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Expat Exchange - 10 Things to Know Before Moving to the UAE
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10 Things to Know Before Moving to the UAE

By Joshua Wood, LPC

AGS Worldwide Movers
AGS Worldwide Movers

Summary: If you're planning a move to the UAE, here are 10 things expats living there wish they had known before moving to the UAE.

Moving to the UAE - 10 Things to Know Before Moving to the UAE

Are you considering a move to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)? This dynamic, fast-paced country offers a unique blend of traditional Arabic culture and modern cosmopolitan living. However, before you pack your bags, there are a few things you should know. Here are the top 10 things to consider before moving to the UAE.

1. Understanding the Cultural Diversity

The UAE is a melting pot of cultures, with expatriates making up about 80% of the population. You'll find people from all corners of the globe, including India, Pakistan, Europe, and North America. This diversity brings a rich tapestry of languages, cuisines, and traditions. However, it's essential to respect the local Emirati culture and customs, which are deeply rooted in Islamic traditions.

2. Adapting to the Climate

One of the most significant adjustments for new arrivals is the UAE's desert climate. Summers can be extremely hot, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C (104°F). Winters are milder and more comfortable. It's crucial to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun. Most buildings are air-conditioned, providing a welcome respite from the heat.

3. Navigating the Cost of Living

While salaries in the UAE can be high, so too can the cost of living, particularly in cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Rent, schooling, and eating out can be expensive. However, there are ways to live more affordably, such as choosing less central accommodation or shopping at local markets instead of imported food stores.

4. Embracing the Work Culture

Work culture in the UAE can be quite different from what you're used to. The workweek typically runs from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. Working hours can be long, particularly in certain sectors like finance and law. However, the UAE also offers excellent career opportunities and the chance to gain international work experience.

5. Preparing for the Language Barrier

While Arabic is the official language of the UAE, English is widely spoken, particularly in business settings. However, learning a few basic Arabic phrases can go a long way in helping you settle in and show respect for the local culture. Many expats also take the opportunity to learn Arabic more formally.

6. Getting Used to the Dress Code

The UAE is a Muslim country, and modest dress is expected. While Western-style clothing is common, particularly among expats, it's important to cover shoulders and knees, particularly in public places like malls and restaurants. Swimwear is acceptable at the beach or pool, but not in other public areas.

7. Understanding the Alcohol Laws

Alcohol is available in the UAE, but its sale and consumption are strictly regulated. Non-Muslim residents can apply for a liquor license to purchase alcohol from designated stores. Drinking in public places is prohibited, and alcohol can only be consumed in private homes or licensed venues.

8. Knowing the Driving Rules

Driving in the UAE can be a challenge for newcomers. The country has left-hand drive, and the driving style can be aggressive. It's also worth noting that the UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. If you plan to drive, ensure you have an international driving permit or a UAE driving license.

9. Exploring the Education Options

If you're moving to the UAE with children, you'll find a range of education options. There are many international schools offering various curricula, including British, American, and International Baccalaureate. However, school fees can be high, so it's worth factoring this into your budget.

10. Enjoying the Lifestyle

Despite the challenges, living in the UAE offers a unique and rewarding lifestyle. From the stunning desert landscapes to the glittering city skylines, there's always something to see and do. The country is known for its luxury shopping, fine dining, and world-class events. Plus, its location makes it a great base for exploring the wider Middle East region.

Moving to a new country is always a big step, but with the right preparation, the UAE can be a fantastic place to live, work, and play. So why not take the plunge and experience all that this vibrant country has to offer?

Expats talk about Moving to UAE

"You will need to make a trade-off between living "on-island" at a higher cost for a smaller place, or "off-island" for more space and a yard. Since social isolation is a big hazard, I would put a very high priority on living "on-island" rather than out in the boondocks where you need to drive long distances for amenities," said one expat living in Abu Dhabi.

"Make sure you negotiate with your employer to cover your accommodation or include high accommodation allowance. Living in a compound in a villa is the best choice - one can find many European expatriates to be among with," wrote a member in Abu Dhabi.

"Do it! you will love it if you bring an open mind and some patience and don't expect things to be like it is 'at home'. The temperatures here are extreme - up to 58-60 degrees in summer! Winter is very pleasant," said one expat living in Al Ain.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
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