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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Dubai

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Relocating to Dubai

  • Some companies are entitled to GDFRA-D online services for help getting visas so check with them before battling through the process alone.
  • Register for your NIC when applying for your visa.
  • Transport is readily available and the Nol card covers all public transportation.

Prior to the worldwide economic crisis, many multinational corporations considered moving to Dubai or opening a field office there to gain an economic advantage. Despite the downturn, Dubai has lost little of its attractions: Plenty of foreign companies and international financial institutions still decide to relocate there.

Dry Heat and Deserts

Sharing its main geographical features with the neighboring emirates of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, Dubai also has a hot climate with little rainfall throughout the year but high humidity on the coast. In summer, you may face temperatures of up to 45°C. However, settling down in Dubai does not mean having to flee your new home in those hot and humid summer months. Hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and public transportation are all air-conditioned.

Foreigners moving to Dubai may be overwhelmed by the one dominant feature of its landscape: the desert. As opposed to its southerly neighbor Abu Dhabi, Dubai has no natural oases or bodies of water. However, the city has a natural inlet or creek dividing it into a western and an eastern part (Deira). Despite having been dredged, the creek is still rather large, so that the quickest way of moving to Dubai City from Deira is by boat.

Visit or Visa?

Entering the emirate on a visit visa is no problem if you are traveling to Dubai as a citizen of one of the 46 countries eligible to receive a visit visa upon arrival. Nationals from other states need to find a UAE citizen or resident who will sponsor them. The same is the case for expats moving to Dubai for work. Employment visas should always be arranged for with the help of your employer.

The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs-Dubai (GDRFA-D) is responsible for all visa enquiries concerning expats. It has many branches throughout the city with opening hours from 7:30 to 20:00, however some branches do not open until 8:00 and some close at 14:30. For queries and complaints after moving to Dubai, the department offers the Amer Service, a phone hotline for GDRFA-D customer support.

Please remember that, if you want to sponsor your family on your own residency visa, you need to show proof of a rental contract in your name or that of your company. This serves to ensure that you are able to provide accommodation for your family. Without this contract, you will not be allowed to act as a sponsor for your family.

Employment Visa

Local companies whose foreign employees move to Dubai benefit from GDRFA-D online services. Companies can print entry permits directly without having to visit the GDRFA-D in person. Keep in mind that visa regulations can change. Therefore, it is best to contact your nearest UAE consulate or embassy before your move to find out about current regulations.

Once the employment visa has been sorted out, you need to apply for additional documents. It is mandatory for expats to get a health card and a residence permit upon their move to Dubai. Your employer must also apply for your e-card and e-contract within 60 days following your arrival.

Customs and Registration in Dubai

National Identity Card

The National Identity Card (NIC) was introduced in 2006. With its advanced ID features, it should soon replace labor cards, passports, and other forms of identification for Emiratis and expats in Dubai. When the card was first introduced, registration was only possible for Emiratis and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) citizens in the UAE. Now registration is also open to immigrant workers and expatriates.

As of September 2010, it is also mandatory for children of 15 years and above to register for a National Identity Card. The Emirates ID Card is now directly linked to a residence visa application, making the whole process a lot simpler for expats. To register for a National Identity Card, you have to take the following steps:

  1. Visit one of the many authorized typing centers and complete the e-form. After that, you have to pay the administrative fees for registration and service.
  2. You will then receive a text message with the date and place to have your photograph and fingerprints taken.
  3. Go to the EIDA service mentioned in your text message, and do not forget to bring your passport.
  4. Have your photograph, your biometric information and your fingerprints taken.
  5. You will receive your National Identity Card in the mail.

Entering through Dubai’s Airport

Expats moving to Dubai will enjoy the advantages of the Middle East’s travel hub, too. With two international harbors, two international airports and its own airline, Dubai is a popular destination for expats and tourists alike. Dubai International Airport caters to the needs of over 60 million passengers per year. Here, more than 130 airlines connect over 200 destinations.

If you want to make your arrival easier, you can book the Marhaba service for a faster progress through the passport controls at the airport. For a small fee, an airport employee will meet you upon arrival to walk you through the controls, take you to the baggage claim area and help you with ground control.

Customs Regulations

Expats and visitors to Dubai need to be aware of current customs regulations before they enter the country.

Certain items, such as all kinds of narcotic drugs, are prohibited. The same applies to certain kinds of medication. If you regularly need to take a certain type of prescription medicine, make sure to bring a prescription or a medical certificate from a UAE-licensed practitioner. You should not import more than a personal supply to see you through for a period of three months.

Other prohibited items might include:

  • poppy seeds, qat leaf, betel leaf or nuts, niswar (a kind of chewing tobacco) and gutkha (an Indian preparation of chewing tobacco and betel nuts)
  • pornographic material
  • non-Islamic religious pamphlets
  • fireworks
  • ivory and rhinoceros horn
  • endangered animal species
  • weapons and ammunition
  • chemical and organic fertilizers
  • gambling tools
  • any objects that do not adhere to the religious and moral values of the UAE

Transportation in Dubai

The Modern Metro

Since 2009, the Roads and Transport Authority has been operating two different metro lines in Dubai, the red line and the green line. Those two lines take very different routes and stop at different destinations, offering people an alternative to the car. With special cabins for women and children, as well as a silver class and a gold class, the metro is a comfortable and modern way to commute.

Passengers pay their fares by purchasing a ticket, the Nol card. Nol cards come in 4 categories: red for tourists and visitors, blue for regular users, silver for occasional travelers and gold for individuals wanting to travel in the Metro Gold Class cabins. You can plan your journey by using RTA's Journey Planner. It helps you to plan your route, taking not only the Dubai metro but also other public transport options into account.

On the Road

Aside from cars, taxis are the most popular mode of transportation in Dubai. You can catch a taxi in public places anywhere in Dubai or book in advance. An online booking and reservation service is available. Women who feel uncomfortable or unsafe with male drivers can book so-called “pink taxis” with female drivers.

An alternative to taxis are buses. Dubai’s bus services connect different residential, industrial and business districts. Passengers can also make use of night buses and inter-emirates buses. Only recently, Dubai has established air-conditioned bus stops to make waiting for the bus more comfortable for commuters.

As is the case with the metro, bus fares are paid by purchasing a Nol card before entering the bus. They are available at Dubai metro stations, several bus stations as well as RTA outlets. Dubai is divided into 5 zones and fares vary, depending on the destination.

Taking the Water Route

To travel on water or to cross the creek, you can use abras, traditional wooden boats with motors. They can be chartered for cruising along the creek for 100 AED per hour. Commuters, however, often use water buses, operated by the RTA marine agency. There are five different routes for commuters at 2 AED to 5 AED per person. Payment is made via the Nol card as well.

In addition, Dubai has launched a water taxi service in July 2010. Water taxis can transport up to 11 passengers and are equipped with ramp access, LCD screens, air-conditioned cabins and other luxuries. Unlike water buses and abras, they can leave the creek and navigate the waters of the gulf.

Water taxis connect many different locations, such as Deira Old Souk or Jebel Ali Golf resort, running from 10:00 to 22:00. Passengers have to book rides with the water taxi in advance by calling RTA or via their hotel service staff. The price is agreed upon when the passenger makes the booking.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

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Our Global Partners

  • 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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