Foreign investment in the Dubai housing market, 2020-2024

Authors: Annette Alstadsæter, Matt Collin, Bluebery Planterose, Gabriel Zucman, and Andreas Økland

This note presents new evidence on the scale of foreign investment in the Dubai residential property market. Using new data comprising the ownership of a large share of the Dubai property market, we present updated estimates of foreign-owned real estate for the years 2020 and 2022. We find that foreign nationals hold around 43% of the total value of all residential property in the city. Foreign-owned residential real estate grew by 20%—around $23 billion—between the beginning of 2020 and early 2022.

We also find evidence of a substantial boom in Russian interest in the city following the invasion of Ukraine, with both utility accounts and residential leases associated with Russian nationals increasing sharply. Relying on simple assumptions to allocate new property purchases across nationalities, we conservatively estimate that Russians bought up to $2.4 billion worth of existing properties and a further $3.9 billion of in-development properties since the invasion.

Our findings have three main policy implications:

1. Anti-money laundering organisations such as the Financial Action Task Force should intensify pressure on the United Arab Emirates to clean up its real estate sector

2. Automatic exchange-of-information regimes such as the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) should be expanded to include real estate

3. Policymakers should begin the process of introducing the building blocks of a global asset registry, to build a unified picture of non-financial and financial assets, first at the regional level, then at the global level

Our updated 2020 estimates are also now available on the Atlas of the Offshore World.