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Living in Dubai – The Essential Guide To Life In Dubai

Dubai is an intriguing and fascinating place to live: it's where the old and the new, the traditional and the progressive are mixed in a curious cocktail that attracts people from all over the world.

Living in Dubai – The Essential Guide To Life In Dubai 21st April 2017

The Editorial Team at Degtev are expatriate research experts led by Degtev founders Andy Williamson & Ola Degteva. Page maintained by Ola Degteva.

Move Live - Dubai

Living in Dubai can become one of the most exciting experiences of your life. However, moving and settling in a new country can be daunting especially if you lack practical knowledge of how things are done locally. Our detailed guides cover all sides of living in Dubai from practical tips on residency, to taxes, to schooling, to health and many more, so you know what to expect and can plan beforehand what you need to do and what’s the best way to get it done.

Essential Dubai Facts

Located in the Middle East, Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  It is also the name of the main city within the emirate of Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates was formed in 1971 by the then ‘Trucial States’ after their independence from Britain.  Initially Dubai’s wealth was built on its oil industry, but it has successfully diversified its economy so that today it has multiple strands supporting its fiscal strength – including tourism, real estate, financial services, health and education.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai, and together with Abu Dhabi the emirate has veto power over certain matters of national importance in the country’s legislature.  As a result of this, foreign buyers are allowed to own the freehold title to certain property in Dubai for example – this is not the case in all other emirates within the UAE.

Dubai is full of sun and soft sandy beaches
Dubai is full of sun and soft sandy beaches

Dubai has become an exceptionally popular choice for relocation with expatriates for a number of key reasons.  Firstly, before the emirate’s economic contraction which began circa 2008, Dubai’s was a booming economy where there were an abundance of employment prospects, and opportunity for strong speculation in the local property market abounded.

The other key reason why living in Dubai is so appealing to expats is because the lifestyle locally is exceptionally good, particularly for Western expats who benefit from a largely excellent climate, wonderful leisure facilities, a relatively laid back pace of life and good education and healthcare standards.

Jobs and Salaries in Dubai

For those who want to advance their careers, earn a tax-free salary, and live in one of the most exciting and vibrant locations in the world – Dubai is a top place to move to. Building your professional career in Dubai can be an exciting experience, so if you want to have a go – read how to find jobs in Dubai and start your career there.

Many people made strong fortunes in Dubai, and even to this day it’s a centre of wealth and prosperity.  Expats who relocate long-term to Dubai can legitimately earn their salary free from income tax. No income tax in Dubai is a big deal for many professionals, plus there some additional tax advantages and some pitfalls as well – for more details read our Tax in Dubai guide.

One may say that the emirate’s heady days of constant economic expansion are over, for now at least, but there are still jobs in Dubai in many employment sectors.

The OAE is aiming to become one of the strongest global tech and innovation hubs in the bid to reduce oil dependency and diversify economy even further. Dubai especially has an excellent infrastructure and connectivity and the government is doing quite a lot to promote Dubai as a perfect destination for global talent and start-ups. Who is in greatest demand in the OAE in 2017 and probably in the foreseeable future? – Here is the list of top paying jobs in the region.

Practical Tips on Working in Dubai

If an employer is relocating you to be working in Dubai you want to negotiate your employment package.  The cost of living in Dubai is so high you need relocation costs, accommodation costs and your children’s education costs taken into consideration at the very least.

If you’re looking for work in the emirate you can enter on a visit visa, depending on the nation you herald from, and target employers directly.  You can also look online to see which recruitment companies can assist you to find work in the emirate.

You will need a labour card and your employer will have to sponsor your visa to live and work in the emirate.

If you lose your job you will have 30 days to find another job and another sponsor, or else you will have to leave Dubai.

You cannot just change jobs on a whim in Dubai – depending on the level of formal education you have, this restricts the number of times you can change job believe it or not!

Dubai Lifestyle

Dubai offers amazing dining out experience
Dubai offers amazing dining out experience

When talking about living in Dubai, the majority of the time we’re talking about the City of Dubai rather than the emirate as a whole.  This is where the majority of Britons base themselves in the emirate, and where they find work.  The City of Dubai is also the lifestyle hub for the entire region.

Lifestyle in Dubai is the one thing you won’t hear expats complaining about.  Although due to the heat it is mostly limited to indoor air-conditioned activities, nevertheless there are plenty entertainments of all sorts including amazing shopping.

From a range of theme parks to private beach clubs, from incredibly opulent shopping malls to cinema complexes and an abundance of restaurants, from indoor snowboarding to the most remarkable music festivals – Dubai really does have it all. Read what kind of lifestyle in Dubai you can expect and how to get the most out of life in Dubai (including your liquor licence).

Shopping in Dubai

There are multiple malls in Dubai – and in fact, the largest mall in the world exists in Dubai.  What’s more, you can buy everything from Ikea furniture to traditional textiles in the emirate.

A lot of what you buy is tax-free – however, importation costs can ratchet up what you’re paying for items. Moreover, VAT is to be introduced in 2018 at a rate of 5% excluding basic food items, healthcare and education. Take care when out shopping if you’re on a budget therefore.

Shop in local markets and supermarkets for cheaper prices.

Avoid malls on a Friday night as they are packed.

Many expats leaving Dubai are looking of offload everything from furniture to cars – look on forums and supermarket/employment place notice boards for bargains.

The Cost of Living in Dubai

When it comes to the cost of living in Dubai there is again good and bad news…the cost of accommodation can be as much as GBP 15,000 a year for a decent rental apartment in a good location and this has to be paid up front. What’s more, if you want to buy a property in Dubai you may have to wait many years for an off plan apartment or villa to be completed or pay top dollar for a resale property.

However, if you already own property in Dubai and want to rent it out, the good news is that you can easily achieve yields of between 8 and 11%.

Other than accommodation the other high cost outlays you need to be aware of include school fees which are now extortionate at the best schools as expats fight for places.  Whilst there is a law restricting the annual rate of school fee inflation to between 16 and 20%, schools find all sorts of ways to add on extras and this has seen annual inflation of up to 80% in school fees.

Medical insurance and the cost of healthcare is high – but then the quality you get is exceptional.

Basic day to day grocery costs are average, alcohol is expensive and can only be bought in hotel bars and clubs or if you have a license for your own home.

Fuel costs are affordable as are vehicle costs when compared to the UK for example.

Even with the introduction of VAT in Dubai (at a rate of 5% it is one of the lowest in he world) daily shopping costs are very reasonable.

Healthcare in Dubai

Since the introduction of mandatory health insurance in Dubai every resident living in Dubai needs to be insured one way or another. Valid health insurance is necessary to obtain a residency visa. The new law is a part of Dubai’s programme to become one of the most advanced countries in terms of  healthcare, its quality and affordability for all residents.

As you are moving to a totally different climate with totally different local bugs and health threats, there are some essential steps to be undertaken before your relocation and during your stay in Dubai. Our Healthcare in Dubai guide will tell you what you need to do before and after moving to keep your family and yourself healthy in Dubai, and what you can expect from Dubai healthcare system.

Culture Shock

Learn as much about Dubai as you can before you move there – and if possible, visit before you commit to relocation.  Also, get on forums and chats with other expats who already live in the emirate to find out what it’s really like.

Unmarried couples cannot live together.

Adultery is a crime punishable by prison and subsequent deportation – as is getting into debt and even bouncing a cheque.  Learn about local laws and really respect them.  Never drink and drive, never take non-prescribed drugs.

Respect the dress code, dress conservatively.

Respect the local religion and traditions, understand that during Ramadan you should not eat or drink during the hours of daylight in view of local people – it is deeply disrespectful. Knowing and follow laws and rules in Dubai is a key to your wellbeing in the country.

Driving in Dubai

Dubai is a rapidly expanding metropolis, attracting holidaymakers and expats from all over the globe.  It is modern, lively and busy. When it comes to driving in Dubai, obeying the traffic regulations should become your first priority.

Living in Dubai - Traffic
Living in Dubai – Traffic

You cannot get your own car in Dubai until you have a local driving license, but you can rent a car on your international license.

If you want to ride a motorbike in Dubai you need to have a license from your own nation, if you want to take tours off road in the UAE you need to pass a desert driving course.

Our guide on Driving in Dubai explains how to get an international driving permit, sort out your driving licence and what to do to be safe while driving in Dubai.

Public Transport in Dubai

Getting around a modern metropolis for those who don’t like driving or don’t feel comfortable with it in a foreign country  is initially a challenge. It takes some time getting used to routes, modes of transports and local know-how of using public transport. However, after you familiarise yourself with it, getting around the city will become only easier.

Dubai is planning to become the smartest city in the world in terms of public transport. The city can already boast driverless Metro trains, Tesla taxi cars, and even self-driving buses are becoming a reality. So travelling by public transport in Dubai can be a perfect option for those who want to avoid hassle of driving.

Finding Somewhere to Live in Dubai

Property prices in Dubai have surged and crashed – however, rental rates remain exceptionally high – what’s more, you may be expected to pay for one year’s rent in advance.  This can be difficult for many moving to the emirate, and some employers help out.

Find out if they will also help you find somewhere to live as this can be tricky and time consuming.

If at all possible reside in Dubai in temporary accommodation for as long as you can so you have plenty of time to get to know the different residential areas.  This way you can find the right one for you and your needs and tastes.

Different areas of the emirate cost very different amounts and are more or less salubrious.  Learn where would suit you before you commit to renting anything.

Practicalities of Moving to Dubai

Moving to and living in Dubai can be made easy if you plan beforehand, do your research and get essential things done on time.  Visit Dubai and stay there for some time to get the feel of the pace, find a job before relocating, research schools and places to live, do your paperwork, plan your relocation carefully – these are basic steps of moving to Dubai that can define your success or failure.

Pros and Cons of Living in Dubai

As any other place in the world, living in Dubai has a lot going for it as well as some major drawbacks. When moving to a new place it is essential you know what both bad and good things you can expect from your new home.

The Good Things About Living in Dubai

1) Dubai is an exciting and happening destination that cannot be ignored!  It is therefore the place to be if you want to enjoy your social life and your working life in the fast lane.

2) The climate in the emirate for 8 months of the year is perfect.  Long hot days dominated by cloudless blue skies and enhanced with beautiful warm seawaters.

3) The social side of life is fantastic and diverse.  Many expats join a hotel or private beach club when they arrive and spend much of their down time enjoying the facilities.  For others there are more sports and sports clubs closely concentrated together within the emirate than anywhere else in the world!  In the evenings the social side of life moves on to bars, clubs and restaurants with Dubai playing host to as wide a range of tastes as is probably possible!

4) The educational standards in Dubai are excellent and new schools and colleges are being constructed almost annually.

5) Every major international corporation has a base in Dubai – or so it seems!  This means that there are opportunities aplenty.

6) Income is tax free!

7) One can repatriate funds easily – therefore you can earn a fantastic salary in Dubai and send some of it home as well.

8) The emirate is increasingly accessible with its major international airport welcoming flights from across the world.

9) The shopping in Dubai is fantastic!

10) The standard of living is very high.

11) Crime is very low.

12) Dubai is a very tolerant emirate – tolerant of others’ beliefs and ways of life.  It is also one of the most moderate in terms of applying the rules of Islam to everyone’s every day life.  Therefore for example, expats are able to buy alcohol in Dubai and also they are allowed to eat and drink during the daylight hours of Ramadan.

13) Taxis are very cheap and the government is investing hugely into a public transportation system.

14) Cars and petrol are very cheap indeed!

15) It’s usual practice for families to have domestic help.

The Bad Things About Living in Dubai

1) Dubai is a bit of a bureaucratic headache especially for newly arrived expatriates who have to have licenses and permits for everything!  You need a permit to buy alcohol, a license to drive, a permit to work and a permit to reside in Dubai of course!  Get advice and assistance supplied and agreed up front from your employer to ease this initial period of adjustment that can actually put some people off staying in the emirate!

2) Unmarried couples are not allowed to live together – it’s actually the law.

3) The summer months from June to September are almost unbearably hot and many expats take holiday time off during this period to return home.  It can make it worse if you have children as for most of the day they will really need to stay indoors in air-conditioned rooms.

4) The traffic situation in Dubai can be untenable and impact on the lives of those who have to commute or take children to school etc.  The government’s programme of investment into public transport systems is easing the problem, but if you want to take a drive in Dubai, it can become a lengthy journey.

5) Public toilets are an unpleasant shock for Western expats.

6) Housing and schooling is incredibly expensive in Dubai.

7) The cost of living in Dubai is on a par with living in central London – i.e., it is VERY expensive!

8) There is a certain amount of governmental censorship on films, access to websites and even the likes of SKYPE.  Some expats find this restrictive and frustrating.

9) Working hours can be very long and international companies operating in Dubai in particular do tend to expect an awful lot from their expatriate employees – possibly because the salaries are higher and improved by lack of tax they feel they have some sort of ownership of their employees?

1o) Dubai is currently a building site!  There are pockets of calm and oases of tranquillity across the emirate, but there is also frenetic and relentless development occurring which can make life a little tiring and stressful at times.

11) Inflation is massive in Dubai, fuelled by property and rental prices in particular.

12) Dubai is not exactly an environmentally friendly place nor is it the sort of place to live if you want to take long walks in quiet places!

Dubai In Summary

Dubai is truly an intoxicating country that offers the potential for a lifestyle that simply is obtainable elsewhere. A true world class vision of a futuristic forward looking city, that still holds onto a conservative tradition that you will have to accept if you choose Dubai.

The opportunity exists to build an incredible lifestyle, especially if you’re the type of person who thrives on buzz and excitement,  Dubai could well be the perfect place to call home.

The Editorial Team at Degtev are expatriate research experts led by Degtev founders Andy Williamson & Ola Degteva. Page maintained by Ola Degteva.