More than many other international locations, Dubai creates a feeling of real uncertainty in many expatriates when they first arrive.  The expatriates will of course have bought into the hype about Dubai at least on some levels, and they will see the amazing architecture and experience the incredible politeness and efficiency at the airport and their hotel, but then they will also see for themselves the other side of Dubai.

They will witness the half finished construction sites, they will see the hard done by construction workers, and then as soon as they get to grips with establishing their life in the emirate they will come across the reams of red tape and experience what are to many westerners, old fashioned laws.  This seeming dichotomy that pervades across many sectors and experiences in Dubai can make it harder for many expats to settle in.

In this guide to the lifestyle and the law for expats who are moving to live in Dubai we will aim to arm you with some salient information, so that you can be more prepared ahead of your move.  That way you can have a realistic overview of what it is really like living in Dubai and you will be ready to embrace the entire experience.

Daily life can be unsettling at first, but with only around a quarter of the emirate’s population being ethnically Emirati, in a population mixture that has to be one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, this diversity discourages any real ethnic tensions. Nonetheless, there are pertinent cultural differences that have been brought into sharp focus for expatriates arriving from non-Muslim or Arabic countries.

Fuelled with excitement and in the rush to start a new life in the U.A.E, many expats overlook the differences between local laws and their own back home.  It is worth being mindful that much of what is tolerated at home could well be a punishable offence in the UAE though, with penalties ranging from imprisonment to deportation!  Although some couples risk it, officially it is illegal for unmarried couples to cohabit for example.  Furthermore, although it is basic common sense to adopt business dress when visiting any government, office or business building, it’s interesting to note that it is actually a government offense not to assume this attire.

Dubai is also an emirate where alcohol must be disguised in a bag when transporting it, and where alcohol can only be consumed in designated areas.  You also have to have a license when living in Dubai if you want to buy alcohol, and your monthly amount is limited by your permit.  Bouncing a cheque will invoke a much harsher reaction than an officious letter from the bank too – as this is also illegal!

With high profile cases hitting the world’s headlines in recent years of visitors being jailed for carrying prescription medicines, Dubai’s hard line stance on drugs is also not to be taken lightly.  If in any doubt, ditch the drugs before you fly in.  However, whilst some of the other laws are not necessarily strictly enforced, it is worth being aware of the various sensitivities and where the lines are drawn in day-to-day existence, and to respect the culture and religion of the UAE if you want to have a smooth ride living in Dubai.

As for the lifestyle you can enjoy, well, once you respect the way things are done in Dubai you can have an incredible quality of life in the emirate.  It’s fair to say that young or old, there’s something for everyone.  The social side of life is fantastic and diverse.

Dubai has a penchant for grand projects – offering lush championship golf courses in one of the most arid areas of the planet, water slides that send riders hurtling up to 50mph and ski slopes in the desert; the city seems to know no end to its ambition, nor does it have any inhibitions.  With more ostentatious projects just finished, such as the Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping mall) last November, this is a shopaholic’s paradise.

In regions where there are a high proportion of expatriates, look out for voluntary associations formed to assist new and existing non-nationals to settle in. These groups are often active in organising social events and will provide support services in response to local needs.

For those expats who have escaped the financial challenges of the current climate, many choose to become members of hotel or private beach clubs where there are a multitude of facilities to enjoy during the day.  By night, offering an abundance of exquisite restaurants and chic clubs, Dubai’s social scene plays host to a myriad of tastes.  Timeout Dubai ( offers a great insight into Dubai’s best restaurants, nightlife, films, things to do and places to see.  However, those in search of a quieter, more family focused lifestyle might favour the lifestyle of Bahrain or Qatar instead.

If you’re a horse racing fan, drawing spectators and riders from the international world and graced by the presence of the ruler of Dubai, the Dubai World Cup ( is the world’s richest horse race with stakes running into the millions.

The government does operate a higher degree of censorship on things like film and access to websites, however.  And this may take some adjusting to for those Brits used to the ‘idiosyncrasies’ of British TV.  Some, nevertheless, may find a return to more family-friendly entertainment refreshing!

With thanks to Halifax International for some of the information contained in this article, we would like to conclude by saying that if you have a realistic expectation of what life will be like in Dubai, you respect local laws and customs and you’re ready for a high cost of living in return for a great standard of living, Dubai can be the ‘paradise’ you’re searching for.  However, it is certainly not a perfect place, and you need to go there with the ability to put up with things you don’t like and don’t agree with, because your voice as a foreign resident will not be tolerated let alone heard.