Moving to a new location can be a trying time, both emotionally as well as physically, especially if the move involves family. Dubai’s culture and way of life is vastly different from that of Western cultures, making it difficult for some expats from these regions to settle into life in the emirate. As an American tourist or an American moving to Dubai for work, life experiences in this city of extremes is often completely different from what most Americans are used to back home. Below are a few tips on what to expect to help you best prepare for a move to Dubai from the US.
- US citizens who intend to visit the UAE for 30 days or less do not need to apply for a visa prior to arrival in the country – they can get a tourist visa on arrival at the airport. For those who intend to reside or work in the UAE, a visa must be applied for before travel to the country. A full medical exam is mandatory for residence and work permit approvals and this exam does include an HIV/AIDS test. This test must be taken in the country itself after arrival; HIV/AIDS testing done in the US will not be accepted. The UAE has imposed travel restrictions for those that test positive for either HIV or AIDS; this has, in many cases, resulted in deportation or detention.
- Although the UAE and the US are reliable allies and the UAE condemns Islamic extremism in any form, US citizens living or working in the UAE are advised to be alert against acts of terrorism against US citizens. Check the US Department of State website for the latest travel alerts for Dubai and the UAE.
- Dubai is nine hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time during the winter months and eight hours ahead when Daylight Saving Time kicks in during the summer months.
- The local currency of the UAE is the Dirham (AED/Dh) and the exchange rate hovers at around 1USD = 3.6AED. The US dollar is pegged in the UAE, meaning this rate remains steady irrespective of market fluctuations. For the latest exchange rates, use the currency converter on the Oanda website
- The work week in Dubai is from Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday making up the weekend for most businesses and companies.
- The UAE’s country code is 971; the area code for Dubai is (0)4. Mobile numbers in Dubai begin with either (0)50 or (0)55. Outgoing international calls have to be dialed with a 00 followed by the country code and phone number.
- The Dubai International Airport (DXB) is one of the busiest in the world with direct flights from Atlanta, New York and Houston. Other flights originating from the US usually arrive via London.
- In Dubai, people drive on the right hand side of the road. Speeds on most major highways are 120 kph (75mph). Abusive language, showing another driver the finger or other offensive behavior that points to road rage can land you in jail with deportation in extreme cases. Alternate forms of public transport are available – the Dubai Metro connects most major areas of Dubai while taxis are plentiful and quite a bit cheaper when compared to the US.
- The weather in Dubai fluctuates between extremely hot and humid in the scorching summer months and pleasant during the short winter months from November to February. Sun-screen and sunglasses are essential throughout the year and most Americans would benefit from a straw hat or a baseball cap when touring the city.
Opening a Bank Account
Opening a bank account in Dubai is fairly simple, as long as you are able to provide the necessary documents which typically include a copy of the passport with a residence stamp, a no-objection certificate from the legal sponsor or employer and valid ID proof. Some banks may also ask for the tenancy agreement as address proof and additional photographs. Expats working in Dubai are required to have a salary account; most expats who remit money home on a regular basis also open up a Foreign Currency Account where the local currency is converted into widely used global currencies such as the US Dollar and the UK Pound. A list of commercial banks and their offices can be found here.
TV and Satellite
The Dubai government has recognized TV as a major source of entertainment and news for expats living here and as such Dubai residents have the choice of several international and local satellite channels provided through a variety of competing cable companies. Of these E-vision (a subsidiary of Etisalat) and OSN are the most popular for broadcasting English shows. E-vision also provides combination phone and internet offers through its Elife package.
Telephone and Internet
The telecom industry in Dubai and the UAE is very advanced, connecting users to the rest of the world through a range of mediums such as cell phones, telephones and the internet. Previously, Etisalat was the major service provider, claiming a monopoly in the telecommunications industry. However, with the advancement in the mobile sector, other companies such as Du are proving to be tough competitors. To get a fixed landline number, relevant documents including a passport copy with the residency stamp, tenancy contract and salary certificate are required. Once these documents are submitted to your local Du or Etisalat service provider, a phone line can be set up in a day or two. Getting a mobile number is equally easy and efficient – the above documents as well as a one year renewable contract with the initial fee are required to be submitted at any of the service provider offices. Paying phone bills is very quick and convenient and can be set up through bank transfers, check payments, payments at ATM machines or via a registered credit card.
Internet services in the UAE are quite advanced and many people use the internet for communication as well as for online transactions. Etisalat and Du are the major service providers and offer a variety of combination packages for mobile, internet and landline services that can work out to be significantly more cost effective.
Water and Electricity
The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) supplies water to Dubai residents and charges a monthly fee for water, electricity, sewage and housing fee (5% of the yearly rent divided into 12 monthly installments). These fees appear on a utility bill that is sent to the residence monthly and can also be registered and paid for online. Setting up a DEWA connection requires a fully refundable deposit that varies with the type of usage and accommodation – however, it is essential to keep the deposit receipt in a safe place to claim your deposit upon cancellation or transfer of the connection. Monthly utility bills can vary widely depending upon whether the house has a garden or a pool. Bills are significantly higher during the summer months where air conditioning is a necessity as temperature can soar over the 50 degree mark.
Taxes for US citizens in Dubai
US citizens or green card holders who live and work in Dubai are still obligated to file tax returns back in the USA. Failure to file taxes can result in the imposition of very harsh penalties and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has become very strict in auditing Americans living overseas. It is highly advisable to use the services of a professional tax consultant as tax situations can be made complex by overseas earnings or marriage to non-US nationals. The Angloinfo website is a great resource for tax laws for American expatriates.
Cost of Living in Dubai
There is no fixed answer as to how much it costs to live in Dubai. This varies widely with the preferences and lifestyle of individuals. Accommodation is a major contributor to expenses with other expenses including schooling and food. Eating out can significantly raise monthly expenses; fortunately there are a host of dining places in Dubai that cater to many different budgets.
A final note on the cultural differences between the UAE and US is essential for American expats who intend to make Dubai their home. While Dubai is by far the least conservative of cities in the Middle East region, it is still governed by Islamic law and public overtures of affection are frowned upon and in, extreme cases, punishable by law. Loose cotton clothing which covers the knees and elbows would not only protect the skin from the harsh sun, but is also in keeping with the cultural sensitivities of the region. While strappy tops and skirts are widely worn in many of Dubai’s social hotspots, revealing clothing should be reserved for such social hangouts where it is acceptable. Never point your camera at an Arab woman, even if you don’t intend to take a picture of her, as she will likely be highly offended by this.
Dubai is a wonderful mix of Eastern and Western cultures and Americans who decide to come here to live should do so with an open mind and a sense of adventure in experiencing a culture that is vastly different from their own.