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Moving to the United Arab Emirates

Your guide to expat life in the UAE

Want to move to the United Arab Emirates?

Opportunity awaits expats in the cultural hubs of the United Arab Emirates. You can look forward to a high standard of living in one of the most progressive countries in the Gulf region.

It’s no surprise that the UAE has become a hub for expats looking to accelerate their careers. Expats from across the world set their sights on the 7 emirates to boost their income, which is a major factor in convincing them to stay. There are also excellent opportunities for young professionals under the age of 35. In the UAE, you can boost your wages by more than half.

The UAE's buzzing cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the perfect setting to network with other professionals. Dubai is popular with expats, ranking alongside New York and Shanghai as one of the best international hubs to progress your career. Although the cost of living in Dubai is relatively steep, the impressive salaries and faster rate of promotions mean you’ll enjoy a better quality of life compared to at home.

English is widely spoken, and the expat community is large and diverse, making it easier for new arrivals to settle in. You may struggle to adapt to the intense heat. And you may not be used to the conservative Islamic culture. But it helps to keep an open mind and be patient – the benefits of living in the UAE are worth it.

Basic info about the United Arab Emirates

  • Population: Around 10 million
  • Capital city: Abu Dhabi
  • Largest city: Dubai
  • Political system: The UAE is a federation of seven constitutional monarchies (emirates). Traditionally the ruler of Abu Dhabi is also the president of the UAE
  • Main languages: Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken and understood
  • Main religion: Islam is the official religion. Other religions are tolerated, but proselytising is illegal
  • Time: GMT+4
  • Electricity: 220V and 240V, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are the most frequently used
  • International dialling code: +971
  • Internet domain: .ae
  • Emergency numbers: 999
  • Road traffic: Drives on the right

Weather in the UAE

The UAE’s arid subtropical climate makes for year-round good weather, but the heat in summer may be a real shock for newly arrived expats.

The hottest months are between June and September, when temperatures can reach a sweltering 45°C (113°F) and the humidity is stifling. Many expats escape for their annual holidays during the hot summer months.

Key phrases

  • Hello As-salaam alaykum
  • Good evening Masaa el kheer
  • Goodbye Ma’a Salama
  • How are you? Kaifa haloka (male), Kaifa haloki (female)
  • Thank you Shukran
  • Yes Na’am
  • No La
  • Do you speak English? Hal tatakallam ingliziya?
  • Can you help me? Hal beemkanek mosa dati?
  • Sorry Ana a’asef

Shipping to the UAE

Most rental accommodation in the UAE is unfurnished and even the most basic appliances may not be provided. Shipping your own furniture from home is a good idea, but appliances from countries with different voltage requirements won’t work in the UAE, so it’s best to leave them at home. Many companies give expats a shipping allowance. It’s worth negotiating this into your employment contract if you can.

Banned items

The UAE has strict rules about what you can and can’t take into the country.

Anything considered against the values, traditions and morality of the UAE is banned. There are also bans on various medicines, so check the UAE Ministry of Health’s list of controlled drugs before you move. Being caught with banned items can result in a jail term.

Top tips for the UAE

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai is famous for holding many world records, such as the tallest building, largest shopping mall etc., so take advantage of these history-making things, as well as experiencing the local culture in rural areas near Dubai.
Accommodation will cost way more than any company HR department will let on, check prices before you come and add 10% for local fees and several thousand Dirhams per month for utilities.
Explore the different emirates at least every month for the first year. It will give you more understanding of its culture. Learn beforehand the language since it’s important to ease communicating with others. Be aware of the dos and don’ts considering that it is a Muslim country.
The most important thing is, know your laws, some may seem restrictive, others not and don’t be intimidated by the local people or believe in stereotypes. You can learn a lot from them and expand your cultural horizon and empathy.
Securing a spot for your children in a "good" school is very difficult, so if possible try to have this organised before you come out, or have your employer guarantee a place in a top school.
Talk to people residing in the country to understand the cost of living, social life etc. and evaluate if you will earn the same or better and then decide. Do not just look at salary in isolation or no tax structure. There are plenty of hidden costs.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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