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Want to retire early in the Middle East? Experts say it’s possible if you do this

People don’t just want to retire early; they want to enjoy their lives even if it means on a lower income. Here’s how to get started

Want to retire early in the Middle East? Experts say it’s possible if you do this
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Twenty-four-year-old Amaira has changed jobs thrice and wants to stop working by 40. But she needs to figure out how to make this happen. She is not alone. 

One study found that many Gen Z wanted to retire earlier than previous generations, with many expressing a preference for retiring in their mid-50s or earlier. This eagerness for early retirement can be attributed to various factors, including the influence of evolving work trends, increased awareness of work-life balance, and a desire to pursue personal passions in life.

Another research on Gen Z’s attitudes toward retirement savings and investment found that a notable percentage are open to considering non-traditional investments, such as cryptocurrencies and socially responsible investments, as part of their retirement planning. This inclination showcases their willingness to embrace new financial avenues and adapt to changing economic landscapes.

When addressing retirement, a pertinent question to explore is when to? The uncertainties – the economic crisis, job insecurity, and no pension schemes – leave many unprepared to exit the workforce in the Middle East. 

“The growing desire for greater flexibility has led to frequent job switches and increased entrepreneurship and freelance work. As a result, individuals are reimagining their lives and retirement, seeking more control over their financial future,” says Jayesh Patel, CEO of Wio Bank. 

The landscape is now rife with challenges, prompting many to examine their retirement plan. “After the pandemic, many people have considered savings, including retirement. For an individual, it is essential to be aware of the trends and options available for retirement planning,” says Joseph Terrance, Business Head Life Insurance, Policybazaar.

Coupled with workplace trends is an evolution in individual aspirations. A well-being survey by Cigna found that over 50% of people said they didn’t mind retiring early to enjoy life, even at the cost of a lesser income. As awareness about health and well-being increases, individuals are more conscientious about their quality of life. 

“This trend signifies new priorities for oneself, which we see reflected in needs from retirement. There is a rise in flexible retirement options. Many prefer retirement plans tailored to their specific needs and risk tolerance,” says Jerome Droesch, CEO at Cigna International Markets for Domestic Health and Health Services.

Over the last four decades, wages have remained stagnant, housing expenses have doubled, the emergence of the pandemic disrupted Gen Z’s entry into the job market, and the cost of living has soared. 

For a huge portion of the workforce, saving for the distant future has transformed into a luxury beyond their financial means. 


Meanwhile, retirement planning is growing increasingly diverse. Crafting a comprehensive retirement plan requires more than saving money; it demands a deliberate allocation of funds across various asset classes.

According to Terrance, optimal retirement plans should encompass different asset classes, including savings accounts, fixed deposits, onshore and offshore investment schemes, equities, debt investments, and property. He emphasizes that the selection of investment options should be based on an investor’s risk tolerance, time horizon, and financial objectives.

Building a retirement fund can be challenging, particularly for individuals living paycheck to paycheck. However, there are steps to initiate the process. Droesch says, “Creating a budget to track expenses and identifying areas to save more or cut back is crucial.”

Starting with modest contributions and gradually increasing the savings rate as financial circumstances improve is essential. Even minor contributions can accumulate over time due to the power of compounding.

Droesch suggests exploring employer-sponsored retirement plans, which may include matching contributions. Alternatively, automatic transfers to a dedicated retirement savings account ensure that a portion of each paycheck is directed into savings.

Equities and ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds) have become more accessible in retirement planning. Patel says, “What was once exclusively for the wealthy is now attainable to everyday individuals through fractionalization and advanced technology.”

He highlights that this democratization of equity investments empowers ordinary investors to participate in financial markets and strategically amass wealth.

“This evolving landscape provides people access to various assets with varying risk profiles, fostering a diversified and resilient investment portfolio. The democratization of alternative investments grants more people control over their financial destinies, potentially enhancing retirement security,” adds Patel.


While there are numerous studies on the desired retirement age, Terrance and Droesch stress that there isn’t a universal answer for the ideal age to start retirement savings. Droesch says, “The optimal approach is for individuals to consider retirement savings as soon as they start earning.”

Terrance echoes this sentiment, asserting, “The best time to initiate retirement savings is now.”

However, securing a stable financial future and embracing a comfortable retirement is attainable at every stage. Droesch says, “Regardless of age, taking steps to safeguard your financial well-being and relishing a content retirement is within reach.”

Droesch emphasizes the importance of considering challenges and realities when planning early retirement. While popular culture often portrays retirement as a leisurely and glamorous phase, the experience can deviate from this depiction. “Early retirees confront an extended retirement period, necessitating substantial savings to sustain their lifestyle across multiple decades,” he adds.

Despite your age, it’s important to plan. Terrance recommends that if you’re in your 20s, set aside at least 1x your current annual income by 30. Explore diverse options such as market-linked insurance plans and annuities, constructing a well-rounded portfolio comprising stocks, bonds, and other assets, and embracing a higher-risk strategy for potentially greater returns.


Saving for retirement is a crucial financial goal that requires planning, discipline, and foresight.

Terrance states that the required retirement savings vary by age and income level. Still, a general estimate is that you should save roughly 7x to 13.5x your pre-retirement gross income by age 65. “Retirement planning can be complex and challenging, especially for expats who may face uncertainties regarding their residency status, currency fluctuations, tax implications, and legal regulations,” he says. 

Speaking about the UAE’s new retirement visa program that allows eligible foreigners to retire in Dubai for up to five years, with the possibility of renewal, he says there’s a need for financial literacy about such schemes and the newly introduced laws. 

Moreover, achieving early retirement might necessitate a heightened savings rate during earning years and disciplined financial planning. As Droesch points out, this strategy aims to ensure individuals possess sufficient funds to cover all expenditures, reducing reliance on conventional pensions or social security. 

Depending on the envisioned post-retirement lifestyle, he says individuals should consider associated expenses and devise plans accordingly. For instance, if the aspiration includes living in different countries intermittently, comprehensive worldwide health insurance becomes essential. 

Understanding that attaining early retirement often entails judicious financial choices throughout one’s working tenure is vital for youngsters to grasp.


Terrance underscores the numerous challenges and practicalities young people should consider before committing to such a path.

Firstly, the escalating inflation rate and the rate of return on retirement funds. Early retirees must adopt astute savings and investment strategies to ensure their retirement funds endure for an extended period and remain resilient against the mounting cost of living. The impact of taxes, fees, and market fluctuations on returns must also be factored in, with the potential recommendation for early retirees to amass up to 33 times their annual expenses for a comfortable retirement.

Furthermore, preparing for expenses related to health and associated factors is essential. While early retirement is attainable, it necessitates meticulous planning, thorough preparation, and the willingness to adapt. 

Saving for retirement may seem daunting, but it is not impossible. “The key is to start early, save consistently, invest wisely, and adjust your strategy as you go along,” says Terrance.

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More