A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Dubai

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    There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together.

Life in Dubai

  • New laws and guidelines give expats a clear understanding of renting in UAE.
  • Education is of a high standard and there are many international schools in Dubai.
  • Apply for your health card early and look into private medical insurance.

Expats living in Dubai used to experience a booming metropolis with a prosperous economy, but, of course, the economic crisis of 2008/2009 also affected life in the emirate. However, Dubai’s economy is slowly recovering and the emirate is on its way to once again becoming the economic center of the UAE. Dubai is divided by a creek into the Deira district in the northeast and Bur Dubai in the southwest.

Cultural Understanding

As in the rest of the UAE, life in Dubai is dominated by the Islamic religion, with a mosque in almost every district. The most famous and most beautiful, the Jumeirah Mosque, is an integral part of life in Dubai. The Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding organizes visits to this mosque for non-Muslims and expatriates. Its intention is to further the understanding of expats and tourists for cultural and religious heritage of the Emiratis.

With these and other activities, the government aims to portray the experience of living in Dubai as fascinating and the city as the number-one location for tourists and expats in the Arabian Gulf area.

Finding Accommodation in Dubai

In Dubai, only legal residents can rent an apartment and have utility services connected. If your residence permit has not been issued yet, ask your employer to give you proof that your permit is being processed.

The tenancy agreement should contain all relevant information and has to be registered with Ejari (Arabic for “my rent”), a system governed by the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA). RERA also passed a law for tenants and landlords, creating a framework for living in Dubai’s rented properties, including obligations of both parties, eviction, general rules, and final judgment. The law is supposed to protect citizens and expats from high costs, unlawful evictions, and other issues.

Renting Accommodation

If you want to rent a place for living in Dubai, you should only use brokers or agents which are officially registered and hold a Broker’s Registration ID card. Their office must have a license issued by the Department of Economic Development. An official real estate agent normally receives a payment of 5% of the annual rent. This fee is paid when signing the lease.

If you should be settling down in Dubai on a temporary visitor visa, you cannot sign a fixed-term tenancy agreement. However, some brokers offer short-term lease accommodation for those who want to live in a more private setting than a hotel room. Due to short supply, this option is rather expensive. Regardless of the duration of your tenancy agreement, make sure you never use an unregistered broker or agent when renting an apartment.

The documents expats have to present for renting a place include a copy of their passport, a copy of their residence permit, and a statement of income from their employer. A formal tenancy application and a security deposit (usually around 4 weeks’ worth of rent) are required as well. Moreover, most contracts require you to pay rent in advance when living in Dubai. The rent is usually paid in four stages, covering three months at a time, but these terms are negotiable.

Utilities in Dubai

Established in 1992, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) supplies all households with adequate and reliable utilities supplies. Their customer care center is always willing to assist expats living in Dubai. There is also the option to activate your supply online – a convenient method for people leading a stressful life in Dubai’s business world.

When you contact the DEWA to activate your utilities connection, you will be asked to pay a deposit. This fee is usually about 2,000 AED for a normal apartment and 4,000 AED for a villa. Once you have submitted all the paperwork and paid the fees, your supply will be activated immediately.

Education and Healthcare in Dubai

Education for Everyone

There are many schools in Dubai for children of all ages and nationalities. Various state and private schools address the different needs of local and expat children alike. Nurseries and child-care facilities offer a great variety of curricula and educational approaches as well, with quite a few following the Montessori Method. However, most of these pre-schools do not accept children younger than 18 months of age. Many English-language schools start their first term in September, as all schools in Dubai are closed in July and August when the temperatures reach their peak.

International schools offer curricula for various nationalities as well as the International Baccalaureate. The quality of sports facilities and after-school activities may vary. However, many international schools in Dubai offer excellent extracurricular programs. Day-boarding facilities are also available. Unfortunately, international schools are usually private schools and generally rather expensive. The exact fees can vary, depending on school type and facilities.

The entrance criteria, documents required and the nature of the admission test are clearly defined by UAE education laws and are the same for all schools in Dubai. To make sure you choose the right school for your child, you can have a look at regular school inspection reports and ratings, published online by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

Higher Education in Dubai

As Dubai’s international population is growing rapidly, it has become more and more important to invest in higher education. The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) offer different majors at 15 men’s and women’s campuses all over the UAE, with several representative locations in Dubai. Here men and women can take degrees in Business, Applied Communications, Information Technology, or Engineering.

Additionally, there are great educational opportunities at the Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT). This institution is the largest private education provider in the Middle East. In addition to local universities, some top-notch foreign universities offer degrees and courses here as well:

  • Harvard Medical School Dubai Center
  • London Business School
  • Manchester Business School
  • Warwick Business School
  • Cass Business School

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority has a full list of the universities in Dubai.

State Universities

Other than that, the UAE University also has a brilliant reputation, offering more than 50 majors. Unfortunately, like most state universities in the UAE, it caters predominantly to Emiratis. Only very few foreigners are accepted at these institutions and the application process is challenging. However, the Zayed University welcomes Emiratis and expats alike.

No matter which university in Dubai you are interested in, as an applicant you have to fulfill its admission criteria and pass the Common Educational Proficiency Assessment (CEPA) test.

Dubai Health Card

All expats coming to Dubai need to undergo a medical exam and blood tests to ensure their health and capability to work. This is required in order to receive a residence visa and an e-card and e-contract for work. The exam is therefore often arranged through the employer.

After you have gone through these tests, you can apply for a health card which entitles you to basic medical treatments at public hospitals and clinics. Health cards are valid for one year and can be renewed online. To apply for this card, you may need the following documents:

  • passport copy
  • covering letter from your sponsor
  • copy of your visa application
  • two passport size photos
  • tenancy contract
  • completed application form (in Arabic)

A card for anyone over the age of 17 costs 300 AED and is valid for one year. The prices for children’s cards vary depending on their age group but for all non-UAE Nationals, the card will only be valid for one year before it needs renewed. This can easily be done online.

You can pick up your application form from any public hospital and submit it, typed in Arabic, at your local healthcare center. The Department of Health and Medical Services has more information on obtaining a Dubai health card.

Health Insurance

The health card only covers very basic treatments, so many expats opt for additional private health insurance. This also allows them to seek treatment at one of Dubai’s many private hospitals with international staff. Having said this, Dubai’s public hospitals and medical institutions generally have high standards.

It is not unusual for employers to take care of private insurance costs, so make sure to ask about it when negotiating your contract.

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  • Peter B. Krehmer

    There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together.

  • Suzanne Payne

    Dubai is such an overwhelming mixture of tradition and modernity that I was very grateful for all the support from other expats.

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