Living: Retiring in the UAE

Millions of expats call the UAE ‘home’ – but when they reach retirement it can be a different story, given that employers have every right to show them the door, writes Ben Flanagan

Foreign workers often spend years, if not decades in the UAE, drawn by the country’s welcoming policies towards expats, the high quality of life, safe environment – and, of course, those tax-free salaries.

But given that residency visas are often linked to employment, staying in the UAE can be much trickier once you hit 60.

That is the official retirement age for expats in the UAE, after which a company can force an employee to retire, giving them just 30 days to pack up and leave the country once their visa is cancelled. With an employer’s consent, requests for work permits are accepted for those aged up to 65.

After that, one-year extensions are on a discretionary basis only, according to local press reports. If an employer is unwilling to extend your visa when you reach 60 – or, indeed, you are tired of being a wage slave and just want to enjoy your retirement – the options are limited.

But it is possible for expats to retire in the UAE – albeit it with some strings attached.

One option is to obtain a residency visa through a property purchase, explained Mario Volpi, chief sales officer for Kensington Exclusive Properties in Dubai, and who has worked in the property industry for the past 32 years.

“There are not too many options for people of retirement age, but the main way to be able to remain in UAE would be to purchase a property outright,” he told Benchmark.

Visas obtained through a property purchase need to be renewed and do not allow the person to work, Mr Volpi said. And to get this kind of visa you must buy the property outright – so, without a mortgage – and it must be worth at least AED one million. Off-plan or under-construction properties do not qualify, nor can multiple units – for example, two properties each worth AED 500,000 – be used to meet the AED one million minimum quota.

Another option would be for a retiree couple’s child to sponsor them to live in the UAE. In this case, the sponsor must hold a valid UAE residency visa and have a minimum salary of AED 19,000 per month with provided accommodation, or AED 20,000 without accommodation, according to the Government of Dubai website. “In case your salary is lower than this, you can approach the Humanitarian Desk at the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, who will deal with individual cases on a humanitarian basis,” the official site says.

There are more boxes to tick with this type of visa. Both parents should be sponsored – and if they are divorced or deceased, documentation is required. Proof is also required that the sponsor is their parents’ sole provider, with no one available to take care of them in their home country. Sponsors also need to obtain medical insurance for each parent, with a minimum coverage of AED 600 per year.

“If there was a more economical mechanism in place that allowed the over-65s to remain in the UAE, I truly believe that it would be a great success and the take up would be high,” Mr Volpi commented.

But there are other ways in which an expat can retire in the UAE.

A growing number of expatriates are investing in UAE-based businesses or establishing free zone companies as a “loophole” to allow them to continue living in the country after they retire, The National newspaper reported in July.

An investor visa, for example, provides temporary residence of up to three years, and allows the holder to sponsor family members. But that too comes with conditions: Applicants must prove they have funds to make a significant investment in a local company, or to create a business in the UAE, and all applications are subject to approval by authorities.

It’s also possible for older people to stay in the UAE by establishing a company at a free zone that permits residency visas for those over the age of 60.

Virtuzone – which, in partnership with Fujairah’s Creative City Free Zone, has helped in the formation of thousands of companies, along with associated employment and residence visas – recently ran an advertising campaign specifically targeting older expatriates.

Neil Petch, Virtuzone’s chairman, said there was no age restriction for those using its service.

“If a senior wishes to own a business here, and goes through the usual security checks, then through 100% ownership he or she can obtain residence visas, live anywhere in the UAE and get a bank account and so on, in short all that is required to be as good as permanently based here,” Mr Petch told Benchmark.

“Whereas some emirates impose an age restriction, Virtuzone is able to provide a solution that has no age limit, recognising that business owners can add to the local economy regardless of their age.”

Certain factors can help with an application, Mr Petch added, such as the ability to provide an attested higher education degree certificate.

But retirement does, of course, come with worries other than just having the right residency sticker in your passport.

Healthcare becomes increasingly important with old age, and those retiring in the UAE also need to bear in mind how local laws could impact their will and inheritance planning. Virtuzone can help individuals register their wills within the Dubai International Financial Centre – which has a registry where non-Muslims can make a will under internationally recognised Common Law principles – something Mr Petch said can help give people “total control over their estate decisions”.

Of course, everyone needs money for their retirement – and pension planning is one area in which UAE expats appear to be behind on. Research released in 2015 by Zurich International Life, for example, found that 63% of UAE residents are not confident they are saving enough for their old age.

But for those with the money, it is at least possible to spend your golden years in the golden sunshine of the UAE, or even use the country as a base and travel the world.

“The UAE now allows one to own one’s own property, own one’s own company, and provides an incredibly safe environment to bring up and educate one’s family. Education at all levels is top class. And what many currently based in London or Monaco don’t know is that to retain UAE residency one only needs to visit the country briefly every six months,” said Mr Petch.

“So many nationalities that traditionally find it difficult to travel might tell you that all one needs is a UAE residence, a UAE credit card, and the world is your oyster!”