The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a fascinating place, home to two of the most Westernised cities in the Middle East – Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A desert landscape with 700 km of coastline, the country offers a glimpse into the rich history of the Middle East alongside all of the spoils of the Western lifestyle. With an expat population that vastly outnumbers locals, the UAE offers exciting and eclectic opportunities for those seeking a unique adventure.
Dubai is renowned for luxuries and excess, and has become a destination city. Visionary leadership from the current Sheikh has led to the construction of the emirate’s best-known landmarks, including the iconic Burj al Arab Hotel, the world’s largest shopping mall, and the world’s tallest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa. Expats are able to own land and property in Dubai, which has added to its ‘international playground’ image. Financial services, construction, and tourism are the bedrock of wealth in Dubai, rather than oil, which has opened up work opportunities for expats from around the world.
Abu Dhabi offers a more laid-back city with a reputation of being family-friendly and easygoing. Shopping – both at malls and local markets – rivals that of Dubai and the city boasts more parks and green spaces than any other UAE city. A thriving expat community and cultural scene makes Abu Dhabi an attractive place to live.
Considered by many the economic hub of the Middle East, the UAE is a dynamic place to do business. Hierarchy and respect are critical, and things as minor as knowing how to correctly speak and pronounce a name or greeting the most senior person first are critical to establishing a positive working relationship.
Emiratis take pride in their hospitality, which extends to the workplace, where tea and coffee breaks, smoking, and dinners out are common rituals. Socialising is a part of the working culture, and it is important to use this time to build personal connections and trust.
Meetings, or majlis, can be very time-consuming as every person present is allowed to speak and give their opinion on the matter. These often run late and are interrupted for tea and coffee breaks, which should always be accepted (refusals are considered impolite). Punctuality is expected for foreigners, though locals may run late. This shouldn’t be taken as disrespectful.
The workday is eight hours per day, Sunday to Thursday. Some companies operate a two-shift system. Government office hours are 7:30 am to 3:00 pm. Everything changes for the Holy Month of Ramadan, when office hours are abbreviated and work is done at varying times of day.
Many expats in the UAE enjoy lucrative tax-free salaries with excellent benefits. That said, salaries can be quickly eaten up by rent, luxury goods, and socializing. Recent years, however, have shown the cost of living decreasing in the UAE.
Excellent communications, a booming economy, stable exchange rate, and minimal taxes make the UAE an attractive place to live. The country is teeming with expats from around the world, creating a unique cultural melting pot. Nearly 80% of those living in the UAE are foreigners. The expat scene is lively, and most hobbies and tastes are catered for through clubs and meetings.
While the influence of the West is obvious in many ways, Islamic tradition is still an important part of life, and foreigners must adapt to and respect the rules that govern the locals. Dress is conservative, and life complies with strict daily prayer times.
Women have equal status to men with none of the restrictions on dress or conduct that can be found in other Middle East nations. Taking photographs of women, sexually harassing women, or randomly speaking to women is frowned upon.
All religions are tolerated in the UAE, and disrespect towards religious beliefs is offensive and illegal. During the Holy Month of Ramadan, non-Muslims are expected to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, playing loud music, and dancing in public, from sunrise to sunset.
Healthcare facilities in both public and private hospitals are to a high standard.
Alcohol laws are strict. Only non-Muslims may drink at licensed bars and restaurants, and keeping alcohol at home requires a special license.
Unmarried couples cannot live together. Kissing and hugging and other public displays of affection are not tolerated in public. Dancing in public is also seen as provocative and should be limited to licensed clubs or home.
Countless resources abound online about life in the UAE, and all agree that it gives foreigners the opportunity to experience an excellent lifestyle in one of the most exciting destinations in the world.
The roads in the UAE are modern but drivers tend to be aggressive and often wild; the death toll on the roads is the third-highest in the world. Exercise caution when driving. All drivers must have a valid UAE license, which can easily be obtained. Parking fines and speeding tickets are sent immediately, by text message, to the registered owner of the vehicle.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are served by most major airlines. Public transportation is unreliable, except in Dubai on the extensive metro and in Abu Dhabi, which has a decent bus service. Taxis are widely available and inexpensive.