A federation of seven emirates, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is home to 200 nationalities, with immigrants from all over the globe. However, only 20 per cent of the total population are Emiratis. This means that the UAE holds the world’s highest percentage of expatriates living in a country.
Read on to learn more about the UAE and what you need to do to kickstart your move there!
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is best known for the Burji Khalifa – the world’s tallest building, which proudly stands at 2,717 ft tall. From having spectacular skylines, tax-free earnings, and gold markets to owning one of the world’s largest oil and natural gas reserves, the UAE attracts millions of visitors and expats hoping to relocate for work every year. The UAE is also one of the safest countries in the middle east where crime rates are low with a safety index of 84.72 as of 2021.
Weather & Climate
The UAE experiences all four seasons of the year – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The UAE has a climate with hot summers and cool winters. Normal days in the UAE are sunny and pleasant to the skin. The spring season starts off warm and pleasant, where the temperature will steadily climb towards the summer peaks. The temperature in the UAE during summertimes tends to get very hot, where temperature reaches 45 °C (113 °F), with a high humidity of over 90%. The weather is hot but becomes bearable during May, June and september.During Autumn, the temperature in the UAE falls steadily as Winter arrives. Weather during the winter seasons in UAE is moderate and pleasant, which is ideal for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
National Public Holidays include:
New Year’s Day
Eid al-Fitr Eve
Day of Arafat
Islamic New Year
According to the government of UAE, employees from the private sector are required to work 8 hours per day, 48 hours per week. Employees from the public sector are required to work 7 hours per day. However, working hours are reduced by 2 during the Ramadan period.
Employees who are working overtime are entitled to a pay equal to working hours remuneration plus 25% of that pay, which could increase to 50% if overtime hours are between 9 pm to 4 am. Moreover, employees in the UAE are also entitled to an annual leave of 2 days per month if they completed 6 months of service and 30 days per year if they completed service for a year.
The UAE consists of a federation of seven emirates, namely; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwah. As of 2021, the UAE has a current population of 9.8 million people living in the country.
Under the UAE system of government, both the President of the Federation and Vice President are elected every five years by the top policy-making body in the UAE, known as the Supreme Council.
The Supreme Council consists of both legislative and executive powers, who plan and ratifies federal laws while holding the power to approve the Prime Minister that is nominated by the President and to accept his resignation if required.
Once the Prime Minister has been appointed by the elected President, he or she then appoints a Council of Ministers to develop and implement the federal policy across the government of UAE.
Furthermore, the government is also made up of a 40-member parliament known as the Federal National Council (FNC), who inspects the proposed new legislation and provides advice to the UAE as required. The FNC also questions the ministers on their own performance, which adds accountability to the government system.
Cost of Living
It is estimated that monthly expenses for a family of four would amount to 10,765.40 AED (2931 USD) without rent. Monthly expenses for an individual are estimated to be 3,135.95 AED (853.80 USD) excluding rent as of June 2021.
Economy and taxes
The UAE economy outlook is positive in 2021 as it is expected to grow 3.1 percent in 2021 and up to 3.5 percent in 2022. The Dubai Land Department reported in the Real Estate Bulletin that Dubai real estate transactions had increased 27 percent and 47 percent respectively in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2020 and Q1 2019. Furthermore, the hospitality sector in the UAE also experienced a healthy first quarter in 2021, where hotels in the UAE are performing extremely well with high occupancy rates.
The UAE only imposes corporate tax on oil companies and foreign banks. Other industries are currently exempted from paying corporate tax in the UAE. For businesses registered in the free zone, they are exempted from corporate tax for certain times, which can be extended sometimes. Tourist taxes are applicable in restaurants, hotels, apartments, resorts and more in the UAE.
The official language of the UAE is Arabic. In general, modern standard Arabic is taught in schools, and most native Emiratis converse in the dialect of Gulf Arabic. The languages in UAE are not limited to those spoken among the expatriate community in the UAE, which include dialects of Pashto, Hindi, Balochi, Persian and English.
Visa & Employment Passes
The UAE often attracts expatriates as the country has simpler visa requirements compared to the surrounding countries in the Middle East.
Visa for Visitors
The UAE offers three types of visa eligibility from 30 days, 90 days or 180 days visa based on the different countries. Should you be visiting UAE for leisure purposes, do take note of the following visa requirements for the different countries.
Work Permit Process For Foreigners
The UAE offers only one type of work permit, known as the labor card. Before employees can apply for a work permit, they will need to obtain the following items:
an employment entry visa
an Emirate ID card
a residence visa
After securing the employment entry visa, the employee will be given two months to enter the UAE. Upon arrival in the UAE, the employee is required to obtain a residence visa and work permit within 60 days.
Steps to getting an Employment Entry Visa:
Step 1 To obtain the employment entry visa, the employer must:
Apply for a visa quota for their employees through the Ministry of Labour (MOL) UAE.
Submit an employment contract, signed by the employee to the MOL.
Step 2 In order to apply for a residence visa in the UAE, the employee must obtain an Emirates ID Card to undergo medical screening, which is one of the requirements for residence visa approval. Employees need to apply for their Emirates ID card in person at the Emirates Identity Authority (EIA) Center.
To apply for an Emirates ID Card, the employee must provide:
Copy of the original passport
The employee is required to submit the following documents to obtain a residence visa in the UAE:
Employment Entry Permit
An Emirates ID card
A valid passport and photocopy of the passport
A copy of the passport photo
Medical screening results
A copy of the employer company card
A copy of the company commercial license.
The residence visa in the UAE is renewable every one to three years.
After obtaining a residence visa, the employee may proceed to apply for the work permit in the UAE. To acquire the work permit, the employee will require the same documents required for the residence visa. Then, the employee should complete a work permit application in Arabic, and submit an employment contract or proof of employment offer from their company in the UAE.
To obtain a student visa from the UAE, the expatriate student must be over 18 years of age and residing in the UAE. Outstanding students can apply for a long-term visa of 5 years in the UAE. Some requirements include:
Official admission letter from the respective university (freshman student)
Certificate of continuation of study (for older students)
Proof of passing medical tests
A visa sponsor (e.g., the university, parent or relative)
Approval of the relevant General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA).
For more information on obtaining a student visa in the UAE, please click here.
Housing & Connectivity
UAE is an attractive destination for expats especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There is a huge supply of housing for expats making it easy to find with different types of housing to choose from. However, the large supply does not translate into low rents. Housing in the UAE, specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is expensive. Expect rents to take up to half of the salary.
Types of Housing
Expats can select from several types of housing: apartments, villas, townhouses and penthouses.
There are various types of apartments available from studios to penthouses. These apartments do come with facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and 24/7 security.
Studio Apartment rent: 30,000 to 50,000 AED (8,100 to 13,600 USD) per year
One-and two-bedroom apartments rent: 70,000 and 100,000 AED (19,000–27,220 USD)
There are 2 types of villas; villas in compounds and standalone villas. Villas in compounds come with 3-4 bedrooms, gardens, 24/7 security, playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, gym, community centres, shopping areas. Standalone villas may not have as many facilities.
3-bedroom villa: Minimum 168,180 AED (45,785 USD)
5-bedroom villa: Minimum 298,640 AED (81,300 USD)
In the event that you will be in the UAE for less than a year, renting homes with a yearly rental contract with hefty penalties is not the best option. Instead, it is recommended to opt for short term rentals such as a hotel apartment or serviced apartments where you are able to pay on a monthly basis.
There are multiple things to consider when renting:
Rental contracts are on a yearly basis.
Rental allowance. Is your company providing you with a rental allowance? This will be a key factor in choosing the accommodation as you would not want to exceed the allowance as then you will need to fork out the excess from your own pockets.
If you leave early (within the contract period), you will incur a penalty of about 2 months rent and will need to give two months notice.
Location of your home. Do you want your home to be near your office? Near public transport facilities? These questions are crucial to finding the right home for yourself.
Do you want a furnished or unfurnished home? Furnished homes are generally more expensive than unfurnished ones. The choice will also depend on how long you will be in the country. If you are going to stay only for the short term, then a furnished home might be a better choice as you will not have to worry about buying furniture and removing/selling them when you are about to leave.
Here is the process for renting a house in UAE:
1. Search for a home online or hire an authorised real estate agent for the search
2. View the property with the agent and negotiate a good rate
3. Prepare the following documents: passport, a copy of your residence visa, marriage certificate (attested by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs), work contract/salary certificate and bank statement.
4. Sign the rental contract. Do note that rental contracts in Dubai or Abu Dhabi are required to be registered with the local authorities.
5. Pay the deposit. Expats will need to pay the landlord a 3 month deposit and prepare pre-dated checks for the rest of the year.
6. Move in.
Where to purchase a home
When searching for a place to stay, start online. Websites such as Bayut, Dubizzle and Property Finder are good sites to start with as they provide you with plenty of accommodations to choose from.
Apart from online, you can opt to engage property agents to help with your search. Make sure that the agent you have engaged is registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA). In Dubai, it is illegal to hire the services of unauthorized freelance agents. The agent is responsible for handling the paperwork and the contracts and also helping to negotiate a good rate for the chosen property.
There are benefits of hiring an agent such as helping you find the best property based on your needs and wants, help you with the paperwork, avoid any scams and even negotiate a good rate on your behalf.
Mobile Network Providers
The UAE is ranked first in the Middle East and seventh globally in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Index in 2020 according to the UN E-Government Survey 2020. This means that internet connectivity should not be an issue.
Internet Service Providers
The UAE has 9.52 million internet users as of 2019 accounting for 99% of the population. THere are two internet service providers in the UAE, Etisalat and Du. Both companies offer optical fibre services with Abu Dhabi said to have the fastest fibre optics in the world.
The two providers offer various packages which you can choose from. The package you opt for will depend on the speed and type of connection you require. For broadband, you are entitled to ADSL, ISDN and cable television.
Charges for the packages will depend on the service providers. SIgning up with the two companies mentioned above will mean a subscription fee of 100 to 200 AED/month. Broadband connection costs between 100 and 500 AED/month. The service providers will fix the charges in advance.
Besides internet at home, there is free wifi access in many hotels, malls and restaurants if you need to use the internet outside. It is worth noting that there is censorship in the UAE where certain websites or content is blocked to avoid offending religions and government. All VoIP services such as Facebook video, Skype and Viber are not allowed either.
There are several options for moving within the cities or across the different emirates such as trains, buses, taxis, or by car.
Taxis are a convenient mode of public transportation throughout the country. The taxis are regulated by the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) and are well maintained. All taxis in the UAE come with authorised meters so you do not have to worry about any ambiguities in fares or paying a higher fare for the trip then you are supposed to.
In Dubai, the RTA has introduced an app called “Smart Taxi” which enables you to book the nearest taxi to your location using your smartphone.
In Abu Dhabi city, the daytime starting fare for regular taxis is AED 3.50.
In Dubai city, the daytime starting fare for regular taxis is AED 8.
In Sharjah city, the minimum fee of the trip in a regular taxi is AED 11.50.
Currently, the only passenger train service available in the UAE is Dubai called the Dubai Metro. The Dubai Metro is a modern rail network consisting of two lines; the red line and the green line. It is not as extensive as in other major cities in the world but it definitely passes through the important areas of the city and connects the airport and malls.
It is the world’s longest fully autonomous driverless metro rail network in the world. On each line, there is a coach exclusive for women and children. All trains and stations are air-conditioned and have Wifi available. You will need the Nol card or a ticket to travel on the metro.
The Nol card is a smart card that can be used on all forms of public transport in Dubai.
Currently, the Abu Dhabi Metro is under construction while the Sharjah metro is in the planning stages
Dubai Metro Fares:
Standard adult ticket: 4 – 8.50 AED
Pre-paid Standard Adult Ticket (Silver Nol): 3 – 7.50 AED
Concessionary (Blue Nol Card): 1.50 – 3.75 AED
Gold Class (Red Ticket): 8 – 17 AED
Gold Class Pre-Paid: 6 – 15 AED
The bus network within cities is widespread allowing you to reach anywhere in the city hassle-free. Crucially, buses are very affordable. Tickets can be purchased either by paying directly or by using the Nol card if you are in Dubai, the Hafilat smart card in Abu Dhabi and the Sayer card in Sharjah.
In Abu Dhabi city, the fare starts from AED 2.00.
In Dubai, the fare starts from AED 2.50.
In Sharjah, the fare starts from AED 6.00 (Sayer ticket) and AED 8.00 (cash).
The most widely used mode of transportation in the UAE by both locals and expats. It is convenient given the public transport services are not as extensive. However, do note that you can only purchase a car if you have a residency visa. If you do not have a residency visa yet, you can rent a car from car rental companies. Other options include trains, taxis and buses. More information on these options below.
It is worth noting that buying cars in the UAE is cheaper than in other countries with lower running costs. Fuel costs in Dubai are some of the lowest in the world starting at 2.10 AED/litre (0.60 USD/litre) so you don’t have to worry about fuel costs.
If you are intending to drive in the UAE, then take note that it is a left hand drive country where people drive on the right side of the road. Those who are accustomed to driving on the left hand side, such as UK and commonwealth countries, should drive cautiously while adjusting to the new way of driving.
The healthcare system in the UAE is modern with state of art medical facilities. Healthcare is provided by both private and public players. The cost of healthcare is dependent on your immigration status. Over the years, the number of doctors and dentists has doubled, which means healthcare is readily available if you need it.
If you are moving to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, health insurance is mandatory. Your health insurance coverage will depend on your financial situation, where you live, your job and what kind of coverage you desire.
Do note that, under UAE law, employers are required to provide health insurance to their employees. However, you might need to find insurance for your family which you will need to pay for. Premiums range from 5,500 AED/year for an individual to 33,500 AED/year for a comprehensive plan for a family of four.
Private healthcare is definitely a lot more expensive than public healthcare with costs rising about 13% annually. A short consultation with a private doctor can cost on average 208 AED in Abu Dhabi and 265 AED in Dubai.
There are three healthcare cities (Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Dubai Healthcare City, Sharjah City) in the UAE and within each city there are various clinics serving all the healthcare needs.
Expats in the UAE tend to prefer private healthcare despite the higher prices because private healthcare staff mainly speak English and are expats themselves.
Healthcare for Expats
Expats in the UAE have access to private healthcare. Expats do not have access to public healthcare unless you are holding a public health card or if you have an emergency.
If you want to obtain a public health card, you will need to register with the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP).
Health Cards fees start from 100 AED for children under 9 years old to 300 AED for those above the age of 18.
Citizens and residents are eligible to open bank accounts in the UAE. The use of the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is mandatory for all electronic transactions and receipts within and outside the UAE (excluding credit card transactions). Banks in the UAE will inform their customers of their unique IBAN after an account had been opened.
To open a bank account in the UAE, you would need the following:
Copy of family book
Salary letter or a letter or NOC (No Objection) from the employer
For expats in UAE
For expatriate citizens of the UAE, they would need the following items to open a bank account in the UAE:
Copy of Emirates ID
Salary letter or a letter of NOC (No Objection) from employer or sponsor (university, family or relatives)
Residents of UAE
Citizens and expatriate residents of the UAE are eligible to apply for a joint account with another resident of the UAE. Do take note that different banks in the UAE would require different procedures and requirements to open an account.
For more information on the different types of banks in the UAE, from central banks, commercial banks, investment banks to islamic banks, please click here.
The education system in the UAE is split into three categories: public schools, private international schools and higher education institutions.
Public schools are free for all Emiratis but expats are able to enroll their children into public schools for a fee. English is taught but subjects are taught in Arabic. Public schools fees are around 6,000 AED yearly.
Private International Schools
There are many international schools in the UAE, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are various systems that schools follow such as the US, UK, Indian, French, German systems.
School fees are more expensive ranging from 2,700 AED for kindergarten to as high as 66,000 AED for high school. Schools may offer discounts or scholarships to help lower the costs. You may even try to negotiate with your employer to pay for the fees which is the case for a small number of expats.
Apart from three public universities that local Emiratis attend, there are many private universities in the country, including the arms of prestigious universities such as New York University Abu Dhabi. Many expat students attend these universities together with local Emirati students.
Expats are allowed to homeschool their children. Expat parents may opt for this because of the high fees or the convenience of home schooling. There are many homeschooling platforms available. Further, several homeschooling associations such as the Abu Dhabi Homeschoolers Association have been established to help support such parents.
Shipping a beloved pet to the UAE can be a stresssful and worrying task. Here’s a general breakdown of the costs needed to relocate with your furry friend.
Before traveling with your pet, you must obtain an import permit from the UAE's Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.
Only 2 cats, or 2 dogs, or 1 cat and 1 dog are allowed annually.
Your pet must travel to the UAE as manifested cargo.
Cats and dogs must be identified with a microchip.
Pets must be vaccinated against Rabies
There is no quarantine in the UAE for pets arriving with all their vaccinations, documents and all other Ministry requirements in order.
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