From its humble beginnings as a sleepy fishing village to becoming the Middle East’s richest city, Dubai has experienced quite the transformation over the past few decades.

If you’re dreaming of sunning yourself in the scorching heat and living the lavish Dubai lifestyle, there are a few things you’ll need to know before you hop on the plane.

Luckily for you, we’ve compiled a list of all the things you need to know before your trip.

a view of Dubai's skyscrapers

Fog rolling through the Dubai Marina and past the towering skyscrapers

1. You can meet people from all over the world

Most major cities around the world are tourist-friendly, but Dubai’s expat community is next level. Currently, about 85% of this international city’s population is made up of expats – great news for anyone wanting a fresh start, and to make friends from all corners of the world.

2. You’ll have to ditch the phrase “TGIF”

If you’re moving to Dubai, you’ll need to adjust to a new working week. Rather than having your weekend on Saturday and Sunday, it’ll start on Friday and end on Saturday.

Why? Well, in Islam, Friday is a holy day – meaning work is off the table. It’ll take some getting used to, but after a few weeks, you’ll soon get in the swing of things.

3. English is widely spoken

If you’re not too hot on your language skills, you’re in luck. English is widely spoken in Dubai, so you won’t have to become fluent in Arabic to get around.

That being said, most people who live in Dubai will pick up at least some Arabic over time. For example, if a stranger starts shouting “yalla, yalla, yalla!” behind you in the street, you’ll be quick to learn that it means “hurry up!”.

4. The cost of living is very expensive

The cost of living in Dubai is roughly 100% higher than the national average in the UAE, which is perhaps why it tends to attract more wealthy and luxurious lifestyles.

Over the past few years, the price of rent has skyrocketed – especially in popular expat areas. Currently, the average house price in Dubai sits at £478,128 ($670,000) – although if you’re moving from the likes of London or New York, this might actually be a pleasant surprise. Plus, during 2020, house prices in Dubai dipped by 6.6% – promising news for any future buyers.

On top of this, groceries and restaurants will also put a strain on your purse strings, since many products have import taxes on them.

If you’re about to move to the UAE, it’s a good idea to convert some of your savings into Emirati dirhams. 

However, it’s best to avoid using high street banks for this process, as you’ll usually have to pay high fees, and you won’t get the best exchange rate. 

That’s why we’ve done our research and compared all the major money transfer services on the market, so you can choose the right one. Check out our expert ratings and find the best money transfer provider today.

5. It’s ladies night every night

Once a Tuesday tradition, ‘ladies night’ has now taken over Dubai’s hospitality industry.

Hundreds of ‘ladies night’ deals are flaunted each night at various venues across the city – inviting women for free drinks, discounted meals, or complimentary shisha.

It’s not just limited to food and drink, either; select venues also offer women complimentary pool or beach access, or even mini-spa treatments.

In most cases, gents are allowed to come along, but will be stuck with the full-priced experience.

6. There are also women-only areas

Dubai has been hailed as the best place in the Middle East for women. Not only is it an extremely safe city, but there are also various women-only facilities dotted about Dubai, including separate metro carriages and ladies’ taxis. Some beaches even hold female-only days, too.

This is by no means a law from the UAE government, but rather an option for any women who want their own space.

7. It’s a very safe place to live

In 2020, the UAE was the world's only country to have three of its cities – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah – all among the top ten safest cities in the world.

Strict punishments, long prison sentences, well-publicised convictions, and the use of undercover police all contribute to Dubai’s reputation as one of the safest cities to live in.

It’s not unusual to see an expensive car left outside a shop with the keys in the ignition, or a laptop left with no one around for half an hour or more.

An Areal view of Palm Island in Dubai

An areal view of Dubai's famous man-made Palm Island

8. You’ll need medical insurance

Unlike the UK, the healthcare system in Dubai is particularly difficult for expats to access. As such, it’s wise to cover your back in terms of any ongoing or emergency health issues by investing in a good medical insurance plan.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in the UAE. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.

Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.

If you’re heading to Dubai for work, or land yourself a job whilst you’re out there, it’s worth discussing medical insurance with your new employer, as they might be able to cover it.

9. It’s wise to follow the rules

Dubai’s low crime rate boils down to its harsh punishments and zero-tolerance outlook. There are a lot of rules and regulations to brush up on – so make sure you do your research before stepping on UAE soil.

Some strict rules include:

  • Taking a photo of someone without consent: This is considered as an invasion of privacy – a big no-no in Dubai. One infamous example of this was when Jodi Magi, an Australian teacher, was jailed, fined 10,000 dirhams (£2,157), and deported after posting an image of a vehicle parked across two disabled parking spots to her personal Facebook page
  • Possessing poppy seeds: Poppy seeds are a banned substance in the UAE, since they can be used to create opium. Being caught with even a handful of poppy seeds – whether it’s in a meal or not – is a serious violation of the law and can land you in jail
  • Eating and drinking on all forms of public transport: From metros and buses (and their stations) to pedestrian crossings – if you’re found eating or drinking here, you can expect to be on the receiving end of a fine
  • Swearing in public: Swearing is punishable by up to a year in prison, and a fine as high as 10,000 dirhams (£2,157). Flashing your middle finger will also result in deportation

10. Prepare for the heat

Dubai’s climate could not be more different from the UK’s. With temperatures averaging 40 ⁰C in summer months and humidity often reaching over 90%, this weather can prove unbearable for some. In the cooler months – from December to March – temperatures usually dip to the low 20s, but that is as cold as it gets.

11. Ramadan and Islamic holidays

In Dubai, holidays fall around Islamic traditions. As is the case in every Islamic country, working hours are shortened to six hours a day during Ramadan – with many choosing to take time off during this period.

If you’re not already familiar with Ramadan, you’ll need to become acquainted with a new set of rules during this time. For example, eating and drinking in public are forbidden throughout Ramadan during daylight hours – if you’re caught doing so, you’re likely to receive some backlash from authorities.

You’ll also have to keep an eye out for when Ramadan is happening each year, as the date changes each time. 

12. It’s a city of innovation

Dubai has managed to catch up to the rest of the world through its intense technological transformation.

Since 2013, the Smart Dubai initiative has transformed the city into an intelligent hub – focusing on becoming paperless, developing AI tech, supporting startups, and pushing to become the happiest city in the world.

This is rather fitting for the second-largest city in the UAE – a country ranked among the 35 most innovative countries.

13. There’s no escaping the traffic…

In a city that is constantly creating, innovating, and competing to build the next colossal skyscraper, there’s a lot of roadworks going on.

And since almost everyone has a car, there is a lot of traffic. Expats can expect their morning routine to involve coming up with strategies to avoid rush hour, as their 20-minute commute transforms into an hour-long journey.

14. …unless you opt for the pristine public transport

There are tonnes of options when it comes to public transport in Dubai: the Metro, buses, taxis, water taxis, trams, ferries – you name it!

The Metro is by far the most popular mode of public transport. Not only is it clean and efficient, but it’s also very affordable – costing only 3.5 AED (68p) for each ride.

Taxis are also very cheap, with a minimum charge of 12 AED (£2.33). Plus, thanks to Dubai’s Uber-esque Smart Taxi App, there’s no need to bother hailing down drivers anymore.

15. Brunch is a must every weekend

A favourite for locals and visitors alike, this tradition has transformed brunch from a quaint catch up with friends over avo toast, to a boozy banquet.

No matter the time of day, you can expect all-inclusive feasts of food and drinks – with an emphasis on indulgence.

16. The almost tax-free lifestyle

To many peoples’ delight, the UAE Federal Government does not impose taxes on companies and individuals – meaning you get to keep all the money you earn. Citizens are also not obligated to pay taxes on property or capital gains.

Despite this, there are certain taxes – such as import duties on goods from outside the country, as well as rental taxes – that you’ll still have to put up with.

Arabian desert with Dubai in background

Silhouetted camels in the Arabian desert with the Dubai skyline sitting in the background

17. Your work has a lot to do with your private life

If you’re an expat, everything – and we mean everything – gets sent to your employer, rather than your home address. The logic behind this is that since your employer is also likely to be your sponsor, they are the most reliable way to make contact with you.

On top of this, opening a bank account in Dubai will also have to be signed off by your employer. You’ll need a letter of no objection from your sponsor, and you may need a salary certificate, depending on your bank. 

18. It’s been the number one lockdown location 

Dubai has quickly become the number one destination for self-employed people and influencers to flock to, in an attempt to escape lockdowns around the world. It’s been suggested that likes on influencer posts abroad were up 144% compared to their average.

Thanks to Dubai’s more relaxed rules on who can come into the city, it makes for it the perfect location.

This has, however, led to an increase in local COVID-19 cases. In early February 2021, Dubai put in place stricter measures to curb the spread, including venue capacity cuts and a nighttime curfew for some businesses. 

19. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise

Many people visit Dubai to marvel at man-made wonders – the world’s tallest building, islands shaped like palm trees, the Dubai Frame – meaning nature is often overlooked.

However, bird-watchers will be thrilled to hear that over 320 species of bird cross Dubai on their migrations. During spring and autumn, visitors might be able to spot all kinds of winged wildlife, including eagles, broad-billed sandpipers, and greater herons.

20. Dubai uses robots as jockeys

Camel racing is as popular in Dubai as football is in the UK. However, given the size of the camels, only children can participate in racing them – which has led to some very dark circumstances of children being illegally trafficked into the country to serve as jockeys.

As a solution, Dubai now uses child-sized robots – costing anywhere between $300 and $10,000 – to compete in camel racing.

21. You need a licence to drink alcohol

If you want to consume, store, or transport alcohol in Dubai, you need to have an alcohol licence – even if you’re drinking in your own home, or visiting a friend’s house.

To get a license, you’ll need copies of your passport, a visa, a passport photograph, and Emirates ID.

Just a heads up – even if you do have a licence to drink in Dubai, if you’re caught drunk in a public setting, you could land yourself a hefty fine, or even jail time.