Israelis Who Moved to the UAE: 'The Smartest Decision I’ve Made
The UAE may not have a liberal democracy, but it doesn't have income tax, either — and it's drawing Israeli companies and workers from around the world
Two and a half years ago, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (and several other Arab states) signed the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the countries and turned Dubai, the UAE’s major business center, into a tourist destination of choice for Israelis. But that’s only part of the story. Almost under the radar, branches of Israel's high-tech sector have moved to Dubai for a long-term stay.
Several Israelis have chosen to establish development centers in Dubai – and to relocate to the UAE city themselves. And it’s not just entrepreneurs. Rank-and-file high-tech staffers – team leaders and programmers, salaried personnel and freelancers – have decided to move to the Emirates over the past year. They don’t quite constitute an Israeli high-tech "community," but their presence is growing.
Israel and the UAE now have extensive business connections. Defense contractors Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems have established branch offices in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. At the same time, the Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company (ADQ) is trying to acquire a controlling stake in Israel’s Phoenix Holdings after already making other investments in Israel.
One of ADQ’s Israeli investments is Aleph Farms, the cultivated meat company, which is currently considering opening a plant in the UAE. And the Israeli investment platform OurCrowd has also announced that it is investing tens of millions of dollars in expanding its operations in Abu Dhabi. That’s just a very partial list.
Ron Daniel, who is the CEO of the Liquidity Group fintech firm, became the first Israeli entrepreneur to open a development center in the UAE two years ago. “I went into the unknown,” he says. “I wanted to establish a genuine network of relations with the Emiratis, and I understood that to do that, I needed to invest in their local ecosystem. Since then, what was done as a tactical step turned out to be the smartest business move that I’ve made.”
He explains that it's very easy to recruit talent in the UAE “because the quality of life is high and everyone wants to live here. It takes me just two weeks to get a work visa for people from all over the world, so in our development center, there are workers from 16 different countries, such as India, Singapore, Australia, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Turkey and France. Around 30 percent of the workers come from Arabic-speaking countries.”
Quite a few workers from Liquidity’s development center in Tel Aviv live between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, and travel between the two countries every two weeks, Daniel says. One of these staffers has actually moved to the UAE, and another few are considering it.
“As life in Israel becomes more difficult and tense, the employees look for serenity. I lived for many years in the United States, and as I see it, the Emirates are like Israel’s Miami. The flight takes just three hours, so you’re always surrounded by people from home who have stopped over for a weekend – unlike life in New York, where every visit is an event,” he said.
Of the seven emirates that comprise the UAE, Dubai is considered more cosmopolitan, and foreigners tend to prefer to live there. Nevertheless, Abu Dhabi, the capital, is considered the most significant power center in the country, and is also home to a considerable number of expats. The vision of the leader of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, includes turning it into a global center for technological development. In 2021, the government's Technology Innovation Institute began building a quantum computer there.
Anyone wanting to live and raise their children in a liberal democracy won’t find what they are looking for in the UAE. But every Dubai transplant we spoke to for this article described Dubai as a pleasant city that is extraordinarily comfortable and safe.
Daniel himself lives in Dubai with his family, and makes the hour-long commute to his company’s development center in Abu Dhabi. His daughter attends a private, English-speaking Montessori kindergarten that also teaches French and Arabic.
“They also celebrate Jewish holidays there,” he notes. “The prices are like Tel Aviv, but the level is entirely different.”
As far as disadvantages go, Daniel says, “Israel really is home to me, but it’s like my parents’ house. There’s a stage in life when you enjoy visiting, but if you were to live there all the time, it would drive you crazy. I don’t know what it will be like here in the Emirates for the next generation, but for our generation, it’s a wonderful place."