A glittering metropolis with a skyline to rival any city in the world, Dubai's dazzling scapes, tax-free salaries, lavish lifestyle and spirit of desert adventure are big lures for expats from far and wide. Rising from the sand in a matter of a few decades, the city's ultramodern skyscrapers, leisure centres, artificial islands and mammoth shopping complexes are blueprints for both developing and developed cities the world over.
Living in Dubai as an expat
As the second-largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates after Abu Dhabi, Dubai was once considered a barren landscape in the oil-rich Gulf. It is now a hive of commercial and leisure activity, attracting thousands of new residents to its shores each month.
Contrary to popular belief, Dubai’s main source of revenue isn't oil. Although oil was discovered in the emirate in the 1960s and laid the foundations for its economy, other industries like construction, tourism and financial services are now the pillars of Dubai’s extraordinary wealth and provide the most job opportunities for expats.
Newcomers to Dubai will discover a city that offers a great lifestyle with excellent healthcare facilities, solid transport infrastructure, exciting shopping options and a multitude of things to see and do.
While Dubai's culture is still based on Islam and its accompanying traditions, the city's modernity has cast a slight shadow across the rigour of the religion and expats can enjoy a largely relaxed lifestyle in the emirate. That said, it's vital that one becomes familiar with the local laws of the land, to respect the people and the governing rules that exist.
Cost of living in Dubai
Although Dubai's tax-free status helps residents to enjoy the emirate's luxurious lifestyle, living here is far from cheap, and expats will need to ensure that their salary and any extras given are sufficient to cover the cost of living. In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2023, Dubai was placed 18th out of 227 cities worldwide, ranking 25 spots higher than its neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi (43rd).
A good package will include benefits and allowances for expenses such as accommodation and international schooling. These are the two major expenses those relocating to the emirate will incur, and managing day-to-day life becomes much easier if these expenses are taken care of.
Expat families and children
While Abu Dhabi is often cited as the most family-friendly emirate, Dubai has just as much to offer parents and kids. Home to several excellent international schools, Dubai gives expat children the opportunity to have a high-quality education in their home language, thereby easing the transition to life in the UAE.
When it comes to entertainment, families will be spoilt for choice. Splashing about in water parks is a particularly popular pastime and is a great way to cool down on hot days, and there are plenty of parks and green spaces throughout Dubai for picnicking and enjoying the fresh air. Shopping up a storm in one of the emirate's many malls is another activity beloved by locals and expats alike.
Climate in Dubai
The weather in Dubai is unfortunately one of the emirate's less appealing aspects. The summer months tend to bring scorching heat, with the average high for July and August being a sweltering 106°F (41°C). It's common to take some time out from the emirate at this time of year, with people heading to cooler climes to wait out the summer.
A stunning city, it's no wonder Dubai draws expats like moths to a flame, who tend to become so enamoured of the Emirati lifestyle that most opt to make a permanent home for themselves in this desert oasis.
What do expats love about living in Dubai?
"It is quite difficult to meet local Emiratis in Dubai, so most of my new friends are expats themselves coming from different countries. We have 28 nationalities in our office." Read our interview with Sergey, who's been living in Dubai since 2011.
"Dubai is smack bang in the middle of the world. So for travelling purposes it is the best place to live. Quality of life is excellent and as there is no income tax, your salary is what you get in your pocket at the end of the month." Read our interview with Clare, a South African expat in Dubai.
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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