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A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021

Home Blog A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021

David Cottrell

Underwriting & Product Manager

Thinking of upping sticks and relocating to the oasis paradise of Dubai? Dubai is a city determined to improve itself and its attractiveness to business, residents and visitors. Moving and living in Dubai can be an exiting opportunity for you.

How to relocate to Dubai during the COVID-19 pandemic? What is the job market in UAE like, and how is healthcare over there? what are the requirements to move to Dubai from the UK in 2021? If you are currently planning a move to Dubai, or considering moving there in the future, we have compiled a checklist that provides a full expat guide to what you need to know before you go. Find out how to relocate to Dubai from the UK and other countries, and make the most of your move.

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

 

Moving to Dubai as an expat in 2021: what to expect?

With great jobs, a reasonable cost of living and improving schools and healthcare it’s no wonder Dubai is a favourite among expats. Centrally located between Asia and Europe, Dubai has become an integral part of the global trade mechanism. Dubai’s culture is renowned for warm hospitality and a rich heritage. Before you go rushing in to planning your life in the UAE, there is some preparation you’ll need to do.

If this is your first time living in an Arab country, you may find the way of life quite different. You’ll also need to be prepared for life in the desert – from sandstorms to temperatures of up to 48°C, life in Dubai is not without its challenges.

What is expat life like in Dubai?

As an expat in Dubai, you can usually expect to enjoy a high salary that will open the door to lots of life’s luxuries.

Shopping and entertainment is rife throughout the city, and you’ll find a world of cuisine at your fingertips. During the day, you will most likely spend your time enjoying Dubai’s incredible coastline and its incredible range of leisure facilities.

Dubai is also well connected via air travel to the rest of the world – so you’re never far away from home.

Moving to Dubai from UK in 2021

UK passport holders get a 30-day entry to Dubai once you arrive at the airport. First thing on your moving to Dubai from the UK checklist is the type of visa you’ll need. Just make sure your passport is valid for 6 months.

Will I need to learn Arabic to live in Dubai?

Arabic is the official language of Dubai. Most signs and local television channels and newspapers will use Standard Arabic, while outside you may hear lots of different variations of Arabic dialect, especially Egyptian Arabic. Therefore, if you hope to truly integrate yourself into Arabic culture, you may wish to learn at least conversation-level Arabic.

Having said that, almost everyone in Dubai speaks English as a second language. Hospitality and service workers will usually speak to you in English, and many businesses will use English as a first language around the workplace. Furthermore, because there are so many expatriates from all over the world, you will also find pockets of people conversing in languages from India, Africa and East Asia, plus French, German and Spanish.

Dubai at night / GETTY IMAGES

Is it safe to live in Dubai as an expat?

Yes, it is. In terms of crime, Dubai is generally quite safe. Crime rates across the entire UAE is low compared to other developed nations. Even petty crimes such as pickpocketing and vehicle theft are considered to be quite low in Dubai.

The tricky thing is not the criminals, but the local law itself. Many things considered normal in the West are not only taboo, but actively criminalised in Dubai. Punishments for certain crimes can be extremely severe, ranging from huge fines, to deportation, to prison sentences and even the death penalty.

Some of the things that are illegal in Dubai include:

  • swearing
  • drinking without an alcohol licence, drinking outside or being under the influence of alcohol in public
  • sharing a bed with someone who is not your legal spouse or having sex outside of marriage
  • homosexuality
  • cross-dressing
  • taking photos of government buildings or of other people without their permission
  • criticising or ridiculing the UAE government online

Drugs are heavily criminalised in Dubai. Possession of drugs can land you four years behind bars, while trafficking and selling drugs is punishable by the death penalty.

Is it safe to live in Dubai as a woman?

Generally speaking, Dubai is safe for women. However, as with any metropolitan city, there are certain incidents in Dubai that affect women especially.

Website Smarter Travel advises women not to go out alone after dark, to dress conservatively, to avoid bars and hotels known to be frequented by prostitutes, and to avoid making eye contact with men. They also warn never to accept drinks from strangers or to leave drinks unattended.

It’s worth remembering also that certain laws apply only to women. This includes wearing clothing that covers the tops of arms and legs while in public, making sure under garments are not visible and only wearing bathing costumes at swimming pools.

What kind of expat communities are there in Dubai?

Dubai is home to a great number of expats, and over the years, many expat clubs and communities have sprung up all over the city.

  1. Meet like-minded professionals through business groups – such as the International Business Women’s Group, which holds regular networking lunches and workshops.
  2. Connect with people from your home country, with nation-specific groups and clubs from a host of countries, including Turkey and India. Dubai’s only Thai restaurant, Café Isan, draws many Thai expats to experience a taste from home, as well as celebrating Thai holidays with the wider Thai expat community.

What’s the best way to meet people in Dubai?

Dubai is a large and bustling city, home to around 3.5 million people. As such, there are bound to be people out there with similar interests to you. Getting to meet and know them is simple when you take part in societies, and there are loads out there, including:

  • Sports communities, such as the 5,000-strong group of cyclists, Dubai Roadsters.
  • Expat Woman holds regular meet-ups as well as hosting an active forum.
  • You can often find communities using social media, via Facebook – see the Expats Club.

An expat app, such as InterNations, can also help you meet like-minded internationals in the city. Apps such as Downtown Dubai or The Dubai Mall show you where to find the highlights of Dubai’s shopping and nightlife culture, while the Time Out Dubai app will make sure you don’t miss the best restaurants, music and events in the city.

What to expect from Dubai culture and lifestyle?
Read more

Your handy “moving to Dubai” checklist

Here’s a handy checklist to help you prepare for your big move to Dubai in 2021.

☐ Do you have an offer of employment?

☐ Has your employer sent you a copy of your employment contract, plus a no-objection letter? (you will need these to help you set up a bank account when you arrive.)

☐ Will your employer be covering your health insurance, or will you need to arrange this separately?

☐ Have you taken out an international health insurance policy to cover other members of your family?

☐ Have you ensured you are eligible for a UAE residency visa? Could your employer help you to apply for one?

☐ Have you found a place to live?

☐ If your property is unfurnished, have you found a company that can supply your home with essential furniture ahead of your arrival?

☐ Have you received your tenancy agreement as proof of address? (You will need this to do many other things like set up a bank account.)

☐ Have you asked your landlord or property manager to set up your home Wi-Fi ahead of your arrival?

☐ Have you calculated a budget that takes into account expenses such as rent, council and rental taxes plus other fees? (e.g. school fees)

☐ If you are migrating with children, have you arranged a place for them at an international school? Remember, waiting lists can be long.

☐ Do you have everything you need to set up a local bank account?

☐ Have you arranged to get a local SIM card for your mobile phone?

☐ Have you checked the local COVID-19 laws and made arrangements to undergo testing before you travel, or do you have proof of your vaccinations?

☐ Have you learned some basic Arabic phrases to help you get by in day-to-day life?

Silhouetted camels in the Arabian desert with the Dubai skyline sitting in the background / GETTY IMAGES

Moving to Dubai: do you need a job offer to get a visa?

Do I need a job offer to move to Dubai?

While you won’t necessarily need to be working in order to live in Dubai, it’s highly recommended you secure a job offer before jumping on the plane. Read our full guide on how to get a job abroad.

Not only will a job help you to pay the surprisingly high rents in Dubai, your employer will also be liable to cover the cost of your visa and medical insurance.

You will also need proof of employment in order to do many things locally, such as open a bank account.

There are many websites to help you find a job offer in Dubai, including GulfTalent, Dubai Jobs and Dubai Careers. Many companies also advertise positions in Dubai via international channels, so keep an eye on your usual jobs boards too. Our list of top international jobs for expats may help you with your search as well.

What visas do I need before I move to Dubai?

Before moving to Dubai, you’ll need to obtain a UAE residence visa to legally live in the city.

A residence visa is valid for two years if you work in the private sector, and three years in the public sector, and you should be able to renew it indefinitely.

Once you have your residence visa, you will then be able to open a bank account and obtain a driving licence, as well as sponsor the visa applications for your immediate family.

How do I get a UAE residence visa and how do I get visas for my family?

As an expat, you should check that the company that employs you is willing to sponsor your UAE residence visa and your work permit. You must have a health check before application, which will include a blood test and chest X-ray.

For your company to sponsor your application, you will need a passport valid for at least six months, recent colour photos, your medical test results and any additional proof of identity requested. If your company applies for you, you should receive your visa in two to three weeks. This may take slightly longer without employer sponsorship.

Once you have received your residence visa, you will be able to sponsor, and apply for, visas on your family’s behalf. Once they arrive, they will need an entry residence visa (usually free on entry), and you then have 30 days to attain their residence passport stamp.

In March 2016, laws regarding the visa application process changed, and you can now apply online, making the application process even easier. Visit amer.ae, the UAE government portal or download the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs of Dubai’s GDRFA Dubai app to guide you through the application process.

How much does it cost to get a visa for the UAE?

In terms of application fees, a refundable deposit of AED 5000 per person (around £982) is required, plus around AED 360 (around £70) for the visa itself and between AED 200-300 (around £39-£59) for medical tests.

More information on residence visas can be found here.

Dubai might be a playground for the international jet set but the biggest star is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world / GETTY IMAGES

Accommodation and cost of moving to Dubai in 2021

How much does it cost to move my possessions to Dubai?

Moving your personal items to any foreign country is not cheap, and because Dubai is located at the far end of the Arabian peninsula, it is almost impossible to move your items via van or truck.

Therefore, you will need to look into moving your possessions via air or sea. This can cost several thousand dollars, depending on the number of items you are bringing and the total weight.

Many expatriate families therefore prefer to rent their living spaces already fully-furnished, and many landlords in Dubai will allow you to choose this option.

Accommodation in Dubai

Dubai is a rapidly-growing city and, as such, there are always new properties coming onto the market. You won’t have to look far to find a residence to suit your tastes and, best of all, the cost of living is quite reasonable.

How do I get an apartment in Dubai?

Some companies will provide long term accommodation for you as part of your international transfer, while others may only offer a tenancy for a few months, or alternatively a living allowance.

What is the cost of living like in Dubai?

While living costs in Dubai are reasonable compared with other major cities, accommodation prices in the city centre are increasing and are even approaching London prices.

So, while lunch for two will cost around AED 150 (about £29 or US$40) and a monthly transport pass will cost AED 250 (about £49 or US$68), a one-bedroom flat in the city centre will cost around AED 7,324 (about £1,439 or US$1,994) a month.

The Burj overlooks the Dubai Fountain which attracts visitors from all over the city / GETTY IMAGES

Top tips for expats moving to Dubai:

  • Choose your location based on proximity to your job, or schools if you have children, as traffic congestion is a common problem. It is also worth noting that the accommodation in Dubai city centre and popular areas can be very expensive, which may limit your options.
  • While expats can be found in all areas of the city, Dubai Marina is seen by many as the best place to live as an expat, and Jumeirah or Umm Suqeim are well-suited to families. You may want to do some initial research into the different areas of Dubai before you move.
  • Additionally, it is worth noting that ‘traditionally’ accommodation is paid for up-front in one annual payment – which can come as a shock. Thankfully, landlords are becoming more flexible with different payment options.
  • Make sure you are aware of all fees and maintenance charges upfront, and factor-in additional utilities costs, as well as registering your tenancy online to make use of your full tenant’s rights.
  • Always ask your landlord whether the water from the taps in your accommodation is filtered or if you should buy bottled water.

How do I open a bank account in Dubai?

Opening a bank account in Dubai is not difficult, but you should make it your number one priority when you arrive.

To open a bank account, you will need five things:

  1. Your passport
  2. Proof of employment
  3. A no-objection letter from your employer stating your job role and salary
  4. Proof of address
  5. One form of local identification, such as an Emirates ID.

How do I pay taxes in Dubai?

To put it simply, you don’t!

Well, that’s not entirely true. But it is true that Dubai does not levy personal income or capital gains taxes. This counts for national citizens as well as foreign residents and expats.

However, you may still be subject to foreign taxation laws from your home country. For instance, if you live in Dubai for less than one full tax year (e.g. six months), you may have to pay income tax to your home country. Read our full guide on taxes for expats before you move to Dubai.

Instead of income tax, Dubai extracts tax in other ways. You will need to pay council tax and rental tax, which will add to your cost of living. VAT is charged on all purchases. Tourists will also have to pay a special tax, including a departure tax, so any visitors who stay with you will need to be ready for these expenses.

The Burj Khalifa is the ultimate symbol of Dubai's glitz, glamor and over-the-top excess / GETTY IMAGES

Healthcare and COVID-19 situation in Dubai

Expats will be delighted to know that Dubai has one of the best public healthcare systems in the world. The UAE is in the top 10 of the Bloomberg Health Care Efficiency index, so you can expect fast treatment.

Read more about Dubai healthcare system and a growing wellness trend in UAE.

Do I need health insurance in Dubai?

As of 1 January 2017, new visas will not be issued or renewed for Dubai residents unless they have health insurance. So, you need to think about the kind of health insurance you require when you are organising your visa.

By law, employers are now required to provide health insurance cover for their employees, so you may find that this has been arranged for you by your company before you arrive, along with your visa application and work permit.

Check what level of health insurance your employer offers. They may only offer the basic level of cover – known as an Essential Benefits Plan – which covers up to AED150,000 (about £29,478 or US$40,839) per person per annum. You may wish to arrange additional cover to provide additional benefits and higher limits.

Currently, Dubai employers do not have to provide cover for dependants and spouses, so you may need to arrange this yourself. It is worth checking policies that offer a family health insurance plan, as this may end up as a better option if your family is travelling with you.

Find out more about how to stay healthy in Dubai in 2021 and health services in Dubai.

Is it possible to have a
healthy diet in Dubai?

How did Dubai deal with the COVID-19 crisis?

The UAE had a mixed response to the coronavirus pandemic. On the one hand, they cracked down hard locally, with curfews designed to stop people mixing, censorship to stop the spread of misinformation online and testing for key workers.

The UAE was also quick to roll out vaccines to its population. By early April 2021, more than 50% of the population had received at least one dose of a vaccine. Read our guide on how to get a COVID vaccine as an expat.

However, on the other hand, the UAE did little to stop the flow of international visitors. In fact, in January 2021, while the virus ravaged other countries, Dubai was promoting itself as a tourist hotspot. This prompted local and international scorn, according to the Associated Press.

Dubai could be perfect for family with kids / GETTY IMAGES

Education and school system in Dubai

Like other countries, Dubai has both a public and private education sector. The public education system is open to all residents, however, lessons will typically be taught in Arabic with English as a second language.

Furthermore, all public schools will be gender segregated, so if you have children of different genders, they will need to attend different schools.

For this reason, many expatriate families prefer to send their children to one of the 140+ international schools in Dubai.

What is the international school system like in Dubai?

There are many private international schools in Dubai. Some schools follow the British education system, and teach the National Curriculum of England. Other schools follow the US, Indian or UAE public school syllabus, or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

There is also a local syllabus requirement in Dubai international schools, so your children will also have the opportunity to study Arabic and Islamic studies or UAE social studies.

Things to know before you choose a school for your children in Dubai:

  • The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) offers general guidance on choosing schools and applications. For example, it warns that schools, particularly primary schools, often have long waiting lists, so you should apply as soon as possible, and you may be able to apply online before leaving your home country.
  • Which School Advisor publishes the KHDA’s school rankings table each year, which is a useful resource to help you identify the school that will best suit your children and their needs.
  • During the application process, you will be asked for a copy of your child’s and parents’ passports and residence visas, a copy of the child’s birth certificate if their passport does not give the exact date of birth, eight passport-sized photographs, immunisation records, and attested certificates and/or transfer certificate. Each school will have its own application process, so you should check the school’s website for details. Source: Government of Dubai.
  • For Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, the academic year is from April to March. For all other curricula, it begins in September and ends in June or July.

The KHDA’s online school directory is also a source of inspection reports, programmes and curricula for each school.

The Burj Khalifa overlooks the Dubai Fountain, Burj Park, Downtown Dubai and the Dubai Mall / GETTY IMAGES

Finally…

Be prepared!

We hope this expat guide with a checklist arms you with the basic information and resources for your move to Dubai. To find out more get in touch with other expats and ask them about their experiences. The other articles in this guide are also a good place to start and may help you prepare for your new life in Dubai.

Find out more about life in Dubai.