can do" place that was all about "getting on with it" - that if you have a business idea then just to do it.

There is nothing to stop you here. Once you get over the issues of permits, licenses, permission fees, and set-up costs the absence of bureaucratic red tape and taxation must be the envy of the world.

And if you make profits, you keep them - all of them! That is such a simple concept, but it really is quite amazing to find a place where that is actually a reality.

There are so many highlights from my trip.

There was the buildings obviously, which are extremely classy from the outside but also top class from the inside.

There were the magnificent hotels - the Burg Al Arab Hotel in particular - that we visited on more than one occasion, and of course we thoroughly enjoyed the splendour and the spectacle of it all.

We took a trip on a yacht. We explored the shopping malls and the souks, We enjoyed the old town and travelled on what must be the cleanest and simplest Metro system ever. We enjoyed great hospitality in the Bonnington Hotel and in the Irish pubs. We even walked into the desert.

All of these things where highlights. But the biggest highlight was the people we met. They were brilliant. They opened up their lives and told us their stories. They let us into their homes and into their workplaces. They explained the mysteries of how Dubai actually works. And for that I am extremely grateful.

They told us about how much they earned. About the fact that they worked very long hours compared to at home. They explained the issues about the high cost of education and accommodation in Dubai.

They were open and honest about the kind of lifestyles that they have. They filled my head with pictures of what their lives must be like.

And it is those pictures that I will remember far longer than the pictures in my head of the buildings that I drove past on the Sheikh Zayed Road.

There is so much of glitz and glamour about Dubai that it's almost unbelievable. But the biggest highlight for me was definitely the people that I met.

'Better Off Abroad' is broadcast on RTE 1 TV tonight at 9:30pm

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