Moving to the UAE

A comprehensive guide on relocating to the UAE

In the very top tier of global expat destinations, the United Arab Emirates is a place that has a lot more to offer than just high, tax-free earnings. With great beauty and cultural diversity, large numbers of professionals move to the UAE every year. If you want to become one of them, make sure you understand the requirements and walk through all the steps needed to move to the UAE with our comprehensive guide.

Why do so many expats choose to move to the United Arab Emirates? Is it the great weather, the high wages, the tax-free earnings, the unique culture or a combination of all of these things? Whatever your reason is, this guide is a good place to start if you want to relocate to the UAE. Find out everything you need to know about visas, housing, and healthcare, as well as the many benefits of moving to the UAE.

It is only relatively recent that the country has become an international center of commerce and transportation. In the 1960s, the Emirates was little more than a sleepy backwater. Then came the discovery of huge oil and gas reserves and, with them, an injection of wealth that has totally transformed the area. Today the UAE is a truly international destination that attracts huge numbers of expats with its high, tax-free wages, luxurious lifestyle, unique landscapes, and ease of language integration (everyone speaks English).



The process of moving to the United Arab Emirates is always going to be a cultural shock, but it needn’t be an administrative one. Make sure you are fully aware of all the regulations concerning the moving, shipping, and storing of household goods with our full guide. There are a lot of cultural differences to enjoy and adjust to when you move, and this is, to some extent, reflected in what you can and cannot bring into the UAE. There are long lists of what is permitted, what items you might need special permission for, and what is banned. Alcohol is tolerated in the UAE, but there are restrictions on the amount of alcohol you can bring in and officially you need a license to buy once you arrive.  The policy on drugs in the UAE is much tighter and is easy to fall foul of. There are strict penalties for what might be considered minor offenses in other countries. If you are bringing medication into the country, you need to check it doesn’t contravene any of the rules on banned substances.

If you are moving to UAE with pets there are a string of additional regulations to consider and you may need to arrange a special permit. If you are bringing in a cat or a dog, you will certainly need to have extensive documentation and make sure they have all the vaccinations required by the UAE.

Overall the process of moving to the UAE does involve clearing some bureaucratic hurdles and being careful about what you bring in. The UAE has a huge expat population, so it is used to dealing with relocation issues, but it is important to make sure you are fully informed before you make the move.

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Visas & Work Permits

Whether you’re relocating to the UAE to chase your career goals, to be closer to loved-ones, or simply for a fresh start, you’ll need to collect different documents before and after arriving. In our detailed guide to visas and work permits in the UAE, we’ll explain all the steps you must take to get any work permits and visas you need, such as the entry visa and residence visa.

You’ll be glad to know the process isn’t all complicated – getting an entry visa should be simple and – depending on where you’re from – you might be able to simply collect it at the airport when you land. Plus, if you’re going to be working for a company, they’re required to help you secure a work permit, so you can join them.

However, not everything about moving to the UAE is easy, so we’ll offer you advice on a variety of issues, to put your mind at ease. For example, if you want to move to the Emirates to work, you’ll need approval from the Ministry of Labour to get an entry visa, but your employer will apply for this.

And there are separate rules in the Emirates’ free zones, such as a foreign worker limit based on the size of a work place. Don’t worry, we’ll explain how you might be able to overcome any potential obstacles.

Moreover, one of the benefits of moving to the UAE, apart from the weather and no income tax, is once you’re given a visa and earning a minimum salary, you can sponsor your spouse – if they’re unemployed – and children, so they can join you in the Emirates.

To find out what visas and work permits you need to relocate to the UAE and how and when to apply for them, click the button below and jet off to our helpful guide.

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Accommodation is likely to be one of your biggest costs when you move to the UAE. While prices have dropped a little since the financial crash of 2008, both average house prices, as well as average rents, remain high in the territory. Renting a house can bring along a few surprises. For example, until recently it was expected that tenants would have to pay all their annual rent in one lump sum. Now many landlords accept installments, but don’t expect to pay by the month. Quarterly installments are a possibility if you negotiate for them.

If you are considering buying a house in the UAE beware that it can be a complex process and you will need some local support. Property ownership was made easier for expats early in the century, especially in the designated ‘investment zones’, but there are restrictions on foreign ownership and as in many areas, different rules for residents and expats.

Utilities in the UAE can be fairly cheap, but, here again, prices vary depending on whether you are a citizen or an expat.

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The UAE has a healthcare system to be proud of. Health insurance is now compulsory, at least for those who are employed, and the large network of hospitals, both public and private, are highly regarded. Therefore, you need not have undue anxiety about getting sick when you move here. Just make sure that you have a good health insurance policy that covers expensive treatments. The UAE’s best hospitals can be very expensive and coverage levels vary greatly across insurance policies. The healthcare system is also very expat-friendly. With a huge expatriate population and much of its higher education conducted in English, it’s no surprise that nearly all senior medical staff speak English.

Just one note of caution for expectant mothers: you will not get a great reception at the maternity clinic if you cannot produce a marriage certificate. Extramarital sex is illegal, and giving birth in the UAE without a husband is a not a good idea.

Get up to speed with all the ins and outs regarding the healthcare system and the health insurance policy that is right for you, with our guide to the UAE healthcare system.

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Banks & Taxes

Opening a bank account in the UAE is pretty easy to do. The best bank accounts may well be from local providers, but there are plenty of international banks offering commercial services as well.

The UAE has become a very wealthy place since huge oil and gas reserves were discovered in the 1960s. Since then, the black gold has transformed the fortunes of the whole society, tax-free! This means that the UAE tax rate is very low. While a small value added tax has recently been introduced, the UAE is still income tax-free. However, bear in mind that there is no public provision for healthcare or pension plans for expats, and often healthcare is obligatory. Therefore, you will still have some costs deducted from your salary.

Get the full low-down on taxes and insurance costs you may incur in the UAE in our full guide.

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There are lots of international schools in the United Arab Emirates. Most expat children will likely attend one of them, especially as the state school system in the UAE teaches mostly in Arabic. However, international schools can be very expensive and competition to get a place in the best schools is fierce. The trick is to sign up well in advance or to find other quality schools that are perhaps less well known.

The education system is one of the UAE’s modernizing success stories and it says a lot about the country’s efforts to redistribute its wealth, as well as its relatively liberal attitudes, that 96% of women in the country are literate.

Find out more about the large variety of private schools and universities to choose from, as well as the state-run system, in our comprehensive guide to education in the UAE.

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Decide to work in the UEA and you will be signing yourself up for a unique experience in terms of salary expectations, business culture, lifestyle, and low taxes. The UAE is a tremendously popular working destination for expats from all over the world. The high average salaries and low taxes are a big part of what makes it so attractive, but it’s not the whole story.

The federation’s unique business culture is one that, overall, is very friendly to expats and outside investment. In fact, over half the residents are expatriates. Attempts to keep ownership of assets in local hands have been only partially successful and there are several ‘free zones’ where restrictions on foreign ownership don’t apply.

Expats have little or no access to UEA social security systems or, often, to healthcare. However, with no income tax to pay, there should be money left in the pot for private insurance.

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Country Facts

The cost of living in the UAE is high. Many are tempted by the prospect of great wages and zero income tax, but this high influx of foreigners means that rent prices and the cost of living get inflated. The lack of taxes is accompanied – at least for expats – by a lack of free services and state-sponsored benefits. You will have to pay for your own health insurance and if you are bringing a family, cover the education costs.

Even the road network around Dubai is a pay-as-you-go toll system, which makes the cost of driving more expensive. So, while you salivate at the prospect of excellent take-home pay, do take account the cost of living in the Emirates. Get the full picture before you move, with our comprehensive guide.

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InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
04 December 2018