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.