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5 Things to Know Before Moving to the UAE

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in the UAE talk about what they wish they had known before they moved to the UAE - from bringing gardening tools to making friends, healthcare to culture shock.

Dubai City Walk
Dubai City Walk

When asked to offer advice to others thinking about moving to the UAE, one expat remarked, "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."

What to Bring When Moving to the UAE (and what to leave behind)

When we asked expats living in UAE what they wish they had brought when moving to UAE and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:

"Bring: Another voltage converter, more garden tools and gardening supplies, and hair color Leave home: bicyles, blankets, winter clothes," said one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"I would definitely bring some shampoos from Europe as the quality of them over here is doubtful unless you buy them in salons. I would take many of my own language books to read - however one can easily find English good literature. I would take hair color as I am blond and the choices of blond hair colors in shops is poor. I would take plenty of patience over here especially while driving. Leave clothes, shoes, bags and cooking pots home," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UAE.

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Advice for Newcomers to the UAE

"Remember your purpose of coming to the city, many cases you earn lots but also spends lots," said one expat who moved to Dubai, UAE.

"Since you will probably be far from family, be sure to connect with people in Al Ain who come from your country. You need to have friendships and contacts with those who have something in common, your holidays, traditions, religion, etc. These people become your 'family.' They will help you adapt to your new homeland. Someone told me this before I moved there. He was right. I didn't realize how right he was until my 2nd year there when I met and befriended some people, who were like me in many ways (fun, easy-going, like to dance, willing to be patient with our new home country and embrace it), and found more satisfaction than I did my first year with those I befriended in my first month in UAE. It did a lot for my morale to find 'the right friends.' But, don't be too picky about friends. Do not expect your job and life to be wonderful all by itself. You may have to be tolerant of things taking a long time to get addressed/answered. Patience will go a long way in UAE. It's better for the blood pressure if you learn to be patient, to the utmost. Find activities to become involved in so as not to always be 'stuck' inside. Enjoy everything around you, camel rides, the Al Ain air show, beauty of the desert, the mountain Jabel Hafeet, the date palm trees, etc," advised another expat in the UAE.

"Come with an open mind in regards to religion. Leave your cultural and racial baggage back home (figuratively speaking, of course). Show respect for the moderation of dress, even though you might see sooo many who rudely flaunt scandalous and scanty dressing. Be ready to deal with some heavy population and traffic situations that only get worse with time. Talk with an expat living here before you make any decisions about employment, housing, etc. They can give you tips to avoid getting gouged or led in the wrong direction," said one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"Negotiate a VERY comprehensive relocation package with your prospective employer, including school, housing, transportation and travel allowance, in addition to a generous salary, because the cost of living is not cheap here," recommended another expat.

Culture Shock in the UAE

We asked expats about the culture shock they experienced when they moved to UAE. They replied:

"UAE was our third expat assignment and probably the easiest to adapt to due to the very western lifestyle. In both Egypt and Azerbaijan developing a network of friends and overcoming language barriers were the most difficult," said one expat who moved to Dubai, UAE.

"Not bad at all. If anything, it was just difficult at first not having any friends," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UAE.

"Not overly significant, as it is the same as my earlier experiences. Abu Dhabi is a great place to be an expat, as nearly everyone is from somewhere else. As a woman, we have an extraordinary amount of freedom here as compared to other Middle Eastern countries. We do not have to wear abayas and we can drive. I consider this liberating and it makes the culture shock much easier to deal with," commented one expat who made the move to UAE.

"In terms of the overall experience, it is great. There is tremendous shopping and wonderful restaurants and so many other things to do that you are never too bored. The most significant shock to me was not being able to get fresh vegetables and fruit. The markets sell it, but they aren't nearly as fresh as what we get in the US. Also, if you eat pork you will have a difficult time finding it and when you do it's frozen and I've heard not too fresh. I don't eat pork or beef so for me it wasn't difficult. Overall the transition has been fairly easy," remarked another expat in Dubai, UAE.

"Life is so totally different, there is no family life just work and social. Everybody is just in for establishing themselves and you are feel very alone and isolated. Furthermore as soon as you start work at your new employer in Dubai, they take and retain your passport. You are under constant surveillance, and have no rights," said another expat in UAE.

"The culture shock is in the way work progress is achieved in the public services. Culturally there is little difference to Spain, however the short working days, the reluctance to make any decisions at all, the minor functionaries who prevent progress, are all still surprising to me," remarked another expat who made the move to UAE.

Cultural Blunders

"Went to an Arab house and forgot to take off my shoes. Not that I didn't already know this, just forgot to," said one expat who moved to Dubai, UAE.

"Asking a woman to meet me for a coffee, without realizing that she could not do that without a family member as escort. I don't know what I was thinking," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UAE.

"I was pretty well informed on what not to do, but when I first arrived, I just couldn't help watching the Arabic women walk around in their black garb when it was 120 degrees outside. They don't like to be stared at!!!," commented one expat who made the move to UAE.

"I was visiting an office with a young Emirati colleague and was offered the customery Arabic coffee and dates. I had the coffee cup in my right hand, and took a date with my left hand. My young colleague was scolded by the more senior people, in Arabic, that he had not told me how to accept food - which he had indeed not. The correct way would have been to transfer the coffee cup to the left hand and then accept food with the right. The left hand is of course unclean, but early on, I just never thought and used both," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Healthcare Advice from Expats in UAE

When we asked expats in UAE what advice they would give to others seeking medical care, they said:

"A full medical exam is required for work or residence permits and includes an HIV/AIDS test. Testing must be performed after arrival; a U.S. HIV/AIDS test is not accepted. U.S. citizens have been detained and deported for testing positive for HIV, active tuberculosis, or hepatitis," states the US Department of State. There are no special vaccination requirements for travel to the UAE; however, travelers are advised to be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The medical care in the UAE and in Dubai was mostly really good. We had a range of private and government hospitals and clinics available to us. The staff were international, as were the hospitals. There were a range of well known American, Canadian and English hospitals," said one expat in a report they submitted about healthcare in Dubai.

For more information about healthcare in the UAE, read our article, 7 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in the UAE.

Expats living in UAE interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Oct 09, 2018

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