Dubai remains one of the most popular would-be expatiate destinations in the world.  By that we mean that many would-be expats dream of moving to Dubai to live and work there, inspired by stories of a fantastic tax-free lifestyle.  However, if everyone who was potentially planning to move actually committed to the relocation, Dubai would face a real immigration problem!

The trouble with the emirate is that it’s not as easy as it once was to get a job in Dubai, therefore it’s not as easy as it once was to secure a residence permit.

Having said all of that, the lifestyle is literally inimitable, there are certainly tax benefits if you move to Dubai, and those who have made a life for themselves in the emirate enjoy a very high standard of living.  So, if you’re dreaming about the emirate, here’s how you go about moving to Dubai in a nutshell.

Visit Dubai and Orientate Yourself with the City

Do not even think of moving to Dubai until you’ve visited the emirate and spent some time getting to know every corner of Dubai city.  As a British passport holder you’re automatically entitled to a 30-day visit visa, your passport will be stamped with your entry entitlement when you land at the airport.

Emirates airline’s information pages have visit visa information for those from other nations.  So, before you travel, ensure you’re aware of your entitlements and any limitations on how long you can remain.

Use your orientation days wisely.  Don’t just lounge on the beach or mooch round the shopping malls…as tempting as the thought might be.

If you’re moving to Dubai because your company is relocating, or you’ve been headhunted/recruited by a local employer, you may be lucky enough that they’ll pay for the trip and arrange it for you.  If not, these are the basic things you need to cover: –

  • Consider the benefits of using a relocation agent to help you move
  • They will meet you when you travel to Dubai for your orientation trip and help you get to know the city
  • Alternatively, make private arrangements to meet an estate agent or two to view properties in different areas of the city
  • Spend time prior to your visit online and via books finding out about the different areas of Dubai
  • Make a detailed list of the places you want to visit – from schools to hospitals, from the government offices to the range of leisure offerings you might make use of when you finally move to Dubai
  • Consider hiring a driver for at least a couple of days, get them to take you to all corners of the city you have identified that you want to visit
  • Keep an active diary – write the places you’ve seen and your first impressions
  • If you don’t like any of the accommodation options you’ve viewed, hopefully you’ll have time to meet different agents and view different areas/apartments.
  • If not, at least make a note of areas of the city/suburbs that you’ve visited which could potentially make a nice place to call home
  • Go to a supermarket and look at the real cost of day-to-day groceries
  • Visit a car dealership and find out about costs, terms, availability and your options
  • You should even try to find the time to visit furniture and electrical goods stores to find out the price of goods that you may need, and to help you decide what you should ship and what you can affordably buy new

Your orientation trip will give you a really good feel for Dubai, something you can’t get from just reading about the emirate.  If you’re still set on moving to Dubai then it’s time to take the next step: –

Finding Work in Dubai

There are a number of ways you can go about finding jobs in Dubai, the first is via your own company.  Do they have local offices, do they send staff overseas on secondments for example.  If not, it’s time to target recruiters locally who may be able to use your talents and help you realise your dream of working in Dubai.

Get your CV up to scratch, and get ready to sell yourself!

You can use recruitment companies or you can apply direct to companies who are recruiting staff, alternatively, you could even apply on spec to companies you feel would be a good match for your skill-set.

If you’re a man moving to Dubai, you’ll need an employer sponsored residence visa, and then you can sponsor your wife and children to live with you.  If you’re a woman, unless you’re a doctor or a teacher for example, you cannot sponsor your family to live with you.  It’s just one of the quirks of the emirate!

If you Google ‘jobs in Dubai’ you’ll find a whole host of recruitment companies – some ask you to pay for them to find you a placement.  Think long and hard about doing this, because what are their guarantees and success rates?  Perhaps your best alternative will be targeting a recruiter specific to your employment sector, and using their assistance to find you a placement in the emirate.

Negotiating Your Employment Contract

Because of the global economic climate at the current time, you may think that if you get any offer of a job you should be grateful and quickly commit.  However, when it comes to living and working in Dubai, you need to be prepared to negotiate hard to get the right terms in place for your employment contract.

For a start, the cost of living in Dubai is high.  It’s pushed up by the likes of accommodation costs, schooling and healthcare fees.  So, you need to negotiate some form of compensation into your contract to cover such elements.

Here’s a list of points that expatriates negotiate on when it comes to their employment contract.  These are a guide for you to know what is typically offered by an employer, it will be up to you to know how far and how hard you can negotiate: –

  • Housing – some employers offer expat workers an allowance, you can then top this up if you want to live somewhere even more expensive
  • Estate agent fees – they may charge for finding you a rental property, sometimes employers refund this
  • Car/fuel – you will need a car for getting around, because aside from anything else, it’s too hot to walk most of the time!  Some employers have car schemes and offer fuel cards
  • Annual leave ticket – many expats are given the cost of their flights home once a year, and they take the ticket during the summer months when the weather is unbearably hot
  • Education and school fees – costs are exorbitant, but standards across some institutions are excellent, your employer may help you afford the best
  • Medical insurance – employers have company schemes for their staff, but not obliged to insure dependents, try to negotiate your family health insurance in Dubai
  • Notice period and severance pay – it is critical that you negotiate this point carefully.  Defaulting on debt in Dubai is illegal, so you need a decent notice period and severance pay agreement in place, to give you the time and means to find another job so that you can continue to meet the likes of rental and car costs in the emirate in the event that you lose your job
  • Relocation/repatriation – if you’re being headhunted aggressively to work in Dubai you’re in a good position to negotiate on these points…otherwise you’ll struggle!

Visa and Residency

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.

Your employer will advise you about the documents required to obtain your work permit, and you will need to undergo a medical examination.

If you’re thinking about buying property in Dubai in order to obtain a residence visa, think again.  Whilst permanent residency was once offered as an incentive to invest in Dubai real estate, as an owner all you’re entitled to in the way of a visa is a 6-month multi-entry visa.  This is renewable, but it’s hardly a convenient solution to obtaining residency.

Instead, the best way forward is to obtain a residency visa via employment as mentioned above, and such a visa is usually valid for 3 years and renewable.

The process for obtaining your residency permit in this way is to acquire your entry permit and work permit and to then go to a government hospital or medical clinic for a health check.

You will undergo a blood test and chest X-ray and be screened for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, leprosy, and syphilis.  Note: if your results for any of these tests come back positive you will be deported, (with the exception of syphilis for which treatment is available).

You then return to the residency department with your passport, medical test results, and if required, other documents such as a salary certificate etc.  Ideally your employer will assist you with all this as there are often additional paperwork requirements revealed at the last minute!

At the residency department, or DNRD (which stands for Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department – which has been superseded by the name General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs Dubai but which still gets referred to as DNRD!) you go to the typing office and obtain your application form and hand over required fees.

The process can differ from person to person and take a great deal of patience, you’re well advised to bring something to read and something to drink and just wait it out.

Eventually you will be asked to return to collect your passport with your resident’s visa stamped in it.  If your employer employs someone to do the running for you, ensure you get your passport back, it is not acceptable for your employer to retain it.

Once you have your residency permit you can sponsor your family to live in Dubai with you.  Each sponsored individual will also have to undergo a health check as described above.  Once again the DNRD will process your application.

Finding a Place to Live in Dubai

There are many areas of the city and its surrounding suburbs where expats make a home from home in Dubai.  However, you’ll need to find the right area for you – this will depend on your budget, your expectations and requirements, the accessibility of the area to schools, your place of employment and services, and only time and research will help you to make the right decision.

We produced a very comprehensive four part series about where to live in Dubai that covers many of the most popular expat suburbs.  Use this to guide you, use your orientation trip to help you, and if you still can’t decide then you can live in a hotel apartment for the short-term whilst you hunt hard.

Planning Your Relocation

As already mentioned there are relocation companies which specialise in moving to Dubai.  They will help you find a place to live, they will assist you with your visas and medical cards, they will plan your move and ensure your personal effects are pack up and shipped out.

Alternatively you can do all of the above by yourself!

Firstly ensure your permissions are in place – use the excellent Dubai government’s website to get informed, and consider asking on forums for any advice from anyone who has recently made the move.

Your new company may assist you with this aspect of your relocation – but you may then end up on your own when it comes to working out how to sponsor your family for example.

Find a removal company to move your personal effects to Dubai – there are plenty to choose from!  They will give you a quote based on the volume of ‘stuff’ you want to move – and you may need an entire container or just part of a container.  Get quotes…it won’t be cheap so think long and hard about how much you really need to ship.

You will probably arrive in Dubai before your furniture anyway, so make sure you have temporary accommodation sorted.  Everything else can be sorted out once you’ve made the move and you’re on the ground.  Our dedicated living in Dubai section covers the many elements you may then need to explore, from what it’s like living locally during Ramadan, to how expats enjoy their social life for example.

Finally, it just remains to reiterate that you really need to visit to get a feel for the emirate and the lifestyle, because it isn’t actually to everyone’s taste.  We have heard Dubai described as heaven and hell…so make sure it really is what you expect before you even consider moving to Dubai permanently.