If emigration was sold over the counter like a packet of cigarettes, the warnings written in bold on the pack would read, BEWARE IT CAN TAKE TWO YEARS TO BREAK EVEN , POSSIBLY MORE or EMIGRATION CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR CREDIT RATING. Unfortunately there is no packaging for emigration and no such warnings.
It is the common perception in Ireland that those who emigrate are raking in the cash, banking wads of notes every month faster than you can say “money transfer please”. It is easy to conjure up an image of devil-may-care emigrants sitting by the pool, sipping mocktails and scratching their full bellies as they decide whether to holiday in Sri Lanka or Phuket, both only a stone’s throw from Abu Dhabi. Of course the image is supported and accentuated by the tales of the grandeur and opulence that can be experienced in Dubai and the surrounding areas. Gold dispensing machines, revolving restaurants, dancing fountains and seven star hotels all serve to cloud the true image of emigration to the Middle East and what it is really like particularly for the newbie expat, trading Ireland for Abu Dhabi, setting fire to the rain, so to speak.
The initial set up cost when emigrating is significant. While the salaries are inflated in the Middle East, the advantage of same is lost, as the cost of accommodation and education are also victims of inflation, as are the costs of vacation and distraction. Locomotion and household provision are on par with Ireland.
Letting agents require the rent be paid one year in advance. Entrance, registration and tuition costs for education must be paid in advance and of course, there’s a car, two cars in fact, to be bought or leased, both options with financial impact. So when you take your multi thousand dirham monthly salary and place due dividends in all the extended paws, there is very little for oneself.
Enter Visa. King of the short term financially strapped.
For most there is no other way to fund the initial outlay, it’s starts with a single low interest credit card and the promise to the clear the outstanding amount within six months, eventually, as the monthly expenditure continues to rise and even at a plateau does not afford the opportunity to repay the credit card, it becomes a necessity to get a second card to repay the first. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, Abu Dhabi style. After the second, it becomes easier, as the calls from the banks keep coming, offering the credit facilities, it becomes second nature to sign up to just a few more Visas to keep the rocky wagon between the ditches.
Given that bank sales people have full access to account information it becomes as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. They target specific companies, established and secure companies first, the low hanging fruit, they ring each employer offering credit packages, nice packages all dickied up with tasty incentives, a free gym membership or 25% discount off certain restaurants, upon signing the card. As the pressure mounts and the cards become laden with transactions, the noose tightens and finally you agree to a short term credit option with a 46% interest rate, the Daddy of all Visas. The incentive, a free trip to Atlantis in Dubai, the interest rate not published on the packaging and approval available within one hour. The one you said you’d never touch, but you need it just for these two months to get over the hump and the kids would love Atlantis.
These credit cards are sold as products and it is common for expats for have four or five credit cards in your fake Prada purse at any one time. “What card will I use?” is the common question, as it would take a chartered accountant to figure out which one has space for one more bill. This is where the situation gets sticky, all the cards are reaching capacity and it becomes like a game of hot potato, transferring funds from one to the other to meet minimum payments and prevent your hand from getting burned.
Eventually they all get hot and the hiked up salary can’t keep up. So trading Ireland for Abu Dhabi can leave many rolling in the deep.