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William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - Dubai Marina view

Thinking of upping sticks and relocating to the oasis paradise of Dubai in UAE? Dubai is a city that within a short period of time has become a very attractive destination for global business, residents and visitors (and not only because of absolutely zero income tax). 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? And how to get the infamous Dubai ‘remote work’ visa? If you are currently planning a move to Dubai, or considering moving and living 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 and living there.

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

Moving to Dubai, UAE 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 British and other 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. Tourism accounts for about 11.5 per cent of Dubai’s GDP, compared with a Middle East average of 8.9 per cent, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. 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. The pandemic hit the economy hard in Dubai, but now getting back on its feet.

What is living in Dubai, UAE like as a British expat?

Around 1.5 million British nationals visit the UAE every year. The UAE has historically been a popular tourism and business destination for the UK, with more than 5,000 British businesses and 120,000 British citizens living in the country.

As a British expat in Dubai, you can usually expect to enjoy a high salary that will open the door to lots of life’s luxuries. However, the UAE is a Muslim country. Laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.

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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

Before you decide to book a flight to Dubai, you need to double check UK government advice as currently UAE is in the amber list countries.

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.

William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - Dubai at night
Dubai at night / GETTY IMAGES

Living in Dubai as an expat: is it safe?

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. Expats comprise 92 per cent of Dubai’s population.

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.

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Your handy “moving to Dubai” checklist


  • ☐ 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

The job market and visa requirements for expats in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates is one of the richest countries in the world and one of the most loyal to foreigners. Eight out of ten jobs in the country are held by expats. The state actively promotes the creation of new jobs. Only through the World Expo in 2021-2022 it is planned to open 270,000 new vacancies.

Do I need a job offer to move to Dubai and live there?

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.

Where do I look for a job in Dubai?

There are many websites to help you find a job offer in Dubai, including GulfTalent, Dubai Jobs and Dubai Careers. Recruitment agencies. The easiest and most common option is to contact a recruiting agency. For example, Global Vision, Work Emirates, Perun, Jetexpo. The agency will advise on the following issues:

  • list of in-demand specialties
  • salary range
  • conditions for obtaining a visa and employment.

The cost of the services of such agencies is from $ 200 to $ 1,000. In some cases, the money spent is returned by the employer.

Many companies also advertise positions in Dubai via international channels, so keep an eye on your usual jobs boards too.

What are the popular industries in Dubai? Which jobs are in demand now?

The UAE is often associated with the oil and gas industry, but the country’s government is doing a lot to develop tourism. At the same time, only expats work in the service and maintenance sector. The positions are very different: bartenders, waiters, cooks, sales consultants, administrators, realtors, stewards and flight attendants.

In addition, it will be easier to find a job in the UAE for specialists with higher education, whose profession is on the list of in-demand. Our list of top international jobs for expats may help you with your search as well. At the moment, according to research by Linkedin, these are: IT specialists, doctors, teachers, builders, experienced sales managers, marketers, financiers, HR specialists.

What is the corporate culture and salary like in Dubai?

The working day lasts an average of 8 hours. In tourism and service enterprises, the working day is sometimes 9 hours. The work week starts on Sunday. Weekends are Friday and Saturday. The average vacation is 30 days a year.

After the probationary period and upon successful hiring, you or the employer have the right to terminate the contract by notifying the other party one month in advance. If the contract is terminated by an employee who has not yet worked for a year, the company may demand reimbursement of the costs of your employment (paperwork, air tickets, etc.).

There is no official minimum wage in the UAE. The estimated income level depends on many factors, including qualifications, experience, education, nationality and specific company.

The average salary in the UAE in 2021 is about $4,000-5,000 per month. A maid or nanny can receive $200–800, and an aircraft pilot can receive $8,000–13,000.

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What visas do I need before I move to Dubai?

You can choose between work or residence visa.

Employment in the UAE is possible only with a work visa. Good news: You can look for work and discuss moving while staying in the country as a tourist. To obtain a work visa, the employer sends the documents of the future employee to the UAE Immigration Service: original passport, photographs, certified diploma and contract.

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. Visa processing takes about a month. Together with the resident visa, the employee receives a plastic ID-card (identity card). The resident visa is cancelled upon termination of the employment contract, but within 29 calendar days the candidate can legally stay in the country to look for a new job.

Dubai “remote work” visa

Dubai has also launched a ‘remote work’ visa programme. The programme allows you to travel to Dubai and stay there for up to a year working as a self-employed or for your employer abroad.

You can rent a house in Dubai, have access to Dubai schools if you have children, utilities, and basically live like a local. You are officially allowed to work. However, you are not allowed to get a job in Dubai.

The application will cost you $287, plus you need to have health insurance in Dubai.

Why you shouldn’t work illegally in the UAE?

Illegal employment in the UAE is fraught with risks for both parties. The punishment for the employer is a prison sentence of 2 months and a fine of up to $82,000. The consequences for the employee are also very unpleasant – arrest for 2-3 months, deportation, a fine of $27 for each day of illegal stay in the country.

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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.

Can I retire in Dubai?

Yes, starting from September 2020 Dubai expat residents can apply for the “retire in Dubai” scheme.

Under this scheme, eligible residents aged 55 and over can apply for a retirement visa that would be renewable every five years.

To be eligible, you must meet one of the three requirements:

  1. You must earn a monthly income of 20,000 dirhams ($5,500);
  2. Or you must have savings of 1 million dirhams;
  3. Or own a property in Dubai worth 2 million dirhams.

To start with, the program will focus on residents working in Dubai who have reached retirement age.

Applicants must have valid UAE health insurance.

William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - burj-khalifa-dubai
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 living & moving to Dubai in 2021

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.

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.

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.

How much does it cost to rent an apartment in Dubai in 2021?

As demand for housing fell in 2021 due to Covid, so did rents. In the last six months of 2020, the average rental price in Dubai dropped 12 per cent year-on-year, according to estate agency Knight Frank. The cost of accommodation can be as much as GBP 15,000 a year for a decent rental apartment in a good location and this has to be paid upfront.

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How much does it cost to buy a house in Dubai in 2021?

The average property price in Dubai is now 32 per cent below its 2014 peak, although there has been a small increase in the past six months, according to data from Knight Frank. As in other global cities, the pandemic has increased demand for larger homes and those with outdoor space — and reduced it for smaller properties. The average price of a home sold for more than $1m increased 5.3 per cent in the three months to June, compared with a year earlier.

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.

William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - burj-khalifa-dubai
The Burj overlooks the Dubai Fountain which attracts visitors from all over the city / GETTY IMAGES

Taxes and finance (bank accounts) in Dubai if you are an expat

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.

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.
William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - burj-khalifa-dubai-at-night
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?

The company always pays for the employee’s health insurance. 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.

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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.

William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - burj-khalifa-dubai
The Burj Khalifa overlooks the Dubai Fountain, Burj Park, Downtown Dubai and the Dubai Mall / GETTY IMAGES

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.

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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.

William Russell - Blog - A Checklist for Moving and Living in Dubai in 2021 - family with kids in Dubai
Dubai could be perfect for family with kids / GETTY IMAGES

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.

Finally…

Be prepared if you’re thinking of moving abroad.

Here are our 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.

There is a clear move to try and get expats more invested in the economy rather than viewing being in Dubai as a temporary stay. We hope this expat guide with a checklist arms you with the basic information and resources for your move to Dubai. Whenever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of international health insurance. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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