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20 Things You Should Know Before Moving to Dubai

March 3, 2016

Moving to the Middle East from anywhere in the world is an eye-opening experience that’s guaranteed to blow your mind, test your patience and forever change the way that you operate in the world. 

Dubai is a city of contradictions. Where there are beautiful hotels there are underpaid, underprivileged migrant workers who built them. Where there are man made islands, oceans used to flourish. It is a city of luxury and of unparalleled extremes; with incredible architecture, a diverse population and a harsh and barren landscape where the sun shines every day.

Here are 20 things that you need to know before you move to Dubai.

1. Weekends here are wacky.

Growing up in North America you became accustomed to weekends starting on Friday night and ending late on Sunday. But in Dubai the weekends start on Thursday and end on Saturday, which makes Sunday the dreaded first day of the week, Thursday the new TGIF and Friday the best day for brunching.

2. There aren’t any sidewalks.

One of the first things that you’ll notice when you land in Dubai is that there are endless stretches of sand and countless skyscrapers …  but not many sidewalks. While there are a few communities like Arabian Ranches, JBR or the Greens that have a place to ride your bike or walk your dog, most of the communities here are just rows of high rises connected by an eight lane super highway called Sheikh Zayed Road.

3. Sleepovers are technically illegal.

Unless you’re married to your partner, you aren’t really allowed to live with the opposite sex. This particular law honours a belief of the Islamic faith, but if you consider that a large part of the population in Dubai aren’t Muslim it becomes a difficult rule to abide by. While it’s not uncommon to bribe your concierge so that you can bravely live together anyways, it’s also very common for couples to hastily get married in order to share an apartment and be included in each others employee benefits. We often refer to it as a “Dubai Marriage.”

4. In the Summer, the temperatures can rise past 50 degrees Celsius.

If you’ve come from a cold climate, this can be very difficult to adjust to. Air conditioning becomes your life line, the Indian ocean can feel like a bath tub and if you happen to have the finances and the holidays to do so, you’ll likely join the summer exodus and get out of town.

5. It’s illegal to give someone the finger in Dubai.

It’s even illegal to type the Emoji. That’s right. You can’t type the Emoji! So leave your road rage behind and think twice before you flip your finger. Either offence might have you stripped of your passport, fined up to $70,000 dollars and tried in a court (that’s conducted only in Arabic) before being mercilessly thrown in jail.

6. The average car in Dubai is a Range Rover.

Gas is also extremely cheap. The mega malls have VIP parking for luxury cars and you can have your Maserati hand washed while you shop. Premium vehicles, (that are only 2 or 3 years old) regularly sell for drastically slashed prices and you’ll never, ever see a sixteen year old Pontiac on the street.

7. You won’t even have to pay taxes.

In the United Arab Emirates, the government won’t snatch away a percentage of your pay cheque or heavily tax your purchases. Because just like in your dream world … there are no National or sales taxes here.

8. Even if you’re thirty, you’ll have to apply for a liquor licence.

Since most of us have been drinking for a decade, not being allowed into the liquor store can feel both frustrating and juvenile. Instead, expats of all ages will need to apply for a Liquor License through the company that sponsored their working visa, if they ever want to purchase alcohol from the liquor store or even store it in their homes.

9. On the Sheikhs birthday, no one’s allowed to drink.

While most countries celebrate their National holidays with copious amounts of alcohol (consider May 2-4, Canada Day or even your family Christmas), on the Sheikhs birthday the UAE shuts down all of their bars and bans the sale of alcohol.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have something stashed in the fridge.

10. The massive shopping malls have a dress code.

There’s nothing more embarrassing than being asked to leave a mall because your tank top is too offensive and your shorts are too short. If this ever happens to you, a security guard will tentatively walk over and flash you a square red card that literally has the rules of how to dress appropriately in public on the back.

At which point, you will likely be so mortified that you’ll shamefully slink out the same door that you came in through or quickly buy a pant suit to avoid being arrested.

11. But be careful what you do wear because any man can be arrested for cross dressing.

Even if it’s Halloween!

12. There’s hardly a homeless or elderly person in sight.

Since the United Arab Emirates has a strict rule that you aren’t allowed to live there unless you have a working visa, it’s not possible to stay after your visa expires at the age of sixty-five. Which is why you will never see a homeless person in the streets of Dubai. The Government takes care of their small, Emirati population and expats aren’t allowed to stay if they aren’t sponsored by a company that employs them. It’s also the reason why you won’t see many elderly people. Every expat, at the age of sixty-five, must leave the country when their work visa runs out leaving all of the elderly residents to be locals who are covered by their traditional dress.

13. More than 85% of the population are expats.

The United Arab Emirates has a very small native population which accounts for less than 15% of the people who live there. Therefore the government is able to take care of their people very well, (public housing in Dubai is what we strive for in Canada) and they are able to import workers from all over the world.

14. What makes Brunch an extra-ordinary event.

The famous Friday Brunch is a smorgasbord of  luxury. Fine hotels, flashy dresses, unlimited Veuve Clicquot and gourmet food make the day unforgettable. The festivities carry on for four hours at luxury hotels across the city, when you dress up and dine on gluttonous all-you-can eat and drink buffets that will cost you anywhere from $80 to $175 dollars.

15. The median age is 27 years old.

16. Which means that there’s A LOT of good looking people here.

Young, successful, well travelled professionals and over 40,000 foreign Flight Attendants.

17. and A LOT of douchey people here.

The same young, successful, well travelled professionals and over 40,000 foreign Flight Attendants.

18. The country is ideally located.

Dubai is a global travel hub.

There are plenty of 5 hour flights departing daily to Europe and South East Asia. While nearby Lebanon, Jordan, India and North-Eastern Africa make for perfect weekend getaways.

19. Ramadan is tough for everyone.

If you didn’t grow up following the Muslim faith then Ramadan can be very challenging. During the month long religious holiday, Muslims fast from sun up to sun down and celebrate all evening with a feast, their family and friends. For twenty-eight days there are black out curtains on every restaurant and it’s forbidden to eat or drink in public during the day. Even drinking from a water bottle while walking to your car can get you accosted by the police.

20. You’ll never be a local.

Even if you marry an Emirati, you’re not allowed to apply for citizenship. The United Arab Emirates doesn’t operate like most countries where you can apply for Citizenship when you marry a citizen or have Permanent Residency for the predetermined number of years.

So while Dubai is a good time, it’s rarely for a long time.

Or at least until your sixty-five!

Authors Note: There were countless stunning images of DXB to choose from but I chose the cover photo because it’s captures exactly how I remember the city. I was often coming home at dawn or dusk in Dubai and this is the city that I watched out the window as the Crew Bus welcomed me home or whisked me away.

Credit for Images:
1. Home Caprice 
2. Tim Moffat / Flickr


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  • Reply Shannon Markin March 3, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Great topic Annie. I had no idea the laws were so tight. Not sure what happens after 60… you go to the desert to die??
    Wow makes you want to go for the fun but make sure to have a back up plan!
    Thanks for sharing.

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  • Reply Ant May 4, 2016 at 4:02 am

    The retirement age in Dubai is 65 for expats, and has been for a number of years. Other than that, great article.

    • Reply Annie May 5, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Hi Ant,

      I will change that right away. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for pointing out this glaring error! I really appreciate it.

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