You have landed on the latest update online of a Dubai Expat Guide (2018). This guide will have everything you need to know about Dubai, followed by resource pages to link you to the next steps like: buying a car, buying a house, etc. This guide will help you as a new expat in the UAE, but mostly Dubai or if you consider moving to Dubai and need questions answered.
Are you considering to move to Dubai or the UAE? Or simply curious because you know someone there? This guide for expats in Dubai that has no BS and will tell you everything you need to know to get prepared for a move without false expectations.
We are entering our 4th year of being in based in Dubai and finally made some time to make you a complete guide of one of your most frequently asked questions: How is it to be an expat in Dubai? To be fair, this year we aren’t as much in the city as we travel full time and use Dubai as a base. Although we made sure this guide is the most transparent and “considerate” to all incomes. We noticed many guides out in the web take for granted everyone is well off and it doesn’t give a good representation of Dubai for everyone. So here is the disclaimer, some points may vary on your income, budget and job you are having or about to get.
We had feedback from many people that have read blogs and expat forums thinking it would be marvellous and then returning home in less than six months because they couldn’t afford it or ended up not liking it because they couldn’t find their right fit. Whatever situation you are in, we would love to hear from you and get your additional tips and tricks if you think they are missing in our guide. Drop us a comment or get in touch with us for advice or coffee!
What will you find on this Dubai Expat Guide?
Everything you want to know for when you move to Dubai such as:
- General Expat life
- Social life
- Pricing guide / Cost of living in Dubai
- Jobs and work opportunities
- Our life as expats
- Dubai resources & hacks
For a go-to guide for new expats in Dubai or travellers coming into town about best places to go eat, best brunches, best beach clubs, etc, that will come on another handy guide that is currently in the works.
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The expat life in Dubai and Social Life in Dubai
We combined them as they go pretty much hand in hand. Dubai is a bubble, FULL of expats. You should know there are actually less than a million Emirati people living there and the rest of the population of the UAE are expats. The most common expats found in Dubai are Indian nationals then British nationals. The place is a melting pot of workers and service industry people from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, etc. You will also find a lot of Russians, Australians, a TONS of French and a handful of Canadians. You won’t run short of international friends in Dubai that is for sure.
This is a generalization, but people in Dubai tend to hang around people of their own industry or nationality. Media & marketing crowds, financial crowds, teachers, fitness, fashion, tech, crew, sports teams, etc. If you want our own personal advice, try to mix it up! We have friends within many different group and actually don’t really belong to one group in particular, but rather chose the right friends that shares our lifestyle beliefs. We travel a lot and have quite a fast paced lifestyle hence keeping good friends close is the key to happiness in Dubai.
Dubai is also a place that can be quite superficial, with many people that tend to build fake friendships or short terms ones. The UAE also is a place that hosts many groups of people that barely know each other but like to support each other, all linked by common interests such as being a mom, sand dune bashing fan, camping and outdoor enthusiasts, etc. At least in general, locals and expats are friendly and are willing to create new friendships.
Once last thing about your social life, the weekends are actually Friday and Saturday.
Cost of living in Dubai: The pricing guide
We could make a separate long guide on this but will try to be quite short and straight to the point. First of all, unlike many countries there is no minimum wage in Dubai so you will earn as much as your portfolio and experience will be able to give you PLUS a big chunk of negotiation skills.
Then, you must know the cost of living in Dubai will depend largely on the way you like to live your life. Do you like privacy? Do you plan to attend tons of Dubai brunches and party lots? Are you planning to save up every penny? In a nutshell, note that even those who have the lowest salary have to make it there in Dubai and it isn’t in the best conditions. So this means Dubai is surely manageable even if you aren’t a rich kid, but it will mean sacrifices in being comfortable.
The cost of living in Dubai and the UAE will be split in these three main factors: 1) Rent 2) Transportation 3) Food
The cost of accommodation in Dubai
This is probably going to be your biggest expense in Dubai. Your accommodation will depend on how much money you have, hence depends on what salary you earn, if you are a couple or not, if you have an expat package or not, if work provides accommodation or simply if you have a well-off family or husband/wife. What’s for sure, before getting any accommodation put out some feelers if anyone knows someone with a room available and then check on community forums of Dubai on Facebook.
The real estate market fluctuates a lot in Dubai and rent can be considered as expensive if you want comfort. To give you an idea, some people would share a flat in the Marina with over 5 people as the apartment has been separated in compartments and sometimes bunk beds. This is the reality one should know about Dubai. Note that rent in Dubai, by law is a yearly payment to the landlord in 1,2,3 or 4 checks. Our advice is that you can also go monthly as there as many out there giving out that option.
Here are some estimates to give you an idea of costs and places to live in Dubai (as of 2018).
Conversion Rate is approximately
- JBR, Jumeirah Beach Residences: People that likes to be near the beach, but also convenient if you work in Media City and the surroundings. A lot of traffic though every night: You can find rooms from 4,000 to 6,000 AED/month in 2 or 3 bedroom apartments and of course is more expensive for a 1 bedroom.
- Marina: A lot of couples or singles that would share 2 to 4 bedroom apartments, convenient with the tram again if you work around: rooms can be found from 4,000 to 6,000 AED/month. Maid rooms can be found around 3500 AED in these apartments as many young professionals would go for it to save money. If you are lucky, you can find studios from 60,000 AED a year.
- JLT, Jumeirah Lakes Towers: More on the cheaper side than Marina, but quite the same budget. It’s a bit more difficult to find a good spot compared to Marina, but you can always find good options. Convenient if you work around there and on the Marina side of Dubai as well. Traffic isn’t great as well, but that’s pretty much every where the same: 4,000 to 6,000 AED/month.
- Jumeirah Parks: Houses can be quite affordable for families here and convenient as it is close to end up on SZR or the 311. You can find places from 200,000 AED per year
- JVC & JVT: You will need a car for sure, same for Jumeirah Park. There are many options here from houses to apartments.
- Motor City & Sports City: Many people love this area as it is quite convenient with its facilities but it is a bit more on the far side.
- The Greens: Super convenient as it is close to SZR and there are many good options for a decent price. Probably among the best for quality/price and location.
- The Meadows & The Springs: This area is perfect for couples and families as it is a great community and quite convenient location wise. The Meadows are closer to SZR and more expensive than The Springs.
- Jumeirah: All by the beach, which is great as you don’t need to drive to far to get there! Can be quite annoying traffic wise and depending where you work, you will choose between Jumeirah 1,2 or 3.
- Dubai Palm Jumeirah: Can be quite far the more you are down the Palm, but if you are at the trunk of the Palm, there are many good options. Personally, we are not fans due to the traffic and it can be far depending where you’re based on the palm.
- Downtown: If you work downtown, it makes sense to be based there. Budgets again can vary a lot of what building you choose.
- City Walk: A new area of Dubai, the accommodation there is quite new, but on the pricey side.
- Bur Dubai: Many people here and it can be a living hell for traffic, we would say to avoid being based there, but there can be cheaper options and around there can be found some villa compounds, but again, no go for traffic!
- International City and surroundings: International City isn’t a glamorous place to stay. There can be found the cheapest accommodations in Dubai. But in the surroundings you can find neighbourhoods with villas, but from here you are quite far from everything. If you like to drive at least 30 minutes one way per day, then go for it!
Popular places to find accommodation are Facebook Forums, Dubizzle and PropertyFinder. Again, don’t forget to post from adverts that you are looking for a place as sometimes you can get surprising responses! AirBnB is also an option that can be cheaper to get than a hotel when you arrive and in the process of finding something. Hope this gives you an idea of where to chose to live and the cost of it.
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Transportation in Dubai and Getting a car in Dubai
To be comfortable in Dubai, you will want to have a car… or better, a driver haha. Dubai isn’t much of a walking city so you will most likely need a car to get around. Public transport isn’t the best as well, although it does gets you to places but takes way more time. So let us break it down for you:
Public transportation Metro, Tram and Bus
Public transportation in Dubai isn’t the most convenient like we know in Canada or in the UK. You usually need to walk quite a while or end up combining it with a taxi to get somewhere specific. For convenience, most people end up driving their own car or calling a Uber. If you work somewhere with a metro/tram around and take a good location for your accommodation, then you can get away with public transportation most of the time and avoid getting a car.
You will need to get the NOL Card, silver or gold, which is rechargeable and allows you to take the public transportation. With the Gold card, each ride costs a bit more, but you can go in the “premium” wagon which is less crowded in the Tram & Metro.
Dubai taxi, Uber and Careem
Taxis are quite affordable, more than back home (if home is Canada, US, UK or Australia), but it does add up to always take a taxi. They are available 24/7 and can be caught pretty much anywhere. If you are at home, you will have to call them which is more inconvenient, so using Uber or Careem, the local version of Uber, is more specific and you sometimes wait less long than for a taxi. Uber sometimes ends up being cheaper than a taxi and you will be in a much nicer car! Both apps usually have luxury cars picking you up which is quite fun compared to home!
To give you an idea of pricing, going to the Airport from the Marina side will cost you around 100 AED. So getting around town will cost you anything less, unless you loop around forever and stuck in traffic!
Getting a car
Not everyone needs a car since work can be close enough to justify catching the Tram, Metro or Uber. If work covers expenses of an Uber, why bother having a car? If you like convenience of your own car, do look for postings in Forums and Dubizzle ( The Dubai ultimate website for selling and buying everything) for a car. Again ask around before looking at strangers’ listings! Renting a car is also an option and many do it. We have another full guide about cars in Dubai for you coming up! Petrol pricing in Dubai isn’t cheap like it use to be unfortunately but compared to the rest of the modern world it is good. A full a tank of a 50L Jeep as of Nov 2018 will cost you around: 105 AED
The RTA, Road Transport Authority, also manages the roads, the Salik tolls and enforces parking regulations plus provides public transport systems.
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Cost of Food in Dubai
Restaurants are quite pricey in general. We don’t consider Dubai as a place with good cheap street food like what you can find in Asia. A cheap small shawarma is still going to cost you from 8 to 12 AED, which in comparison to Vietnam for example, you can get a x5 more delicious small meal for 3 AED, but cheaper options do exist. Towards Old Dubai (older and less rich part of town) you can find more cheaper restaurants and obviously they don’t serve alcohol (as we are in a Muslim country). International City also have some hidden international cuisine gems. Then obviously you have all the other amazing options in hotels and independent locations which will cost you more. In general, if you are a foodie, Dubai is a great place to be with many restaurant choices.
If you cook and eat at home more often, you will certainly spend less for food. Getting things like pork (in specific non halal sections in Spinneys or Al Maya Supermarket), can be more expensive than usual. Dubai also is missing a lot of Asian spices for example. You will have to go to International City sometimes if you want specific things. Many outlets are available to buy your food such as Carrefour, Spinneys, Géant, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Al Maya Supermarket, Lulu Hypermarket, etc. We like to use Kibsons (online delivery of fruit and vegetables) a lot which is a way cheaper option and convenient as you order online and they deliver to your home.
Delivery for food is easy peasy as well in Dubai with Uber Eats, Deliver, Talabat, Tomato and all that. Some places deliver 24/7.
Alcohol in Dubai
The United Arab Emirates doesn’t ban alcohol. Although the Emirate of Sharjah is a dry state, the only place where it is prohibited to drink. You must know that it is possible to get alcohol if you plan to travel or live in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. So in terms of price of alcohol, the UAE being a muslim country, expect to pay more than anywhere else.
Where to buy alcohol in Dubai? For visitors to the UAE, you can’t buy bottles in retail stores nor can you apply for a liquor license. Unless you know expats that will drive you to Barracuda (which is far), we recommend you to stock up your personal alcohol at the airport at either Dubai Duty-Free and Le Clos. You are allowed as visitors to Dubai to bring up to five litres of alcohol into the UAE.
Drinking alcohol in public is illegal and the punishment can reach to prison or deportation, so behave when you are having a drink. Alcohol is mostly found at hotels, bars and licensed restaurants only and won’t need a permit to drink. You will need a licence in Dubai only if you want to legally have alcohol in your home. Most of the people don’t have a permit, don’t worry, it’s mostly if you want to purchase alcohol casually for home at the store. which is only African + Eastern & MMI. Note that the alcohol license limits how much you can spend per month, based on your salary! Your company actually has to sign papers for you to get the licence, but let’s keep all this alcohol discussion for another guide of Where to buy alcohol in Dubai (and the UAE in general).
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Jobs and work opportunities
First of all, Dubai and the UAE isn’t a complete Tax-Free environment anymore. They have introduced a VAT and if your own business makes more than 375,000 AED, you will be taxed. More details about taxes in the UAE on another article for sure 🙂 . Good for most of us, there is still no income tax for employees. Whatever you earn, you will have to still pay the new 5% VAT on goods and services you get! The way the system works here makes that you get no pension and will have to deal with saving that money all by yourself. Probably the big downside.
So about work, depending of your industry and talent, you can get whatever you want. The more talent you have and the more negotiation skills you have the more you make. Mitch & I were pretty comfortable with our combined salaries and was able to not touch mine at all to save 100%. If you are wise with your money, each year of work in Dubai can bring you lots of money.
The UAE is a transient place so people come and go a lot so there are a lot of opportunity if you know how to seize it. Many people move up positions faster than they would in their home countries. Which brings up also the bad side of it: you will find a lot of incompetent people at places they shouldn’t be. You will need to learn patience working in Dubai as employees, partners, teammates, workmates, distributor or whoever you will deal with, isn’t always going to be competent and as good as you might compare to home! This is the beauty of living in such a place and you will learn to deal with it!
If you are a freelancer, working for yourself or have your own business, you will obtain a visa depending on wherever you register your company. This is a whole other subject which we will not get into at the moment. In a nutshell, to live in the UAE, you need a visa from work or a sponsor.
It is CRAZY hot from May to September with an average temperature of 36°C (96°F) and don’t forget humidity with that. It can be humid too which makes it all worse, but the rest is marvellous! Winters in the UAE is about 19°C (66°F) and is perfect to go camping in the mountains or in the dunes. Living in the UAE is pretty much an all year round holiday with barely any rain and grey depressing days.
Don’t worry about the heat though as it means you will be more inside in air conditioning. Less outdoors but it only lasts for a few months. We tend to migrate in the summer and travel out of the Middle East region as it is quite hot. The winters are our favourite and we come back to enjoy the beach, the outdoor activities and life in Dubai!
Our life as expats
Being people that have built all of our savings without parental support and lived in other challenging countries as expats in China and Vietnam, let’s say that being expats in Dubai is quite easy. Expats are given things on a golden platter and life can be quite easy if you have a good job or good funds in the bank. Even if you’re not banking big bucks, things are made quite easy. Of course there are some bureaucratic things that can be of annoyance if you compare to how it is done in your home country, but that won’t kill you if you are made strong. Many families end up staying quite for a while as Dubai can be a great place to build your wealth. As for us, we love Dubai as it is such a central travel hub and it gives us the opportunity to travel the world so easily.
Dubai resources & hacks
Finally, here is a quick useful list of resources for you in order of preference of what we use in each category.
Food delivery: Uber East, Deliveroo, Talabat, Zomato, The Entertainer, EatCleanME (healthy food only) Food Discounts and 2 for 1: The Entertainer, Zomato, Guzzle Transportation: Uber, Careem, Carpool Arabia, Wojhati (help you plan your public transport route), Safer driver (if you’re not feeling to drive after dinner!) Groceries delivery to home: Kibsons, Instashop, El Grocer, Souq.com Parcel delivery: Fetchr Laundy service: Washmen For you car: Green Steam (car wash), mParking (to pay parking), RTA app (you can also book a taxi), Dubai Police app (pay your fines) Cleaning app / Maid app: Justmop For parents: Babysteps Dubai Fitness apps: For gyms and classes you can book around Dubai or Abu Dhabi. GuavaPass, ClassPass, Classport Banking apps: Liv, Beam Clothing/Shopping: Namshi.com, Souq.com, Shedd app (to get rid of your clothes) More coming up!