This is a choice that faces some expats coming to live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Luckily, or unluckily for me it was not a choice I had to make. My job came with accommodation and when I tried to turn down the housing, I was told that was not possible.
Things have changed even in my field and now I have colleagues who can choose to live wherever they like. The only ones that have chosen to live in Sharjah have done so due to expediency i.e. it is cheaper to live in Sharjah than Dubai on the whole.
Cost of Housing
Costs vary depending on what you want. You can get a 3000 sq. ft. flat in the center of Sharjah near the creek for AED 150,000 a year or less; this will be a spacious, 3-4 bedroom apartment. It will have tiled floors and may have a large balcony.
But, the build quality could leave a lot to be desired; tiles may chip easily, taps leak, air-conditioning breaks down or operates noisily and the outside windows will probably only be washed twice a year. No, you cannot wash them yourself, as it would simply be too dangerous.
As for the balcony, due to the way noise rises, you will never sit out on it. The heat and dust will feature in this decision, and it may not even be suitable for putting your washing out to dry. Oops, I forgot. It’s Sharjah, there is an ordinance that prohibits you putting your washing outside to dry, so that’s the last chance the balcony had to be useful well and truly scuppered.
Another issue with older apartments of the kind described above is that they tend to have small windows. This means that when you sit down, you cannot see outside. So, if you are looking for an apartment in Sharjah, you would be wiser to concentrate on the apartments in newer buildings. These have floor to ceiling windows with panoramic views in the main rooms.
However, due to the building regulations in Sharjah allowing for buildings to be plonked close together, you could have a panoramic view of the next building. In the Al Khan area, you might be able to find a 2-bedroom apartment, still a large 1,900 sq. ft. for as little as AED 87,000 a year. It will be newer and may be of better build quality.
All these buildings have security guards and maintenance men. How well they do their jobs varies. But when you go to look at the apartment, take note of how clean the public areas and lift are. This is a clear indicator of how responsive the maintenance men will be to any issues you have.
The building regulations are a little more sensible in Dubai, and apart from the older buildings on Sheik Zayed Road which are crammed together, there does tend to be a little more space between buildings and more consideration given to parking needs than in Sharjah where parking can be a nightmare.
Recently, buildings have been required to include parking spaces, but there are plenty of older buildings in the center of Sharjah and the older parts of Deira in Dubai with no parking at all apart from what you can happen upon in the street.
There are still relatively inexpensive apartments available in older parts of Deira and in the newly built, or should I say building, suburb of Al Waqaa. Both offer spacious rooms. But in Deira, the crammed buildings make the rooms gloomy with no view. In Al Waqaa, the on-going building means that there is sand and dust in the air constantly. It is like living in a building site.
Traffic Implications of Sharjah vs Dubai
So that is the housing situation, but there are other things to consider. If you live in Sharjah and work in Sharjah this next problem will not be a major issue. But if you live in Sharjah and work in Dubai, you will spend at least two hours a day in slow moving traffic. The frustration this will bring to your life needs to be taken into account.
As I write this, one main road between Dubai and Sharjah is being widened for the third time in ten years, and it will be only marginally up to the task when this is finished. This road used to be called Emirates Road but is now called Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Road.
I call it the 311 to be sure I am understood, as the Outer Ring Road that goes past Sharjah on its way to Dubai is now called the Emirates Road. You can see there is room for confusion, so I call this ring road the 611. These are their legitimate numbers and are not subject to change.
Along with the traffic problems morning and night, the 311 can be rendered impassable if there is an accident of any significance. There are several accidents a day; some are just what is called “normal damage” and are quickly resolved at the side of the road frequently with the aid of a police car.
Others are more spectacular and can bring five lanes of cars to a crawl for several hours. I had never had an accident until I came here. In the last 10 years my 4×4, I am not willing to take to the roads in anything smaller, has been hit from behind four times.
Leisure Options In Sharjah or Dubai
What about leisure time? There is little to do in Sharjah. The beach is not exactly inviting. If you decide to go swimming, you will be in the minority. Most people use it to walk along or to picnic beside.
However, it is easy to get to Al Mamzar Park, which is a rather lovely beach park just over the border in Dubai. Alternatively, you could drive just over the border in the other direction to Ajman and pay the day-pass price to spend a day on the groomed beach at the Kempinski Hotel.
There are a few museums and a rather nice old souq built with dead coral and concrete the way many traditional houses used to be built. These will occupy you for a weekend or two at the most. The Blue Souk used to be a great place to buy carpets, but as I found out a few weeks ago, many of the carpets shops have closed. It is still better than Dubai for a bargain if you know how to haggle – gently and patiently.
I can only think of one restaurant that is worth discussing, Sanobar, and it is a very homely place at the end of Al Khan Road, near the beach, but not on the beach. There are three shopping malls, with movie theaters, supermarkets and shops, but they are insignificant in comparison to the malls in Dubai.
There are so many great restaurants in Dubai, it is hard to know where to go. It is a shopper’s paradise, although the bargains are not available the way they used to be. You can ski, ice-skate, bungee jump, horse-ride and sail if you have the cash.
I have lived on the edge of Sharjah for 10 years, but Sharjah is moving out to surround me and I am aware that it is time for me to leave. If I want to go to a mall or a restaurant, buy groceries or clothes, I go to Dubai. If I time it right, it only takes 30 minutes to drive there. If I miscalculate, it takes 90 minutes each way.
I know from experience, I can get from the far side of Dubai to Sharjah in 25 minutes at peak times going against the traffic. Ultimately, you have to decide based on what is most important to you.