You live in Dubai? Wow! What’s it like? It must be like living in a dream.
Actually, for myself, and all the people I know and mix with, living in Dubai is, well, normal.
We get up and go to our workplaces five or maybe five and a half days each week and we engage in a variety of recreational activities in our spare time and on the weekends.
These activities may be no more exotic than getting up a bit later than the days of the working week, spending longer over breakfast, and maybe having a second coffee and deciding if the weather is too hot to do anything outdoorsy.
If it is too hot, do I want to re-watch the whole first series of “Mad Men”, or “Game of Thrones”, with breaks to graze from the cupboards or the refrigerator, as the urge requires. If it is a bit cooler, perhaps a swim and a picnic somewhere. And the days fly by, normally.
Oh come on! That’s being a bit ingenuous, isn’t it?
All right, yes it is. Fair cop! The point is that living and working as an expat in Dubai all too quickly normalizes the extraordinary. We forget about the smallish houses we used to live in, the age (and size) of the cars we used to drive, the furniture and trappings we used to live amongst. And all the above, Dubai-style, become the new “normal”.
You can have pretty much any car you want, brand new off the shop floor in Dubai. You’ll probably have to take a car-loan from your bank, if you’re fresh off the plane and as a new customer, the bank will probably be a bit cautious about how much they’re prepared to loan you for a car, but in general, you can usually expect to be offered around twenty times your monthly income, repaid over five years.
So if you’re earning AED 25000, then you could be good for up to AED 500,000. That’s not quite enough for a Lamborghini Aventador, but it will comfortably buy all the top of the range Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, Audis and Lexuses.
This mythical figure of AED 25000 per month is not an indication of a suitable salary. It all depends on your qualifications, experience and field. It is used for estimate purposes only. Always aim for more!
The same grandness of scale applies to housing. A one bedroom flat in a top apartment block in the Dubai Marina is usually around 800 square feet, or 74 square metres. In some countries I am familiar with, family-sized, three-bedroom homes are not too much bigger than this.
So you can see that what amazed you at first can all too quickly morph into “normal”.
So keep your eyes on the prize…
To be sure, apart from the size of the housing, we don’t all live as I have described above. Indeed, the people I work and mix with frown upon that kind of gross conspicuous consumption. But we all know cases of the expat who was ten years in Dubai, earning a good salary and at the end of his stint he was just as broke as when he arrived.
Dubai-normal usually includes a savings plan and an exit strategy. You wouldn’t uproot yourselves from family, friends and familiar surroundings unless there was a powerful inducement, either on the career front or salary to do so.
When you leave, you expect to have achieved one or two major goals in relation to your resettlement elsewhere or maybe even your retirement. And that requires embracing Dubai normal.
OK, what can you do then?
You can have fabulous holidays, for starters. I have always been able to count on not being in the UAE for the worst of the summer months. There are also the two religious festivals, the Eids, which are usually good for a week plus the weekends each side.
Dubai is a terrific hub to fan out to the rest of the world from. The five days of a working week plus weekends at either end makes pretty much any destination in Europe or nearer Asia perfectly sensible choices for a holiday of this length.
If you are employed in the private sector in Dubai, you have an annual leave entitlement and you’ll be able to take advantage of off-peak times for travel, when fares and accommodation costs can be quite a bit cheaper than at times when half the population of the UAE seems to travelling or holidaying.
What about ordinary weekends?
Well, when the weather allows it (and that’s from November through to the end of February), city life in Dubai has a lot to recommend it. And no, I don’t mean endless mall-trawling, followed by Jumeirah strip lunches amidst the perennial ladies who lunch down Jumeirah way. Dubai has plenty of extremely pleasant outdoor spaces where you can enjoy the good weather virtually free.
Take, for example, the public parks – Safa, the Creek Park, al Mamzar Park and Zabeel, to name but a few. At weekends, they’re full of people taking advantage of the lovely weather in the months mentioned above, picnicking, playing games with their children and just enjoying each other’s company.
There is a market in Zabeel Park each Friday (the first day of the weekend) in the cooler months. It offers organic vegetables and a variety of stalls. It is a popular spot for families.
Then there are the areas close to the sea. You can walk, you can sit, and you can have a coffee and think about plans. You’re surrounded by all the trappings of luxury, but you don’t have to pay exclusive golf club fees to be part of them.
And you can always get away from it all
There’s no shortage of outdoor activities of a more physical nature that you can do and join in with. Mountain-biking, road cycling, rock-climbing and many more. They might require you to go an hour or so away from the heart of Dubai and even into nearby Emirates, but on a Friday morning especially, there is so little traffic on the roads that the travelling is no hardship.
Read more about the “extreme sport” and more gentle outdoor sporting options in Dubai TimeOut here.
But it can’t all be free or very cheap, can it?
No, of course not; this is Dubai, after all. However, a sensible part of living Dubai normal is to budget for a few of the costlier recreational activities. So how much to allocate?
Well, given that you’ve got certain fixed costs that have to be met, for sure, like rent, utilities, car loan payments, the weekly shopping bill, holidays, long term savings and maybe a few others, it probably can’t be too much more than 5% of total household income.
If there’s just one of you working, then (assuming that income of AED 25K per month) your discretionary recreational spending allowance is AED1250 per month. It’s good enough for a couple of decent outings.
Where? And What? That’s up to you, but you could start with a Friday Brunch, or golf (always an expensive option in Dubai, but you can take advantage of special offers and have 18 holes for AED 510 per player), a night at the Dubai Jazz Festival, watching Federer, Djokovic and Serena Williams at the Dubai Tennis Stadium and many, many more.
You can’t have them all on the budget above, but you can certainly have some. Then there’s next month.
So Dubai normal doesn’t have to mean Dubai dull, does it?