Top 10 Tips for Living in Dubai
Chances are you’ve moved to Dubai for the same reasons as everybody else; the opportunity to move a few rungs up the career ladder, to enjoy a better lifestyle thanks to your tax-free earnings, year-round sunshine and low crime levels.
Moving to a foreign country however can be overwhelming under the best circumstances. The team at Expat Echo Dubai has compiled a list of top 10 tips for living in Dubai to help you adjust to your new home and make sense of the social quirks, local traditions and taboos.
While Dubai is far more liberal than some of its neighbours and the majority of the population is made up of expatriates, it’s important to be sensitive to Islamic culture. Armed with our good advice and careful planning, Expat Echo Dubai will get you settled and adjusted in no time.
1. Learn a few handy words or phrases
Whilst Arabic is the official language Dubai is effectively bilingual – road signs, maps and daily newspapers are in English, and most Emiratis speak the language well. Meeting your hosts halfway is the least that you can do, the look of sheer delight on a local’s face when they hear you speaking their language makes it so worthwhile. For those wanting to become fluent in Arabic there are a number of places offering courses.
2. Know where to get help
In case of emergency familiarize yourself with the numbers to call for the police, ambulance, fire brigade and coast guard. Both government and private hospitals operate in Dubai, all have an emergency department and are generally open 24 hours. Make a note of which hospitals are within close proximity to your home. Medical insurance is a must if living in Dubai. Keep handy the contact details for your nearest embassy or consulate, so you can call on your fellow countrymen to provide consular assistance.
3. Be sensitive to Islamic culture
Islam is ever present and you will soon become accustomed to the sound of the call to prayer from neighboring mosque’s loudspeakers. Muslims pray five times each day facing Mecca and it is not uncommon to see people praying by the side of the road, while there are prayer rooms for Muslims at most shopping centers and at the airport. Avoid walking in front of anyone praying, and try not to stare. There are many days each year commemorating aspects of Islam and most result in a public holiday.
4. Dress modestly and sensibly
Men and women should dress sensibly. Swim wear should be reserved for the beach or swimming pool and beach-goers should be aware that topless sunbathing and nudity are prohibited. Loose modest clothing is recommended where revealing clothing is likely to draw unwanted attention. Women don’t have to wear a veil or cover their shoulders, but should keep in mind local sensibilities when dressing, particularly if visiting crowded public places such as souks or shopping malls. You should also dress more conservatively during the holy month of Ramadan.
5. Local traditions and customs should be respected
When it comes to public displays of affection, anything more than a kiss on the cheek may offend those around you and may get you in trouble. It is technically illegal for unmarried or unrelated members of the opposite sex to live together. However, it is generally allowed if you don’t draw attention to yourselves. Homosexuality is illegal in Dubai. Making rude hand gestures or shouting foul language can lead to arrests. Cooking up pork in a public place is a no-no however pork is served in many restaurants and supermarkets generally have a discreet pork section. Men are advised not to offer their hand to an Emirati woman to shake however if she offers her hand to you, a shake is acceptable.
6. Take heed of the strict laws against illegal drugs
There is a zero tolerance policy towards recreational drugs and some medications readily available over the counter or by prescription in your home country may be illegal in Dubai. Penalties for possession or use of illegal drugs include imprisonment and heavy fines. The presence of illegal drugs detected in blood or urine tests is considered possession. You may also be charged with possessing drugs if trace amounts are found on your body, clothing or luggage.
7. Adapt to driving in Dubai
Driving occurs on the right-hand side in Dubai therefore you should give way to your left but unfortunately it is not uncommon to see cars overtake from both sides. Driving standards are generally poor, people lack lane discipline, fail to observe safe driving distances from other cars and seem to view indicating as optional. The best advice is to practice driving on the vast roundabouts and 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road early Friday morning when at their most serene. For many countries you can simply swap your existing licence for a UAE equivalent once you receive your residence visa. A happy alternative to driving in Dubai can be found in the Dubai Metro, abras (water taxis), buses and extensive fleet of taxis that can be found anywhere in the emirate.
8. Apply for a liquor licence
Residents are required to have a liquor licence to legally consume and purchase alcohol in Dubai. You can consume alcohol at licensed bars and restaurants (usually within hotels) and some sporting venues. If you have a liquor licence you can buy alcohol from designated outlets and consume it at home. Prepare for alcohol to be more expensive than you are used to as it incurs heavy taxes. Do not drink outside of licenced premises or be seen to be intoxicated in public. Never drink and drive, not even one drink. If even a trace of alcohol is found in your blood stream and you are behind the wheel, you can face criminal charges.
9. Stay in contact with friends and family
When loved ones want to reach you in Dubai, they’ll have to dial the international country code +971 and then the landline area code 4 for Dubai followed by your number. You can register for telephone, TV and internet services for your new home through DU or Etisalat, the regions only telecom companies. Registering for a mobile phone SIM (with either provider) is fairly simple with pre-paid plans and post-paid billing options. Mail is delivered to a PO Box address and for convenience, many simply give their work PO Box details for bills and correspondence, but it is possible to rent your own.
10. Make the most of your experience living in Dubai
Let the fun begin. Dubai has it all from vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches and the best water sports, and shopping malls that boast brilliant attractions like indoor ski parks. The official weekend is Friday and Saturday so don’t forget to sample some of the city’s Friday brunches, as well as the shisha bars, homely pubs, water parks and aquariums, luxury spas and much more. Buy the Entertainer which acts as restaurant and activity guide providing 2-for-1 incentives to the best restaurants, cafes, nightspots, attractions and leisure venues Dubai has to offer. Gear up for some of the best times of your life!