Dubai, United Arab Emirates Report of what it's like to live there - 03/01/21
Personal Experiences from Dubai, United Arab Emirates
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Second, after Paris.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Canada. 14 hours to Toronto on Emirates, Air Canada or Etihad (from Abu Dhabi).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Families are in villas, in nice neighbourhoods with good access to the beach and the E11 highway (Jumeira, Al Manara, Umm Suqeim). Couples without kids and singles are housed in very nice condos near the Consulate, mostly in DIFC.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is similar to Canada, though there more limited cuts of meat (especially for pork), cheeses, and deli products.
Cost depends on where you shop. Vegetables, meats and bread can be cheaper than Canada if you shop at Lulu or Union Coop (though keep in mind that it can get very crowded and the quality isn't great). It can get even cheaper if you shop at the Fruit & Vegetable market and the Central Souq in Sharjah. For quality and convenience, though, you will more than likely shop in British supermarkets such as Waitrose or Spinneys; expect to pay 25-30% more, especially for packaged goods and snacks.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Chicken broth (especially low sodium), cereal and granola (very expensive in Dubai!), maple syrup, quality baking products (ex. cocoa), Asian and Latin American sauces.
There are specialty stores in the International City for Asian products as well as a Korean grocery store (1004 Gourmet), but there isn't as much variety as T&T or HMart back home.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Talabat are all very popular for delivery.
Many, many excellent Lebanese/Syrian and Indian (especially South Indian) options. Italian, Mexican, and Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Viet) options were average to poor. Also impossible to find a decent croissant or baguette. That said, the food scene is very diverse.
Overall, Dubai's restaurant scene is a solid B. The more expensive the place, the more you are paying for the ambiance (fancy hotel, good view, exclusivity). In fact, much better (and affordable!) meals can be had in hole-in-the-walls in Old Dubai, where the meal will cost as much as you pay for water in a fancy restaurant.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants and the occasional cockroach. Beware of weevils in the local flour as well! Keep your flour and baking products in sealed containers; they all seem to have bug eggs and eventually will be crawling with weevils...
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Dip mail. Otherwise, use courier services to ship things back home. Emirates Post is unreliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of families sponsor a live-in nanny. You can also hire household help by the hour, through the many cleaning/gardening services companies. Ranges from $15-25/hour. Please do remember to tip though; the companies take a big cut.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Tons of gyms and exercise options (yoga, pilates, spinning, aerobics, all sorts of sports). Expect to pay double than in Canada.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, credit and mobile pay options widely available. ATMs common and safe. A few restaurants are cash only and taxis prefer cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No clue, but I believe there are a number of churches as well as a synagogue (and obviously tons of mosques).
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You do not need Arabic, though of course, it would help to know the basic greetings. Arabic would come in handy for regional travel (especially the Levant, Egypt and Oman, where English is spoken, but less well and prevalently).
Arabic classes are available but I didn't take any.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, though Dubai (and the UAE in general) is probably the best place in the Middle East for someone with physical disabilities (or what the UAE terms "people of determination").
Dubai places a great emphasis on facilities for those with physical disabilities, for example, specialized taxis, good infrastructure in tourist areas (malls, airports, hotels, beaches, etc.).
However, living there is a different question; many neighbourhoods do not have completed sidewalks (as in they simply just end after a few blocks) and crossing large streets is always a challenge. Accessible pedestrian signals are few and far between, and elevators in metro stations are often not functional.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The metro can get VERY crowded during rush hour; you will be packed in like sardines, and more people will try to get on at each station. The metro is quick, though it will not be sufficient to get around in Dubai. Buses are safe but come infrequently.
If you don't drive, Uber/Careem/taxis will be your best best.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Bring a large car. Driving can be aggressive, and you'll feel safer in an SUV.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. As expensive as Canada unfortunately. Can be installed within a few days of arrival, though it may require multiple visits to Etisalat, as our Consular IDs always confuse them.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can get a post-paid contract as part of a bundle with when you sign up for home internet (with Etisalat or du), or just pay month-to-month using a prepaid service (Virgin UAE). Prices are comparable to Canada.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes to both. No quarantine for pets if they are vaccinated. You will require an import permit, and unfortunately pets have to be shipped as cargo.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Some worked at the Consulate. Others found jobs locally, though it can be a challenge, as we require MOFA approval.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many available to work with migrant workers, environmental clean up, animal welfare (there are unfortunately many abandoned pets and few shelters). Lots of temporary volunteer opportunities are available during Ramadan.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at the office, and formal for meetings.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. The city feels very safe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality is moderately bad in the winter, and very bad from May to October (most days as bad or worse than Delhi/Beijing circa 2008).
Medical care is excellent, though expensive and you have to self-pay in advance. Expect to care a fair amount of medical debt while you wait for the reimbursement.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Bad. Many colleagues (or their kids) developed a cough.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nov-Feb: Excellent weather (mid-to-high 20s, dropping to 15 at night; occasionally drops to 10 degrees, and the entire city pulls out jackets and sweaters, while Canadians are still walking around in shorts...)
Mar-Apr; Oct: warm, some days hot, but not as humid
May-Sept: increasingly hotter and more humid.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many international schools available, including lycee and Swiss school for French programs. High quality, small classes, and mandatory Arabic classes (so your kids will pick up a bit of Arabic).
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, but they are very expensive. Most families with young children had a live-in nanny instead.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, though VERY expensive.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, including quite an active Canadian community. Morale is quite overall within the community and the Consulate.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Sports, clubs, diplomatic events. It's very easy to meet people in Dubai, though much harder to stay in touch.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families, especially those with young kids, as you can afford live-in household help. Also good for couples and singles, especially if they enjoy traveling (Dubai is a transit hub) and the luxury/beach lifestyle.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Unfortunately, it's been very challenging making local friends, though families with young kids might have more success through playdates.
And yes, Asian (especially South and Southeast Asian) and Black Canadians will be treated differently than White Canadians. You will get worse service and more questions. It's less pronounced, however, in professional settings.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, but probably as good as it gets for the Middle East, outside of Tel Aviv.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, though again, probably as good as it gets for the region. The UAE has made good progress towards gender quality and ethnic and religious "tolerance" (note that the mot du jour is tolerance, and not acceptance or inclusion, which gives a sense of the approach towards outsiders).
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Camping in the desert. Traveling across the Middle East and South Asia. Experiencing really great hospitality from locals in Oman.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Oman (mountains, beaches, fjords) - not really a hidden gem if you live in the UAE, but not exactly on the usual bucket list when you're in Canada.
The Liwa Oasis (four hours south, into the "Empty Quarter) - desert and dunes in all directions.
The Caucases - Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Convenience, ease of travel, and warm winter weather.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive it can be to have a similar quality of life than in Canada (ex. food, gym memberships, recreation).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sense of egalitarianism.
4. But don't forget your:
Winter coat and skis - there's great skiing in Georgia, which is just two hours away!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Keepers of the Golden Shore: A History of the United Arab Emirates by Michael Quentin Morton
From Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi by Mohammed Al Fahim
Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger