Moving to Dubai soon? Imagining only stupendous skyscrapers, scorching temperatures and local people respecting extraordinary local rules and roles? Wondering how many of these are stereotypes and what you should actually be preparing for?
This is a brief guide of how to prepare for your arrival in the “City of Gold”. Created from our personal experiences and observations, and from reading popular blogs by European expats who give their own impressions of life in this remarkable city.
- Pros of emigrating to Dubai
- Cons of emigrating to Dubai
- The Urban Landscape
- Arabic for Beginners
- Medical Care
Although Dubai is of course an Arab country, the number of local people is actually relatively small. The city has the highest number of immigrants in the world, with local people making up approximately only 20% of the total population. Most settlers here are employed on a contractual basis, with the greatest number of people coming from India, Pakistan and Iranian countries. There are also lots of families with children and a large groups of people from European, American and other Asian countries not listed above.
This all means that by deciding to live in Dubai, although the official language is Arabic, it’s not a problem to communicate in English with locals and other expats. There is also no issue with exchanging dollars or euro to legal tender (Arab Emirates Dirham) once you’re there, with bureaux de change on every corner.
The inevitability of departure and the transience of residence makes it difficult for friendships here. People know that their stay is short, so many relationship are limited to the present moment, rather than thinking about the future.
If you are a woman in the managerial position, then you will most likely be in the midst of people who are accustomed to contact with foreigners. Although in traditional Arab culture the role of women is confined to the domestic sphere, don’t expect problems in the professional environment on the grounds of gender. Women from abroad are never asked to succumb to the influence of Arabic culture. For example you can see European women dressed in a way they would do in Europe on the streets. The expats here don’t submit themselves to traditional Arab clothing, and wear what they want – it is not uncommon to see legs, arms and necklines on show.
For people coming from other climates, summer in Dubai can be extremely difficult. The humidity can reach highs of up to 100%, making the heat here almost unbearable – it’s hard to even imagine the hottest days of the year. Due to the humidity, water condenses so quickly that opening a window to cool your apartment at night leaves but a pool of water on the floor. For us, that means fun outdoor activities, playing sports or even walking are complete no-nos in the daytime and it’s only possible to go outside after dark. Many families and people employed in Dubai leave for the summer and return in the autumn when the weather becomes more bearable.
For the remaining months, Dubai is a city for sun-lovers, with clear blue skies and warm seas all year round.
It rains for approximately only 7 days in the whole year, the sun shines for 8-11 hours per day and the water stays in the range of 32 degrees Celsius for swimming.
Dubai is a child- and family-friendly city. There are lots of parks, fountains and playgrounds to take your children for a stroll or play. Many ‘nuclear’ families enjoy living here as it is a safe city for them. However, if you find yourself in the city surroundings, you may attract some unwanted attention from those who are not used to foreigners. Though generally speaking the city welcomes children and families in shops, restaurants and cafes, which make provisions such as high chairs, crayons and colouring books to keep them entertained.
When it comes to food products, one can easily find that of which is available in Europe. Local products are also completely safe for children to eat, however unlike in Europe, the choice is fairly limited. In Dubai, small children start to eat solid food and meals with their families much earlier on than in Europe. Due to the climate, prams are not used in Dubai, instead opting for a cooler option; therefore if you require one, you must take it. What is also interesting is that car seats for children are not obligatory, children can move freely within cars, and it is not uncommon to see babies sitting on the driver’s lap.
There are no issues with sending a baby to nursery or other childcare centre, but in general, children in Dubai stay with their mothers at a young age. Even if the mother was earning a substantial salary before having a child, women would generally rather not return to work after giving birth. European mothers and fathers may be shocked to learn of some of the parenting techniques that are used by Dubai locals to bring up their children. From a young age, children are taught that they are not the most important member of the family. The mother often doesn’t acknowledge her screaming child, taking a more distanced approach. On the other hand, what is noticeable is the involvement of fathers when it comes to bringing up children, which is to a much greater extent than in Europe. It is not uncommon for other parents or acquaintances to touch and stroke other people’s children without asking on meeting each other – something that may be frowned upon in the UK.
Schooling is also not an issue. Although the Dubai schooling system may somewhat differ to that of what you’re used to, it is possible for children to attend international schools which offer the International Baccalaureate programme and is taught in English, or alternatively your children could attend a German-speaking school or college. These are private institutions, however tuition is covered in part or fully by employers, as state schools which teach in Arabic do not accept foreign children.
If you return to Dubai after a holiday back in Europe seeing family and friends, don’t be surprised if another skyscraper has grown next to your house or if the taxi driver takes you a completely different way home from the airport. Of course, this is an over-exaggeration, or ‘urban myth’ if you will, however it captures the city environment. To put it concisely, the city is one big construction site; Dubai likes to build. A lot. There are forever new housing estates, hotels, shopping centres and villas, an ever-changing city right before your eyes.
The city’s landscape is inevitably home to the most elegant and exclusive boutiques as well as the biggest designers. It doesn’t matter which brand or design you’re looking for, you can easily find it in Dubai. For the less opulent of you, subtle imitations of high-end brands can also be found throughout the city.
Although as already mentioned, English is more than enough to get by in Dubai, it is always nice to know a few basics in the native language, such as “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye”. See below for our guide.
A few useful phrases in Arabic (Phonetic pronunciation)
Good morning/day (formal) – a(s) salam aleikum
Goodbye (formal) – ma’a salam
My name is… – ismi…
Hi/hello (informal) – marhaba
bye (informal) – ma’a s-salamah
You’re welcome – ‘afuan
Please – minfadlak (female form – minfadlik)
Sorry – alma’ṯrah
Thank you – schukran
Medical care is not paid for in Dubai, but employers are obliged to provide all their employees with it.
In one of the most international cities of the world, you can easily find restaurants serving every local cuisine imaginable. Typical Arabic dishes are also of course extremely popular with locals and expats alike, classically including goat meat, camel, beef, fish and milk. A variety of spices are also enjoyed when added to these dishes, including: cardamom, saffron, ginger, cumin, cloves. Their preparation methods are closely related to the rigors of hygiene, which are also influenced by religion.