Neom – Saudi’s Expat Capital of the Future?
In the first quarter of 2019, Saudi Arabia’s new mega-city named Neom, or “The Red Sea Project”, commenced construction. The vision of Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this new centre of commerce and high-end tourism covers over 10, 000 square miles. With the aim to establish Neom as a hotspot for business, expats and tourists from across the globe, what will this mean for those wishing to travel there?
Where is Neom?
The area that Neom Bay covers will cross borders, encompassing the northern tip of Saudi Arabia, and including areas of Jordan and Egypt. Part of the vision for the mega-city is a bridge which will span the Red Sea, creating a connection to mainland Africa. Approximately 10% of the world’s trade flows through the Red Sea and 70% of the world’s population can reach it in under an eight hour flight. Neom’s central location to many of the world’s economic hubs and trade routes make it a prime location for businesses to trade in the area.
It has previously been announced by the Saudi Crown Prince that Neom will become its own jurisdiction. This is intended to allow the city to create its own laws, tax systems and do away with a lot of the bureaucratic paperwork which, in other areas, can often delay and even discourage local investment. Saudi has historically relied on its oil reserves to flourish economically. With these resources beginning to deplete, the Crown Prince is looking to protect Neom and his vision for the region’s future from the economic fluctuations that Saudi has seen in recent years.
What will Neom look like?
The project is expected to reach completion by 2025, with basic operations live by as soon as 2020. Even though no names have yet been confirmed, it’s been rumoured that many big players in the global market have expressed a keen interest in basing their operations within Neom. This futuristic and technologically advanced metropolis will attract many blue chip companies and many of the tech giants from around the world.
One of the main goals is the ability to develop advanced green energy techniques. Solar, water and wind energy will be at the forefront of planning in the area, with the idea that Neom’s position will make it ideal to harvest these renewable natural resources.
Perhaps one of the most striking comments made about Neom is that there will “be more robots than people”. This gives an indication of how much technological integration will be at the core of every decision when building and developing life in Neom. Everything will be centred around communication, through what has been dubbed “the internet of things”. Therefore, these innovative systems will likely see the new 5G network being the standard in the region. There’s a real sense that “next generation technology” will soon come streaming from this hotbed of new thinking.
What will this mean for expats?
With this mega-city rising from the sands of the Saudi desert, there will need to be tens of thousands of people making the choice to populate the area. As businesses station themselves there to take advantage of the relaxed operating and taxation laws, a number of new job openings will be created. This will include everything from the education sector to service families in Neom, the leisure and tourist industry, the financial sector and every level of civil service required to create the autonomous Neom government.
That’s not even taking into consideration everything outside of the core running of the city, with 16 sectors being focused on for investment and development. These include media, manufacturing, energy, food, culture, sport and biotech to name just a few.
If powers in law making are being devolved to an independent body of administration, this begs the question – who will deal with the bureacracy? If it chooses to operate outside the existing framework of the Saudi, or even Lebanese and Egyptian governments where it partially encompasses both territories, how will security and consular processes be handled overseas? Will a national born in Neom hold a passport issued by the international zone? Will they fulfil their duties through Saudi Arabian Embassies globally, to handle requests for visas and legalisation, or deploy new representatives?
There is currently a special authority overseeing the development of the area, overseen by the Crown Prince, but it’s unclear how the cogs of the operation will work after completion. The crossing of borders into surrounding countries could cause complications potentially at its borders.
However the residency and employment laws are handled, this idyllic location will undoubtedly hold a big draw to people across the world. With a promise of tax-free living, year-round mild weather and a buzzing and multicultural expat community surrounded by ambitious and striking architecture, it will likely be the place to look for those seeking work abroad.
What is on offer for tourists?
With long sandy beaches, state of the art hotels, and a climate roughly 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the GCC, tourism will likely thrive in Neom Bay. By relaxing the laws in comparison to the surrounding regions, the city positions itself as a unique holiday destination in the Middle East. Add to that the infusion of international cuisine and culture, high-end shopping and beautiful coastlines, and there is a promise of something for everyone here.
Taking this into account, how easy will tourists find it to visit the new international zone? Saudi itself requires many citizens to obtain pre-travel visas, which have many stipulations and tourists visas are not readily available to UK citizens, except in certain circumstances.
It’s therefore likely that to make this an attractive destination, Neom will widely adopt an entry system similar to Dubai and Qatar, with many nationalities able to enter the country visa-free for up to 30 days.
Exciting prospects on the horizon
The name Neom was created from the Greek for “new”, neo- and the final letter being an abbreviation of the Arabic word Mostaqbal meaning “future”. This is a promise of a new life, and a new, unique future for the global community who will come to call the city of hyper-modern connectivity “home”.
Vital Consular will be watching developments in the area closely. With a presence in Dubai, we are well-placed to keep up to date with news as it is confirmed, allowing us to be abreast of any requirements for those wishing to travel to or relocate to Neom once operations are live. We will keep you up to date through the major phases of it’s construction and hope to be able to assist the first waves of Neom’s new population!
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