Saudi Arabia’s premium residency visa opens market to expats and investors

Saudi Arabia’s premium residency visa option will also compel developers to expand their portfolios by including more premium residential projects, thus transforming the urban landscape of major cities in the Kingdom including Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s premium residency visa opens market to expats and investors

  • Initiative is a pivotal shift in KSA’s approach to property ownership by non-Saudis: Knight Frank

RIYADH: New additions to the premium residency visa options by the Saudi government this year could open the Kingdom’s market to affluent expatriates and investors, a survey said. 

According to the report released by real estate consultancy Knight Frank, this initiative is a pivotal shift in the Kingdom’s approach to residency and property ownership by non-Saudis and is expected to have substantial implications for the demand dynamics of residential properties.

The premium visa residency option, launched in 2019, aims to allow eligible foreigners to live in the Kingdom and receive benefits such as exemption from paying expat and dependents fees, visa-free international travel, and the right to own real estate and run a business without requiring a sponsor.

To attract more foreign talents and to diversify the economy, the Kingdom added five new products to its premium residency program in January 2024. 

Under the new addition, the most noted one was the privilege to own residential real estate assets worth a minimum of SR4 million ($1.07 million) within the Kingdom. 

“The threshold of SR4 million is set to ensure that the investments are significant, likely leading to an influx of high-value transactions in the real estate market. This could potentially increase the demand for luxury and high-end residential properties, driving up property values in these segments,” said Knight Frank in the report. 

According to the UK-based consultancy, Saudi Arabia’s premium residency visa option will also compel developers to expand their portfolios by including more premium residential projects, thus transforming the urban landscape of major cities in the Kingdom including Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. 

“The introduction of this new visa scheme, however, signifies a strategic opening of the market to international investors and affluent expatriates seeking long-term residency options,” said Talal Raqqaban, partner, valuation, PPP and deal advisory at Knight Frank.

Demand for branded residences drives growth

According to the consulting firm, the demand for branded residencies in Saudi Arabia is driving the growth of the real estate sector in the Kingdom. 

The report revealed that Saudi Arabia is witnessing significant investments in these residential offerings, and added that the Kingdom is one of the most exciting new markets globally. 

The introduction of this new visa scheme signifies a strategic opening of the market to international investors and affluent expatriates seeking long-term residency options.

Talal Raqqaban Partner, valuation, PPP and deal advisory at Knight Frankç

Knight Frank said that the growing number of high-net-worth individuals in Saudi Arabia is likely to help bolster demand for branded residences. 

The number of HNWI in the Kingdom rose from 122,784 to 134,539 between 2022 and 2023, the report added. 

“The unique and exclusive nature of branded residences only adds to their allure. Moreover, the assurance of quality service and maintenance by the associated brands makes these investments particularly attractive and all but assures asset value appreciation,” said Mohamad Itani, partner, residential sales and marketing projects at Knight Frank. 

The report added that international appetite for branded residences in the Kingdom has recently received a shot in the arm with the introduction of the new property ownership-linked premium residency visas. 

“With a minimum threshold of SR4 million to qualify, demand for homes in the Kingdom is expected to rise as a result, noting that the property needs to be owned outright, with no debt against it, to receive the premium residency,” Knight Frank said in the report.

NEOM emerges as Saudi expats’ most preferred giga-project

The real estate consultancy revealed that Saudi Arabia’s $500-billion mega project NEOM is the most preferred residential destination among expats, with 29 percent of the surveyed participants wishing to buy a home in this sustainable city. 

This was closely followed by Jeddah Central at 15 percent and King Salman Park at 8 percent, the report added. 

The assurance of quality service and maintenance by the associated brands makes investments particularly attractive and all but assures asset value appreciation.

Mohamad Itani Partner, residential sales and marketing projects at Knight Frank

Of those interested in NEOM, 42 percent are interested in The Line, while 19 percent of the participants want to have a home on Sindalah Island.

“Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects represent some of the most ambitious construction ever undertaken and it stands to reason that these new city-sized developments continue to captivate prospective buyers,” said Faisal Durrani, partner, head of research for Knight Frank in the Middle East and North Africa region. 

He added: “NEOM has consistently ranked as the most preferred location for Saudi’s eyeing up future home purchases in the Kingdom’s Giga projects and it appears that expats too have been wooed by the planned ultra-futuristic offerings at the Belgium-sized $500 billion super-city.” 

Some 82 percent of the 241 expatriates who took part in the survey said that they are ready to spend under SR3.75 million to own a home in NEOM. 

“(Some) 32 percent say they will look to spend under SR750,000, which may cause challenges for developers as Knight Frank expects that the bulk of stock in the giga-projects will be priced north of $ 1 million,” the report added. 

FASTFACTS

• The premium visa residency option, launched in 2019, aims to allow eligible foreigners to live in the Kingdom and receive benefits such as exemption from paying expat and dependents fees.

• According to the consulting firm, the demand for branded residencies in Saudi Arabia is driving the growth of the real estate sector in the Kingdom.

On a positive note, 41 percent of the participants revealed that they were still interested in making a purchase in the giga-project and were also willing to reconsider their budget. 

Overall, the average expat budget for a home in a giga-project stands at SR2.7 million, nearly 58.8 percent higher than for elsewhere in the Kingdom. 

According to the report, millennial expats aged below 35 claim to have the deepest pockets, with average budgets of SR4.3 million, nearly twice compared to people aged between 45 to 55 whose budgets stand at SR1.5 million. 

“High-earning expats are eager to own property in the Kingdom’s giga-projects and the fact that high earners are prepared to spend more on giga-project homes will be welcome news for developers, but the key will be to offer distinctive community features and amenities that go above and beyond. Open spaces and having a park view, for instance, top expats’ wish lists,” said Itani.


Demand for industrial and logistics assets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi surges 185%: Knight Frank

Updated 25 sec ago
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Demand for industrial and logistics assets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi surges 185%: Knight Frank

RIYADH: Industrial and logistics asset demand in Dubai and Abu Dhabi surged 185 percent year-on-year to 18 million sq. feet in the first half of 2024, a new report showed. 

In its industrial market review, Knight Frank noted that the sector’s performance is reflected in the Jebel Ali Industrial Area Second Category, where rents surged 38.5 percent to 36 dirhams ($9.80) per sq. foot.    

Key sectors driving this surge in demand include manufacturing at 11.7 percent, construction at 11.1 percent, and logistics at 10.2 percent, which collectively account for one-third of total demand.   

This growth aligns with Dubai’s Commercial and Logistics Land Transport Strategy 2030, which aims to double the sector’s direct contribution to the emirate’s economy to 16.8 billion dirhams.  

The strategy also targets a 75 percent increase in technology adoption within infrastructure, a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions, and a 10 percent improvement in operational efficiency. 

Maxim Talmatchi, associate partner and co-head of Industrial & Logistics, UAE, at Knight Frank, said: “The industrial and logistics market demonstrates robust fundamentals, characterized by strong demand, minimal vacancies, and a promising pipeline of upcoming projects as developers respond to the rising level of demand.” 

The property consultant also highlighted increasing interest from institutional investors in the US, China, and Europe, with the sector’s global appeal bolstered by attractive yields of around 8.25 percent. 

“There’s a noticeable shortage of high-quality industrial and logistics space in the UAE, especially in Dubai. As the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2023 aims to make Dubai a global industrial hub, there is an urgent need to develop new high-quality stock,” said Mikhail Vereshchagin, Knight Frank’s associate partner, Industrial & Logistics, UAE. 

The London-headquartered firm projected new supply in the UAE’s commercial capital to total 660,000 sq. feet in 2024, with 360,000 sq. feet in the Jebel Ali Free Zone and 300,000 sq. feet in Dubai Industrial City. An additional 1.3 million sq. feet is expected in 2025 across the National Industries Complex, Dubai South, and Dubai Investments Park 2.  

“There is a clear growth trend in demand for better quality, operationally efficient logistics and warehousing space within UAE, and specifically in Dubai,” said David Simons, founder and CEO of UAE-based Radius Group, as quoted in the Knight Frank report. 

The report focused on the Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi group, which accounts for 55 percent of the UAE’s industrial supply, stating that the group saw strong demand for storage products with occupancy rates reaching 88 percent in the first quarter of 2024.   

General warehouse rents in KEZAD’s 12 economic zones range from 320 to 450 dirhams per sq. meters., while cold storage rents range from 350 to 550 dirhams per square meter.   

“Additionally, we are witnessing a trend toward longer lease commitments, with the average lease length increasing to almost 6 years from around 4 years in 2022,” said Mohamed Al-Ahmed, CEO of KEZAD Group, as quoted in the report.  


Sovereign investors in Middle East exploring emerging markets as geopolitical tensions rise, study says

Updated 4 min 34 sec ago
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Sovereign investors in Middle East exploring emerging markets as geopolitical tensions rise, study says

RIYADH: Middle Eastern sovereign investors are following their global counterparts by prioritizing India and other emerging markets amid concerns over geopolitical tensions, an analysis said. 

In its latest report, Invesco, a US-based investment management firm, said that 88 percent of global wealth funds, including 100 percent of those in the Middle East region, consider the south Asian country the most attractive destination for investments among emerging economies.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has already expressed its appetite in emerging nations like India. In September 2023, the Kingdom’s Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih expressed the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund office in the Asian country, as well as investing in Indian start-ups that cater to the Saudi markets via venture capital funds.

Commenting on his firm’s report, Josette Rizk, head of Middle East and Africa at Invesco, said: “Amid an unpredictable macro environment, sovereign investors are recalibrating their portfolios, pivoting toward equities, private credit, and hedge funds.”

He added: “Emerging markets are gaining traction, with funds adopting a selective approach.” 

According to the report, wealth funds are looking to reshape their portfolios to reflect the new macro environment, with 27 percent and 50 percent in the Middle East planning to increase allocations to infrastructure over the next year. 

Invesco’s findings are based on the views of 140 chief investment officers, heads of asset classes, and senior portfolio strategists at 83 sovereign wealth funds and 57 central banks, who together manage $22 trillion in assets. 

Geopolitical tensions posing risks to economic growth

The analysis revealed that 95 percent of sovereign investors in the Middle East region opined geopolitical tension as the most serious risk to economic growth over the next 12 months. 

According to the report, inflation also remains a significant concern for these investors, with 43 percent of sovereign wealth funds and central banks globally and 68 percent in the Middle East expecting it to settle above apex banks’ targets. 

The study further noted that almost three-quarters of investors — 71 percent worldwide and 70 percent in the Middle East — anticipate interest rates and bond yields to remain in the mid-single digits over the long term, indicating a shift in expectations.

The rise of private credit

The report noted that private credit is also gaining popularity, with only 35 percent of sovereign wealth funds globally and 22 percent in the Middle East currently having no investments in private credit. 

Invesco opined that the appeal of private credit is driven by diversification from traditional fixed income and its relative value compared to conventional debts. 

The study said that the US is the most attractive market for private credit, with the country being rated the favorite option by 67 percent of the wealth funds globally and 71 percent in the Middle East. 

However, Invesco said there is a growing interest in emerging market private debt, as more than half of the respondents, including 58 percent in the Middle East region, believe there are unexplored opportunities in these countries. 

“Private credit is increasingly attractive to sovereign wealth funds, with many investing through funds and direct deals. 

Sovereign wealth funds in the region developed markets but are also exploring emerging markets while balancing defensive and opportunistic strategies to navigate the competitive landscape,” added Rizk. 

The implementation of AI

Invesco also noted that more than one-third of sovereign investors globally are using advanced technologies like artificial intelligence in their investment process. 

The vast majority — 93 percent worldwide and 100 percent in the Middle East — believe AI will eventually play a role in their organization. 

The rise of generative AI has prompted 66 percent of sovereign wealth funds and central banks globally and 83 percent in the Middle East to reevaluate their current AI strategies and explore new applications for this technology. 

The survey also found that half of these investors globally and 80 percent in the Middle East are confident that the implementation of AI can enhance returns. 

“Sovereign investors in the region are increasingly adopting AI in their investment processes, recognizing its potential to become an essential tool. While challenges exist, funds are investing in training and partnerships to overcome barriers,” noted Rizk. 

Growing importance of ESG

Invesco said that investors who took part in the study consider greenwashing to be one of the biggest challenges, as cited by 84 percent of the wealth funds worldwide and 94 percent in the Middle East. 

The report also found that sovereign investors are moving toward greater accountability, with 50 percent of accounts in the Middle East modeling and tracking their portfolios to combat climate change. 

“ESG (environmental, social, and governance) adoption continues to rise among the Middle East’s central banks, while SWFs refine their approach as the market matures,” said Rizk. 

He added: “Investors are increasingly recognizing climate risk as a material factor and aligning portfolios with global climate goals. Engagement with and allocation to renewables are preferred over complete divestment to drive the energy transition.” 

The allure of gold

The analysis revealed that gold is gaining appeal. In the last three years, 70 percent of the central banks in the Middle East region have increased allocations for the yellow metal. 

According to the report, central banks are bolstering and diversifying reserves, with 53 percent worldwide planning an increase in the size of their holdings and 52 percent planning additional diversification. 

Rising US debt levels have a negative impact on the global role of the dollar, according to 64 percent of respondents globally and 33 percent in the Middle East.

Some 18 percent of central banks, including 20 percent in the Middle East, believe that the position of the US dollar as the world reserve currency will be weaker within five years. 

“Amid global uncertainties, central banks in the region are strengthening and diversifying reserves. Gold’s appeal is growing due to concerns about rising US debt levels. Allocations to emerging markets are increasing as central banks seek to enhance returns and mitigate risks,” concluded Rizk. 

In June, a survey conducted by the World Gold Council noted that more central banks plan to increase their gold reserves within a year despite the ongoing macroeconomic and political uncertainties and rising gold prices.

According to WGC, 29 percent of the central banks globally expect to boost their gold reserves in the next twelve months, the highest level since the survey began in 2018. 

“Despite record demand from the official sector in the past two years and rising gold prices, many reserve managers remain enthusiastic about the yellow metal,” said Shaokai Fan, head of Central Banks at the World Gold Council, at that time. 


Flydubai says expansion plans have been hindered by Boeing delays

Updated 22 July 2024
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Flydubai says expansion plans have been hindered by Boeing delays

DUBAI: Budget carrier flydubai’s fleet expansion plans have been hit by delays to Boeing’s aircraft delivery schedule, the Dubai airline said on Monday.
Flydubai said it is “evaluating its route development plans and potential frequency revision across the network due to a lack of new aircraft deliveries over the next few months.”
The statement added that Boeing’s delivery delays in recent years have placed substantial pressure on the airline and its ability to plan for its projected growth in the wake of strong post-pandemic demand for travel.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt to boost energy cooperation after high-level meeting

Updated 22 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia, Egypt to boost energy cooperation after high-level meeting

  • Ministers discussed various aspects of cooperation between the two countries

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Egypt are set to boost energy cooperation following a meeting between top officials to expand ties in petroleum, gas, electricity, renewable energy, and hydrogen. 
On July 21, Saudi Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman met with Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Karim Badawi and Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mahmoud Esmat at his ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh. 
During the meeting, the ministers discussed various aspects of cooperation between the two countries, aiming to align their efforts with the shared visions of their leaderships and the ambitions of their peoples, according to a statement from the Saudi Energy Ministry. 


National Housing Co. partners with Korean firm Naver to boost smart city solutions in the Kingdom  

Updated 22 July 2024
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National Housing Co. partners with Korean firm Naver to boost smart city solutions in the Kingdom  

RIYADH: The Saudi real estate sector is set to embrace advanced technologies after the National Housing Co. partnered with Korean tech firm Naver Corp. to enhance smart city solutions. 

The collaboration, formalized in the presence of Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail, aims to integrate Digital Twin technology, utilizing Naver’s advanced cloud system.  

The technology mirrors real-world entities in a virtual environment, supporting real-time decision-making through data analysis, prediction, and optimization. It will be cloud-based, with a focus on three-dimensional digital modeling. 

This move aligns with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals, aiming to use this technology for urban planning and flood predictions while advancing smart city development.

The integration of Digital Twin technology is part of the Kingdom’s broader strategy to modernize its real estate sector and adopt cutting-edge solutions to enhance urban management and infrastructure efficiency. 

Minister Al-Hogail highlighted the significance of this partnership, stating on X that the deal opens the doors for innovation in digital solutions.

“Together, we achieve strategic visions for the municipalities and housing sectors in our relentless pursuit of sustainable smart cities,” he said.

This deal builds on Naver’s initial entry into the Middle East and Saudi markets in 2023 by establishing a contract with the ministries of investment and housing to use their systems.

The ambitious roadmap also includes amalgamating advanced technologies such as AI, robotics, and cloud solutions. 

The company emphasized the platform’s open-ended architecture, fostering collaborations with local Saudi and South Korean entities.

Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, the president of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority, visited the firm’s site in May, denoting the establishment’s long-standing relationship with the Kingdom.

During the meeting, potential collaborations between the two entities were discussed, as SDAIA is responsible for strategy, research, and development in the AI, data, and smart city sectors in Saudi Arabia. 

Officials from other major Saudi institutions, including the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the National Information Center, and the National Data Management Office, have also paid visits to the site to experience the company’s technological advancements and discuss collaborative opportunities, a release on the Korean entity’s website revealed.

This comes after Naver became part of the “One Team Korea” consortium in November 2022. The partnership sought to secure Saudi projects under the patronage of South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.