Expat Exchange

Living in the UAE

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Allianz Care International Health Insurance
Allianz Care International Health Insurance
Allianz Care International Health Insurance

By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Feb 10, 2022

Summary: Expats, digital nomads and retirees talk about what it is really like living in UAE. They offer advice about meeting people, cost of living, finding a home and more.

What do I need to know about living in the UAE?

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When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to the UAE, they said:

"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," added another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"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," remarked another expat who made the move to 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," explained one expat living in Al Ain, 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," said another expat in Al Ain.

"Remember your purpose of coming to the city, many cases you earn lots but also spends lots," added another expat who made the move to Dubai.

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How do I meet people in the UAE?

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When we asked people living in the UAE about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"American Women's Network, Women in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Womens Group, Abu Dhabi Ladies Group, all send newsletters to members," added another expat who made the move to Abu Dhabi.

"AWN American Womens Network (primarily Americans, but all are welcome...can tend to be a bit highbrow), WIAD Women in Abu Dhabi (A very international flair, this ladies group does some serious traveling!)," explained one expat living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"Major international hotels are (in order of my preference) the Intercontinental, Hilton, Rotana, Mercure Jebel Hafeet. The Palm Resort has a Rugby Club and Golf Club and both are good value. Have a look at the Living in Al Ain thread on the British Expats site in the Middle East Forum, it is a very popular thread and full of information about events, schooling, life in general," mentioned another in Al Ain.

"1) Al Ain Toastmasters Club 584495 to meet other professionals (while developing other useful skills). Check out www.toastmasters.org to find the club. 2) For those who like to sing, join the Al Ain Choral Society. 3) Join in at social activities at lounges/pubs in the local international hotels, such as trivia contests, karaoke, etc. 4) Go to the cafes (Starbucks, Coffee/Bean/Tea Leaf, etc.) in the local malls on weekend afternoons (11 a.m. - 5 p.m.). You'll be certain to see people you know or make new friends. (Evenings it gets too crowded.) 5) Join one of the clubs are the local international hotels where other westerners go to swim, exercise, dine, tennis, etc. 6) For sports enthusiasts, especially men, you can find rugby and other intramural sports. 7) Join the Emirates Natural History Group (www.enhg.org), an interesting way to not only meet people but have an opportunity to explore the natural histories of the UAE and Oman. 8) Your workplace may organize social activities including trips to the other Emirates for shopping, sightseeing, etc. You may also be able to join activities at some of the other organizations/companies in the area," explained one expat who made the move to Al Ain.

"From sailing to golf to sky diving to horseracing, Dubai is an emerging market that has it all. Wafi City is a great place for various activities such as Sport club, various bars and restaurants, mall and the newly opened Raffles Hotel. Dubai festival City housed some of the most prestigious hotels, mall and residential area as well as golf club. There loads of clubs (each country usually has their own) and activities from charity to commercial events, although you will miss nature's beauty - summers are very very hot (4-5 months)," said one expat living in Dubai, UAE.

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

What is life like in the UAE?

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When we asked people living in the UAE what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"Though Abu Dhabi is more traditional compared to its glitzy sister Dubai, and family values/activities are stressed, nightspots are available for singles as well. It's an easier gig for families, as so much of life for an American expat here revolves around the ACS American Community School. They have a veritable cornucopia of activities and events planned for both students and their parents," remarked another expat who made the move to Abu Dhabi.

"Al Ain is a great city to live in and offers many things to see and do. Expats get together frequently for quiz nights, to watch sporting events, meet for coffee in the malls. Life is varied and interesting," explained one expat living in Al Ain, UAE.

"Life definitely revolves around work. Otherwise, it depends on if you are single, have children with you (and their age), etc. Singles often like to go to Dubai on the weekends for fun, sun, dance, shopping, friendships, etc. Families usually stay in the Al Ain area. With the clubs to join at the hotels, and other activities that many of them discover, there is sufficient activities for people not to get bored. There is a lot of socializing, too. Schools have a lot of after school activities, sports, dance classes, etc., and often have recitals and presentations. Married couples, and singles who do not enjoy the party/night life, join clubs and organizations in Al Ain, socialize among themselves, etc. We spend a lot of time at the mall, sitting and talking, too. Many people like to camp in the various Emirates as well. There are churchas and religious gatherings. Some of us organized Bible Studies, and were active in our churches. Some did volunteer work organizations such as Feline for Friends," said another expat in Al Ain.

"People (expats) work hard and play hard, live revolves around malls and shopping, socialising, attending events/concert, some major sports events are happening during the winter season, Rugby 7, Dubai Horserace, Dubai Duty Free tennis, etc," added another expat who made the move to Dubai.

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Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in the UAE accepting of differences?

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"Very diverse and very tolerant. However, there is not to much mixing among the three major groups, local citizens, western expats and expats from developing countries," mentioned another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"This is the most diverse city on the planet, along with Dubai. Everyone, and I mean virtually EVERYONE is from somewhere else. Religions and cultures all intermingle peacefully and it's not a big deal to have a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim in a group of friends. They all get along just fine. Differences are what make this country the experience it is. Perhaps that's why as many as 60% of American expats who repatriate back to their home country encounter difficulty reassimilating and most find themselves coming back to the UAE for more of that openness," commented one expat who made the move to Abu Dhabi.

"Al Ain is much more traditional than Dubai or Abu Dhabi - so you will see more of true Emirati culture. The Emirati are a very closed culture and men and women do not generally socialise together. if you can make a few Emirati friends and be invited into the inner sanctum you will be very welcomed and valued, however it is not easy to do that. Most of the population in the Emirates is Indian - over 50% and the Emirati are a very small percentage (maybe 12-15%) so it is very multicultural here. Islam is the main religion and permeates all aspects of life here - and it is very peaceful and non-threatening," remarked another expat living in Al Ain, UAE.

"This is an extremely tolerant islamic country. All religions are tolerated although not promoted. There are more races, countries and ways of life than I have fingers, toes, legs and arms of counting. Everyone can do their own thing and it is accepted. My friends and aquaintances are British, Canadian, South African, Emirati, Yemeni, Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Jordanian, Palestinian. I think that we are diverse and accepting of differences," added another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"There is definitely a lot of diversity. The universities, private schools (K-12), and hospitals are one reason for a lot of diversity and a lot of Westerners in Al Ain. A lot of Arabic and East-Asian nationalities are employed in Al Ain. However, there is an over abundance of men, living far from their families, often milling around down town Al Ain on their day off from work. The country as a whole is tolerant of the diversity and Western Ways (to a limit). Women should be sensitive to the imbalance of the genders, and all should be respectful of the local culture and customs," remarked another expat who made the move to Al Ain.

"75% of the populations are of expat, Asian/ subcontinent. People lives in harmony and the city are considerably safer than any other cosmopolitan city in the world. Although UAE is a muslim country, alcohol are served in licenced restaurants/hotels to non muslim. An alcohol permit could be applied through various alcohol stores (MMI or African eastern) - to be issued by Dubai Police upon approval - which allows you to purchase alcohol from the stores. UAE is also a tax free country," explained one expat living in Dubai, UAE.

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

What are the schools in the UAE like?

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"GAA opened in 2011, however there are still many problems till today. Staff and administration are struggling due to lack of wise management," said another parent with children at Gems american academy in Abu Dhabi.

"I would be be very wary of enrolling your child here. The nuclear management of this school is non-existent. The communication from the administration to the parents and teachers and staff is abhorrent. There are no AP courses, and GAA has yet to qualify for IB status, because it is not yet up to IB standards. At the primary level, classes are over-loaded and teachers are unsupported. They are not able to split children by ability so higher-achievers sit bored all day long. It is my understanding some teachers are better able than others to stimulate these children, like anywhere. There are also no science labs to speak of, which is an utter travesty. The facilities are top notch, but the kids rarely utilize GAA's most prized features: planetarium, music tech lab, et al. There is no real technology curriculum yet in place, though parents have been told they are working on it. They do not teach the most basic skill of typing to their students. In the tour, they promised iPads in the classrooms, but that has yet to happen. In fact, kids as young as primary are allowed to bring their own devices. There Wi-Fi in the school is not filtered in anyway. Kids can access social media all day long, and they do. Other schools block sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Kik--not GAA, It's a free for all. Parents are expected to pay for school supplies, field trips, team uniforms, a rather insufficient lunch, et al. In short, nothing is free at GAA despite it having one of the highest tuitions in Abu Dhabi. I will say that the teachers are all fantastic, that is why we stay. There is hope for GEMS American Academy, but it will take some major institutional changes for it to function as well as even the most under-funded American public school. I would like people unfamiliar with the actual American curriculum to know that what GAA offers is nothing remotely like an American curriculum," commented one expat when asked about Gems American Academy in Abu Dhabi.

"If you can, enrol for DESS, JESS, JEBEL ALI and a few others. This school is very much so business run....parents are treated with disdain by the Principal and Management. There are quite a significant amount of children with learning difficulties/ special needs so if your child does have SEN then this is the school for you but ONLY because you will get in...there is no achievement/support centre so any supposed extra help you child will get will be in the mainstream classroom. The foundation section of this school is good though.....its as the years go up that the many negatives become apparent," explained one expat in Dubai, UAE with kids at Star International School Mirdif.

"Be aware that the quality of teaching depends solely on the teacher and the group of students present in a certain level. Some teachers are very professional and caring. Others seem to be always stunned by the students inadequate skills! However, there is no action plan to find out the reasons behind this mediocrity and what to do to help students perform better. Teachers do not attribute a great importance to parents concerns since the administration supports the teachers 99% of the time," wrote an expat living in Festival City with children attending Universal American School.

"Overall the quality of the school is quite poor, the students have no self discipline and my son has come home on several occaisions crying after getting into a fight with someone who was bullying him. When I informed the administration they just said it is his problem for fighting back!!??. The academics seem to be quite sound and challenging but all the good western teachers seem to be filtering out of the school giving way to less qualified arab teachers. The school has very few expat students so if enrolling your child in the school make sure he is ok with it. I wouldn't reccomend the school," said one commented one expat when asked about Glenelg School in Abu Dhabi.

"Pay the school a visit. The students are great and the staff are getting better year on year," mentioned one expat living in Dubai, UAE.

Is the cost of living in the UAE high?

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We asked people about the cost of living in the UAE, they wrote:

"Cost of living is pretty high, but there is a huge variety of income ranges and shops that cater to them. You can live a life of opulence and luxury, or get by quite well on a variety of cheaper options. We found that paying for our kids education was the greatest expense," said an expat in Abu Dhabi.

"Fairly high, comparable to New York City and other too metro areas in the states. But like most areas, there are places for all budgets," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"The cost of living is fairly high. Schools are expensive, as is housing. A housing allowance is often included in an employment package though, and depending on your level of employment and the company you work for school can be included too. As far as groceries go, it depends on where you shop. There a lot of shops that cater to expats and hold imported products from the UK and the USA. There are certainly a lot of options. Expats make up the majority of the work force and so they are catered to very well," added one expat living in Dubai.

What type of recreational facilities are in the UAE?

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When we asked people living in the UAE about recreational activities, they mentioned:

"Golf at yas links golf club, the al ain golf, equestrian and rugby club is popular, crossfit gym with some of the worlds top athletes at Vogue fitness on yas island, a huge array of water parks and theme parks that offer memberships..," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"Abu Dhabi has several golf clubs that we frequent. As well as several hotels that have fun brunches that are fun to attend. There are many hiking and outside activities in the northern Emirates. Not so much in Abu Dhabi. There is one club, the Tourist Club that is very popular with the expat community," added one expat living in Abu Dhabi.

"Golf at Emirates golf club, Els Club, Jumeirah Golf Estates, A qudrah golf club and many more. Swimming at Al Qudra sports complex, Horse riding at Arabian Ranches Equestrian Club, Tennis at Sports city, Rugby at the Rugby 7s stadium... There are many varied activities with options for all ages and interests. The city is vibrant and cater for everyone," commented one expat who moved to Dubai.

What is the weather like in the UAE?

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"It is Hot! Summers are stifling and humid, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius and humidity hitting 80%. Winter is gorgeous. Temperatures can drop to about 9 degrees Celsius but usually stay in the high teens and low 20's. It very seldom rains, when it does it is a joyous occasion," said an expat in Abu Dhabi.

"Extremely hot and humid in the summer months for 5 months. Winter is very mild. Jan and Feb are potential rain months, but not much," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"It is HOT. Summer temps reach over 50 degrees centigrade and humidity gets quite high too. Winter is gorgeous. Temps drop to about 10 degrees centigrade and reach around 25 degrees during the day, It's very comfortable. Everything is air conditioned and the city has adapted its walkways and bus stops etc in a lot of places to be air conditioned," added one expat living in Dubai.

Are there good restaurants in the UAE?

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"There are a lot of your typical chain reatuarants, pf changs, california pizza kitchen, ruby tuesdays, ihop, McDonalds, burger king etc... just about everything you might want. You can also find local restuarants and really good iranian and indian food," commented one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi.

"You may choose from whatever budget you like. Heavy party scene with uppity people to the chill at the local bar scene. Whatever you want is available. We spend most times at the golf club," said another expat.

"Restaurants and night life vary great and are vibrant. There is a huge variety of restaurants and bars, pubs and clubs... everything is available. Most places deliver, there is really not much that you can't get. There are award winning restaurants that are unbelievably expensive as well as tiny little local shops that sell amazing local food which is very inexpensive," commented one expat living in Dubai, UAE.

Where will I buy groceries and do other shopping in the UAE?

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"Most people get their groceries from large chains such as Geant or Carrefour. British brands such as Marks and Spencers, Spinnies and Waitrose are also very popular. Lulu's is hugely popular but seems to be a local brand that import a lot of American products and are quite reasonably priced. As far as clothing stores go, there is very little that you can't get," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"Shopping malls are a big deal here. And in most cases there is a large grocery chain attached to each mall. Waiters, Geant and Carrefour are the biggest names. There are other little shops all over the city to grab quick things," added one expat living in Abu Dhabi.

"There are big grocery stores, like Carrefour, Geant, Spinnies, Waitrose and Marks n Spencers. As the majority of the population is made up of expats, they are catered to very well and a lot of products are imported. There is very little that you can't get. Park n Shop is a store that imports exclusively from the USA and from the UK. Malls are amazing and have a lot of international stores," commented one expat who moved to Dubai.

What are the visa & residency requirements in the UAE?

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"You need to have a sponsor, typically your employer sorts this part out. A medical exam with tests for hiv, tb, etc... police record,," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"Not if not all are on work visas but you can get a residency with property purchase. Also, you may register in the free zones as well. Looking at 5-20k for the right to live there," added one expat living in Abu Dhabi.

"In order to get a residency visa, you need to be sponsored, either by an individual, or most commonly, by your employer. The employer will apply for the residency visa on your behalf. You will have to have a medical examination and police clearance etc..," commented one expat who moved to Dubai.

Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in the UAE?

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"Health insurance is covered by the company we work for. We pay a minimal fee per doctors visit but thats it," said an expat in Dubai.

"Like most places, you pay for what you get. My company had our family on a health plan but it continually changed with the company trying to save money every year," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.

"Our health insurance was provided by the company I worked for. We had to pay about $10 (30AED) for a doctors visit. The process was very smooth and seamless," added one expat living in Dubai.

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
GET A QUOTE

UAE GuideUAE Guide
Learn what members have to say about living in UAE.

UAE Forum UAE Forum
Talk with other digital nomads and expats in UAE on our UAE forum - meet people, get advice and help others.

UAE Index UAE Index
An index of all of our site's UAE information.

Contribute to UAE Network Contribute
Help others in UAE by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in UAE.

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