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A Complete Guide to Living in Dubai

Moving to or new in Dubai? Here's a complete guide to all the basics you need to know about life in the Emirate!

A Complete Guide to Living in Dubai
If you're moving to Dubai soon this is a great resource where you can find out loads about the city in one quick read. As a team of expats ourselves, we appreciate just how much extra information can help you during your new expat journey and in setting up your new life in Dubai. 

We've got everything from the dress code to the currency, weather, medical facilities and so much more. 

To help you navigate this detailed guide, you'll find each category linked below for ease of use. If there's anything missing, or you'd like to add to this guide, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Country Profile | History | Weather | What to Wear | National Dress | Tailors | SecurityDriving | Medical Facilities | Emergency Numbers | Vaccinations | ReligionTolerance | Language | Bureaucracy | Currency | PetsIn the Home | Creepy Crawlies

Dubai's country profile

The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven formerly independent Emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah.

The emirate of Dubai is located south of the Arabian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula and has the largest population with the second-largest land territory by area of all the emirates, after Abu Dhabi.

The history of Dubai

The earliest mention of Dubai is in 1095, and the earliest settlement known as Dubai town dates from 1799.

Dubai was formally established in 1833 by Sheikh Maktoum bin Buti al Maktoum when he persuaded 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe, living in what is now part of Saudi Arabia, to follow him to the Dubai Creek by the Al Abu Falasa clan of Bani Yas, and it remained under clan control when the United Kingdom assumed the protection of Dubai in 1892.

Its geographical location made it an important trading hub and by the beginning of the 20th century, it was an important port.

In 1966, the year oil was discovered, Dubai and the emirate of Qatar set up a new monetary unit to replace the Gulf Rupee.    

 

old dubai

The oil economy led to a massive influx of foreign workers, quickly expanding the city by 300% and bringing in international oil interests. The modern emirate of Dubai was created after the UK left the area in 1971. At this time Dubai, together with Abu Dhabi and four other emirates, formed the United Arab Emirates. The following year Ras al Khaimah joined the federation while Qatar and Bahrain chose to remain independent nations.

In 1973, the monetary union with Qatar was dissolved and the UAE Dirham introduced throughout the UAE.

A free trade zone was built around the Jebel Ali port in 1979, allowing foreign companies unrestricted import of labor and export capital. The Gulf War of 1990 had a negative financial effect on the city, as depositors withdrew their money and traders withdrew their trade, but subsequently the city recovered in a changing political climate and thrived.

Today, Dubai City has emerged as a global city and a business hub. Although Dubai's economy was built on the oil industry, the emirate's model of business drives its economy, with the effect that its main revenues are now from tourism, real estate, and financial services, similar to that of Western countries.

The weather in Dubai

The UAE's weather has a tropical and arid climate for about 8 months of the year. You will enjoy day after day of glorious sunshine and unbroken blue skies. You can plan a barbecue, camp in the desert or on the beach, meet in the parks, or at the beach club, all safe in the knowledge that it'll not be rained off.

Temperatures are at their lowest December, January and February and then steadily climb. April is still ok but by May it's getting hot and you spend less time outdoors. June is hot and hideously humid, July, August and September are hotter again and even more humid. Humidity levels in Dubai can get unbearable reaching up to around 80-90% mid- summer.

In September the temperature does start to slowly drop, but it's still very hot. October, we're back to enjoying the beach, avoiding the middle of the day, and November is perfect. 

During July and August there's usually a mass exodus of mums and children. Some choose to go away for the whole summer, some for part of July and most of August. There are quite a few who stay, however. It's like being in England in January or Melbourne in July; you spend as little time outside as you possibly can. One consolation is that your house, your car and every building you enter are all air-conditioned.

Throughout the year, temperatures range from a low of about 8 degrees Celsius on winter nights, to a high of 48 degrees Celsius in the midday summer heat. Rainfall is infrequent and happens mainly in the winter. There is a lot of extra indoor entertainment laid on for the kids, so there's always plenty for them to do.

What should you wear in Dubai?

Year-round, all you will need is summer clothing here, but you will probably want to have the occasional wrap or light weight jacket when going into air-conditioned restaurants and for cooler winter evenings.

After a few months in this region you become acclimatised to the warmer weather and you will forget how it feels to be in a real winter. Don’t be surprised if you end up wearing fleeces and jackets in the middle of summer when you return home!

what to wear in dubai

The rule of thumb is to cover your shoulders and your knees and with nothing too revealing or see- through whilst out in public.

Malls have introduced a modesty code for shoppers but you will still see some too revealing outfits! It is respectful of the local culture to make an effort to cover up when out in public. When out for the evening anything goes although you may want to have a wrap to cover up en route and beach wear must only be worn on a beach or around a pool. It goes without saying topless sunbathing is not allowed!

You'll find some very smart beachwear is worn around the beach clubs and there are some very swish places to go at night so make sure you have a couple of swanky outfits in case you feel like the full Arabian nights experience in one of the plush hotels. People like to dress up here and you will often see the latest catwalk fashions on the table next to you, as all the big brands are here. You often see some amazing outfits and some equally amazing women in them.

What is the national dress of Dubai?

You will see many men and women walking around in National dress.

The dish dash and Abaya are worn by many Arabic cultures, not only the Emiratis, however the nationals in the UAE tend to wear national dress to both work and social situations. The national dress has historical significance from when the Emiratis roamed the desert, and this part of the culture has stayed in the region for many years thereafter.

On the whole the Emirati population wears their traditional dress in public. For men this is the dish dash or khandura - a white full length shirt, which is worn with a white or red checked headdress, known as a gutra.

In public, the local women wear the black abaya - a long, loose black robe that covers their normal clothes - plus a headscarf called the sheyla. This traditional dress totally covers them up and this is what is considered appropriate within the Muslim culture.

Emirati national dress in Dubai

Tailors in Dubai, and how much you'll spend

Dubai has some amazing tailors and according to the ladies on our expat forum the best tailors in Dubai can be found in Ibn Battuta mall and in Satwa. If you find a design that you particularly like a tailor can have it custom made for you in a matter of days. 

Using a tailor also means that the clothes are custom made to fit you and will sit perfectly on your curves. You can also ask a tailor to use the measurements of an existing dree of yours, if you're in a hurry. 

A simple dress made up in a local tailor will cost you maybe AED 70 for the tailoring. If you have an expensive fabric you may be wiser to pay a little more. Just make sure your fabric is not too difficult to handle, they are not couture makers, but they can do a pretty good job!

Another thing that Dubai has is great cobblers, also located in Satwa these guys can fix the heels and insides of worn shoes making them feel brand new and it only costs AED 30 a pair - bargain.

How secure is Dubai?

We're inclined to say that Dubai is one of the safest cities to live in. While there is petty crime and opportunists who will take advantage of an expat's all too trusting nature, violent crime is very low - especially when compared with the other big cities in the world. 

The penalities are severe and sentences harsh which acts as a deterrent.

Dubai prides itself on a fairly clean slate when it comes to crime. Of course there is always the threat of war in the Middle East from various factions but it's not something one considers unless a specific incident is giving rise to concern.

What is driving like in Dubai?

Driving in Dubai can be a bit scary to a first time expat- the roads are big and fast, and for some driving on the right hand side is a first.

Driving standards do vary wildly as you are sharing the roads with people from many countries with different standards.
 
driving in dubai
 
Seatbelts must be worn in the front by law and in the back. The road system is based on the American system with U turns forming a regular part of your drive. Cars get extremely hot in the summer so never leave your kids or pets in them alone for any length of time.

What are medical facilities like in Dubai?

Dubai has many modern clinics and hospitals. Generally speaking medical facilities in Dubai are very good. You must have a complete health check to obtain a visa to live in Dubai including a chest X ray to check for TB and a blood test. You can have the government health card and/or a private health scheme.

Most expatriates hold private cards but more often now lots of people have the Government cards as well. Private care is expensive so unless you are financially solid it will be worth looking into this area with care.

Medical facilities in Dubai

A visit to a GP will set you back around 400- 500 DHS  per visit and that does not include blood tests or any other type of tests you may require. However, if you are with a good medical aid scheme each visit will only cost you AED25-50. However with the new Dubai law, you will be required to pay AED60 in order to be issued with a sick leave certificate.   

Emergency Numbers

Ambulance 999/998
Fire 999/997
Police 999
Directory enquiries 181

Child vaccinations in Dubai

Generally for children the same schedule of inoculations exists here as they do in Europe. A BCG is required by law, as so many people here are coming from countries where TB is prevalent. The UAE was declared officially free of malaria by the World Health Organisation in 2007. 
 
To find out more about the immunisation schedule implemented in the UAE by the Dubai Health Authority, see here.

What is the religion in Dubai?

The UAE’s culture is firmly rooted in the Islamic traditions of Arabia. Islam is more than just a religion; it is a way of life that governs every aspect of daily existence, from what to wear to what to eat and drink. The culture and heritage of the UAE is closely linked to religion and this feeling permeates throughout the society.
 
There are many beautiful mosques in and around the U.A.E. and while it is not accepted practice for non-Muslims to enter them, there are tours through the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

The only time that you cannot visit them is on the most holy day, Friday. So if you are non-Muslim, you will have to admire them from the outside on that day.   

Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

Ramadan is a month of heightened religious awareness throughout which Muslims fast during the daylight hours. It is the holy month which commemorates the revelation of the Holy Quran. The dates when Ramadan occurs change depending on the moon and move by about 10 days.    

Non-Muslims are not expected to fast but are expected to abstain from eating, drinking and/or smoking in public as a sign of respect. Most cafes are closed during the day but some places offer a take out service. Hotel restaurants still operate under certain restrictions.  

The fast is broken in the evening at sun set, which is called Iftar, and you can get the official times for Iftar from the local papers.  

Although the UAE is a Muslim country there is a general tolerance of other faiths here, so celebrations of Diwali, Christmas and Easter are not discouraged. There are a number of Christian churches.  

Is Dubai a tolerant place?

With all this considered the UAE people are very tolerant and welcoming of other cultures and lifestyles.
 
Among the most highly prized virtues are courtesy and hospitality, and visitors are sure to be charmed by the genuine warmth and the friendliness of the people here.   Women are held in high esteem and respected which is something that you don’t hear much about and you only really get a full understanding of this when you have been here a while. For instance there is a separate queue for women at most government institutions, this has been thought of so women are not kept waiting.

 

What languages are spoken in Dubai?

Arabic is the official language used in the UAE and all contracts and official government papers will be written in Arabic. You should get an English translation before signing anything.

The road signs are in English and in Arabic as are the menus in restaurants and other impostant signs. Newspapers have both English and Arabic editions. You do not need to speak Arabic in order to live and work comfortably in the UAE.
 
It is more than likely that the company you work for won’t require you to speak Arabic, but it might be handy to know a few words so you receive a warmer welcome, or at least a smile. There are also courses available if you want to go the next step. 
 
You will meet Emiratis in government establishments like DEWA and Etisalat as well as in banks and generally out and about. It is very important to be respectful of the cultural boundaries and be aware of them.  

About bureaucracy in Dubai

There is quite a lot of red tape in the UAE, but generally your employer who is sponsoring you will have someone in their HR department who will take you through each step until all the relevant documentation is achieved.
 
When you initially arrive it feels like you need a mountain of different cards/documents in order to work or even to open up a bank account, but soon enough you realize you only need duplicates of the same information and things start to become pretty standardized.  

Visa Application

Make sure you have a bunch of passport photos on hand and duplicate copies of passports and work permit information, this should hold you in good stead for the initial period. Also bring with you original copies of your birth and attested marriage certificates, and your original entry permit.

Your sponsor will obtain a residence visa for the employee, and if that is your husband he will in turn obtain visas for the rest of the family and act as your sponsor. Until residence visas are obtained you cannot obtain any other documents from the government authorities - car and driving licenses, bank account, health cards, National ID Card and liquor license - and being without these can be very inconvenient. Whatever government documentation you are seeking, e.g. a telephone connection, it is worth remembering that there is often a separate queue for women and you will be served far quicker than your husband will be.

Register with your local Embassy or Consulate. They all have different rules and requirements but if you call them before going you should manage to save yourself a return visit. 

Embassies in Dubai/ Abu Dhabi
  • Australian (04) 212444
  • Austrian (02) 626 7755
  • Belgian (02) 631 9449
  • British (04) 309 4444
  • Canadian (04) 352 1717
  • Finnish (02) 632 8927
  • French (04) 332 9040
  • German (04) 397 2333
  • Greek (02) 665 4847
  • Italian (04) 331 4167
  • Japanese (04) 331 9191
  • Lebanese (04) 397 7450
  • Dutch (04) 352 8700
  • Norwegian (04) 353 3833
  • South African (04) 397 5222
  • Spanish (02) 626 9544
  • Swiss (04) 329 0999
  • USA (04) 311 6000

About the UAE's currency

The local currency in Dubai is the Dirham often written as AED or DHS. It is pegged to the US Dollar (AED 3.67 = US$ 1).

uae dirham aed dhs

Most people are paid in Dirhams but part of your salary may be in dollars or sterling depending on the nationality of your company. It might seem daunting to be paid your first salary as most companies will give you cash or a cheque. 

It takes a bit of time getting used to the notes, even though they have both the Arabic and English denomination on them, the coins are only in arabic though so you'll soon learn to read the numbers.

A guide to pets in Dubai

Despite the heat, many expats have pets in Dubai. Many people love their pets and cannot leave them at home. They are a huge responsibility though if you are at work or living in an apartment.

Pets in Dubai

Keep dogs on leads in public at all times and dogs cannot be walked on the beach although there are many other areas you can ramble around.

There are many good vets who will help you care for your pet and also arrange for transporting them to and from the UAE. There are also many great welfare organisations for lost, abandoned or stray dogs and cats. 

Dogs and cats which leave the house should be regularly vaccinated and if you have a new pup or dog it is worthwhile getting your new pet chipped.

Setting up your home in Dubai

Voltage and plugs are the same as the UK so if in doubt you can bring most of your electrical items although you can buy anything here.
 
Gas or electric?
Cookers can be gas or electric and come in 2 sizes, regular or huge. Gas is in the more modern homes and in high rises it tends to be piped through the mains, but for the majority of people it is still delivered in large canisters that are kept outside for safety reasons. You can easily get it delivered to your doorstep.
All houses are air-conditioned either by central A/C’s or split with a few older properties being cooled by individual units for each room. All modern villas and apartments have central A/C and are more efficient and cheaper to run than the older models.

Gas, Electricity and Water Bills
Costs vary enormously depending on how cool you like your home. An average monthly bill including water and electricity for a villa from 1,000- 3,000 Dhs dependant on month and between 200- 600 Dhs for an apartment. The organisation handling all billings for electricty and water is DEWA or you may have to deal with a seperate cooling company dependant on where you live.
 
Storage
Storage can range from non- existent to overload. If you are struggling for space ask your maintenance company who are associated with each villa/apartment if they can recommend someone who will knock you up a cupboard/shed or dog kennel a bit cheaper and made to your own specifications.

Furniture
You can get ready made items at the ever popular Ikea or Ace furniture or a multitude of other outlets. It is also worthwhile to look at supermarket notice boards for bits and pieces that are on sale or check out the classified ads on this site at Classifieds.
There are also lots of garage sales around as well as fairs at the various schools, check out notice boards for the next one coming up. Obviously the best time to get second-hand items is at the beginning of the summer when people tend to leave Dubai.

The Water
Because you are living in a desert, the bottled water is a massive market out here. You can drink the desalinated water from the tap, but mostly people just use it for washing up, brushing teeth etc. The water itself is not a problem from source… it is the cleanliness of the water tank in your building or villa that is the issue.

Tap water is generally not used for cooking or drinking. Most people get bottled water delivered to their house and have a water cooler to keep it cold or hot. These coolers are reasonably priced, around 300 - 500dhs, and are great for topping up flasks and other bottles for the kids. The actual water canisters are delivered once a week to your house so remember to keep a space for storing the large bottles that take up quite a bit of space.

tv in dubai
 
TV
Satellite TV is extremely popular and there are various companies offering a range of programmes to suit all nationalities. You need to buy a decoder and occasionally have a big ugly dish on your roof or balcony. 

Cable TV is pretty much the only choice for expats, most people hook it up as soon as they get their TV set through companies like OSN, E Life from Etisalat or DU TV. For major sporting events you can head off down to your local pub and usually find somewhere showing it.

About creepy crawlies in Dubai

Bugs live out here, just like they do everywhere. Ants can get everywhere but usually move on mass like a huge army through your garden, rarely do they infest your home unless you have an older property.
 
Cockroaches love this environment but as Dubai is very clean they will hardly ever show their faces in a house, if they do, they have come in through the front door via a delivery of something. Arm yourself with a can of Pif Paf or Raid, which is an insect spray. If you find you do have a bit of a problem with any pests there are several reliable pest control companies who will spray your home and offer annual contracts if that is what you prefer. Be aware that pesticides can be harmful on small children, so that might be a consideration before doing it.

When swimming in the sea you may see the occasional jelly fish and the odd ray, they are generally harmless and can be easily shaken off. Their sting is nasty but normally not fatal.

red back spider dubai

One nasty little critter recently spotted in and around many areas is the red backed spider. They like dusty dry areas, think along the lines of storage areas in a garage or likewise. They are very inhospitable and do not like anyone poking in their homes so if you see one, stay clear. They are very distinctive and have a nearly luminous stripe on their back; you can definitely see where it got its name.

If you see one you can call the municipality pest control or a private one and they will deal with it, alternatively bring out the Pif Paf and some boiling water, they don’t like that. If you get bitten you should see a doctor, remain calm and you will be fine, panic and it will be very sore. 

Their bites can be fatal to smaller children, the infirm or anyone whose immune system is weakened- in Australia they are considered quite dangerous and needed to be managed with the utmost care.

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