Dubai is an extremely popular destination, both for holidaymakers as well as those looking for an exotic location to add a touch of spice to their lives.
For many who take the leap-of-faith in moving to a country whose culture and way of life likely differs a great deal from back “home,” excitement and adventure are foremost in their minds.
Dubai’s reputation as a city of glamour and glitz is well known, but what many do not know is that, like in any big city, Dubai has its fair share of bureaucratic red tape and complex (sometimes ridiculous) procedures that can make accomplishing a simple task require days and multiple trips.
Hence, what starts off as enthusiasm and excitement can quickly turn into frustration and bewilderment.
Below, we have put together 8 essential tips to ease the transition and ‘settling-in’ period so grab a cup of tea and read on!
1. Get Your Documentation in Order
There are plenty of procedures and processes that need to be followed in Dubai to get a residency visa, and this will require lots of documentation – much of which is accepted only if attested from your country of origin. The most common documents are:
- Educational Degree Certificates including any courses, diplomas, etc. – attested in home country
- Professional Qualification Certificates
- Marriage Certificate – attested in home country
- Divorce Certificate – if applicable
- Original passport with more than 6 months validity and at least one full empty page for your visa
- Original passports for all family members with same conditions as above
- Birth Certificate for all family members – attested in home country
- Original driver’s license from home country (if possible, get an international driver’s license, which will allow you to drive immediately until your local license is processed)
- School records for all children including a School Transfer or School Leaving Certificate dated within 3 months of joining the new school
- Medical records/dental records – these are not always required, but bring them along in case they are needed for insurance or other purposes
- Passport size photos – keep at least two dozen of these, as they will be required everywhere
- Keep photocopies of all the above documents – keep 5 sets ready so that they are available on hand as and when required
2. Knowledge is Power
Every new country will have some surprises in store for newcomers. A country like Dubai is no exception, and expats are bound to experience culture shock to some extent as life here is so very different for most expats.
Culture shock can hit several days, weeks, or even months after the move, once the realization has set in that Dubai is now home for an extended period of time. For some, this can lead to depression or an attack of the blues.
This is normal; dealing with culture shock is learning to realize that things are not necessarily worse than they were back home, just different. Arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible about Dubai prior to leaving your home country can go a long way in helping to understand the different culture here.
There are plenty of books and forums that have a treasure trove of information to help you better understand the local culture and people. The main thing to remember is that the UAE is a Muslim country, and the influence of religion pervades every aspect of life here – from outdoor activities to dress code and social norms.
Emiratis, local UAE nationals, are proud of their heritage and culture, and the quickest way for an expat to settle down here is to embrace the culture and respect it, rather than comparing with life back home.
3. Know How Much Money to Bring With You
Dubai is certainly not a “backpacker” kind of place where you can land up, get a part-time job, and find cheap accommodation to tide you through.
To ensure that your move here is as stress-free as possible, some serious financial planning should be looked at to ensure that you have enough money to tide you through the first month (if you have already procured a job), or for at least three months if you are on a visit visa and looking for a job (that is typically how long it takes to get a job).
It is rare to be able to set up a bank account without a residence visa, so take this into account as well. The typical average monthly cost for one month for one adult is given below. This cost may vary based on individual lifestyle and preferences, but assumes temporary accommodation in a good area and rental of a basic sedan.
- Accommodation (short term studio) – 7,000AED
- Food & Drink – 3,000 AED
- Car Hire – 1,800 AED
- Phone – 500 AED
- Sundries – 500 AED
This works out to approximately AED 13,000 per month. Funds can be brought into the country in a number of ways. If you prefer to leave your funds in your home country, you can use any of Dubai’s numerous ATMs or banks to withdraw your cash.
There are tons of exchange houses where foreign currency can be exchanged. The dollar is pegged to the dirham at the rate of AED 3.65 to USD 1, so bring dollars, if possible, so you don’t incur losses during the exchange.
4. Get an International Driving License
Dubai is not a pedestrian friendly city, and being able to get around quickly and efficiently is essential, especially in the early days when you are settling down.
Several formalities will need to be completed, and for this, driving your own car can make life a whole lot more convenient. Consider getting an international driving permit from your home country for the initial settlement period, although once you get your residence visa, you will need to apply for a UAE driver’s license.
Residents from 33 countries may be able to automatically convert their existing license to a UAE license without the need for taking a driving test. Click here for more information on this.
5. Research Education Options in Dubai
If you are planning to move to Dubai with family, start looking for schools as early as you can, since many of the more reputable schools will typically have long waiting lists.
Research several different options before you pay the administrative and registration fees (which are non-refundable). You can compare school fees as well as board ratings on the Souqalmal website.
Make sure you take into account travel distance from your proposed area of residence to the school, as rush hour traffic in Dubai can be a real nightmare. Also account for the fact that if both parents are working, alternative arrangements will need to be made for getting your child to and from school, as schools start and end earlier in the UAE.
Even if you have a nanny, it is very rare for nannies in Dubai to drive, so take this into account as well.
6. Have Accommodations Arranged
It is essential to have this planned before you arrive in Dubai. The real estate market in Dubai is constantly changing, and rents as well as property prices fluctuate with the market. If you are moving with kids, or even getting here before your family, it is essential to have a place to stay BEFORE you get here, even if it is temporary accommodation.
Some companies do provide accommodation based on your position and salary package, but many just provide an allowance, and it is up to you to find your own place. When looking for a place to live, consider that Dubai rush-hour traffic is usually horrendous, and being stuck in traffic everyday can be extremely frustrating.
Having said that, it is not always possible to live right next to where you work or your child’s school due to budget considerations, but a 20-30 minute drive is quite acceptable in Dubai traffic. The Expat Woman website has an excellent guide on different areas in Dubai to live in. Take a look at this page, do your research, and get your accommodation sorted before arrival in Dubai.
7. Open a Bank Account
Get your finances in order by setting up a bank account as soon as possible. You can open up a non-resident account in some banks even before you get your visa, but these accounts are usually restricted to savings/deposit accounts.
To open up a current/checking account for regular use, you will need to have your residence visa. There are plenty of local and international banks offering a wide variety of services, including repatriation of funds, check book, credit/debit card services, and offshore accounts.
Look at things like service charges, branch locations, and number of ATMs before making your decision, as this can make getting money on short notice quick and efficient.
Local banks tend to have many branches and ATM locations all across the country, whereas international banks will usually have much fewer, more select locations. Checks are still the norm in the UAE, and are used often – particularly for payments like rent, school fees, and car rentals.
Get used to writing post-dated checks, as these are commonly used here. Also remember to have sufficient funds in your account when writing a check, as a bounced check is a criminal offence under UAE law, so be very careful!
8. Get Social
It is easy to get bogged down with family and work, but connecting with other people is an absolute must if you are to start feeling at home in Dubai. There are few better “blues” busters than meeting with friends over a coffee or hanging out with a friend at a mall.
An excellent website where you can look for groups of people with shared interests is Meet Up. There are hiking, biking, knitting, photography, and a host of other groups to help you find like-minded people. Friends can go a long way in making a new place quickly feel like home.