Living in Dubai

This overview on living in Dubai provides introductory information on housing, tax, health, education, transport, and bureaucracy.

In Dubai, your home is not so much your castle as your mini-palace. If you have the income, moving to Dubai and living the dream can mean moving into a 5000 sq. ft. villa on Palm Jumeira. Should you have a hankering for plenty of glitz in your life, for example gold taps in multiple bathrooms, it can be arranged.

There are approximately 2,000 villas available in Dubai, however not all as glamorous as those on the Palm. For those with more modest tastes, subtly decorated villas are also available, many of which are simple and spacious, all of which are air-conditioned.  From Jumeira to the more remote but popular area of Mirdif, there are villas to suit all tastes and most budgets. Some villas are grouped together in gated communities packed with facilities. Others are situated in small gardens sustained by regular watering. You will find a pool a great asset in the hotter months, but getting this depends on the rental you are prepared to pay. Although the cost of accommodation in Dubai has dropped since the 2008 economic upheaval, it is on the rise again. The type of accommodation you can afford will depend on the company you work for and the package offered.

If a villa is not for you, there are numerous apartment buildings catering to a variety of tastes. An apartment is not always an economical choice as some apartments, due to their proximity to the beach for example, can command a high rental. If you intend to live the dream, you will want space and convenience. Convenience might mean access to the beach, shops, or the restaurants and bars in Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC).

Buying is also an option. The Arabian Ranches is one of the gated communities that offer attractive villas and facilities, this one is situated on the outskirts of Dubai but connected to the city by an efficient road system.

Tax Free Environment

The UAE is a largely tax free country. Although, there is no income tax collected by the government, it would be naïve to assume that the government is not interested in revenue collecting. Revenue is collected through the usual means such as car registration renewed yearly, parking charges (minimal in comparison with European countries) and other discrete means. Some businesses, such as restaurants and bars in hotels, charge tax. Despite this, any salary quoted is not going to be divided between you and the government before it reaches your bank account.

Medical Care and Schooling

The flip side of this tax free society is that government provides few services. There are government and private hospitals. In fact, there are so many to choose from it is hard to decide. The costs range widely depending on the type of hospital or medical care sought. So medical insurance is a must.

In addition, you will need to factor in the cost of educating any children should you settle in Dubai. Although there are government schools, they are for Emiratis. Expatriates have a variety of different private schools to choose from. There are approximately 150 private schools; some purport to offer a curriculum based on a particular country. Some present themselves according the dominant language and still others emphasize religious teachings.

The fees for private schooling range as widely as the types of schools available. Generally, a western model school will be far more expensive than, for example, an Indian one.

Transportation and Traffic

In Dubai the Road Transport Authority manages the roads, the Salik tolls, enforces parking regulations and provides public transport systems.

Congestion on the roads has not been eliminated for several reasons. For one thing, taxis are everywhere in Dubai. They are clean and reasonably priced. The trip from one side of Dubai to the other would probably not cost more than 100 AED. However, here as in most countries, at peak times, it can be difficult to get a taxi.

Probably the biggest reason for traffic congestion is the private car. Neither the cost of vehicles, the Salik toll charges, nor the cost of fuel acts as a disincentive to driving.  While Dubai may make it possible for you to feel the wind in your hair from the comfort of your sports car, you and a good number of the more than two million residents of Dubai are out on those well-maintained roads each day.

Porsche, Ferrari or any other high end sports car can be seen readily on the roads or valet parking at the top hotels. There are few places in the world where you can see so many of the top model cars in close proximity as in Dubai. Most of the cars on the road are late models, partly because they are affordable and partly because it is difficult to get comprehensive car insurance once the car is over six years old.

Sports cars are popular, but an SUV might suit you better if you are a nervous driver. Even though the roads are generally in excellent condition, it is not the roads that need to concern you; it is the other road users.

Despite the traffic congestion seen at times, Dubai was the first of the seven Emirates to establish a comprehensive bus system. This has been augmented recently with the welcome addition of air-conditioned bus shelters in high use areas. Buses also offer areas specifically designated for women in accordance with cultural and religious preferences. Buses are cheap and many routes connect with the two lines of the Metro.

The elevated Metro is an example of forward planning in evidence in Dubai. Rather than waiting until traffic problems crippled the city, the metro went from breaking ground to opening in three years. With free car parking available at the stations and stops near shopping malls, passenger use of the Metro has increased since its 2008 launch.

Bureaucracy

You will need to deal with a bureaucratic system that combines some of the worst aspects of a paper heavy bureaucracy with an apparent lack of urgency to serve customers. However, the bureaucratic machine is being stripped down and rebuilt at a steady pace in Dubai. There are more on-line options in recent years for things like checking fines.

And yet, you may still have to get your application form for your Emirates identity card typed in Arabic by a poorly paid clerk. Rest assured there will be plenty of clerks lurking nearby ready to help out.

At a minimum, you will need a visa, an identity card, a UAE driver’s license and the paperwork to register your car, get access to electricity and water and lastly a bank account. Although organizing these basics all at once when you move to a new country can be overwhelming at first, a lot of the paper work needed to get the resident’s visa will be handled and paid for by your employer.