Planning a trip to the UAE, or perhaps considering the possibilities of employment there? Here I made a complete list of essential things you need to know before you go and while you are there.
This nation might be commonly known for its Burj Khalifa and man-made islands but *drum roll* long beaches, massive shopping malls, luxury hotels, and excellent restaurants are just some of the many that impeccably depict the wealth, shameless glamour and can-do attitude of this nation. All these come at a price though. The cost of living in the UAE has fairly increased over recent years. In fact, they just introduced a tax early this year.
1. Expats make up 90% of Dubai’s population
Insane, right?! Emirati nationals are far outnumbered by expats in Dubai. Majority of the population are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Asian and Western countries. And since the population of the UAE is so diverse, it makes it so easy for people to learn about different cultures and break stereotypes that they may have incorrectly held about individuals of specific nationalities. Prior to leaving Dubai, I was working in an office with more than 10 nationalities, providing me the opportunity to make an international group of friends who can teach me unique and interesting things that I couldn’t learn anywhere else! A cherry on top!
2. Summer is HOT HOT HOT!
Growing up in a tropical country, I thought I would have an easy time coping up with the weather but man I was wrong. Months from June to September, temperatures can soar up to 50 degrees Celsius, making it difficult to even step out of the house. Not to exaggerate it but seriously, the weather is extremely hot.
January and February are the coolest months where temperatures play from 10-12°C with even a few days of rain.
3. Friday and Saturday are your weekends
You’re probably used to Monday to Friday working week but it’s somewhat unique in the UAE. The first working day of the week is Sunday (Monday blues no more!) and the weekend is on Friday and Saturday. This is because Friday is the rest day for Muslims. However, some entities are open until Friday making it a 6-day work week for most expats. I thought Happy Thursdays only happen in Vito Cruz. Apparently, Thursday nights are more fun in Dubai.
Thursdays and Fridays are great nights out and you’ll find lots going on. Indeed, Dubai is a nightlife haven which brings me to my next point…
4. There’s always something going on (+nightlife is on point!)
World-renowned DJs? Big concerts? Music festivals? Name it! Dubai won’t disappoint.
I used to go out a lot back in the early days but Dubai has probably made me go out EVEN MORE! (despite having to go to work the next day) I’m talking about ladies night, trivia nights, or just about anything that means long and wild nightouts. I used to think Dubai was a conservative city but it actually is the opposite. So if you’re wondering if you have an endless selection of places to let loose and party then you’re in the right place!
Be sure not to drink too much though as you might find yourself headed to the police station instead of your place. Alongside the nightlife, you can also enjoy some great big events happening in the city – Sensation, Fiesta de Los Muertos, Creamfields, Oktoberfest, and Tomorrowland to name a few.
5. Alcohol and Smoking
If you are a visitor, you are not able to purchase alcohol in general stores and supermarkets. Apparently, only residents who have obtained the required liquor license are allowed to purchase alcohol for consumption in their personal use at homes.
Alcohol can be consumed by over 18s in Abu Dhabi, 21s in Dubai and the Northern Emirates (except Sharjah, which is completely dry). For cheap alcohol, duty-free shops at the airport might be your best bet. Another option could be a drive to another Emirate, say Fujairah, to buy drinks for a way cheaper price.
Smoking: You have to be at least 18 to be able to smoke in the UAE. It is forbidden in government buildings, offices, and shopping malls but there are many designated areas where smoking is allowed including many bars.
6. Unmarried couples
It’s illegal for an unmarried couple to live together, or share the same hotel room. However, most Dubai hotels are relaxed and the chances are you won’t have any trouble booking a room.
If you plan to move to Dubai with your girl/boyfriend, just be wary because local authorities randomly check houses (even the bathroom will be checked). I’ve already heard a great deal of situations where expats are being deported due to this matter.
As far as sex outside marriage is concerned, if you become pregnant, both you and your partner could face imprisonment and/or deportation. If you happen to be unmarried and you give birth in the UAE, you may encounter problems when registering the birth of the child or worse… you could be arrested, imprisoned or deported.
In addition, take note that PDAs (public display of affection) is prohibited. Holding hands is tolerated, but much else besides that might be hostile to local people and could cause you harm with the law.
7. Photography and use of social media
Photography of certain government buildings and people without permission isn’t allowed. Also, posting material of any kind online that are related to incidents in the UAE, or appearing to abuse/ridicule the country or its authorities may be considered a crime punishable under UAE law.
Unfortunately, most sites (even Skype) are blocked in the UAE.
8. Luxury cars
Yaaaasssss! What a feast to the eyes! Luxury cars from Bugattis to Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris, are literally everywhere. I guess nothing is too luxurious in the UAE. But then again, there’s nothing quite like seeing 6 Lamborghinis casually hanging out on a normal day.
Oh, how I love shopping in Dubai! A trip to Dubai is incomplete without a shopping spree to the top malls and outlet stores. Watch out for Black Friday, Eid, and Christmas sales! Almost all shops offer huge discounts!
10. Dress code
It is not as conservative as many of you might think. In fact, most women are wearing crop tops and short shorts. Cool or uncool? Lol. I guess the point here is to always be mindful of the local culture by dressing up decently as a mark of respect for the country you are a guest of.
Having lived in Dubai for 2 years, I was fortunate enough to have observed Ramadan firsthand. This year, it began on Tuesday, May 15 and will end in the evening of Thursday, June 14. Many guides will probably tell you not to visit the UAE during Ramadan but I reckon that provided you are willing to follow a set of rules, it can be a decent time to visit especially if you mean to observe the local culture. Here are some quick points to take:
- Throughout the holy month of Ramadan… eating, drinking, smoking, dancing, playing loud music, etc. in PUBLIC places during daylight hours are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN and PUNISHABLE BY LAW. Yes, even chewing a gum isn’t allowed. Nope, not even a sip of water. **take note that general public indoor areas are included
- Muslims celebrate the breaking of their fast with an evening meal called Iftar. You will actually find many hotels and restaurants providing iftar buffets.
- Most restaurants and some attractions are only open from sunset onwards.
- Working hours (Muslims and non-muslims) are reduced for both public and private sectors so traffic jams usually start early on during the day.
- As soon as sunset hits, the city slowly comes alive and you find people breaking their fast, flocking with friends and family to large spaces (mostly parks) to feast on local dishes.
- If you are looking for a job, this is probably not the best time
12. Is Dubai safe for solo travelers?
Hell yeah! Actually, it is one of the safest locations in the world! You will even find your UBER/taxi driver very funny and entertaining! *wink!*
13. Getting around
BASIC: Nol card – a smart card that can be used on various RTA public transports such as buses, trams, water buses, and the metro information on the card is available on its website.
When to travel around the city?
- Roads are packed during rush hour: 7am to 10am and 4.30pm to 8pm or later
- Taxis and UBER are two of your best options at night
Taking the Metro?
- Always have your Nol Card ready before you go through the gate
- chewing gum, eating, and drinking water are not allowed
- The metro train is divided into two: one for women and children and the other for men. For men, once crossed the line, expect to get a fine
- Always stand on your right on escalators
Taking a bus?
- Your metro Nol card can be used as a form of payment and can get you to destinations that the Metro does not reach
- Download the Wojhati app for all bus schedules
Taking a taxi?
- Taxis in Dubai are relatively cheap. All taxis are metered so don’t worry about being ripped off.
- There is a Smart Taxi App which allows you to book the nearest taxi from your smartphones based on your location.
Another option is by calling the hotline +971 600 535353 and your driver will call you when he has arrived at your pickup location.
14. Planning to look for a job?
If you’re from a country that requires a visa to enter Dubai but don’t have someone to sponsor you (say a family member), then you will need to obtain one.
Normally, people get a 3-month tourist visa and use it to look for a job. By law, this isn’t allowed but hey, can we ignore the reality? Finding a job in Dubai isn’t easy though – especially as foreigner. Look in the classifieds for positions available and post an ad with your details. More so, chat with other job-seekers in the forums. Some of the best sites to help you look for a job are Indeed.ae and Dubizzle.
Refrain from using agencies as they will only rip you off! When you secure an offer, ensure that you don’t need to pay anything as your employer should bear the costs of your papers, labor card, and residence visa.
15. Rent is expensive af
For those planning to look for a job and move to Dubai, do know that house rent is expensive af. In fact, it’s much more expensive than Singapore.
16. It’s expensive but livable
Although the cost of living is very high, one of the great things about the UAE is that it makes both ends meet. Good pay means that almost all people live very comfortably despite the high cost of living.