Meet the new Chinese arrivals looking to call UAE home

Living with their family in Dubai, the ease of doing business and the UAE’s safety record are high on the checklist of reasons why Chinese residents are moving to the UAE.

Some are moving back to a city they know, others will move later this year after Beijing lifted strict quarantine restrictions since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of Chinese citizens living in the UAE has doubled to 400,000 since 2019 and there are around 6,000 Chinese companies operating in the UAE, Chinese government figures show.

A vibrant Chinese population and good international schools are key factors when Chinese citizens compare work and residency options in Dubai, Europe, Asia, the US, Canada or Australia.

My son got good offers from big banks and chose Dubai. Like him, others will come.

Jiqing Chen, chairman, Shanxi UAE Chamber of Commerce

Wu Zixuan left her home in Beijing just before the New Year to be with her husband who has been working in Dubai for the past 10 years.

Known as Vivi to her friends, Ms Wu is keen to stay in Dubai at least until her 8-year-old son Ming finishes his education.

It has been difficult in recent years because Ms Wu’s husband who works in the petroleum sector has not been able to visit them often in China due to quarantine regulations for a week.

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“The bottom line with family is, I want my family to live together,” says Ms. Wu, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights.

“I am also interested in how to support my son’s education. I don’t want to change the environment as he gets older.

“I want a stable situation for my family.”

Choice of schools

An additional attraction was the choice of schools that Dubai made from the International Baccalaureate to the American curriculum.

Ms Wu is no stranger to Dubai having lived in the city for two years in 2018.

She moved back to China in March 2020, just before national borders were closed due to Covid-19 lockdown, because she wanted her son to understand their native culture better.

“I went back because I wanted my son to have a deep understanding of our language, our poems,” she said.

“But I didn’t like that my husband couldn’t visit often. It affected our family so we decided to get together again.”

Chinese mom Wu Zixuan and her son Ming moved to Dubai so the family can be together.  Chris Whiteoak / The National

Her son’s acceptance at Dubai International Academy, an IB institution on her shortlist of Dubai schools, confirmed her decision to return.

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Enthusiastic about Dubai, she shares the benefits of the city with Chinese friends and family who are thinking of moving.

“Chinese parents think a lot about their children’s education and the schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are good,” Ms Wu said.

“I tell my friends that Dubai is a good option – they can start some business here.

“There are so many reasons why I came back. I like the people, I like the smile on people’s faces here, also the city is so international.

“I can feel the heat. I like the safety of Dubai.”

However, the increase in the cost of living is surprising when prices are compared to two years ago.

She pays Dh100 more for grocery shopping per week and gets more expensive restaurant meals.

Ms. Wu is grateful that education fees have not increased. The Dubai government has frozen private tuition fees for three consecutive years.

“The prices are going up,” she said.

“For people who live in Beijing or big cities, they might think it’s okay.

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“But it will be expensive for people from small villages.

“For people who have the financial ability to live abroad – Dubai may be one of the options but not the only option.”

‘America’s cities are not safe’

Bingbing Chen has returned to Dubai, a city he has known as his home since he was five years old, from the United States.

The shootings in California last week that killed at least 25 people justified his decision to leave after completing a master’s degree in August.

“I saw how dangerous the United States can be like the violence during the Lunar New Year in California,” said the 25-year-old.

“California or New York is usually where you want to start a business – but both are filled with violence.”

He had a personal experience several years ago witnessing muggings near his college campus in Boston.

“The man covered his face, had a gun in his hand and attacked someone in front of me,” he said. “Everything in my mind about staying in the United States ended.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a victim.”

Mr Chen turned down job offers from top investment banks in the US and China and instead aims to grow his parent’s shoe business in Dubai and later build his own company.

Bingbing Chen, pictured at Lucky Shoes in downtown Deira City Centre, has returned to Dubai after studying in the US to grow his family footwear business.  Antonie Robertson / The National

The emirate’s fast and friendly processes are a big change from the challenges he faced when trying to launch a small business project in the US.

“Dubai is a much better choice for me mainly because of the infrastructure to support small businesses,” he said.

“I want to be an entrepreneur and it was so easy to open a new office here.

“In the United States, everything takes time. There are different laws in each state and separate federal laws when I tried to grow the family business there.”

He is working to establish an online platform so that Lucky Shoes, his family business, can attract buyers worldwide.

Mr Chen is excited about China’s interest in the UAE after the reform of visa rules.

“A lot of Chinese companies want to start here especially e-commerce businesses,” he said.

“A lot of people will be looking for opportunities here now that travel restrictions have been lifted.”

Jiqing Chen, Mr. Chen’s mother, promotes the city by telling her family’s story.

A wholesale shoe business run by her and her husband in 1999, it grew into a manufacturing company with three retail stores.

We are a good example when Chinese people ask for more information about Dubai,” said Ms Chen, chairman of the Shanxi UAE Chamber of Commerce.

“I always advertise in Dubai.

“There is a lot of competition in China so people are looking at investing in Dubai.

“There is interest in the golden visa.

They will also come because their children can study in Dubai schools.”

She said that there is a growing interest among Chinese nationals to establish UAE as their base.

“My son got good offers from big banks and chose Dubai,” Ms Chen said.

“Dubai feels like his home country, he understands Dubai.

“Like him, others will come.”

Updated: January 31, 2023, 3:00 AM



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