Before I tell you my experience, let me get you situated a little with the UAE. Abu Dhabi is southwest of the cultural capital Sharjah and the well-known Dubai. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and has bronze-age historical sites in its oasis city of Al Ain, and the Persian Gulf borders it. The majority of the communities in the UAE and the population are Muslims and practice the lifestyle.
So you have probably heard me talk before that I lived in the Middle East for eight years, specifically in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
I loved it there. My wife and I had built a beautiful life together in the country. There was amazing food, we had lots of friends, and even our first child was born there.
People always want to know why after living there for so many years, we finally decided to leave.
The truth is, there were plenty of things…
When we arrived in 2011, the price of oil was about $98 dollars a barrel, so the UAE saw a huge boom in their economy. The country was growing at a rapid pace, and expats were hugely celebrated (literally parades in the streets welcoming us). Everything about life there was amazing for several years.
Gates to enter Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
However, by 2015 we saw the price of oil crash all way back down to $34 dollars a barrel, and the feeling on the street had changed… the country still needed expats, but “expensive” expats like me, a Canadian (or Americans, Germans, British, etc.) were seen as the problem with outrageous salaries that the companies couldn’t afford.
All of my friends started being replaced with expats from countries like Eastern Europe, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries where they could get cheap employees. It was even common practice to hire 2 or 3 people for one position, which would still be less expensive.
Map of the Middle Eastern countries, including the United Arab Emirates
You see, economies like the UAE are built on $100+ dollar oil, and when it’s not this amount or more, the country crashes. There was even such arrogance surrounding this that some companies would start playing on the futures markets, making bets that oil would always stay at this level. When it didn’t, businesses collapsed, and thousands of people lost their jobs.
During this time, the feeling in the country had changed, and it felt like people would rather spit on you than give you the time of day. It was a dark couple of years.
Offshore oil rig drilling platform in the gulf
I was in a fortunate position during this period as I was a trader working in the options markets and making a nice little income, tax-free, and of course, I was doing the podcast and doing business and offshore consulting as well.
By the time I left in 2019, the country had rebounded a bit, and oil was over $60 a barrel, so things were levelling out.
United Arab Emirates currency, the Dirham
The ultimate reason to move was that the country was way too dependent on just one thing, in this case, the price of oil. I had seen my friends' expat journeys cut short by something they had no control over, and I wanted to be in a place that respected expats and the valuable skills, expertise and capital we brought to the country.
It also looked like there would be a war with Iran at this time. The US Sixth Armada had been positioned in the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf, depending on whose map you are looking at), and it looked like the UAE was going to be a staging ground for an invasion. This just wasn't anything of what I wanted for my family as well, so it also became part of my growing desire to find somewhere better for my family and me.
I even had a conversation with a US Senator on a first-class flight from the States to Abu Dhabi about the economic ramifications of using financial markets and currency as a weapon against them.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
It seemed to me that if there were a war with Iran, being located in the same Emirate as the 11 nuclear reactors that were being built would not be a smart decision. They would be an obvious target, and the fallout would be catastrophic. This would've been specifically terrible for everyone, not even just for places near the reactors.
I wanted to be in a country that continued to offer a tax-free environment but was also food and water-independent. Somewhere that was growing and had a bright future ahead of it but was not dependent only on one source of economic growth.
We also needed a place that had a straightforward residency process, was an English-speaking country or another language that was easy to learn, like Spanish, and was stable, safe, and beautiful.
After a ton of deliberation, my wife and I chose Panama.
Panama and their flag
It’s been three years since we arrived here in Panama, and I have not regretted my decision once. We have an active social life and have made a huge group of friends. We go out to incredible restaurants a few times a week, there are opportunities everywhere, and we have amazing nature and beautiful beaches a short drive from our place.