When people hear that I live in Dubai, they immediately conjure up an image of fast cars, 5 star accommodations and glitzy skyscrapers amidst a sprawling urban landscape. Sometimes I get asked if I ride a camel to work and live in the desert with the Bedouins. The reality is that expat life in Dubai (and the United Arab Emirates) is extremely multifaceted; tradition and modernity go hand in hand, the old enhances the new, and the increasing number of diverse expats who come from every corner of the world to call Dubai home, are responsible for its multicultural persona and vibrancy.
Living here can be interesting and exhausting, unexpected and mundane. Life for expats in Dubai can be many things, but it’s certainly not dull. But there are some things that every expat coming to Dubai should know, and here are some of them:
- It may be a tax-free haven, but if you want to come to Dubai and earn a lot of money and save, you need to negotiate your expat package carefully and accept a salary keeping in mind the high cost of living here: My previous expat locations have been Singapore and Copenhagen, so trust me when I say I have lived in other expensive cities. Many expats think Dubai is a cheaper destination to live and work in, but don’t be fooled into believing that. The truth is this; yes some things are cheaper here – most notably cars, gas and household help, since labor costs are low. However, living costs in general have been increasing quite steadily over the past few years. Ask any expat and you’ll find that the major costs of living in Dubai are housing/rent (you are required to pay a full years rent upfront), schooling/education (international schools are very expensive and often with long waiting lists) and food/drink (your weekly grocery shopping will be expensive since almost everything is imported into Dubai). So keep all this in mind – don’t accept a salary which would be good in your home country; negotiate as much as possible, do your homework and accept a salary/package which bears in mind the high cost of living in Dubai.
- Dubai has made major progress in the past 40 years and broken many records, now boasting the highest building in the world and the biggest mall in the world, BUT If you don’t have a P.O Box address, don’t expect to receive any mail at your home address: It comes as a surprise to most, but expats in Dubai know that the city is a living and breathing contradiction in so many ways. 7 star hotels, man-made islands, and a mall with a ski slope all exist, but if you’re looking to enjoy some of the simpler pleasures in life such as receiving mail from family and friends at your home address, then forget about it! Unless something is couriered, postal mail does not get delivered to home addresses. People have to get P.O boxes for regular mail. As a result, many expats prefer to have things delivered at work or get a P.O Box assigned to them through their employer.
- Media is monitored in Dubai – on radio you are not allowed to talk of the royal family or politics for instance and sermons in mosques are also tracked and monitored – any elements of extremism or radicalization are strictly forbidden. As many expats in Dubai know, Dubai is an extremely business-friendly city and does its utmost to encourage trade, commerce and tourism. Part of the appeal of living here for many expats is the high level of safety, security and well-being, which rank high on most expats wish-lists. However this comes at a price; censorship is widely present and the media is strictly monitored in Dubai. This also means that Friday sermons at mosques are tracked and monitored to protect against any element of extremism.
- Life in Dubai is dictated by seasons but it may be different than what you’re used to; in winter and spring Dubai is at its finest from October till May. Expat life comes to a grinding halt in the summer months – with the onslaught of high summer temperatures, and the beginning of the school holidays, many expat families leave Dubai from June – September: Forget about getting anything done in Dubai in the summer months. The city comes to a virtual standstill with most expat families escaping and taking summer breaks in their home countries and traveling. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the roads, which are surprisingly empty, which is a nice change of course! If you are one of the few who will be staying in Dubai over the whole summer, be prepared to be met with stares and concerned/bewildered looks. Every expat in Dubai will be thinking and dreaming of the cooler months and that’s when Dubai is at its best: the season starts in September once schools re-open and by end of October when the temperatures have come down to the mid 30’s, the party gets started. The winter months December, January and February are the peak season when 25 degree weather tempts tourists from around the world to escape to Dubai. You can even experience chilly nights, along with the lack of heating. Every expat in Dubai looks forward to winter time; it’s the best time to be in Dubai and enjoy its pristine beaches, beautiful parks and outdoor weather!
- Distances in Dubai are extremely wide and the city is a sprawling hub of highways and freeways. This is why many expats in Dubai follow the golden rule “choose a home, either close to your work place or close to your children’s school; or preferably both.” If you want to avoid spending most of your morning commute stuck in traffic, it is important that you choose your home location very carefully. Since the distances in Dubai are so great, many expats would agree that a 20-30 minute door-to-door commute is pretty great and quite enviable. In Dubai speak, this would be “close by”. Anything under or around 15 minutes would be a dream. Anything under 10 minutes, would soon become a Dubai urban legend!