I’m sitting in my old apartment in Vienna at the moment, cardboard boxes left and right. With my furniture disappearing piece by piece, I’m forced to work from my kitchen table. At the beginning of 2021, I made the decision to incorporate a business in Dubai, UAE and move there. In this post I will go deeper into the why and how.
I lived quite comfortably the past few years. Working for companies in Germany and Austria on a premium rate as a freelancer, living in nice apartments and having enough free time to spend on hobbies and developing my social life. I was living the middle class dream, yet I knew there was room for more.
Towards the end of 2019 my life was becoming somewhat repetitive. Work, fitness, friends, repeat. Although I am always trying to learn about new subjects on the side, I was looking for the next step. I just turned 26 and I felt like I wanted to spend some years in the English speaking hemisphere, while I’m still in my twenties. Getting into the subject, you quickly realize how much of a barrier it is to apply for jobs abroad. The visa application requirements in US are extremely restrictive and make it very unattractive for American companies to hire from abroad, the situation in Australia or Canada is not exactly simple either.
Being a Citizen of the EU certainly makes things easier, if you’re looking for work within Europe, and being born with a good passport surely is somewhat of a general advantage in life. Still, for entering the markets of the US and the Commonwealth nations, it was still quite the hurdle.
Since I started to work in IT straight out of high school, I never went to university, hence I was lacking a bachelor’s or master’s degree, required for a lot of job postings. Quickly discouraged, I dismissed the idea and looked into different things.
I was getting more attune with a multitude of subjects in the humanities, and understood that attaining an undergraduate degree in PPE (Political Science, Philosophy and Economics) would be quite the benefit for a potential alternative career path.
Another issue that was getting to me, was that being an entrepreneur, even as a sole proprietor, was quite hard in Austria. Unnecessarily cumbersome to say the least. High taxation, a lot of regulation as well as mandatory payments to the expensive Austrian social security regime, made it very unattractive to be self employed.
In addition, the pension system seemed increasingly unsustainable, and the idea of paying enormous sums year over year, only to be left holding the bag when retiring in a few decades seemed like a terrible choice.
To be fair, I wasn’t that invested in Austria anyway. Luckily I didn’t take up a loan for an expensive apartment or similar long term commitments. Sure, I have friends and family here, but sometimes you need a change. And a life spent in different places and cultures with a broader perspective, sounded infinitely more attractive than living the good life in plain old Vienna.
I looked at a number of different universities offering degrees in PPE, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam was the best in terms of value for money (actually liking the city is also a big aspect, and I always adored the Netherlands). So Amsterdam it was!
After looking into company setup or requirements for freelance work I was somewhat discouraged. Going through the hustle of dealing with the dutch system of regulation and taxation, only to leave the country once I’m done with my studies seemed like a waste of time.
I wanted to find a better way to do things, so I looked into offshore company registration. Why not set up shop in a country like Estonia of Cyprus, that make it easy to run a company remotely, so I could stay location independent and take my business wherever I was going?
After comparing numerous Countries for incorporation, within and outside the EU, I was intrigued by Dubai. The process seemed quite easy, few if any regulations and corporate tax rate was 0%. How can you beat that?
I got in touch with a few consultancies for business incorporation, after I found one that seemed professional and trustworthy (emirabiz.com, talk to Helen). With incorporation, they also offered packages with a visa option. There are a number of ways of attaining a resindency visa for the UAE, the most common would be to have a local company sponsor your visa. So you can either have your visa sponsored as an employee or register your own company, and sponsor the visa for yourself.
By then I became more in touch with the idea of actually moving to Dubai - how hard could it be? Wasn’t it exactly what I was looking for?
I started comparing apartment prices and was surprised so see, that prices in Dubai were roughly a third for an equally attractive apartment in Amsterdam - another point for Dubai. Even cheaper than Vienna in some cases. And no income tax! In fact they didn’t have any direct taxes at all, until they introduced a 5% VAT in 2018.
So a business friendly, zero-tax place with a highly diverse community and high quality of life… What was I waiting for?
The consulting agency walked me through the process and held my hand every step of the way. Registering my business, giving advice for bank account opening and managing my visa and residence registration. A good price to pay, in order to escape upwards of 60% taxation in Europe.
The idea of being able to keep the fruits if my labor, is something that should come naturally, yet feels so alien from a western perspective.
In order to be eligible for company registration, I had to get the UAE entry stamp in my passport, so I spent the first few weeks of 2021 in the city, with 28°C and sunny weather. A nice contrast to lockdown ridden Austria at minus 5°C. In the UAE they handled the pandemic differently. They left the economy open, with a heavy emphasis on disinfection and mask wearing, as well as one of the highest levels of vaccinations. That meant, Bars, Restaurants, Cafés and lots of other fun stuff was available.
It was my first time in Dubai, and my experience exceeded my expectations. The city is very safe, the streets are clean, so is the metro and there’s a surprisingly large amount of greenery, parks and bodies of water. Dubai has much more to offer than you’d think and a lot of things are completely misrepresented by western media, so I suggest you take a look yourself if you really want to know what it’s like. Just in terms of architecture, the Emirates are home to some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen to date.
The cost of living is on par with Germany or Austria, but purchasing power is much higher. In general you have a much broader price range to choose from, regarding goods and services. You can grab food for 3$, 30$ or 300$ - your pick. Same goes for apartments.
Coming back to my situation, I realized everything seemed to work as expected, so I was planning to cancel my apartment contract in Vienna, put everything in storage that I wanted to keep and sell the rest.
Selling or giving away everything you don’t really need, is a good exercise in minimalism. It makes you aware of how much junk you accumulated over the years.
Owning too much stuff can be quite the liability, the stuff owns you back - it’s a two-way relationship.
After a marathon of cleaning and clearing out my apartment, I made it just in time. Gave back the keys on the 31st of March and stepped on the plane the next day. It feels so liberating to know that everything you need to live life, fits into too medium sized suitcases and a backpack. I don’t long for more.
As you might tell, I wrote this post over multiple days. Right now I’m sitting in my temporary stay at a hotel apartment in Dubai, getting ready for my next project and looking forward to the next few months in my new home city.