Saturday, March 06, 2010

Dubai vs. Toronto: Part 1 - The Myths of Dubai

Part 1: The Myths of Dubai
Part 2: The Harsh Truth Facing Immigrants to Canada
Part 3: Living in Toronto
Part 4: The Islamic and Cultural Aspect
Part 5: Dubai or Toronto?

Last year when I was vacationing in Dubai, I was invited to this party. There, someone asked me, "Why do you still live in Toronto, Canada? What can you get there that you cannot get here in Dubai? This is the best place in the world to live."

I did not respond at that moment, because a) I was at a party to relax and b) it's not polite to have a logical debate with someone who is not prepared to listen and c) food was just served. However, in the subsequent weeks and months, I always meant to pen down my thoughts on this issue. Having lived at both places, with job opportunities in both cities, and with lots of immigrants to Canada formerly from Dubai as my friends, this is a topic that comes up occasionally for discussion. I hope to explore, keeping an open mind, the two cities of Dubai and Toronto with the pros and cons of each in this 5-part blog post series.

I am going to start by attempting to break down some of the most common myths of Dubai that this gentleman at the party tried to throw down at me.

Myth 1: Dubai is the place to make money. In Toronto half of your income is sucked in by taxes.

I live in Toronto, which is the most expensive city to live in Canada. However, according to Mercer's 2009 Cost of Living Index, Dubai is the 20th most expensive city to live in the world (Abu Dhabi is 26th), while Toronto is at 85th (Complete list on wiki).

In Toronto, the yearly income of $48,000 (of an average university graduate fresh out of university) is enough to cover rent, utilities, food, entertainment and other living expenses. Depending on your work and spending habits, you can even cover mortgage. This on a single person's income alone; luxury such as travel can eat into your savings. However, if your spouse also works, the income of the second spouse is complete savings. Most young couples in Toronto, within a couple of years savings, can put the down payment on a house (and this includes expenses such as vacations, designer goods etc.) - and all this after an average of 30% tax deduction.

In Dubai, if you are lucky to get a job that pays the same amount as here in Toronto, you may think with no taxes, you will be making more. However, there are a lot of user fees. Rental amounts in Dubai are amongst the highest in the world. Speaking from experience, even if you have a hefty rental allowance from the government, you may still find spending up to one third of your income on rent (if not more). Education is not cheap - a good quality British education (O and A Level) costs around AED 12,000 per year. And this is when I was there, 10-15 years ago. Health costs, utilities, traffic and transportation (Dubai road tolls such as Salik and yearly renewal fees for cars, licenses, Nol transport for Metro) are all higher than Toronto.

As given by the cost of living index, prices for goods of equal quality and brand are much higher in Dubai than Toronto. Other goods are relatively equal (for example a movie ticket here is $10 on average or AED40 over there). Even discounting the racism (local Arabs earn more than white people who earn more than non-white people for the same job), the expected material savings do not materialize.

Myth 2: Dubai is the melting pot of cultures from all over the world.

Having lived there for more than a decade I know how hollow this claim is. While 85% of the population is composed of expatriates, Dubai is dominated by Indians (51%), Pakistanis (15%) and Bangladeshis (10%). People from Philippines, Europe (mostly British) and Iranians make up the rest [source]. Dubai has often been called the best run Indian city.

Even with so less Arabs there, the local population considers itself a class above the rest. The class divide and racism will be more completely covered in Part 4. What happens in Dubai is that most of the "cultures" keep to themselves; and there is hardly any "melting". Bollywood dominates the entertainment scene - as can be expected. Hindi and Urdu are more often spoken everywhere (in 10 years of living I never felt the need to learn Arabic - so desi was Dubai). To me it won't matter because I am brown, but to some non-brown person used to the multicultural diversity of Toronto, London, New York etc. can hardly be expected to feel at home in Dubai.

Myth 3: In Dubai we can live our lives as Muslims in a more Islamic manner.

To be covered in more detail in Part 4.

Myth 4: Dubai is good for business.

Asia is good for business, and Dubai is an important hub in Asia. However, in Dubai, to open any business, you have to take a local (called Watani) as your partner, and he will have a share of 51%. Even though YOU will be putting in 100% of the money, 100% of the effort and 100% of the blood, sweat and tears, the local Emirati person will remain the one in charge. Why? Does that sound fair? Or even, Islamic?

However, that is the law. Clearly, many people are OK with it as they open prosperous businesses in Dubai, but that is not for me. And if I had to advise some brown person on opening a business in Asia, I would recommend Bangladesh or India as much better options than Dubai. Democratic, lots of young people with untapped potential and a growing middle class in an economy with sound economic policies, those are the places in Asia to do business in. Not Dubai.


Organica said...

I like this a lot.

Thanks for sharing.

Update soon :)

mezba said...

Organica, thanks! Will update soon.

YK said...

Nice comparison! Interesting how Toronto falls 31 places while Dubai rises by the same number in the index, both due currency exchange rates. Could reverse depending on the US dollar anytime. (Btw, movie tickets are still more expensive here!)

ARA said...

Well written...

mezba said...

YK, it's interesting, I didn't notice that. Given that most expect the Canadian currency to stay at current levels this is how it could remain for the time being. I did read sometime ago that the Gulf were considering de-pegging their currency from the US dollar, and also making a common currency, but who knows when that will come about (probably never).

ARA, thanks.

Musa said...

One issue with people supporting Dubai is that they use their own cases as representative of the whole population. So a Brit who earns much more in Dubai than in the UK would praise Dubai by saying "Dubai's great, most people have 3-4 luxury cars here and live in big villas", thus presenting a wrong picture to naive outsiders/Asians.

I would guess that one of the main 2-3 reasons why so many Brits/Europeans love Dubai is the cheap booze along with the friday "brunches", and the sudden elevated "respect" they are subject to, which to them, must feel like a whiff of fresh air, compared to the suffocating equality laws and multiculturalism they face back home.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting comparisons!Looking forward to 'sequels of this series'!:)

luckyfatima said...

Very interesting, Mezba. I have been in Dubai for 6 years and Inshallah my husband and I are headed for the US for good this summer. So I have hashed out a lot of these issues a few times in my own mind. I am looking forward to seeing what you have to say.

nadia said...

Dubai is the one of the easiest country to get into and work for a lot of desi people. I can't speak on behalf of other nationalities because the 'melting' that happens here between people of different nationalities usually ends after 'hi, hello, or how do you do'.

But rentals have dropped considerably, providing a HUGE relief to all. The flat where my parents live used to cost AED 110K annually. Now, they're paying 60K per year, with no extra charges for parking (which used to cost the same as renting a two bedroom flat in Karachi).

Personally, one of the few reasons why I love it here is because it's so close - geographically - to India and Pakistan, making it very easy and affordable to travel back home several times a year. And at the same time, within safe distance from some annoying relatives :)

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

'liya said...

What an interesting post! For my own selfish reasons, I hope you are able to get through all parts by Friday so I can read them...ahem :D Or maybe I'll have to make my own comparisons (through the eyes of a tourist) when I come back!

Now that I've heard so much from youand other people I know who have been there, I'm super curious to see it all for myself.

mezba said...

Musa, I find that some Brits or Westerners in UAE would never have been hired for the same job back in their country - and they come here so they can live a way they never have back in their home.

My post was more geared to an average university graduate in Canada who has the option to go work in Dubai - and should he or she (and more specifically a brown person).

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I knew from experience lot of white people who earned way more than a brown person for the same job because the local Arabs prefered a white skin for office jobs.

So perhaps the maths for earning etc. does not work as well for a white person than a brown person.

Lat, thanks! It is interesting indeed.

Liya, Oh Friday, that's when you leave, right? Well, I have always said Dubai is a great place to visit and I am sure you will have a GREAT time. Enjoy your visit!

Loyal Arab said...

It is interesting that you have chosen to focus on the negatives on Dubai rather than the positive. It sounds like someone who is now jealous of the lives we lead and can't back here, so you are lashing out.

Dubai is a great place to live. We don't have to pay taxes or worry about politics and all that rubbish. The leaders love the city and take care of all of us, which is more than what I can say of your country. We have glorious weather all year round and this is the best place for shopping in the world. We have diverse restaurants and everyone who lives her loves the land. The standard of living we enjoy are amongst the highest in the world.

When I visit the West I see the decay brought about by your so-called freedoms and the dying cities and I give thanks for the vibrant and lively city that is Dubai. Our leaders protect us from all non-Muslim trash and no one has seen luxurious living unless they have been here in Dubai.

You can pick your Toranto... I am for Dubai any day.

mezba said...

Loyal Arab, this is the first part of a 5 post series. The first part deals with common myths about Dubai from my perspective. I notice in your comment that you have not refuted any of the myths.

Dubai has/had the potential to be an example to the Muslim world, yet by repeated short sightedness they blow it everytime.

Organica said...

I know a lot of Arabs who live in Dubai. Yes the standard of living is great and they are able to save up enough to return back home to be 'something' However, the internal racism between Arabs is unbelievable. You think brown people have it bad? Egyptians are treated like crap in Gulf countries. I would never move to a Gulf country simply for that reason. I can't stand anyone treating me beneath them.

Yet, I know many White folks who simply LOVE living in Dubai for the reasons you mention above. They are someone there and nobodys here.

mezba said...

LuckyFatima, sorry, your comment wasn't caught by blogger for some reason - now it's published.

It's interesting, isn't it, comparing the life style of the two places? I know that there is a lot of material comfort that can be had in Dubai - particularly in relation to weather (something I plan to discuss in parts 2 and 3) but overall, there is something to be said for the 'freedoms' that we enjoy in the West.

Nadia, sorry, your comment wasn't caught by blogger for some reason - now it's published.

Dubai is pretty easy for some reason even from the Asian subcontinent. We in the West do not need any visa for UAE so I know a lot of people who went for a visit and started job hunting in the 30-90 days they had there. As for people coming over from Bangladesh, lots owed money to visa agents, sadly.

My relatives also say rents have dropped there considerably in the last year as all these new built flats lie empty. However when I was doing my maths for the costs, even a figure of AED 60K is still quite high for that real estate. I would probably pay half that here, and earn more.

making it very easy and affordable to travel back home several times a year. And at the same time, within safe distance from some annoying relatives :)


mezba said...


I can't stand anyone treating me beneath them.

I think that's what most people say in the biggest gripe about Dubai or the Middle East in general. I want to discuss this a bit more in part 4.

Muslim Girl said...

Wow this is a really great post, can't wait to read more.

I too, would never want to live in Dubai for some of the reasons you mention, most importantly the racism/elitism one.

And as for this:

Loyal Arab: Our leaders protect us from all non-Muslim trash...

How pathetic.

mezba said...

Muslim Girl, while these myths do deflate the attraction of Dubai, for me the Toronto vs Dubai is based on quite some other factors (to be revealed in Part 5 lol...)

The racism is prevalent on a subconscious level as well... I hope to touch on it when I discuss the culture. Some people just shrug it off and are fine with it (especially at work when you have to work with some losers whom you can't do anything about because they are well connected).

Ilham said...

Great Post and can't wait to read the rest. Having lived in the Middle East myself as a brown expat, I can unequivocally say that I won't ever go back to live in a Middle East country! Such inhumanity, racism, cruelty & savagery toward those the native Arab believe is lesser than them, defies belief!

Loyal Arab: if anything told here is a lie please refute all this with concrete examples, from government stats, articles, reports & etc. Oh & furthermore, most of your fancy shopping malls, restaurants, apartments, beaches are aping the West anyways & are planned & built by Western architects & engineers and constructed by workers from South Asia!

Musa said...

I thought someone else could clear up Loyal Arab's PR piece, but I think I will do it :)

1) Pay no taxes?
Sure, but be prepared to pay tons of "fees", mysterious fines, and high water bills. The high price of renting, till recently, was an indirect tax. In Canada, you get education/healthcare in return for taxes, what do you get in Dubai in return for those "fees" apart from clean roads?

2) Glorious weather all year round?
Not really, Dayitme temperature stay above 35C for 5 months at a strech, nuff said

3) "Luxurious living"
People are more interested in how the middle class lives. Just because millionaires in Dubai can afford to have 5 sports cars and gold plated basins doesnt make it any more better than Toronto or LA for the average person.

4) "Best place for shopping"
Take indifferent customer service and add high prices (a pair of Levis which costs $40 in the US will cost 300 Dhs in Dubai), and you can see that your statement is just PR drivel

Suroor said...

I love this post!

Please do cover the terrible weather and blatant racism in your other posts :)

nadia said...

Hi Mezba,

Just wanted to share this post (since we're discussing Dubai):

Loyal Arab said...

Mr Musa,

You taxes help in support Israeli oppression in Gaza and the Holy Lands. My user fees are for the betterment of my country.

Your malls sell cheap stuff made in the third world. Dubai malls are for world class people and with the Burj we are now reaching for the skies while the rest of the world looks on in envy.

All these South Asian workers are happy to be here and things are much better here than where they come from and our leaders work actively to make everyone happy. If they don't like it they can leave!

There is no crime in Dubai and you can stop your work during prayer times and go to a mosque. When I eat out I do not worry about food (is hallal or not).

The Dubai leaders have done very well to take care of her people and ungrateful expats living here and deserv praise, not just today, but since the beginning of country.

mezba said...

Ilham, I think once we all get a little taste of freedom, it's hard to lure us back. Particularly us younger generation (and you are definitely younger than me!) who can enjoy the life style here what our parents had back in the Middle East, Dubai and other places don't hold much attraction for us any more. But more on that from me in Part 5!

Musa, well said! I was just too lazy to give a detailed reply!

Suroor, thanks! I was looking for your articles on living in the Middle East and could only find one (where you mention the bad points).

I should have part 2 tonight iA.

Nadia, thanks for the link! It was very interesting.

I knew people who had a Dh 1000 salary and not only were they making it work, but made a big life for their families back in Bangladesh.

Loyal Arab, According to the Toronto Star, Canada's foreign aid is a total $5.2 billion per year. Most of this aid is for disaster relief (Haiti) and food, supplies, medical needs etc. In other words, humanitarian needs.

Even if 100% of this money is to flow to Israel, which is not the case, it would still be 0.33% of our economy. So, no, my taxes do not go to support Israeli oppression in Gaza and the Holy Lands.

Perhaps, since you are so inclined, you should ask where does Israel get their oil to drive the tanks and fly the planes in Gaza?

Perhaps also, world class malls for world class people (whatever that means) should not, er, leak.

If they don't like it they can leave!

Perhaps if their passports were given to them and also, wages, they will.

Yes, crime is very low in Dubai and food is not a problem. And many expatriates in Dubai love the place and genuinely like it there (and are not ungrateful also).

You write well, perhaps you should see if Dubai World or Emaar is hiring a publicist.

Musa said...

Mr Loyal Arab, you are beginning to sound like some satirists who praise Dubai in a sarcastic way...
Anyways, assuming you are serious:

1) Some Asian workers have it better in Dubai, some dont. Many cant leave because their passports are withheld
2) World class malls for world class people? Even the PR hacks in Dubai dont use such flowery statements.
Yes the malls are nice, they have to be because their is nowhere else to go in summer. But the quality of stuff one buys in Dubai is never better than North America, often its worse.

3) No crime in Dubai? There were 6 murders reported in the span of the last 7 days, including one where 14 year old Arabs stabbed a 13 year old Arab to death.

That may pale in comparison to Rio De Janeiro, but at the same time, Dubai is no Singapore in terms of low crime

Your misleading and sometimes outright false statements may work with newcomers, but people like myself who have spent a good deal of their lives in the Gulf are a different matter. On the contrary I consider it my duty to ensure people know the full picture.

Dubai has its pluses for Muslims including Halal food, Masajid etc, but its dishonest to show just one side and pass on false stuff "All people are happy here, there is no crime etc" as "facts"

youngMuslimah said...

well, idk i live in uae and i like it here. maybe becoz i moved in from saudi and it's a refreshing change.

mezba said...

Musa, well said, I couldn't have said it better.

Young Muslimah, it's not a question of liking or disliking living there - it's just some myths about Dubai.

Anonymous said...

I have visited Dubai twice and my father and uncle used to work there from the 70's to early 90's. I have lots of relatives who think that we are *foolish* not to relocate there. I find that where I am beats anyplace I would love to live with my young family. The large boom they have experienced is great but to what cost?? I still would love to go visit and shop again whenever I have an opportunity but to live there?? Well, I don't know. As for our taxes supporting the Isrealis,well, that's very funny, lol. They should try to *clean up* all that mess that's going on in their place. It's too westernized even to the standard of the western countries. I kept on forgetting that I was in an arab/muslim country whenever we were out unless we spotted an abayya or a kandoora. Btw, the crime rates are all hushed up there, so many rapes are rarely reported incase they bring *shame* to the families. So SAD!!!!! sf

mezba said...

Sf, indeed it's quite sad how ALL problems are hushed up! they don't believe in the culture of disclosure there. Everything is about saving face.

Anonymous said...

Great post - can't wait to read more! I'm adding you to my rss feeds :)

mezba said...

Gwen, hi and welcome to my blog. I have parts 1-4 now up. Was travelling so will get to the concluding part soon.