Your Guide to Living & Working in Dubai
To the outside world, Dubai may be better known for its iconic skyscrapers, manmade islands, and extravagant resorts. However, to its residents it also possesses a humbler side with a deep sense of culture and community.
Fueled by visions of becoming a pioneer in technological advancements and sustainable living with ambitions of ranking first on the world’s Happiness Index through cultural development and diversity, the future of the UAE is promising to say the least. Because when the nation’s leaders set their mind on something, you can be sure they will get it done, and that success and security is what your future could look like.
What You’ll Find in This Guide
- Dubai: A Household Name
- What You Need to do When Preparing to Move to Dubai
- COVID-19 Regulations in Dubai
- Working in Dubai
- Setting Up Home & The Cost of Living in Dubai
- Popular Places to Live in Dubai
- Finance, Health & Education
- Getting Around Dubai
- What to Do in Your Leisure Time
- About the UAE
Dubai: A Household Name
There are very few people who have not heard of Dubai. In fact, its reputation has surpassed that of the nation and its capital in recognition across the globe. So much so, that most people mistakenly believe it to be the name of the country. Synonymous with opulent and glamorous lifestyles, many iconic sportsmen and celebrities flock to its shores for a lavish escape and to set up residence here.
To the outside world, Dubai may be better known for its iconic skyscrapers, manmade islands and extravagant resorts. However, to its residents it also possesses a humbler side with a deep sense of culture and community. A metropolitan melting pot, the culture shock is softened by the presence of likeminded professionals who have sought to advance their careers in a burgeoning market, and the plethora of friendly communities with familiar customs and offerings from back home.
Year-round sunshine and moderate winters are another desirable factor for those seeking warmer climes. Although the summers can get extremely hot, most people take this opportunity to travel back home or to the many easily accessible destinations beyond the region. Those who choose to stay find it easy to escape the heat as all indoor spaces are air conditioned, with the inclusion of public transport, and most residential apartments and compounds enjoy temperature-controlled swimming pools on the premises.
What You Need to do When Preparing to Move to Dubai
Should you decide to make this your new home, you are sure to receive plenty of support from your employer to help make the transition process as smooth as possible. Most companies have onboarding processes in place dedicated to supporting expat relocation. The following is a list of considerations and documents that will allow you to better prepare for your move.
Required legal documents & supporting materials.
- Copies of your passport and your accompanying family members’ passports must be sent to the HR department for us to arrange for your work permit and residence visas.
- All passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry.
- Prospective employees applying for a skilled visa must also present educational degrees attested by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their home country.
- You will need coloured scanned copies of your tourist visa/ visit visa (Last entry date stamped).
- You will also need coloured scanned copies of a passport photo – white background, no jewelry, no teeth showing, no spectacles, no light-coloured shirts.
- Medical insurance is mandatory in the UAE. In the case that you arrive on a tourist visa, you are covered by travel insurance, which insurance is valid cover for the duration of the residence visa stamping process. After residence visa stamped, your employer will need to provide the insurance – Its mandatory for the employer to apply for new insurance under company policy.
- Once you have qualified for residency, you will be issued with an Emirates ID card which needs to be always carried. This facilitates the process of hiring cars, visiting doctors, checking into hotels, etc.
COVID-19 Regulations in Dubai
As of June 2021, 64% of Dubai residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and Dubai is on track to meet its target of vaccinating 100% of eligible residents by the end of 2021. Current COVID laws and regulations state the following. However, these are subject to change.
- Individuals traveling to the UAE will need to present a negative PCR test to enter the country.
- Individuals are required to maintain a physical distance of two metres from others in outdoor and indoor spaces.
- Live entertainment and events are now permitted.
- Hotels can now operate at full occupancy.
- Entertainment venues can increase their capacity to 70%.
- Weddings can be held with a maximum of 100 guests at private venues and hotels on the condition that all attending staff and guests are vaccinated against Covid-19.
- The number of people permitted to sit at one table is 10.
- Concerts, sports spectator events and social and institutional events are permitted provided the audience, participants and staff are vaccinated against Covid-19.
- Maximum attendance for large public events that require permits is 1,500 for indoor and 2,500 for outdoor events.
- Face masks are mandatory in public.
Working in Dubai
In the UAE, Sundays are the start of the working week, so it may take some time to adjust to the Friday-Saturday weekend and calling Tuesdays your new Hump Day. A typical workday is from 8:30am to 5:30pm, while during the holy month of Ramadan, working hours are reduced to five hours for fasting Muslims and schools, and six hours for non-Muslims, with a later start to the day.
You are entitled to a sick leave of not more than 90 days per year, only after a period of three months’ continuous service following your probation period. The 90 days sick leave can be continuous or intermittent, and the salary is paid as follows: full-pay for the first 15 days and half-pay for the next 30 days. The remaining 45 days would typically be unpaid.
As per UAE labour law, your probationary period may not exceed six months, During this time the employer may terminate the contract without giving notice or end of service remuneration.
End of Service Benefit (Gratuity) & Pensions
If you have served for more than one year at a company but less than five, you are entitled to full gratuity pay – also known as an end-of-service benefit (EOSB). This is calculated based on 21 days’ salary for each year of work. If you have served more than five years at a company, your gratuity is calculated at 30 days’ salary for each year of work following the first five years.
Although pension schemes are not mandated by the Government, progressive companies are beginning to introduce Employer Sponsored Retirement and Workplace Savings Plans, which are designed to maximise your end-of-service benefit (EOSB) entitlement.
Public Holidays & Religious Observances
With the exception of New Year’s Day on December 31st and UAE’s National Day on December 2nd, public holidays are scheduled according to the Islamic Calendar. Time off for the Public and Private sector can be generous and often results in benefitting from several long-weekends in the year.
Two of the most significant Islamic holidays are Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, and Eid-Al-Adha, which marks the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice.
Codes of Conduct & Emirati Custom
UAE Emiratis are predominantly Sunni Muslims and all social and political matters are driven by Sharia (Islamic) law. However, the UAE is tolerant of other religions and affords religious freedom to the expatriate population. These religions primarily include Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism.
- Although the UAE is quite liberal in comparison to other Gulf countries, it pays to respect the local laws and customs.
- It is not mandatory for women to cover their head, face or hair in public except when entering a mosque.
- Modest clothing is appreciated, overly revealing garments are frowned upon and public nudity is strictly prohibited.
- Overt displays of affection, such as amorous kissing are not tolerated and sexual intercourse in public will result in jail time and deportation.
- Cohabitation of unmarried couples has been decriminalized and no longer constitutes as an offence. However, no legal reform has been announced with respect to the legal status of a child born out of wedlock. You shall be required to present a valid marriage certificate for the issuance of a birth certificate, if you are unable to do so, a birth certificate may not be issued for your new-born child.
- Taking a photo of someone without consent is considered an invasion of privacy and disrespectful comments or defamation on social media can get you into trouble.
- Recreational drugs are strictly prohibited in the UAE. The law also extends to certain pharmaceutical narcotics; hence it would be best to check if you can travel with your prescription drugs.
Setting Up Home in Dubai & the Cost of Living
Accommodation in Dubai
Most homes across Dubai are relatively newly built and enjoy 24-hour security on site. Air conditioning is a standard feature across all homes and some even come with built-in kitchen appliances. The spacious living spaces, high quality finishing and amenities, that usually include a shared pool, private parking bays and maids’ quarters, have the makings of a safe, comfortable and luxurious home.
Rental Costs in Dubai
Most landlords will require you to pay a year’s rent upfront. Depending on your negotiation powers, your rent cheques can be split into quarterly or bi-annual payments. Real Estate Agent commissions are typically 5% of the property’s annual rental value which must be paid in advance together with a security deposit of 5% of the annual rental value.
You will usually have to take responsibility for connecting your water and electricity with the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA), your air conditioning with Empower and your home phone and Internet with either one of the two telecommunications providers in Dubai, DU or Etisalat, depending on the area in which you live. Each service provider will require a deposit of up to AED 2,000, which is refundable when you move out.
Typical costs for property in Dubai per month (from)
- Apartment (Studio) AED 1,666
- Apartment (1 bedroom) AED 2,083
- Apartment (1 bedroom) AED 3,333
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) AED 7,450
Average cost for services per month
- Utilities (water, electricity, air conditioning) AED 600
- Broadband AED 360
- Weekly food shop (1 person/couple) AED 200-350
- Weekly food shop (small family) AED 450-750
Fuel & Travel
- Metro (month pass) AED 270
- Fuel (per litre) AED 2.58
- Road tolls (Salik) (average per month) AED 100
- Monthly car hire (from) AED 1,100
Keeping Pets & Pet Relocation
The UAE is becoming more pet-friendly by the day, with most landlords allowing pets on the premises, while more and more restaurants are opening their doors to fur babies. Although, beaches in Dubai are off limits for dogs, there are several indoor and outdoor dog parks, kennels and catteries dotted around the city.
If you wish to move your pets to Dubai, they would have to be shipped in manifested cargo as per International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations. Pets cannot travel with you as added luggage or in-cabin. A maximum of two pets is allowed to travel to the UAE per person, with each pet requiring an import permit. This should be accompanied with a veterinary health certificate or a vaccination document which shows that the animal has been vaccinated against rabies. There are some breeds of dog that the UAE does not permit the import or transit of, such as Bull Terriers, Pit Bull Terriers and Rottweilers.
Pet shipping costs vary widely and depend on several factors. As a rough estimate, it could cost USD 3,000 to USD 9,000.
Popular Places to Live in Dubai
Dubai has plenty of charming residential and self-contained communities to call home, complete with community malls, supermarkets, clinics, leisure centres and even schools. Some of the most popular communities are listed below.
See what the Dubai property market has to offer
Research property on Dubbizle – the UAE’s leading classifieds website
Research property on Property Finder UAE – search from over 100k listings
Flanked by lavish apartments with waterfront views, the Dubai Marina is dotted with vibrant hotels, bars and restaurants making it a popular choice for young singles and couples. Conveniently located on the metro line, with a dedicated internal tram service, the apartments here are all a short drive from the beach and Dubai Marina Mall.
Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
Popular for its proximity to the beach and its lively waterfront atmosphere, JBR has plenty to offer. The heavy traffic at peak hours, especially on the weekends, can be frustrating due to its popularity as a leisure destination. However, the internal tram system does make it easier to circumvent the traffic when travelling within the area.
Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT)
Comprising clusters of high-rise apartments, hotels and executive towers, residents of JLT enjoy the iconic Dubai skyscraper living at more affordable prices than their Dubai Marina counterparts across the highway. Overlooking man-made lakes with dedicated green spaces, these clusters enjoy access to grocery stores, cafés, beauty salons and a selection of independent and award-winning homegrown eateries.
Emirates Hills, The Lakes, The Meadows, The Springs
Idyllically suburban, yet conveniently located just off the main thoroughfare, these gated communities range from mini mansions to quaint two-bedroom townhouses. Beautifully landscaped and home to several community malls, schools, leisure centres and the Montgomerie Golf Club, this expansive and peaceful development is perfect for couples and families.
Looking for an iconic address? Look no further than Downtown Dubai. It is home to Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, The Dubai Mall, the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Fountain, you guessed it, the largest choreographed fountain in the world, not to mention a host of five-star hotels and the Dubai Opera. Need we say more?
This quiet suburb outside of the city centre is quite popular with Western expats. Comprising well-maintained villas, interconnected by meandering walkways and shaded paths, it wraps around the Arabian Ranches championship links golf course and is a stone’s throw from the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club.
Popular amongst business professionals and flanking the iconic Downtown Dubai, Business Bay also enjoys proximity to the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). Its corporate high-rises, stylish apartment buildings and swanky hotels overlook the Dubai Creek and the restaurants, cycling and jogging tracks that run alongside it.
The Palm Jumeirah
Be the first in your circle of family and friends to live on a tree-shaped island that is visible from space. The coveted apartments and villas of The Palm Jumeirah is a haven for water sports lovers, sailing aficionados and those drawn to the glitz and glamour that comes with living on one of the most famous man-made structures in the world.
Dubai Sports City
Best suited to sports fans and active families, Dubai Sports City boasts several academies including the ICC Academy, LaLiga Academy, Claude Harmon III Performance Golf Academy, Dubai Knights Eagle Rugby Club and the renowned Els Club. From gymnasiums and sports stadiums to restaurants and schools, the accommodation also varies from expensive villas to affordable apartments.
An eclectic neighbourhood with predominantly an expat community. Low-rise residential buildings are separated by busy streets lined with shops and cafes. Al Satwa boasts one of the cheapest rents in Dubai but with no compromise on amenities, sports courts and community parks. Neighbouring areas include Jumeirah meaning close proximity the one of Dubai’s most popular public beaches.
One of the largest residential hubs in the emirate where you experience a dynamic and colourful community. There are several facilities including schools, malls, parks and other amenities. A popular community among expats from the sub-continent and other Asian countries, it features a mix of modern high rises, old-fashioned apartments and spacious villas.
Finance, Health & Education
- Currency: Dirhams, also symbolised as ‘Dhs’ or ‘AED’
- VAT: a rate of 5% is payable on all items excluding basic food items, healthcare and education.
Banking and money transfers
In order to open up a bank account in Dubai, you need to be a resident of the UAE. The bank will require your original passport, a salary letter from your employer and your Emirates ID card to begin the process. Most banks have Smart banking services and will provide you with a Debit card. Debit and Credit cards are readily accepted everywhere, even at utility payment machines. However, cheques and bank transfers are the preferred payment methods for housing rent. The UAE has a credit scoring and reporting bureau mandated by the government to keep a record of all residents’ payments and credit history.
Dubai has been at the forefront of healthcare offerings and medical technologies in the region, going so far as to even build a dedicated Healthcare City housing over 170 private hospitals and clinics. Its public hospitals offer free or very low-cost services to residents, but healthcare is largely private in the emirate which can be quite expensive if you are paying out of pocket. Dubai employers are required to provide health insurance coverage for their employees as per the labour laws, and sponsors are required to get insurance cover for their resident dependents.
There are a handful of public schools in Dubai, however, most British expats opt for the more outstanding, albeit expensive, private schools. Due to the multicultural nature of the population, the private schools offer a variety of curriculums – from British, American, French and Indian to IB and a combination of some. There are also numerous universities and colleges in Dubai offering a variety of courses. When selecting a university, be sure it is internationally accredited so that credits can be transferred to a university back home should the need arise.
As of 2019, there were 209 private schools in Dubai. School fees in Dubai range from AED 12,723 (USD 3,450) to AED 64,093 (USD 17,500) per annum, not including additional fees for admission, transportation, school uniforms and books.
The cost of nursery education fees range between AED 10,000 (USD 2,700) to AED 50,000 (USD 13,500) per annum.
Getting Around Dubai
Driving in Dubai
You might be tempted to ship your car over to Dubai, but it is probably good to note that people drive on the righthand side of the road here. Cars are also much cheaper to buy than and petrol prices are a dream. Personal cars will need to be insured and registered every year and you may be able to use your home country driving licence until your residence permit is issued, after which you can apply for a UAE driving licence.
Due to the number of different nationalities using the roads, driving standards can vary so it is wise to drive with caution and high awareness. It is a criminal offence to drink and drive. It pays to note that flashing your lights here can mean a driver is coming through, rather than giving way. Should you have a minor accident in Dubai, you can report it on the Dubai Police app, another advantage of living in a Smart City.
The most convenient mode of public transport in Dubai is the RTA taxi service. Thanks to low petrol prices, it is very affordable and, like Uber, can be ordered using a dedicated app called Careem, with waiting periods that rarely take longer than 6 minutes. Dubai also has a very affordable Metro and Tram system with stations servicing the full length of the city. The service is extremely reliable but can get quite busy during peak hours. You can also take advantage of the extensive intracity and dedicated intercity fleet of fully air-conditioned buses.
What to Do in Your Leisure Time
During the Winter
In the cooler milder months, Dubai is a haven for outdoor activities. Residents usually head out to the nearby emirates to go hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. The surrounding dunes challenge you to conquer them on sandboards and quad bikes, while the numerous camping and glamping sites enjoy full occupancy. Golf enthusiasts will feel right at home on the many championship golf courses around town, while cyclists can ride past wild Oryx and camels on the purpose-built 80-kilometre Al Qadra cycling track.
During the Summer
During the warmer months, the beaches are packed with kite-surfers, wakeboarders, paddleboards and kayaks, while beneath the sea scuba divers explore the wrecks, reefs and colourful marine life. Extreme sport aficionados can enjoy a rather breezy experience on the world’s longest zipline at Jebel Jais. There are also plenty of indoor, air-conditioned facilities that cater to football, cricket, basketball and tennis fans to name a few, and of course an indoor piste at Ski Dubai for the skiers and snowboarders out there.
A City with Endless Distraction
Dubai is anything but short of attractions. From iconic architectural feats such as Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Frame to the dazzling Dubai Fountains, Dubai Opera and Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo – the majority of which boast the title of being the largest of their kind in the world. There are also a host of destinations that transport you back to old Dubai, the likes of Bastakiya’s narrow wind tower swept streets, Al Shindagha’s Heritage and Diving Village and the Dubai Creek where you can ride a traditional Abra water taxi to visit the gold and spice souks. While the children and young at heart can get their adrenaline fix at the numerous theme and water parks all across the city or zipline through skyscrapers across the Dubai Marina.
You will never go hungry in Dubai. In fact, you can find every cuisine imaginable from all four corners of the globe here. From 50p authentic Emirati street food and global fast-food chains to Michelin star and fine dining restaurants that serve 24K gold encrusted burgers for 70 Pounds. Pork is served in licenced restaurants and can be bought in local supermarkets such as Waitrose, Spinneys and M&S, where you will also find your favourite British foods, so you can unpack that Marmite and box of Jaffa Cakes. Alcohol is also served in licenced establishments and non-Muslims can buy alcohol from numerous off-licences with an alcohol permit.
Dubai’s cultural scene is also a vibrant one. You can visit a host of museums, from the old and historical to the futuristic. The city is also dotted with cultural foundations and has a vibrant art scene with numerous galleries hosting exhibitions throughout the year promoting both local and international talent. The city has also hosted some of the biggest performers in the music industry, while the annual Dubai International Film Festival rolls out its red carpet for award-winning silver-screen favourites from the Arab and Western world.
Many expats sign up for private beach clubs, gyms and hotel memberships when they arrive and spend much of their downtime enjoying the facilities. With alcohol licencing restricted to mainly hotels, residents naturally gravitate to such establishments for beach, dining and nightlife entertainment. Brunches are a timeless tradition and one that is especially popular with expats. The ladies will be happy to hear that almost every night is Ladies’ Night somewhere in Dubai, where free drinks and meal deals are on the card, sometimes for the entire evening.
If Dubai knows one thing, it is shopping. You can find anything under the sun here and are never more than 15 minutes away from a large shopping mall. In total, Dubai has about 65 malls, with 10 more on the way, and is home to the largest shopping mall in the world. Malls are not just a shopping destination for residents, but also an escape from the heat in the hotter months and a place to socialise and reconnect with family and friends.
Often, they are equipped with entertainment complexes the likes of multi-screen cinemas, arcades and children’s play areas, with the more renowned ones featuring ice skating rinks, aquariums and even ski slopes. Hypermarkets, department stores and cafés are a given, while some even house designer labels, clinics, hotels and licenced restaurants so you have no reason to leave.
With two major shopping festivals every year, the Dubai Shopping Festival at the start of the year and the Dubai Summer Surprises, the malls draw an even bigger crowd than usual with international acts, outrageous giveaways and mega sales.
Dubai also hosts some of the biggest annual sporting events in the region. The Dubai World Cup is an equestrian bucket list must, the Rugby Sevens is an extremely popular event among the expat community as is the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic golfing championships and the Dubai Open tennis tournament.
Sports & Recreation
When you are surrounded by top-notch restaurants, endless malls filled with the world’s best brands and five-star hotels, the high life can become second nature in the UAE, but there is another side to the UAE – an active, outdoorsy side. From playing beach volleyball to jet skiing around the islands and dune bashing on Hatta’s Big Red to hiking through the Hajar mountains or simply taking in the views as you paraglide or sky dive over the city. Whether you are an amateur athlete, water baby or thrill seeker, Dubai has a wealth of outdoor activities to keep you out of the shops.
Get a snapshot of what’s happening right now in Dubai
About The UAE
Founded as a nation of seven emirates on December 2nd 1971, the United Arab Emirates has come a long way in its short 50-year history. Strategically located between the East and the West, the young nation relied on oil to put itself on the map. Today, it is not only a thriving business hub and renowned luxury tourism destination, but a pioneer for sustainability in the region, with the largest single-site solar park in the world, and in space exploration, with the successful completion of its Hope Probe mission to Mars.
Not a nation to rest on its laurels, the UAE’s plans for the future include Autonomous Transportation by 2030 and the implementation of an Urban Master Plan by 2040 with the objective, among many, to develop vibrant, healthy and inclusive communities, foster greater economic activity and enhance environmental sustainability.
Despite its rapid growth over a short five decades, the UAE has steadfastly held on to its proud heritage, while celebrating tolerance and diversity. Showering visitors with renowned Arabian hospitality and charm, today it is one of the most coveted and aspirational destinations in the world and home to a uniquely multicultural population.
With a total population of 10 million inhabitants, close to 90% of which are expatriates, the UAE is home to over 200 nationalities who have chosen to relocate here. The absence of income and personal tax is an undeniably attractive incentive for those looking to boost their earning power. Coupled with high levels of personal security, accredited international education systems, unparalleled conveniences, and a vibrant and elevated lifestyle – it is no wonder that most who arrive here find it so hard to leave.
The weather from November to March is mild and pleasantly warm with maximum temperatures ranging from 24 °C to 26 °C (76 °F to 80 °F). Sometimes, especially in January, cool air masses from the North bring with it cooler windy days, during which temperatures can drop to around 10/12 °C (50/54 °F) at night and around 16/18 °C (61/64 °F) during the day. Sandstorms are a common occurrence, especially during Spring where widespread dust and strong winds can suddenly flare up and just as suddenly die out.
From April onwards it gets increasingly hot and humid, with daytime temperatures ranging from 38 °C to 42 °C (101 °F to 108 °F) between May and September. Winds from the Arabian Gulf carry moist air from the sea, making the heat sweltering. April and October are also hot months, with highs around 33/36 °C (92/96 °F). During the hottest days, temperatures can reach highs of 47/48 °C (117/118 °F) on the coast, and soar even higher inland. Thankfully, all the buildings in the UAE are air-conditioned and equipped to handle the heat.