There is an abundance of accommodation in Dubai, and expats find it quite easy to find a home to suit their lifestyle and budget, be it a lavish high-rise apartment in central Dubai or more humble housing towards the outskirts of the bustling metro.
While many expats entertain the idea of living in a luxurious Middle Eastern villa with an opulent courtyard and pool, this type of housing can often be exorbitant, in high demand and simply out of reach for most expats. Whether buying property in Dubai or renting, it’s best to temper these dreams of grandeur and to take into consideration a number of factors before searching for accommodation. These include commute times to work and to local schools for those with children, congestion and noise level in the area, proximity to shops and restaurants and, of course, budget. Some areas and suburbs in Dubai are more expensive than others; this is especially true of New Dubai, a collection of suburbs that has been recently developed.
Depending on their employment contract, expats may find that they are allocated a home by their employer when relocating from overseas – indeed, we recommend that those relocating to the emirate negotiate with prospective employers to include accommodation in their contract. Expats who would prefer to look for their own accommodation can usually request a housing allowance in order to do so.
Types of accommodation in Dubai
The type of accommodation and associated costs are important factors to consider. Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available in Dubai, and there are many different styles of housing to choose from, with the main ones being:
A common choice among expats, apartments are (mainly) smaller self-contained units in larger buildings; referred to as "flats" in some parts of the world such as the UK. These range from small studios or one-bedroom units to expansive multi-roomed units.
These complexes are similar to apartments but are more luxurious and will generally offer a wide range of facilities. Those at the top of the scale will offer a full suite of facilities including a pool, gym, playground, tennis and squash courts, as well as 24-hour security.
Villas are freestanding with multiple rooms, dining areas and lounges, and tend to have a garden, but are often extremely pricey.
Finding accommodation in Dubai
It’s helpful to hire a real estate agent in Dubai, but it’s also possible to peruse the online classifieds or even just drive through areas of interest and look out for 'To Let' signs.
Expats using an agent to find accommodation in Dubai should make sure the chosen individual is registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) to minimise their exposure to risk and red tape. There have been reports of unsuspecting expats being duped by illegitimate agents, so it's best to check the agent's credentials before dealing with them.
Other expats have migrated to the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah, where rents are considerably less, but this involves commuting (approximately 30 minutes by car).
Renting accommodation in Dubai
New arrivals in Dubai generally opt to rent rather than buy, as it can be extremely expensive to purchase property. Those expats who go about the relocation process on their own without the assistance of a real estate agent often elect to rent a short-term serviced apartment while checking out an area and deciding on long-term accommodation. This isn’t strictly necessary, though, and with a good agent, long-term rentals can be secured without the need for temporary accommodation.
Apartments, condos and villas can be rented furnished or unfurnished – it’s up to the tenant and whether they have the capacity and desire to ship furniture from their home country.
Making an application
Once expats have found a suitable area that suits their lifestyle and caters to all their priorities, it’s a good idea to research properties online and contact some local estate agents who will then set up viewings. When the right home is agreed upon, an application will have to be submitted to the landlord, and a contract drawn up. Before the contract can be signed, the estate agent or landlord will check references and do some background checks, and check whether the applicant has the required residence visa, passport and proof of income.
Many landlords in Dubai will demand the entire year of rent be paid up front, in addition to a security deposit. If this is a financial possibility, expats should use it to gain leverage over the landlord and try and bring the price down.
Deposits, usually the equivalent of a month’s rent or more, can’t be non-refundable, as it remains the property of the tenant, but landlords are allowed to make deductions from the deposit or keep the whole amount for various reasons. Deposits are sometimes used to cover unpaid rent, for damages in excess of normal wear and tear, other breaches of the lease agreement, unpaid utility bills, or – if pre-arranged with tenant – to cover the last month’s rent. Additional fees to consider include the agent’s commision fee (if an agent was employed).
A lease specifies the period of tenancy along with other important terms and conditions that both parties need to agree on. Expats are urged to finecomb the agreement and to make sure that all verbal agreements with the landlord are in print and acknowledged by both parties. Both the tenant and the landlord should also agree on an inventory list at the start of the lease.
At the termination of the lease, the landlord and tenant can either choose to agree to renew the lease or end it. We recommend expats try to sign a renewable lease, and then notify the landlord accordingly when ready to leave, rather than having to engage in the house hunt all over again after 12 months.
It is important for prospective tenants to scrutinise a lease agreement very carefully to ascertain which utilities are included in the rental cost before committing.
Usually though, in Dubai, utilities and maintenance are for the tenant’s account. Expats looking to rent should be aware that they’ll be expected to pay for internet, electricity, water and gas.
Buying property in Dubai
For expats settling down in Dubai, or those who simply want to make a savvy investment, purchasing property can be an attractive notion.
Buyers can either purchase property directly from a developer or make use of an estate agent as a go-between. The road to purchase is mired with red tape, so it is often best to hire someone familiar with the process. Additionally, it's advised that expats hire an attorney to aid with the purchasing process, though there is no formal requirement to do so.
Expats in Dubai may be able to take out a mortgage with a local bank but should be prepared to put down a good portion of the house payment in cash, usually at least 25 percent.
►For a more detailed breakdown of how to buy a home in the emirate, see Buying Property in Dubai
►Find out about the different types of housing and the best neighbourhoods for expats in Areas and Suburbs in Dubai
"Dubai offers a variety of housing options for different incomes. I would however mention that the more affordable housing options are further from the central areas such as Dubai Marina, JBR, Downtown, etc." To read more about South African expat Schalk's experiences in Dubai, read the full interview here.
"Most expats live in apartment buildings or villas. The accommodation differs from standard (older buildings) to very modern. My apartment is big and I have two bedrooms with their own bathrooms and a guest toilet, a washing room and balcony. The building has its own gym for tenants to use along with a sauna and steam room. The rooftop offers a big swimming pool with a smaller one separately for children (knee-deep) and a jacuzzi. On the ground floor we have a salon, laundry, paid gym, supermarket and barber and next to the building a pharmacy. The best part is that every place in Dubai delivers whatever you need. No need to even leave the apartment. This works for things from food to medicine." Read more about Cormandré's expat experience in her interview here.
Are you an expat living in Dubai?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Dubai. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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