Updated: 30 March 2022



The United Arab Emirates consists of 7 emirates, created in 1971 following the independence from Great Britain. 

While Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, Dubai is the more popular and populous emirate. Today, both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are vibrant, fast changing and exciting cities. This is a polar opposite a mere few decades ago when began its revolutionary drive to modernisation.

The other emirates within the UAE are Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. While it is not unheard of foreigners residing in these remaining 5 emirates, the overwhelming majority of expatriates settle in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

The majority of observations below refer to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the other emirates are not as developed as the two populous emirates.

Historically, Dubai was a fishing city which included pearl diving and boat building. In the early 1800’s it opened trade routes and began consistent international interactions with global countries. If you visit the Dubai Creek, you can see a hint (and experience) of this ancient civilisation with bustling activity of abras and boats gliding the historic waterways.

With the discovery of oil, Dubai began it’s booming development leading to the present metropolis. 

Looking towards the Burj Khalifa


Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are eye-opening melting pots with their local population as well as a large expatriate population.

Islam is the predominant religion, however Christian churches, Hindu and other religions are free to co-exist alongside mosques allowing Dubai and Abu Dhabi to welcome international visitors and feel at home.

Crime is relatively low and entrepreneurship is embraced. It is must be noted that local culture is still very much respected and certain things must be observed. For example, homosexuality and showing affection in public is not just frowned upon, but is against the law.


An important cultural observation is the period of Ramadan when muslims practice strict fasting from dawn to dusk. The month changes every year and falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar.

For non-muslims, they are also required to respect this Holy month by not eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants and cafes are closed during the day, or have closed sections for non-muslims to eat out of sight.


While it is a Muslim country, non-muslim woman do not have to wear headscarves (other than when entering a mosque) and you will see separate areas for women and children as those for men. For example, many waiting areas and queue lines such as in hospitals and government departments are separated by gender.


Being an islamic country, it is forbidden to drink alcohol, however there are many licensed restaurants and hotels that serve alcohol. You may also have alcohol in your home, but these residents must hold an alcohol licence, which is easily obtainable from the bottle shops.

The emirate of Sharjah, however, is completely dry and disallows any alcohol whatsoever. Only Dubai and Abu Dhabi require licences, however, the remaining emirates do not require any alcohol licences.


The UAE is re-known for its heat. During the summer months April – November, the temperatures soar with peak humidity around late June to September. Temperatures can reach 50C on some days! So be prepared to hop between your air-conditioned home, air-conditioned car and shops! Despite the heat, the UAE does have its seasons. Enjoy wearing a shawl or jacket between late November to early February.

Average summer temperature   
: 35oC  – 45oC degrees (day)               
: 30oC – 40oC degrees (night).

Average winter temperature 
: 10oC – 23oC degrees (day)                            :
below 10oC – 14oC degrees (night).

Despite being a desert, rain does fall in Dubai. At times, there is so much rain that it causes flooding and the city stops for a few days per year. Be prepared in late January to early March for heavy downpours

Yes, these cars were virtually destroyed by the unusually heavy downpour




Dubai is sleek and high-tech. On arriving at the airport, you will be greeted by Emirati customs officials to check your credentials.

To arrive you will need to have your appropriate visa approval, otherwise if on a visitor visa, it is a maximum 30 day stay or a 90 day multiple entry visit visa. Of course, prior to a relocation you will need to ensure that your visa applications are completed, or at least underway.

The relevant information point for visa processing is with the Visa issuing department of the UAE.  All citizens from countries other than those of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) are required to obtain visas. Some countries are eligible for visit visas on arrival. Be sure to check which applies to you. This can be done easily through VisitDubai here.



The public transport of Dubai is a growing concept. While there are monorails, trams, buses, they do not reach every corner of the city, as with many major world cities.

There are only 2 lines: the Green line (20 stops that spans from the Etisalat region to Dubai Creek) and the Red line (28 stops that spans between Al Rashidiya and UAE Exchange). The lines intersect each other at Union Square and at Khalid Bin al Waleed (Bur Juman Center).

The system is new and clean. Getting about on the public transport requires a nol card, obtainable from the Roads & Transport Authority outlets near the stations and vending machines.

For a comprehensive understanding of the metro and public transport system, visit the RTA site here.

Having said that, taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap. There are also hire cars and many families find it affordable to hire drivers. Having said that, the roads in Dubai are not difficult to navigate, however be warned that speeds are faster than what you would be used to in most major cities due to the relatively wide and straight roads.


Cars and petrol are one of the cheapest in the world. There are few duties when buying a car and petrol is amongst the most affordable.

The roads in Dubai are fast, wide and the main arterials are busy! Road etiquette can sometimes be questionable as the larger roads often are used by trucks driven by tired and under-trained drivers. If you are not a confident driver, just stay in the slower lanes and you should be fine until you increase your confidence.

Foreigners that become resident in Dubai should convert their licences, which for many countries is a 5 minute on-line process. Details on how to convert can be found on the RTA website here.



A housing compound in Dubai

Options in housing is currently plentiful, and an individual, couple or family will be able to choose from many options between locations and style of accommodation. Proportions tend to be generous on the whole depending on the location of the home. The further away from the CBD or major malls, the more affordable or larger sizes can be found. Many compounds are around golf courses, which naturally are priced at a premium.

All styles of housing exists, from apartments to townhouses to large mansions with pools and tennis courts – it just depends on your budget!

As the dominant mode of transport in Dubai is by car, relative distance to schools is flexible, which opens up the choices of finding a home to suit your family’s needs and budget.


The main starting website for properties is PropertyFinder. There are of course individual real estate companies, but this is a central site where you can begin your searches and get an idea of properties.

Once you find an agent that you feel you can trust, they will most likely have access to a good range of properties to show you. That is not to say that other agents should not be sought for alternative viewings. 

A relocation agent is not absolutely necessary, but having one does bring its advantages with local knowledge and communication with the real estate agents and landlords.


If you have a relocation agent, they will conduct most of the negotiations. Otherwise, the landlord will generally have a real estate agent that will act on behalf of the landlord. 

Ensure that a detailed inspection is made before finalising the tenancy agreement so that any specific cleaning or repair issues are agreed upon prior to executing the agreement. Soft furnishings such as landlord-supplied curtains or changing of carpets are not generally within the bounds of negotiations, however, depending on the market conditions, one can try!

Rental properties often require a pre-deposit of 6-12 months ahead by the presentation of cheques in advance. This is not to say that the payment is made that far in advance, but cheques are executed, post-dated and given to the landlord so that they are able to deposit the cheques on rental due date. It is important to negotiate as many cheques per annum as possible to alleviate the amounts that will be withdrawn from your account at any one time. The amount can vary from 1 to 12 cheques per annum.

Be aware that to default on payments is considered a criminal offence, punishable by local laws such as imprisonment. So do ensure rental due dates are in the diary and sufficient funds are in the account!


As with all modern and fast-paced cities, there is no shortage of food options!

Food delivery in most areas is available. There are new housing developments all the time and perhaps delivery options may be limited depending on the proximity of the housing community to the the restaurant preparing the food.

Otherwise, the major supermarkets are Carrefour, Spinneys, Choithrams and the bulk buy supermarket Lulu Hypermarket all offer home delivery with online ordering.

Try the Best Essential Packing Handbook available. In this 50+ page ‘cheat sheet’, you have all the tips, advice and lists you need to prepare for a relocation, whether it is local, regional or international move!