Are you planning to move to Dubai? What is it like to live in Dubai?
In this Expat Interview, Kamila shares her experience and practical tips for newcomers. You’ll learn useful information to prepare for your new life in Dubai, such as the cost of living in Dubai, how to find apartments and jobs, and other practical tips.
What is it like to live in Dubai?
Dubai is an international business hub in the Middle East that attracts thousands of expats and top global talent every year. From my perspective, living in Dubai is fun and very safe. There is always something new and exciting going on.
Interestingly, most of the Dubai inhabitants are from overseas, which means everyone speaks English here, and it’s fairly easy to blend in. About 85% population are expats, to be precise.
What I love about Dubai is its futuristic vibe and constant innovation.
The city is a fantastic mixture of western and Arabic cultural influences.
As soon as you arrive at Dubai International Airport, you’ll notice men wearing traditional white long-sleeved robes (Kandura) and women in elegant black abayas. The good news is you can wear anything you like. You only need to cover your hair if you plan to visit the mosque.
Dubai is also famous for its award-winning Emirates airlines and for being an international air hub. A large number of foreigners move to Dubai every year because of the abundance of job opportunities for the airlines.
I used to work here as a flight attendant for a little over three years before relocating to Canada, so I’ll share with you some valuable tips for living in Dubai.
- Expat insurance: Don’t forget to get expat insurance to cover medical and emergency travel-related incidents.
- Money transfer: I use Wise to receive and transfer money abroad. It’s fast, and the fee is low.
- Moving tips: To make your relocation easier, check out Sirelo for free quotes from international moving companies. It will help you select one that fits your budget. Learn more here.
How to prepare for moving to Dubai?
Here is my moving to Dubai checklist:
- Get a signed employment offer letter
- Your employer should inform you about your health insurance
- Arrange your flight to Dubai
- Check with your employer if you’re eligible to get a UAE residency visa (usually, your company arranges your visa and pays for the costs)
- Research different schooling options if you’re moving with kids
- Book temporary accommodation (you can only rent long-term once you get your residency visa approved and your Emirates ID)
Leave power of attorney with your family member or a good friend in case you need to get some documents arranged at a distance in the future
Get an international driver’s permit (it will enable you to drive in Dubai for one year until you get your driver’s license converted).
The cost of living in Dubai
As a single person living in Dubai, you’ll need a minimum of 7000 AED (roughly 2000 USD) per month, depending on your spending habits. But, of course, you could manage to get by even with a lower salary if you share your accommodation and live frugally.
In fact, many immigrants who work in customer service or the construction industry live on much lower monthly salaries than 7000 AED.
That said, according to Numbeo, living in Dubai is cheaper than living in London, Toronto, or New York.
You can find apartments for as little as 16 000 AED a year, but if you want to live in a prime location, such as Dubai Marina, prepare to pay a minimum of 50 000 AED a year.
On average, you can expect to pay a monthly rent between 2500 to 6000 AED (680 – 1600 USD).
Because most of the fresh produce is imported, it results in high prices for groceries.
|Rental price (one-bedroom flat in the city center)||6500 AED|
|Rental price (one-bedroom flat outside the city center)||4000 AED|
|Electricity||500 – 750 AED|
|Utility Total||1100 – 1500 AED|
|Petrol (per month)||500 – 1000 AED|
|Dubai Metro Monthly Pass||350 AED|
|Groceries (per 1 person)||1000 AED|
|Internet||400 – 600 AED|
|Prepaid data and cell phone plan||200 – 250 AED|
|Gym membership||200 – 250 AED|
|Average meal/ person||50 – 75 AED|
|One beer||30 – 50 AED|
What salary do you need to live in Dubai?
You can live in Dubai comfortably on a monthly salary of 10,000 – 15 000 AED ($2 700 – $4 000). A monthly salary of 15 000 – 20 000 AED ($4 000 – $5 400) is considered above average.
As an expat, you can enjoy a high salary and no personal income taxes.
If you work for Emirates airlines, you’ll also get many other perks, such as free access to luxury pools and gyms, discounted flight tickets, hotel deals for you and your family, and more.
Where to live in Dubai?
The best areas to live in Dubai are Dubai Marina, Business Bay, Arabian Ranches, Mirdif, Discovery Gardens, and al Barsha.
Dubai Marina is the most popular expat area in the city, offering luxurious apartment buildings with amazing views of the Marina skyscrapers.
The most affordable area to live in Dubai is Deira.
A good compromise between an affordable price and a convenient location is Discovery Gardens which is close to Dubai Marina.
I’d suggest first renting temporary accommodation in a hotel apartment for a month or two when you arrive and taking that time to weigh up your options.
How to find apartments in Dubai?
You can find apartments in Dubai through online listings at real estate agencies. However, in this case, you’ll need to pay broker fees.
If you prefer to find rental accommodation directly from the landlord, you can check these websites:
- Property Finder
Just watch out for scammers. You can filter your search by verified properties only.
Transportation in Dubai
Dubai is built as a driving city, and it’s not very pedestrian-friendly compared to Europe. Therefore buying a car is much more convenient if you plan on living in Dubai.
Although Dubai has a metro, it only covers the city’s main areas.
You can also catch Dubai taxis that frequently roam the streets or call an Uber or Careem. The taxis and ride-sharing services are relatively inexpensive.
You might be surprised to discover that the Dubai metro has separate carriages for men and women. The woman-only section is usually less crowded, so you’ll likely find seats.
You can buy a day pass or rechargeable NOL card at any metro station.
Dubai also has a bus network, but it’s not as efficient as the metro system.
Weather in Dubai
Dubai has a year-round warm climate.
Sometimes I miss the warm winters, but I don’t miss the extreme summer heat when temperatures reach 40+ degrees Celsius.
On some summer days, it can feel like a sauna outside, and it’s hard to stay outdoors for a long time. With that said, Dubai has air conditioning everywhere.
In summer, the AC is constantly blasting full-on, so I recommend carrying a summer scarf to cover your shoulders if it gets too cold indoors.
Most days are sunny, but you can also experience windy sandstorms.
The best weather in Dubai is between November and April, with pleasant temperatures hovering around 25–30ºC (77–86ºF). Rain is very rare in UAE.
Best expat hospitals
One thing you really don’t need to worry about in Dubai is your personal health and safety.
Hospitals in Dubai are clean and efficient, although most are private, so you will have to pay for your treatment. On a positive note, all employers are legally obliged to provide medical insurance to their employees.
Here’s the list of some of the top hospitals in Dubai:
- Emirates Hospital
- NMC Healthcare
- American Hospital
- Canadian Specialist Hospital
- King’s College Hospital
Practical information for living in Dubai
Here is a list of emergency numbers in Dubai
- 999 -Dubai Police.
- 998 -Dubai Ambulance.
- 997 -Dubai Fire Department
- 991 – for electricity failure.
- 922 – for water failure.
Phone and Internet Providers:
- Union Coop
Most Popular Food Delivery Apps:
- Careem (bought by UberEats)
Popular Shopping Malls / Markets:
- Mall of Emirates
- Dubai Mall
- Bur Dubai Souk
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Good things about living in Dubai
Here are things that I like about living in Dubai:
- Diversity and Multiculturalism
- Mostly young population
- No income taxes
- Plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs
- English is widely spoken
- Good but expensive healthcare
- The modern city, constantly developing and improving
- Vibrant nightlife
- Warm weather all year round
- Access to the beach within the city
- Great flight connections to other countries
- Very low crime rates
- Great food scene
Cons of living in Dubai
Like any city in the world, living in Dubai also has its disadvantages.
- Extremely hot summers
- High cost of living
- Internet censorship (you can’t use Whatsapp calls in Dubai)
- Traffic can be busy and hazardous
- Expensive schooling
- Strict laws – the basis of the legal system of the UAE is sharia
- Challenging to make lasting friendships
- Lack of history (The city doesn’t have as much character)
What are the best things to do in Dubai?
Dubai is a fantastic place to explore and live – from taking in the city’s stunning skyline from the top of Burj Khalifa and exploring traditional souks (markets) to relaxing on the beaches and roaming in jeeps on the sand dunes.
And, of course, Dubai is known for its luxury. You might have heard that Dubai has the world’s first seven-star hotel, a man-made palm-shaped island, and the world’s tallest building, just to name a few highlights.
To understand what an achievement this is, you only need to look back to the early 1960s in the history books, when the city was mostly desert.
The scale of vision and leadership in Dubai is inspiring.
Some of the highlights in Dubai include:
- Riding a camel on a Desert Safari
- Going to the top of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world
- Shopping at The Dubai Mall
- Haggling for gold or shopping for spices at one of the souks in Old Dubai
- Marveling at the Dubai Fountain show
- Taking a dip in an infinity pool at Burj Al Arab
- Sunbathing at La Mer Beach or Kite Beach
- Exploring the underwater world of Dubai Aquarium
- Enjoying a romantic dinner cruise on Dubai Marina
- Partying all night long at countless clubs
- Drinking cocktails at sky bars
- Visiting Miracle Garden
- Going for one of the many brunches in the city
- Skydiving over the Palm Jumeirah
- Spending a day in Wild Wadi or Aquaventure water parks
- Smoking shisha at JBR beach
Did you experience any difficulties when you first moved to Dubai?
One difficulty I experienced in Dubai was keeping in touch with my family and friends because many forms of internet calls are banned in Dubai. One way to go around this is by getting a good-quality VPN or by using Zoom calls.
Living in Dubai might also bring about a minor cultural shock if it’s your first time in the Middle East or a Muslim country.
For example, you’ll experience calls for prayer from the mosques and one month of fasting during Ramadan. Eateries are closed until sunset during this time.
You can order deliveries to your home or buy groceries if you like, but you can’t eat or drink in public during the daytime to respect the local culture and religion.
Many people take vacations around this time and leave the city.
Overall, Dubai is a very tolerant and open-minded place that always strives for excellence.
Is it easy to make new friends in Dubai?
As people tend to live in Dubai only for a short period of time, finding lasting friendships can be challenging.
Finding romantic relationships can be even more challenging as guys here generally look only for one-night stands and girls to be taken out.
For this reason, relationships can feel quite superficial in Dubai, although there are always exceptions.
Where are your favorite cafes in Dubai?
If you’re looking for a cozy cafe to relax, I’d recommend Seva, Tom & Serg, The Sum of Us, and Arabian Tea House for some traditional Arabic food.
Where are your favorite restaurants and bars in Dubai?
The food scene in Dubai is incredible – from fine dining to street food.
According to the NY times, Dubai has more restaurants than New York, with new restaurants and cafes popping up on every corner.
You can find here any international cuisine that you can think of.
My favorite restaurant with lush greenery is the Farm in Al Barari. There are also many stunning restaurants at Pier 7 in Dubai Marina.
For jaw-dropping views, head to Level 43 Skybar.
A popular activity for locals is going to brunch – from exotic seafood buffets to handcrafted cocktails and live music.
Tips for finding a job in Dubai.
The best way to find a job in Dubai is by networking. You can start by checking FB groups such as Expats in Dubai or reaching out to companies in your field on LinkedIn.
You can also find many job opportunities on various online job boards, such as Indeed.
The good news is that Dubai has introduced a freelance visa, which makes getting a residency permit and relocating to Dubai much easier.
Tips for finding jobs at Emirates Airlines
If you’d like to work as a cabin crew for Emirates Airlines, keep an eye on their official website. They keep posting open days globally when you can show up for a job interview.
Although the job requirements are pretty straightforward, the interview can be very competitive.
I remember that about a hundred people showed up for an open day back then when I was applying for the position. In Asia or the Middle East, the number of candidates can be even higher.
Here are the job requirements for the cabin crew position at Emirates:
- Fluent in English, both written and spoken (additional languages are a plus)
- Minimum 160cm tall and able to reach 212cm high
- At least 1 year of customer service or hospitality experience
- A minimum of high school education (Grade 12)
- No visible tattoos while wearing cabin crew uniform
What have you learned from living abroad?
Living abroad has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
It has made me more open-minded and tolerant of different cultures.
I have grown more independent and resilient as I faced many challenges that come with relocation to a new country.
Living abroad has also given me more confidence to take risks in life.
Overall, moving abroad has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I recommend it to everyone interested in new opportunities, personal growth, and adventure.
The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.