As governments globally race to attract the world’s wealthy, Dubai seems to be the front-runner, attracting the elite in record numbers from across the globe
Dubai’s stability, pro-business environment, luxurious lifestyle attractions, and progressive policy changes have made it an appealing destination for affluent individuals and families. Image: Shutterstock
The super-rich are flocking to Dubai in record numbers as geopolitical and economic uncertainties around the world drive affluent individuals and families to seek safe havens both for their wealth and their well-being.
According to experts who track the world’s wealthiest, Dubai’s appeal lies not only in its stability but also its pro-business environment world-class lifestyle attractions, luxury real estate, and progressive policy changes that smooth the path to longer-term residency.
Dubai is now home to 210 centi-millionaires (individuals with a net worth exceeding $100 million) and 15 billionaires, according to Henley & Partners, a firm that specialises in global residence and citizenship planning. Forecasts show the city is well-positioned to further cement its status.
The firm reported in their 2023 Centi-Millionaire Report that Dubai is projected to see its centi-millionaire population surge by a whopping 78 percent over the next decade – the fastest rate worldwide.
Philippe Amarante, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners who also heads the firm’s Dubai and Pakistan offices, attributes the city’s magnetism to “wealth created in both less developed and more developed markets” seeking safer harbours amid geopolitical instability and tax concerns in places like Europe and bipartisan policy debates in the United States surrounding taxes. For these global elites, “optionality is key” to preserving wealth.
At the same time, said Amarante, Dubai deploys an impactful “superbrand” narrative that emphasises safety, ease of entry and business, world-class lifestyle perks spanning education all the way through to real estate, and a strategic global business hub positioning – particularly compared to rival destinations like Singapore with a stronger Asian focus. Dubai also gained attention for keeping its borders open during the pandemic lockdowns, projecting an “open for business” message that contrasted other locations.
This strategy has paid dividends, as Amarante observes the “avalanche effect” of early centi-millionaire arrivals snowballing larger migration waves through wealthier social networks gravitating toward each other. “These people like to be surrounded by themselves.”
Dubai is home to a substantial number of centi-millionaires and billionaires. Image: Shutterstock
Once obscure, many wealthy individuals from mature markets “didn’t really know Dubai that well” but were pleasantly surprised after pandemic-prompted trips and business trips transformed to permanent moves.
A key catalyst driving wealth migration to Dubai has been its Golden Visa programme introduced in 2019. Veronica Cotdemiey, CEO of Citizenship Invest, credits the long-term residency initiative for “bolstering investor confidence and creating an attractive environment,” making the UAE a leader in the global residency-by-investment realm traditionally dominated by places like Portugal. Over 150,000 Golden Visas have been issued so far, according to official figures.
However, Amarante expressed a different sentiment. He believes that the Golden Visa is no longer as aspirational as it once was, especially since neighbouring Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain provide Golden Visas too. The real appeal, he said, is the “long game”: permanent residency.
“That’s the elephant in the room. Will the UAE at some point be so innovative that there may be a process for people to get naturalised one day? That’s maybe the long game here. The government may want to consider an evolution of the Golden Visa, which is probably permanent residency,” he said, adding that this would help cement the city’s appeal to the super-rich even further by attracting more.
“If they one day decide to give permanent residence, this would double the number of people coming into the UAE.”
Over 150,000 Golden Visas have been issued so far, making the UAE a leader in the global residency-by-investment realm
According to Cotdemiey, however, Russians have emerged as the fastest-growing investor nationality in Dubai this year, taking advantage of real estate investment opportunities tied to residency permits amid their country’s war with Ukraine.
In 2022, Russians made up less than 2 percent of UAE residents, but this figure has grown to 6 percent of all UAE-based investors so far this year, she added.
This trend was also evident in Chinese investors, whose real estate investment activity in the country surged 130 percent since 2021, according to real estate firm Allsopp & Allsopp. This is largely driven by the upcoming casino in the UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah.
Diverse nationalities from South Asia, Africa, Central Asia also show surging interest in Dubai’s programmes according to her analysis.
The Golden Visa “has bolstered investor confidence and created an attractive environment for foreign investors, entrepreneurs and talented individuals who seek stability and opportunities within the country,” said Cotdemiey, who noted that she has seen the residency by investment option garner significant interest among high net-worth clients.
“Traditionally, European countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece were considered the primary choice for such programs. However, the UAE’s Golden Visa has successfully challenged this status quo. This is evident with the 152,000 Golden Visas issued between 2019 and 2022 as announced by The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA),” she added.
Most of the enquiries for this category seen at Citizenship Invest, the CEO said, were in real estate investment.
According to Nikita Kuznetsov, CEO of premium real estate firm Metropolitan, uber-luxury residences have reached unprecedented level in Dubai due to “prevailing uncertainty in western markets, Russia and Asia.”
“Wealthy individuals are actively seeking safe havens that can safeguard and enhance their investments.”
In addition, Head of Research MENA at real estate consultancy Knight Frank, Faisal Durrani, said that Dubai has emerged as a key second homes market for high net-worth individuals.
“In our 2023 Destination Dubai report, we found that 66 percent of the world’s wealthy would like to purchase a second home in Dubai. And when considering factors that are most likely to influence their decision making, which access to green space emerged as the most important consideration for global HNWI targeting Dubai, hospital access was ranked as the second most important factor.”
As newer waves settle smoothly, more networks will expand and Dubai’s diversifying demographic mosaic will only attract greater volumes seeking a shared future.
Henley & Partners’ Amarante highlighted differences between governance in Dubai compared to other nations.
“I’m European, and I look critically at the political process that exist in those old democratic states because there’s a lack of collaboration between citizens, civilians and the political apparatus.”
Issues plaguing many other regions were also touched upon. Amarante listed knife crime increases in the UK, the rising number of right-wing supremacists in Germany and Italy, cultural religious conflicts coming to fore in France, the economic disaster in Argentina, dropping birth rates in Japan, and government overreach on private wealth in China.
Dubai’s participatory decision-making process and the leadership’s efforts to bring various sectors together create a sense of collaboration and give people a voice in shaping the city’s future. Image: Shutterstock
Dubai, meanwhile, addresses challenges through a collaborative process “that makes people feel like they have a say.”
“In the UAE, you have the leadership constantly bringing various sectors together and asking questions, so there’s a dialogue; it’s a two-way street and it’s very successful,” he said.
This participatory governance drives confidence among wealthy individuals and investors.
“The world is really faced with deep challenges and here in Dubai, you may have some challenges but they are addressed and they are addressed in partnership in a way that makes people feel like they have a say. This makes people want to commit and be part of this journey. They want to invest and stay, and there’s all the instruments available for them. So it’s a phenomenal story,” he added.
Progressive reforms combined with participatory decision-making have cemented Dubai’s status as a leading destination for mobile capital seeking both returns and political reliability.