Living in Dubai
The complete expat guide to living in Dubai, we strive to keep our guides right up to date, please add a comment at the bottom of individual articles if you are aware of any significant changes or if you would like to contribute any valuable information to our readers.
Introduction to living and working in Dubai for anyone considering expatriation to the United Arab Emirates
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.
When talking about living and working 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.
Expats moving to live in Dubai need a residency visa via employment or family sponsorship, we detail the process
To live in Dubai British residents require a visa. Most have an employer sponsored work visa which allows them obtain a residency visa and sponsor their family to move to live in Dubai with them.
If you plan to follow this route then you need to find work in Dubai first, and then your employer will take care of applying and paying for your work permit. This is standard practice.
Note, in the past some people have been advised to work on a visit visa for the short-term whilst an employment contract and visa are finalized – do not take this risk. If caught you risk immediate deportation and being banned from re-entering the UAE. Instead your employer should issue you with an employment visa which is valid for 30 days. This will enable you to enter the UAE and begin the application process for your work permit and then your residency permit.
How to find employment and secure a job in Dubai, and how the work permit and residency visa process works
As a British citizen you cannot legally work in Dubai without a work permit…and you shouldn’t even take the risk even if you are offered a short-term contract for example. The good news is that employers in Dubai are generally so used to employing foreign labour, that they know the ins and outs of the process required to get their expatriate employees the correct permits and visas in place.
In order to find jobs in Dubai you have a number of options. The first is to approach recruitment agencies – either those locally in Dubai, or those specialising in your profession who have international presence. Some charge a fee, others are of course paid by the employer when they place a successful candidate.
Your other options include specifically approaching companies based in Dubai which may be recruiting staff – you can Google companies within your professional sphere for example, visit their websites and see if they have vacancies. Alternatively you can apply on spec to any companies you would like to work for.
Expats can earn their salary tax-free in Dubai and open a local bank account, but finance in Dubai is complex
It is 100% true that as a British citizen living permanently in Dubai you can earn your locally sourced income 100% free of income tax. This has to be one of the best benefits of living and working in Dubai – i.e., that it is tax-free. However, your salary has to go a long way in the emirate because the cost of living is so high. From accommodation costs to schooling and health insurance fees, almost everything in Dubai seems to cost more than it did in the UK!
You need to have a residency visa in order to be able to open a bank account locally, and without a local bank account you will not be able to get accommodation, a mobile phone, purchase a car on finance etc. Therefore opening a local account will be a priority.
There are many banks to choose from, and if you ask expats on the ground in Dubai, they say they are all as bad as each other. Whilst you will see international names such as HSBC and Barclays, Citibank and Lloyds, they are Dubai versions of these banks! I.e., they don’t seem to abide by the international standards of service that you might expect from such leading names in the banking industry.
A guide to the property rental process in Dubai and an introduction to favourite expat places to live in Dubai
Although Dubai’s property boom is definitely over, with Deutsche Bank indicating that prices fell 55% between mid 2008 and mid 2011, the city still has an abundance of extremely attractive property for sale and rent. Property prices have largely stabilised following the emirate’s economic contraction, although rental rates in Dubai remain exceptionally high.
If you base rental rate comparisons with those in London you’ll suffer less of a nasty surprise. Note, you need to have your residency visa in place in order to secure everything in Dubai from a bank account to a long-term rental agreement, which is why newly arrived expats often live short-term in a serviced apartment or apart hotel.
The first thing you need to know about securing rental accommodation in Dubai is that some expats have an accommodation allowance as part of their contract’s remuneration terms. This may include a certain amount being paid towards rent each month, or having your agency fees covered when looking for a place to live for example. These fees are usually 5% of the annual rental fee of the chosen property.
How to get your health card in Dubai, whether you need private medical insurance and how to stay healthy
Once you’re an official resident in Dubai you can apply for your health card. There’s talk that health insurance will be compulsory for expats in the emirate soon…but as yet any plans to make this move mandatory are on hold. Therefore you should obtain your health card which entitles you to subsidised medical care at state facilities.
To get the card you can apply online via the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) website; first you create your patient ID and then log in to patient services where you can apply for your card which you can then collect from DHA health centres. You can also renew your card online.
Alternatively you can download an application form and take it along to a DHA health centre and apply in person. DHA health centres include Al Wasl Hospital, Rashid Hospital and Dubai and Hatta Hospitals.
An introduction to the education system in Dubai and why most expatriate parents have their children educated at international schools
It’s probably safe to say that all British expatriates send their children to fee paying private schools in Dubai (with a very small exception who choose to home school). It is allegedly possible for children to attend local schools (the rules keep changing), however they would have to complete exams in Arabic, English and maths and pay nominal fees anyway.
Additionally schooling is largely if not wholly through the medium of Arabic…which is why international schools are the preferred choice of expats.
The very good news is that there are literally hundreds of private schools to choose from (all teaching different curricula from around the world) – the bad news is that their standards vary dramatically, as do their fees. You can pay anything from 5,000 – 100,000 AED annually per child, depending on the institution.
Expatriates living and working in Dubai have an inimitable lifestyle with an abundance of leisure activities on tap
The one thing you won’t hear expats complaining about in Dubai is the lifestyle! The emirate as a whole has developed a strong tourism-based economy, and as a result the attractions and amenities on offer in Dubai are inimitable; and naturally all residents can benefit.
From a range of theme parks to private beach clubs, from incredibly opulent shopping malls to cinema complexes and an abundance of restaurants, Dubai really does have it all.
The first thing many British expatriates worry about is whether the emirate is dry however. Well, the good news is that expats over the age of 21 are permitted to drink outside the home in licensed bars such as those in some hotels and private clubs for example, and they are allowed to have alcohol for personal consumption in the home as long as they have a liquor license.
Sponsoring your spouse and children to live in Dubai; the considerations to cover when moving to Dubai with family
If you’re thinking of moving to Dubai with children in tow there are many serious considerations that you need to have in mind. The first thing is that the heat in Dubai is very often not conducive for any outdoor activities. As Britons we find it hard to conceptualise just how hot it can get in Dubai. It can be so hot that children are confined to air-conditioned environments for up to 5 months of the year!
Fortunately there are many indoor activities to enjoy, and all accommodation comes with air conditioning…but if your child suffers from any heat rashes, dust allergies or asthma for example, Dubai’s is a very harsh environment.
The next thing to bear in mind is that private education in Dubai is nothing if not expensive. The best schools have the longest waiting lists, and some schools that advertise themselves as being the best truly aren’t. You have to invest not only money, but time to ensure your child is getting a good education in Dubai.
A brief guide to the laws and expected standards of decency that expatriates in Dubai need to be aware of
Dubai has hit the headlines repeatedly over the past few years for a number of high-profile stories relating to the illegal activities of expats in the emirate. There have been stories of Britons being jailed for having extra marital affairs, for having intercourse al fresco, for drink driving, bouncing cheques, smuggling drugs and so on for example. Dubai’s legal system is exceptionally harsh, some of its laws are draconian, and if you move to live in Dubai you need to make yourself aware of what is and what is not legally and morally acceptable behaviour.
For example, as mentioned above, drink driving in Dubai is not tolerated. Living together as an unmarried couple is illegal. Public displays of affection are illegal, this includes kissing or holding hands in public – although, some do do it and get away with it. Public nudity is not acceptable, this extends to men not being allowed to go topless no matter how hot it gets! 2 unmarried members of the opposite sex should not be alone in private together – whether sharing a car or a hotel room!
If you’re caught and accused of doing something immoral and unacceptable your best method of approach is to apologise immediately and say how much you love Dubai! Do not argue, claim you’re in the right or compare the moral and decency laws of the UAE to those of your home nation!