Organise a visa
The visa process is lengthy – and complicated – for expats in the UAE, so we’d strongly recommend having a job lined up before you arrive. If you’re just too impatient, and want to arrive as soon as possible, then you’ll come in on a tourist visa. This means that you’ll need to leave the country on a ‘visa run’ every 60 days until you have a working visa. This process used to be fairly easy: drive over the boarder to Oman, have lunch and then drive back. Voila – a new visa issued. However the government are cracking down on this common way round the visa system, and so you might find you have to fly out to Qatar or Bahrain.
To arrange a work visa, you’ll need sponsorship and this usually comes from your employer. The paperwork is exhaustive, so it’s a good idea to start to get things in order as early as possible, even if the application is starting before you arrive. You’ll need passport-size photos, and lots of them. Depending on your age, profession and level of qualifications, you’ll need to have your paperwork verified. This includes birth certificates and marriage certificates. You’ll need to have attested photocopies made by a lawyer, which will then need to be verified by the UAE government. This can be done at a ‘legalisation centre’ in Dubai, or at the UAE embassy in Canberra. There is a fee for this, which is roughly $100AUD.
The final few steps can only be completed once you arrive in the UAE. This includes a comprehensive health check. You’ll be given a blood test, mainly to check for HIV, and you may be asked to have a chest X-Ray and/or urine tests. It’s worth mentioning that the blood tests are done in large batches, meaning that if one sample shows something, everyone in the batch will have to be tested again. If you are found to have any serious transmittable disease, you will be refused a residency visa and potentially be asked to leave the country.
You’ll also have to spend what seems like hours at the Australian embassy and the legalisation centres having pieces of paper stamped. If you’re lucky, your company may have someone who can do a lot of the running round for you, though it will mean handing your passport over. The work permit usually is valid for three years, and the cost will need to be negotiated as part of your contract. Some unscrupulous employers may ask you to pay for it, but it’s common for employers to cover the whole cost or at least half. If this is the case, check your contract to see if they’ve included an early termination fee: if you leave the company before your visa expires, your employer can subtract the cost of your visa from your final settlement.
TIP: Have a number of certified copies made of your degree certificate or other work related qualifications, plus your birth and marriage certificate.
Have a valid passport
It goes without saying really, but just because you’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from Oz, it doesn’t mean you can turn up without valid documents. If you’re worried your passport is due to run out, don’t leave it until the last minute, head over to the Australian Government Passport Authority for all the details you’ll need about renewing – or applying for – a passport.
TIP: Have at least six months validity on your passport before you travel. You don’t want to have to leave quickly or arrange an emergency new passport.
Like most things official, the quarantine rules in Dubai are complex. And strict. The main reason for this is the UAE don’t really want you bringing a pet in to their country. Even though Dubai is 90% expats from across the world, it’s not a city for animal lovers. Which might be hard to believe as you read this with Felix the cat curled on your lap. Dogs are seen as unclean, and as such many of the parks and beaches do not allow them. Which can make walks somewhat difficult. Plus, for certain breeds the summer heat is simply too hot and dangerous for pets to be outside.
If you’re living in a new build, or an apartment, your landlord may not allow pets, or if you’re got a particularly vocal pet you might be kicked out if your neighbours complain. Not that you’re not thinking seriously, but you need to be 100% sure that this is the right thing for your pet – and not just because you’ll miss them.
There are no quarantine laws in the UAE though, provided your pet is microchipped, fully vaccinated and has a health certificate issued within the month before travel. While there’s nothing legal that says you have to have this attested, if you get this paperwork stamped at the UAE embassy also, it might help. You will also need to have your residency visa or at least a letter from your employer to say the application is underway.
Unlike European countries, you don’t need to use a specific airline to bring your pet, but as they’ll be in the cargo hold, it’s worth researching animal-friendly carriers. Avoid your pets arriving during Ramadan as hours of business are reduced, and the handling of live animals isn't always welcome.
TIP: Contact King & Wilson to discuss your options and to arrange any paperwork.
As you would expect from one of the wealthiest places in the world, there are plenty of banks to chose from. Most international banks have a presence in Dubai, so it’s worth checking out if your Australian bank has an office there, or a relationship with a local bank. Whether it’s a local or international bank, staff will speak English, making opening and running an account fairly simple. This is particularly important when most banking services are still done in person at a branch. It’s wise, therefore, to select a bank close to your home or office.
Cheques are still one of the most common way to pay for things, especially large purchases. So don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a year’s rent or your car finance in advance with post-dated cheques. The idea of direct debits hasn’t really caught on.
To open a ‘full’ bank account, you’ll need to have your residency visa along with your passport. Don’t worry if your visa isn’t ready in time for your first pay check, though, as you’ll be able to open a basic account in the interim. This just may mean you’re not issued with a debit card, but one you can use at ATMs. Do check with the bank first.
TIP: The transaction fees for sending money back home can be huge, some banks offer one international transaction a month for free, so it pays to shop around if you’ve got financial commitments back in Australia.
The currency in Dubai is the Dirham – you’ll find it it abbreviated as Dhs or AED and is made up of notes and coins. Although exchange rates do vary, you should get a decent amount of AED for your AUD. It’s also an idea to keep an eye on currency converters, such as www.hifx.com.au
TIP: Keep an eye on exchange rates, especially when you first arrive, to see how the cost of living stacks up to Australia.
They say the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Well, whoever said that had never lived in Dubai – salaries are tax-free here. Plus you’ll pay no service or goods taxes either. Instead you’ll pay for things like parking, healthcare, car taxes, ID cards and road tolls. Plus any time you visit a hotel whether that’s for a coffee or an overnight stay, you’ll have 10% added to your bill. And if you’ve got an alcohol license, you’ll pay around 30% tax.
When you first get your pay check, it might seem a little odd – and you might seem a little rich, which is fantastic if you’re looking to save for a rainy day. Be careful not to fall in to the trap a lot of new expats do, and splash out on lots of luxuries – the cost of living can be expensive.
The bad news is, you still may be liable to pay tax in Australia. The rules are complex, and we suggest you take a look at the following website www.law.ato.gov.au
Also, make the most the tax-free situation while you can – the UAE are looking to introduce tax and VAT in 2018.
TIP: Seek legal financial advice if you’re not sure whether you’ll still have to pay tax in Australia.
Cost of living
Oh, the lifestyle you could lead in Dubai! With so many expats, there is a fantastic social scene: playgroups, sports, health and of course, eating and drinking. This can mean the cost of living in Dubai can skyrocket if you’re not careful. The biggest expenses are housing and school fees. Though, if you’re lucky, your employer might be covering the cost of your apartment/villa.
Grocery shopping can be expensive, especially if you want the brands you have back home, and a lot of items have to be shipped in from abroad. And products containing pork. As the UAE is a Muslim country, you’ll find not many places serve pork, though you can usually find it in a separate section of the supermarket and it will be expensive.
Eating out can be as cheap or expensive as you like. There is a wealth of expensive, world-renowned names Dubai, and almost any type of international dish can be found. Emirati and Lebanese cafés and restaurants are plentiful, where the portions will be big and the bill won't. Keep in mind though, that you won’t get any booze at a restaurant, unless it’s linked to a hotel or has a special license.
This also means that alcohol prices are high. If you like your cocktails of a weekend, be prepared to spend a small fortune – the taxi home will be cheap though. Most bars have discount nights, and ladies, you’ll find once a week you’ll be offered a couple of free or discounted drinks across town for Ladies Night.
TIP: If you’re trying to watch the pennies, especially when you first arrive, still to local produce in the supermarket and save the big nights out for when there are drinks offers.
Healthcare in the UAE is good, with English widely spoken. You must have health insurance. This is a legal requirement regardless of whether you plan on using public or private medical centres. Legally your employer must cover your health insurance, and while many companies extend this to your spouse and children, it's not a legal requirement. It’s always worth wise asking what – and who – is covered under their healthcare, in case you need some additional cover.
While there are a number of public medical centres, healthcare is only free for Emiratis, though you can pay a fee to use them. Many of these are in the older parts of town like Deira, which can make them difficult to get to in the notoriously bad Dubai traffic. Most expats and Emiratis will head to a private medical centre, including the aptly-named Dubai Healthcare City, which is a huge complex of clinics and facilities.
TIP: Check with your employer whether they’ll provide health insurance for your family, too.
Dubai is very cosmopolitan in a lot of ways, and you’ll find there are a variety of medications you can get freely over-the-counter that you’d need a doctor’s prescription from at home. However, there are a number of medications that are totally banned. Meaning you can’t even bring them in to the country. This does include strong painkillers such as codeine. If you take any medication regularly, you’re advised to bring a six-month supply, plus a signed letter from your doctor explaining the dosage, and exactly why you are taking this medication. Get copies of this letter and keep one with you when you travel.
To buy or not to buy?
It’s only been in the last 10 years that expats have been able to buy land or property in the UAE. Given the sheer number of developments and what seems like constant building, you’d expect prices to be reasonable given the amount of competition. It’s not. Mortgages can be quite complicated, particularly if you bank with a local UAE institution, as they tend to have stricter rules. Plus there are different stipulations if you’re buying ‘off-plan’ ie, something that is currently being built. Regardless of whether you’re buying new or “pre-lived in” you’ll need to pay a deposit of around 5-10% to either the developer or current owner of the house. And due to the number of projects that get started, but don’t get finished, make sure any contract includes a completion date – and perhaps more importantly, a compensation amount in the event of non-completion.
The maximum length of a mortgage is 25 years, and to foster sensible lending rules, financial institutions will usually only allow your mortgage to be a maximum of 35% of your monthly salary. The bad news is there’s a lot of red tape, more so than in Australia, and reams of paperwork to be shown: six months of bank statements, passport, proof of residency and income, and occasionally, a letter of no objection from your company. The good news, though, is that you can apply for a mortgage before you arrive. This is ideal if you’ve got the time to visit first and scope out some houses.
Renting, meanwhile, is still an exceptionally popular option. There are still employers who will provide housing, or a housing allowance as part of your employment contract. This may mean you have little say in where you live, but thankfully everywhere in Dubai is commutable.
Rental costs are going to be your biggest outlay if you need to pay it. For example, a two-bedroom apartment can set you back around Dhs. 100,000 a year – or $36,100 AUD. And that’s to rent. Villas are considerably more, particularly in new developments. Luxuries like swimming pools and gyms will also up the price. Older villas and apartments in certain areas can come cheaper, but they tend to get snapped up quickly.
Technically it’s illegal to house share in mixed sexed groups, or as a couple if you're not married, but you will find lots of people do manage – provided they don’t draw too much attention to themselves. Check out websites such as www.dubai.dubizzle.com have everything from houses, apartment shares to furniture. One thing to be aware of – if you see a really cheap room that looks too good to be true, particularly in a popular part of town, you'll often find it will be the maid’s quarters. Which is basically the size of a closet.
TIP: Dubai roads are busy at the best of times, and gridlocked during rush hour. Spend some time looking at areas close to your place of work – and schools if necessary.
DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) www.dewa.gov.ae are the only suppliers in the city. Activating the energy supply for your new home can be done online or in one of the DEWA offices. For both, you will need to complete an application form along with your tenancy agreement and passport with valid visa page. You will need to pay a connection fee, which is usually Dhs. 2000 ($720 AUD) and for a villa Dhs. 4000 ($1440 AUD).
The water is safe to drink, but bottled water is so cheap that many drink that. You’ll also be able to get a delivery of the large, office size water dispensers .
There is no mains gas supply in Dubai. In older villas you’ll find gas canisters are still in use. There are a great many distributors who will deliver, connect and refuel a canister for you. A comprehensive list is available at www.emiratesgas.com.
If you are living in a modern property in one of the newer of Dubai’s communities, a big factor to consider is air conditioning. This is not tied to your electricity bill – it comes from a local district cooling plant and is an entirely separate expense. You’ll have to pay a refundable connection fee, and as usual you’ll need your passport and tenancy agreement for set-up.
For those in older properties, air conditioning may be tied into your DEWA bills, depending on the type of unit you have.
Internet and phone
There are only two mobile service providers in Dubai:
As they both offer broadband and TV packages, it’s worth studying what’s on offer in addition to your mobile usage.
Broadly speaking, there are two contract options available: prepaid or postpaid. When you first arrive in Dubai, if you don’t yet have a local bank account set up, you will initially need a prepaid phone, which requires purchasing prepaid cards available from many malls and stores. Once you have your visa and bank account, you can switch to a postpaid plan if you wish.
To set up a contract, you will typically require your passport with valid residence visa stamp.
Be aware also that where you buy your phone will affect what apps are able, by law, to be installed on it. Purchasing a phone from one of the two state-regulated providers will, for example, forbid installation of FaceTime on an iPhone. The same goes for a local Apple store. In general, many apps that enable free calls or encryption are prohibited in the UAE. Even if you already have such an app installed, your network provider in Dubai will block it.
Websites with pornographic content, or sites slamming the government or promoting religiously offensive material is banned and will be blocked through the Emirates Proxy – you should be able to use Skype without a problem for calls home. And believe it or not, there is still the option of dial-up in some parts of Dubai, with a connection charge and a charge for length of time you use the Internet. Connection for broadband is around Dhs.150 ( $55 AUD).
As the UAE is a Muslim country, alcohol laws are strict. You can’t buy alcohol in a supermarket, and you must have a licence if you wish to buy it to drink at home. There are specialist liquor stores where you can buy to take home. Your employer should be able to help you get a booze license, but it’s expensive. Plus there’s the 30% tax they’ll charge on an already expensive product. There are a number of well-known, illegal booze dens where you can stock up on wine, spirits and beer to take home. Just keep in mind you will get in to trouble if you’re caught at home – or on the drive back – with illegally bought alcohol.
Restaurant and bars also have to have a special licence, so it’s not like popping to the pub on the corner or bar hopping down a street. You’ll find the only licenced premises are attached to a hotel, giving nights out a very different feel as many of the hotels will have at least two bars, and even a nightclub. Local restaurants and cafes will not be able to serve you alcohol with your meal. Do be aware drunken behaviour is taken very seriously: whereas you may get a telling off from the police back in Oz, you’re likely to wind up in jail. And not just overnight to sober up.
As part of the Muslim religion, Dubai observes Ramadan every year. The month-long observation can see some small business completely close, with others offering reduced hours to those observing it. During this time, many food courts in malls close and you should try and keep in mind that those observing Ramadan will not eat or drink during daylight hours, but will celebrate with an Iftar feast once the sun goes down. Try to be respectful during this time by not eating and drinking in public.
The public transport network in Dubai has got much better over the last few years, and that's been largely due to the arrival of the overland metro system. It currently has two lines, with more planned. The red route runs alongside the Sheik Zayed Road, through main tourist and business areas; while the green route focuses around the airport and old town. Both lines are frequent, with the maximum wait being 7 minutes off-peak and trips are cheap. You can buy single fares, or zone passes if you know you’ll be travelling a set route or distance regularly. All of the stations have parking, meaning you can avoid the notorious tailbacks of a morning.
Taxis are cheap and can be picked up easily on the street – do wear a seatbelt though as drivers can be very chatty and easily distracted from the road!
TIP: It sounds silly, but when you get in a taxi do make sure the driver knows where they’re going. Many drivers consider it impolite to admit they don’t know where they’re going.
Car prices in Dubai are cheaper than in Australia, and so it’s not uncommon for new expats to use their tax-free salary to treat themselves to a flashy car. And while that’s a lovely treat, you might just want to consider the number of bumps on Dubai’s roads first. Though don’t let that put you off – although public transportation has come on in leaps and bounds, it’s still likely you’ll want to get a car to get around.
You’ll need to have your residency visa to buy a car, and as mentioned earlier, it’s likely you’ll arrange the finance with post-dated checks. Yes, even for a three-year payment plan. Your Australian driving license will be fine to use in the UAE initially, but you will need to convert it to a UAE license. Thankfully Australia is one of the approved countries that don’t require you to take a road test. However, you will need to have an eye test. Take the results along with your passport (and copy), current license (and copy), plus a passport photo, a copy of your residency visa and a letter of no objection from your sponsor. Oh and Dhs.350 for the opening of a driving file in your name.
TIP: Although most finance packages will by done by past-dated cheque, it’s actually illegal to bounce a cheque in Dubai and you could find yourself being fined or having your passport confiscated until the matter is resolved. Keep a record of when your cheques are due to be chased to make sure you have funds available.
The school system in Dubai is excellent, with many students attending private schools following either the British or American school system. Lessons are taught in English, though students will legally receive one lesson of Arabic a week. Tuition fees are high – and waiting lists are higher: some schools have waiting lists for years, so you will need to make sure your little (or not-so-little) ones are on the register as early as possible.
Some schools will offer education from 3-18, while others are stand alone primary or secondary schools. For a list of the top 25 schools in Dubai, check out this website: www.edarabia.com
It’s also definitely worth having a look at Expat Woman. The name is slightly misleading, it’s actually one of the best resources for new comers – and old timers – in Dubai. Their school list includes curriculum type and cost of fees which should give you a comprehensive starting point www.expatwoman.com
TIP: Check any potential school’s admission policy as well as their waiting list.
After school care
After class has finished, many schools offer extra-curricular activities, whether they’re an extension of the curriculum or more social, like soccer. Some expat parents like to keep their kids busy after school with horse riding, swimming camps or music lessons. All of which are available across the city. These activities can also be expensive, so shop around, or ask other parents at school for recommendations.
Additionally, it's very common to have some form of home help. Whether that’s someone coming in once a week to do your ironing, or every day to pick the kids up from school and make them dinner. Depending on your housing situation, you may have the option for live-in home help, or you may prefer to have someone only come in for a few hours a day. Again, word of mouth is the best advertisement.
TIP: If one of the parents at school is talking about their fantastic home help, don’t be afraid to ask if they wouldn’t mind having them help out at your place, too.
Post 16 education
While some of the international schools have students up to 18 years old, it’s not uncommon for parents to send their teenagers back home to either a boarding school or to stay with family to finish off their education in their home country. This is certainly true if students want to continue their education at university, as the options are far more limited in Dubai. This might mean a serious conversation with your teenager – and any family member willing to take them in back home.
Some preschools have waiting lists longer than a regular school, so if you’ve got very young children, start making enquiries as early as possible. If you know where you’re going to be living, check the local area and use resources like Expat Woman. Most preschools are morning only, so you might find you’ll still need additional daycare, which is why many people opt for home help of some kind.
Yes, it is possible to arrive in Dubai with no job. Websites such as Dubizzle ww.dubai.dubizzle.com or GulfTalent www.gulftalent.com have a variety of industries advertised. However, it is exceptionally difficult to live without working. By living we mean getting a phone contract, a car, somewhere to live, or even a bank account. Plus without a residency visa, you’ll have to keep leaving the country on ‘visa runs’. Plus, when you do get a job, the visa application process can take a while, which might make many things difficult.
One of the biggest factors about arriving in Dubai with no job is that. You’re not likely to get offered a contract that’s as good as if you were recruited in Australia. Of course you'll get legally required healthcare, but you’re also potentially missing out on financial assistance for housing, school fees or annual return tickets home as many companies offer. If you’re already in the country, what’s the incentive to make you move all that way?
Make sure you CV is polished and you're really selling yourself – Dubai is a desirable place to live and competition for jobs is fierce.
TIP: sign up to recruitment websites and get job alerts posted direct to your inbox.
Book your flight
The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.
Cull the clutter
Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There are a few good reasons for this.
You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey across the Tasman. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then look into storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or utilising King & Wilson’s long term storage services. You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to United Arab Emirates might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early '90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad…and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?
For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from Forbes.com.
Tip: Cull unnecessary belongings and possessions before packing boxes.
10 Weeks Before Moving Day
Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard -- they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:
- Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.
- Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as King & Wilson to get an estimate.
- Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.
- Your belongings will be arriving by sea, however it only takes a couple of weeks for your boxed up life to arrive in . You may therefore only need to pack some additional clothing, linen, towels and key crockery and key kitchen utensils in your flight luggage. You may also consider pre-arranging excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offers a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.
Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later
6 Weeks Before Moving Day
Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:
- Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.
- Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.
- Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales.
- Start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service.
- Begin getting any paperwork you need for bringing your pet, make any necessary vet appointments and have any vaccinations your animal needs.
- Start to compile your paperwork: things like CV copies, letters of recommendation, health certificates, medication lists. Basically anything you might need to register for a service, or secure a house/job.
4 Weeks Before Moving Day
With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:
- Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.
- Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.
- Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).
- Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.
Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day
1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day
Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in Dubai:
- Confirm all your travel arrangements.
- Finish packing your essentials.
- Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.
- Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in Dubai, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.
- If you know your new address in Dubai, you may wish to pre-arrange your utilities connection. A specialist international moving company like King & Wilson can arrange this for you.
- Give away any houseplants and any food you’re not going to be able to eat. The UAE is just as strict about what you can import as Australia, and unfortunately your beloved potted fern isn’t one of them.
- Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your Dubai address.
On Moving Day
You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:
- Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.
- A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance and quarantine inspection once your belongings arrive in Dubai.
Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 12 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure!