Moving to the United Arab Emirates

Moving to the UAE presents you with great opportunities for doing business as well as visiting some of the most magnificent places in the world, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The water off the coast is clear for scuba diving, which you can as well as indoor skiing all in the same day.

The UAE is a major business hub and various regions form a major tourist attraction. It has become an economic hub over the years with many streaming in to do business in various regions around the country.

Before moving to the UAE, you should figure out which of the seven emirates you would like to live in: Umm al-Quwaim, Ajman, Sharja, Ras al-Khaimah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, or Dubai. Not sure where to start looking? Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, while Dubai is a major business hub for different investors.

The English language is used widely in the land, particularly in business, though Arabic is the main language of this Islamic country. This also means that weekends actually start Thursday evening, and the work week begins Sunday morning.

Visas and becoming a citizen

You may be moving to the UAE for a number of reasons, such as seeking new employment, doing business, or studying. Unless you are a citizen originating from Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, or Kuwait, you will need a visa to enter the UAE.

To work in the UAE, you will need to go there based on an invitation by an organisation that has a branch here, or through the fact that you own a business here. You will not be able to enter the UAE with the intention of working long term without a work visa, though short term visits (up to 30 days) are allowed for certain countries. To find out more information, check out our guide to UAE visas.

Obtaining UAE citizenship is virtually impossible for most expats, as citizenship is only obtained if your father is a citizen or if you are married to a UAE citizen for more than 10 years.

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As an expatriate living in the UAE, you can access various healthcare facilities in the country, usually through medical insurance provided by your employer. The UAE in recent years has become more progressive, with new health laws enacted to offer citizens and residents more comprehensive public healthcare.

The UAE has strict rules regarding prescription drugs, including which ones you can carry with you as you come into the country. In special cases, narcotics can be allowed but the situation has to be assessed for approval to be given. Certain over the counter drugs are also not permitted.

Health insurance in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular has continued to be encouraged, and this comes with private insurance as the UAE strives to promote health tourism. The only disadvantage with private insurance is that you can only be treated in a private health facility and this card needs to be presented when visiting the facility.

The job market

Moving to the UAE after securing a job is the best idea since it might turn out difficult to access one once you are there without one.

Some of the biggest misconceptions of working in the UAE is that you need to know Arabic and that working women will face more difficulties than their home country; this is untrue.

If you are planning to move in with your family, you will be required to have a basic monthly salary of AED 4,000, and you will be able to secure a work permit for AED 250 at the time of writing. Salaries paid to workers are free of tax, which is one of the top reasons to work in the UAE.

The leading cities in the job market are Abu Dhabi and Dubai are are famous for their hotels, recreational facilities, and world records. Abu Dhabi has schools, hospitals, media and other industries to look into, while Dubai is a hub for hospitality. Other job opportunities are in the area of fishing, oil and gas, aerospace, and education, among others.

Some of the top companies to work with here include Marriott, DHL, Etihad, and Ericsson, though there are many sectors and industries to choose from, particularly hospitality.

Essential information about the UAE

Official languageArabic, though English is also common
Capital cityAbu Dhabi
CurrencyUnited Arab Emirates Dirham (AED); 1AED is made up of 100 Fills.
International dialing code+971
Emergency numbers999
Population9.2 million; 1.4 million of the population is made of citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates.
Electricity220-240 Volts, 3-pin (like the UK)
Drives on theRight
TippingReasonable amount as some are paid poorly
Unusual factGold bars are actually dispensed from particular ATMs here.

Property comparison

Many employers will assist in securing you an apartment in the UAE, or will automatically take out the rent from your paycheck. Renting is very commonplace here, and tenancy contracts differ from emirate to emirate.

As most of the UAE is new, the condition of housing is better than in the likes of UK. Air conditioning is a necessity here, and all accommodation - and even the Dubai metro - has it.

Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai costs AED 105,000 yearly to rent a 1-bedroom and 170,000 yearly for a 2-bedroom apartment. The Deira area is cheaper the average cost is AED 110,000 for a 2 bedroom, which has 24 hours security included, and AED 74,000 for a 1 bedroom house security included. All these residential properties are well supplied with all the necessary social amenities including a good transport network.

Cost of moving

The cost of shipping to the UAE depends on a few factors: how much stuff you are bringing with you and with whom you are moving. The following costs are estimates of an average family of four’s move to the UAE using a 20’ container:

Hong KongAbu Dhabi£2,400 GBP
LondonDubai£3,700 GBP
Cape TownDubai£4,000 GBP
RomeAbu Dhabi£4,500 GBP
New YorkDubai£4,800 GBP
PerthAbu Dhabi£6,600 GBP

Living costs

Generally, living in the UAE is much cheaper than other global countries; your money goes further here than in London, Paris, and New York City for pretty much every amenity.

The cost of living in the UAE depends on which emirate you live in. Abu Dhabi is cheaper than Dubai, where groceries are 13% cheaper.

One cost that is likely to eat into your finances is house rent which is 9% higher in Dubai than Abu Dhabi, and getting a car of your own too. For utilities such as water and electricity you will pay an average of AED 600, AED 300 for internet, and AED 230 for a monthly public transport pass.

Certain groceries will cost more than at home, but generally local products are cheap, and a romantic meal for two setting you pack AED 150. Keep in mind that alcohol and pork products are only sold in certain locations, and will be more expensive than at home.

Schools and education

Education in the UAE has greatly improved since the 1970s, with education at the forefront of the country’s mind. Since the emirates are becoming increasingly popular for expats, schools in the UAE are part of initiatives to make sure that their students are able to seamlessly transition to esteemed universities around the world.

There are many international schools in the UAE, with a number of different curricula and styles.

Driving in UAE

If you have a driving license, the country of issue needs to appear on the approved list. If it does not feature anywhere in the list, you will need to attend some driving lessons in an institution that has been approved by UAE authorities.

Once this is done, you can get a UAE driving license. If the country of issue features in the list, then you only need to approach the RTA office to convert your current license.

Expat communities

A number of expat communities exist in UAE that serve to help you fit in the new environment better. As the majority of the UAE are immigrants and expats, you will certainly be able to find something from home out here.

Ranking against the world

The UAE is home to a lot of the world’s best this and that, including the tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and the world’s first and largest indoor ski slope. The UAE is also one of the world’s best places to live in terms of quality of life, and some of the highest average monthly disposable incomes.

Though the UAE was #130 on the Happy Planet Index, most of this is due to its constant building and construction projects. One of these such projects is a city that is supposed to run entirely on solar energy - what a bright idea!