Better off abroad? The Irish in Dubai certainly seem to be

George Lee meets Irish people making a tax-free fortune singing in pubs, organising weddings and starting businesses

The visual impression made by the city of Dubai on my first trip in from the airport was stunning. The glitz and glamour of some of the finest buildings I’ve ever seen will be hard enough to forget. Visually it is futuristic. At times I felt like I was on a film set for Start Wars; all that was missing were flying cars.

The aspirations and ambitions for the place are writ large all over the city’s infrastructure. The new Metro system is incredibly impressive and unbelievably clean. It’s mind-blowing to think that it was built over for a very short period of time.

To be honest Dubai was a culture shock for me. I had just spent two weeks in San Francisco and Silicon Valley tracking down the successful Irish for a TV documentary we were making about the people who are making it big over there. Now I had been dispatched to the Middle East to sample the other side of the coin when it comes to success.

And you better believe that there is another side to that coin, because these two locations are very different worlds. The attitudes and philosophies that drive success in Dubai and Silicon Valley are poles apart. Yet the Irish thrive in both places.

In San Francisco, investors love to see a bit of hunger and desperation about you if you arrive to develop a business or make a new idea grow. They understand failure. You’re not punished if you go broke. It’s a liberal and socially easy-going place, even if the pace of business is tremendously fast. San Francisco and Silicon Valley suck in talented people from all over the world. If you have an app or a business idea, the fundamental message from Valley is why not “come here and build it”?

Dubai is the exact opposite. The overriding philosophy is “if we build it they will come”, whether it’s the largest skyscrapers in the world, the most sumptuous hotels, the biggest shopping malls in the world, or the best infrastructure. And you’ve no business really moving to Dubai if you’re going to be hungry or desperate.

First of all, you have to pay a full year’s rent in advance. You’ll be thrown in jail if you bounce a cheque, or can’t pay your debts. There’s no such thing as bankruptcy. You can’t be unemployed. You can’t retire. And you better not get sick without health insurance.

Yet the money to be had in Dubai and the lifestyle being enjoyed by the Irish living there is quite unbelievable.

There’s no income tax, at all. There’s no corporate tax at all. There’s no VAT, and you don’t need to file accounts if you operate a business.

If you make a profit, or if you earn wage, then you get to keep it - all of it.

I met Irish teachers who are having a ball. Pilots who not only take home 60 per cent more than they would at home but also have all their accommodation and health expenses paid for them.

I met older entrepreneurs who moved over late in life after losing everything in the crash here. Yet they have managed to recover and rebuild their wealth in double quick time.

I met an Irishman making up €2,500 per night tax free by singing songs in Irish pubs.

And I met young woman from Clondalkin making a fortune from organising half-million euro weddings for the local Emirati population.

The positivity and optimism among the Irish I met was universal and it was infectious.

There was a great sense to which they came across to me as if they where revealing a secret - that this place, Dubai, is far better as a place to live in and to work in than many people outside might think.

I must have asked every person I met how long they came to Dubai for and how long they will stay. Everyone said they have stayed longer, or are planning to stay longer, than they originally came for. Not a single person, not one, whether Irish or otherwise, told me they wanted to go home.

And for me, that speaks volumes about the place.