It says something about Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) that, in the wake of the financial crisis, most of its property developments have been bought not by speculators but by foreign expatriates looking to live in the emirate for the long term. “This is a laid-back place to live,” one expat told fDi Magazine as he drove along streets that were busy, but not log-jammed like those in Dubai. “I’m bringing the family over soon.” This, of course, is the ultimate vindication for an expat destination.
Not everyone working in RAK lives here; those that need the ‘buzz’ or the extra facilities offered by Dubai commute to RAK, which is generally a painless process although it depends on the Dubai traffic (which can also get snarled up around Sharjah); conversely, RAK is home to many professionals who work in Dubai or Sharjah but appreciate RAK’s low-key charms – it is really a case of horses for courses.
Education and healthcare
Regardless of which emirate appeals the most, quality education and healthcare provision are top of the list of concerns for professionals working abroad, particularly if they have their families with them. In both respects, RAK has been working hard to come up to par. “Schooling does seem to be getting better in RAK,” the European manager of one plant told fDi Magazine, “and this is extremely important if the emirate is to attract the right calibre of people to work here.”
Currently, there are about 120 schools (from pre-primary to secondary), the majority of which are publicly funded and run under the aegis of the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Education, but a number are private and offer UK, US and Indian curricula.
Education in general is a priority for the emirate, which has successfully attracted a number of foreign universities either to partner with RAK educational institutions or to set up stand-alone offshoots.
For example, RAK’s Ittihad University is offering joint courses with the University of Gloucestershire in the UK and is looking to find more partnering opportunities in the future. Another UK institution, the University of Bolton, has set up its own campus in RAK and in time will be offering qualifications in civil engineering and other disciplines.
There is also a university offering a US syllabus – the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, founded by Sheikh Saud, the emirate’s crown prince, in 2009.
RAK is also developing the extent of its healthcare coverage. Latest available figures record a total of 550 hospital beds in the public sector, equating to 2.36 per 1000 of population. This is only about one-third of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, but is arguably adequate given the number of primary healthcare centres, child health centres and dental clinics, as well as the provision of private healthcare. A number of healthcare developments are on their way, including a $150m hospital due for completion next year, funded by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE.
Schooling does seem to be getting better in RAK and this is extremely important if the emirate is to attract the right calibre of people to work here
Housing prices in RAK have always been competitive and have become even more reasonable in the past year. Recent developments have concentrated on Mediterraneanstyle villas and apartments that nod towards traditional Emirati architecture; some of the most popular developments include the waterside Al Hamra village, with adjacent golf course, mall and artificial lagoon (soon to be joined by a seven-star hotel).
Another luxury development, the Cove, is built across 20 hectares of prime waterfront and features 185 one-, two- and three-bedroomed villas, many of which include plunge pools and balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Housing rental prices have also subsided, indicating a level of market correction. It is true that some investors who bought exuberantly prior to the crash have struggled to meet financing commitments but, according to Dr Khater Massad, CEO of RAK Investment Authority, very few contracts have been rescinded, with developers demonstrating a flexible approach to cash-strapped purchasers.
Summers are extremely hot in the Gulf and, for those not beaten back to more temperate climes, preserving sang froid becomes a priority. Whiling away an afternoon with a frappuccino in an air-conditioned shopping mall presents one popular option, as does the beach or, if the weather permits, a round of that traditional expatriate panacea for all ills, golf – considerably cheaper in RAK than in Dubai.
RAK is not one of the ‘dry’ (no-alcohol) emirates, but nor is there a bar culture.
However, the emirate’s hotels are popular places for locals to meet for both business and leisure. The Al Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort offers various watersports tuition and facilities, for example; other leading hotels include the Hilton’s offerings, in the city and its newer ‘resort and spa’ in Al Maareedh.
Getting back to nature
If the RAK lifestyle possesses a simple differentiator from elsewhere in the Gulf, it must be its proximity to nature. For example, the Hajjar mountains to the east of the city present not only a picturesque vista from the safety of an infinity pool but also challenges for the adventure seeker.
Activities on offer in the wild areas include mountaineering, mountain biking, dune-bashing and many wadis (valleys) to explore (the most spectacular of which include the Wadi Bih, a one-kilometre-deep channel that hosts an annual endurance race, and the verdant Wadi Asimah), while the beautiful Musandam peninsula across the border in Oman is easily reachable.
Like many comparable countries, Ras Al Khaimah faces the dilemma of internationalising its profile while at the same time maintaining its cultural integrity and preserving the things that make it special. This is a difficult balance to get right but RAK’s offering to its residents, both long and short term, manages to be accessible and distinctive