Dubai: when Eldorado became disillusionment for French expats

Posted on Jan 20, 2023, 7:00 AM

Anna [les prénoms ont été modifiés, NDLR] Arranged his several boxes, and placed them in the hallway. “This is the third move in a year, so I’ve learned to take it easy! » At 37, she never thought about moving from roommate to roommate. But like the big metropolises of globalized capitalism, New York, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, the rents in Dubai are very high, and the access conditions require a comfortable cash advance. Especially since they will increase by an average of 27% in 2022, according to the Dubai Land Department, the institution responsible for regulating real estate. For a decent studio, count on a minimum of 1,700 euros, 7,000 for the living room and two bedrooms. A typical lease, for one year, is usually paid in two or three installments, leaving the corresponding checks with the landlord at signing.

Anna, reporter, works at the mission. It came more than two years ago, when a new type of visa for freelancers came into effect in the United Arab Emirates. Before that, obtaining a residence and work permit without a contract with an employer was more complicated under Emirati law.

His average monthly income, 4,000 euros, is higher than in France – about 1,700 euros with self-employed status. “However, I do not earn enough to give the 20,000 euros that the entry ticket will ask me for a year of rental in my name, so it comes, Airbnb, or the sub-rental. » Anna gives herself another year to improve her situation, after which, if she does not manage to get her own apartment, she will return to France.

“What I have observed is that most Westerners have a preconceived idea about Dubai, based on a very media mirage, and they have no idea of ​​the local realities at all when they arrive”studies Karine Trioullier, who works in human resources and has lived in the emirate for more than fifteen years.

Twice as many French in ten years

However, the “Golden City” as the most beautiful city in the Gulf has been dubbed, continues to attract. The rapid lifting of Covid-related restrictions, compared to the rest of the world, has favored the arrival of 100,000 new residents since 2020, for a total population, today, of 3.5 million inhabitants.

Although we do not have precise figures on the presence of the French in the emirate of Dubai alone, there are 28,000 registered in the consular registers for the whole country in 2022 (i.e. the second largest community in the West after the British, according to in data provided by embassies) . A figure that has almost doubled in ten years, excluding those in the Emirates without reporting. We’ve lost count of the number of blogs and YouTube channels where those who have made a name for themselves there share their success story recipes.

The Golden City, “city of influencers”

The emirate has recently acquired another nickname: “the city of influencers”. Because it became an important setting for these Instagram galleries, where hotel swimming pools and luxury cars replaced the “American dream” of the last century. And the French, who we meet a lot on the private beaches and in the alleys malls, will be overrepresented in this population. They dragged there, along with the Russians, a rather bad reputation of the nouveau riche of not very elegant manners.

“It’s not the best publicity we could hope for”admitted a senior Emirati official. “We don’t really understand their work, except that they advertise in the digital age… but basically, it’s no more embarrassing than the prostitution visible in hotel lobbies”he finished, in an apologetic tone.

French influencers often go through agencies to start what they see as a venture that should take them up the social ladder, with the dazzling effect allowed by the virality of social networks. The general public now knows Magali Berdah, the boss of the Shauna Events agency. The friend of influencers, who made a specialty of recycling the careers of reality TV extras, he himself left Dubai in 2022.

“The Eldorado Dubai, finished”

But, after a quick Google search, we always find around thirty agencies of this kind that surf the dreams of young expats. “And it was created daily, according to Juliette, who works for one of them. It exists for all professions, doctors, lawyers, human resources… We explain to them how to set up their company, we help them with administration and taxation. » Sitting in Starbucks one of countless malls what matters to marina, the young woman has no illusions about life in Dubai, even if this is not the first message she will be asked to convey to her customers.

“There is fantasy and there is reality: out of about fifty people I accompanied last year, ten got out, about twenty left after a few months”reports one that is currently with many freelancers offering all kinds of communication services. “A good half came thanks to the telework visa”, a device introduced by the local government of the emirate, from the first months of the pandemic in 2020. For a year renewed once, it costs about 280 euros, and requires the ability to justify a minimum monthly income of 5,000 euros – either with an existing company or through a contract that guarantees it once there. More flexible conditions than a classic work visa, the complex formalities that companies usually take care of, on behalf of the newcomers they recruit. Result: “Many see the telework visa as an opportunity to get started”, Juliet commented. Often wrong.

In recent months, warning messages have increased even from the side of the foreign community. In the Facebook group “Les Expats à Dubaï”, which has more than 25,000 members, we can read the explanation of one of the members: “You really have to understand that Eldorado Dubai is over. competition [sur le marché de l’emploi] is enormous, even saturated. If you don’t have a high level profile with several years of experience, it’s going to be very complicated.”which describes the passing of an increasing number of people who came with a grain of salt and left after a few months having lost all their savings…

Two categories of expatriates

A kind of distinction is made between two categories of expatriates: those who see Dubai as an Eldorado of ease, which they often cannot find, and those who come with, already, the means to get started. Because they lived, for example, as part of a job whose contract provides an “allowance”, in addition to their salary, for accommodation. “It allows those who want to use this money to invest in a property, rather than rent, which they are doing more and more.explains Guillaume Giroux, founder of Dubai Immo, the first French-speaking real estate agency on the market. Contrary to what one might think because of the rents, the purchase price per square meter is lower than in London, or even Paris. »

According to his expertise, “in a family neighborhood that usually stands, like DAMAC Hills twenty minutes from the city center, where there are more houses and villas, the square meter is around 3,000 euros”. But there are no credits for twenty years, as is the case in France. A purchase therefore implies a substantial contribution. “Once an owner, the cost of living, if it remains high, is no longer unreasonable… especially here, taxes are almost non-existent. »

A deeply unequal society

Omar, a hydrocarbon trader for a major in the sector, decided to rent a furnished loft for the year, the most flexible solution. After graduating from an engineering school in France, he was unable to find a job commensurate with his career in France. “I am still labeled as a North African, even though my training is more prestigious than many of my interlocutors”, remembers the thirties. When he arrived in Dubai, the question of his origins no longer arose: “I was hired as a Frenchman, with recognized diplomas, and an objective salary scale. »

In Dubai, Omar occupies a dominant position in society thanks to his intellectual capital, but also based on Emirates-specific criteria. In his book “The Western Privilege. Work, intimacy and post-colonial hierarchies in Dubai » (2019), sociologist Amélie Le Renard shows how the passport first defined the class cursor. Regardless of your ethno-cultural identity, you are considered white if your nationality is Western. Underneath the group of whites are the Asians, who have been relegated to low-paid service jobs, and themselves survive by being resourceful in compounds for “immigrants” (dormitory cities, unclean , far from the television postcard).

At the economic level, between the two, there is a whole fringe of Westerners occupying seasonal jobs: intermediate managers in hotels, salespeople in luxury brands where junior employees are sought after, but capable of incorporating Western refinement… “It’s really the legend of the aspiring comedian who gets to Hollywood sleeping in his car waiting to become a star, details of senior Emirati officials. This is the lottery: if they make it, they live a very comfortable life, if they don’t they leave. And since we don’t have a social system for foreigners, it’s not a problem to let them try their luck. The Dubai Way of Life is quite Darwinian! »

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