A new life in Dubai could well be one of the most exciting experiences you’ll ever enjoy. However, living in Dubai like any new country can be daunting, especially if you lack practical knowledge of how things are done locally.
In 2020 the UAE and Dubai, in particular, introduced exciting changes aimed at expat residents. We’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of living in Dubai, with practical tips on residency, taxes, education, health and plenty more, including the recent changes.
With our Dubai tips and you will know what to expect, so you can plan beforehand and make the very most of everything that the Dubai lifestyle has to offer.
Living in Dubai – the pros and cons that might surprise you
Like any other place in the world, 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 pros of living in Dubai
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 downtime enjoying the facilities.
- There are more sports and sports clubs closely concentrated together within the emirate than anywhere else in the world!
- Dining out is exceptinal. Dubai’s bars, clubs and restaurants play host to as wide a range of tastes as is probably possible!
- The educational standards in Dubai are excellent and new schools and colleges are being constructed almost annually.
- Every major international corporation has a base in Dubai – or so it seems! This means that there are opportunities aplenty.
- No income is tax!
- One can repatriate funds easily – therefore you can earn a fantastic salary in Dubai and send some of it home as well.
- The emirate is increasingly accessible with its major international airport welcoming flights from across the world.
- Shopping in Dubai is fantastic!
- The standard of living is very high.
- Crime is very low.
- 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 everyday life. Expats can buy alcohol in Dubai and also they are allowed to eat and drink during the daylight hours of Ramadan.
- Taxis are very cheap and the government is investing hugely into a public transportation system.
- Cars and petrol are very cheap indeed.
- It’s usual practice for families to have domestic help.
The cons of living in Dubai
- 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 work and a permit to reside in Dubai of course. Get advice and assistance supplied and agreed on upfront from your employer to ease this initial period of adjustment that can actually put some people off staying in the emirate!
- 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.
- 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.
- Housing and schooling are incredibly expensive in Dubai.
- The cost of living in Dubai is on par with living in central London – i.e., it is quite expensive.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
Living in Dubai is really what you make of it. It’s a matter of personal choice and preferences and also finding out whether the opportunities Dubai offers (such as a good income not burdened with taxes) outweigh possible negatives.
Things to know before you move to Dubai
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.
Dubai’s wealth has been 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 has become an exceptionally popular choice for relocation with expatriates for a number of key reasons.
Firstly, despite the emirate’s economic contraction which hit the world in 2008, Dubai now is still a booming economy where there was 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.
If you are seriously considering moving to Dubai, this is what you need to know before you move:
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 our Working In Dubai guide to 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 are some additional tax advantages and some pitfalls as well.
It’s essential to understand whether Dubai is really as tax-free as it’s famed for and you can get to the bottom of it in 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.
Dubai is aiming to become one of the strongest global tech and innovation hubs in a bid to reduce oil dependency and diversify the economy even further.
Dubai 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.
Knowing which professions are in greatest demand in the OAE now and probably in the foreseeable future can help you considerably in finding a good job in Dubai.
Tips & facts – 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 jobs believe it or not.
Dubai “remote work” visa
Dubai has also launched a ‘remote work’ visa programme.
The programme allows you to travel to Dubai and stay there for up to a year working as a self-employed or for your employer abroad.
You can rent a house in Dubai, have access to Dubai schools if you have children, utilities, and basically live like a local. You are officially allowed to work. However, you are not allowed to get a job in Dubai.
The application will cost you $287, plus you need to have health insurance in Dubai.
Can I retire in Dubai?
Yes, starting from September 2020 Dubai expat residents can apply for the “retire in Dubai” scheme.
Under this scheme, eligible residents aged 55 and over can apply for a retirement visa that would be renewable every five years.
To be eligible, you must meet one of the three requirements:
- You must earn a monthly income of 20,000 dirhams ($5,500);
- Or you must have savings of 1 million dirhams;
- Or own a property in Dubai worth 2 million dirhams.
To start with, the program will focus on residents working in Dubai who have reached retirement age.
Applicants must have valid UAE health insurance.
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.
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 was 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.
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 to 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 upfront.
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 percent, schools find all sorts of ways to add on extras and this has seen annual inflation of up to 80 percent in school fees.
Medical insurance and the cost of healthcare in Dubai is high – but then the quality you get is exceptional.
Basic day to day grocery costs are average, alcohol is quite expensive too.
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 the 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 the Dubai healthcare system.
Dubai – 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.
Here are some facts that you need to know before moving to Dubai:
- Adultery is a crime punishable by prison and subsequent deportation – as is getting into debt and even bouncing a cheque.
- 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 following laws and rules in Dubai is key to your wellbeing in the country.
Major changes introduced in the UAE legislation
In 2020 the UAE introduced several changes to the rules and laws that govern the Emirates with the aim of boosting the country’s economic and social standing. Here are the changes that have the most profound effect on expats living in Dubai:
- The so-called ‘honour killings’ and harassment of women aren’t treated leniently any longer.
- Drinking alcohol without a licence is permitted.
- Living together outside marriage is no longer illegal.
- Expats in the UAE can follow their home nation’s law on divorce and inheritance.
- Foreign investors can fully own local companies without the need for an Emirati sponsor with the exception of energy and hydrocarbons, telecommunications and transport sectors.
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.
You cannot buy 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.
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 the hassle of driving.
Finding a home 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 a property in Dubai on a permanent basis.
Moving to Dubai – practical tips
Moving to 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.
Living in Dubai – final thoughts
Dubai is truly an intoxicating country that offers the potential for an unprecedented lifestyle. 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.
If you’re the type of person who thrives on buzz and excitement, Dubai could well be the perfect place to call home.
No doubt, Dubai as a destination is a personal choice. Some people love it, some people hate it. However, what’s certain is that if you can love it, you can save an incredible amount of tax and potentially build much more wealth than you ever could back home!