Britons are swapping lockdown for Dubai as it launches ‘remote work visa’ scheme

Ashleigh Stewart
·5 min read

London resident Tom Purdy arrived in Dubai for a short working holiday in October. He intended to stay for a few weeks – but it’s now April, and he hasn’t left.

Instead, Purdy has made the United Arab Emirates’ flashiest city his interim home, taking advantage of Dubai’s new remote working visa scheme, while the United Kingdom remained in lockdown.

Brits have accounted for one in five applications to work remotely in Dubai since the one-year visa was announced in October, as the wealthy Arab emirate, which relies heavily on tourism, attempts to kick-start its economy amid the pandemic.

The scheme (which was extended to the entire UAE in March), has since accepted 2,000 applicants keen to take advantage of Dubai’s lack of income tax, year-round sunshine and lavish lifestyle.

“I came out for a few weeks over the winter and I’ve really loved every day of it out here and decided to make it permanent,” Purdy, who works in sales for sports media company SportsPro, says.

“Being a single guy, with no dependents, I was keen to avoid a second lockdown and that’s why I ended up in Dubai. I’ve got some friends here, I play a lot of golf, and it’s been an absolute joy to be here.”

Pre-pandemic, SportsPro was based in London and employees were working from the office five days per week. However, even pre-Covid, the company was becoming “increasingly flexible” with its working environment, Purdy says.

His boss has been “very happy for people to work remotely” and Purdy believes the company, like many others in the UK, may never return to a solely office-based environment. The SportsPro management team had since moved outside of London, one of his bosses had moved to Edinburgh, and the managing director had moved to Sweden.

“Everybody is really enjoying the remote working set-up […] there’s no signs of us going back into the office,” he says.

“We’re able to stay in touch with Zoom meetings and things like that and obviously I miss them, but in terms of actually doing my job I don’t need to speak to them on a daily basis or be in the same room as them.”

Tom Purdy
Tom Purdy

Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, says March had provided the “highest level of applications to date” for the new visa. Applicants had been impressed with the government’s handling of the pandemic, Kazim says, as well as its “commitment to keeping Dubai safe – yet open – to the world”.

The UK was in the “top three” markets for applications for remote working visas – with 400 of the 2,000 approved visas granted to British citizens.

“We also see a direct effect from the more than 18,000 people already in the city leveraging the complimentary tourism visa extensions, many of whom are now choosing Dubai as a more semi and permanent base for themselves by opting to choose to live and work remotely from here.”

After a year of expats leaving the UAE in their droves, due to losing jobs or choosing to return home during the pandemic, the visa was announced in October as a way to lure in more foreign workers. Expats make up about 90 per cent of the country’s 10-million strong population.

Dubai is heaven on earth, it’s the best place to live

It is also a critical move for the Arab state in positioning itself as a more long-term destination for foreigners. Before 2018, a two-year residency visa tied to a person’s place of employment was the sole option for those hoping to become residents.

In 2018, however, five-year retirement visas were introduced, and more changes came swiftly after that.

In 2019, the country brought in five or 10-year “golden visas” for high-profile investors and businesspeople, which was in 2020 extended to more sectors. In January 2021, the government dropped a bombshell when it announced it would offer Emirati citizenship to expats for the first time.

Construction for Expo 2020Getty/iStock
Construction for Expo 2020Getty/iStock

Alongside the country-wide remote working visa scheme announced in March, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, also announced the adoption of multi-entry tourist visas for all nationalities.

But it’s important to note that these visas do not come without caveats. Most ensure that you are earning over a certain amount per month, or have a certain amount in savings.

For the remote visa, for example, you must be earning a minimum of $5,000 (£3,636) per month to apply. It costs $287 (£209) per year, plus medical insurance with valid UAE cover and a processing fee per person. The tax-free salary element may also not necessarily apply, depending on where you’re from and if you’re liable to continue paying tax while temporarily overseas – often you must declare yourself a non-resident for tax purposes in your home country (which isn’t possible with a full-time job there).

But for many, like Purdy, it’s not just about being free from income tax.

“[Dubai] is heaven on earth, it’s the best place to live in my opinion.

“The beautiful, perfect sunshine every day certainly beats my rather dingy one-bedroom London flat in the cold, miserable winter – every day of the week.”

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