Dubai, United Arab Emirates Report of what it's like to live there - 09/23/09
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?
No. Mexico City, New Delhi, Aukland/Rotarua New Zealand.
2. How long have you lived here?
I arrived in the summer of 2006.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Direct flights to Washington DC and Atlanta on US carriers (12.5-14 hours), as well as direct flights to many European cities and points east and south, make Dubai a great hub for travel. I've taken direct flights to Jo-berg, Mumbai, Athens, Vienna, and Bangkok; all on Emirates Airlines with their excellent entertainment system and decent food in coach class.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses (AKA villas), duplexs, and apartments are available at significant prices and spread throughout the city and suburbs. Some are in commmunities clustered around schools/shopping/play areas. These may even have extensive sidewalks. Others are in smaller clusters that may share, along with architechural similarity and an encompasing wall, a common play area/pool/gym. Commute times vary wildly due to traffic, which varies wildly due to location.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Again, you can get just about anything, for a price, including locally-produced organic foods. We spend a small fortune on fresh fruits and veggies from the local grocery stores (17-29 AED/Kg for grapes or melons or peaches) A bag of baby spinach runs about 32AED. 4 liters of long-shelf-life milk: 14 AED. Household supplies are readily available and range in price greatly due to manufacturer. Many western brands are available, as are cheaper local and South Asian products.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Just about anything you want is available, from street vendors to exclusive resturants. Naan and rice from Karachi Darbar runs about 4 AED. A regular Big Mac meal is 16 AED. You can feed a family of four (with adult appetites) for 70 AED at Ravi's in Satwa--Pakistani food. You can spend 150AED for Friday brunch at a hotel. ALL food establishments, from the kiosks at a mall to restaurants, charge a service fee. Sometimes it is shown on the bill. This is not the tip; this is the "tax" that is paid to the municipality.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants are pretty vigorous, from tiny brown ones that seem to find every dish your teenager hides under his bed, to the larger black ones that scurry around the yard. Scorpions and centipedes are also in the UAE, but you may never see them. Use footwear precaution when in the desert. The government emergency hospital in Rashid carries anti-venom kits.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is common. You must sponsor the person, pay for the visa and provide transportation to "home" each year. Cleaning services are also available at a cost of approx 25-30 AED/hr. These services can also be routinely scheduled.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Several free-standing gyms are available for you to join. others are available with your membership at hotels or beach clubs. Sometimes you are able to use your child's school facilities. And sometimes you are lucky enough to have access through your apartment building or housing complex.
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?
ATMS are readily available, and credit-card use is the norm.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic, Protestent, Baptist, LDS.... Probably many others, but I stopped paying attention.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Cable TV is readily available.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the language spoken here. If you are tyring to learn Arabic, you will find it difficult to practice. Even the road signs are written in English and then Arabic. However, when you leave Dubai to travel to other emirates you will find that having the ability to read Arabic comes in handy.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The city offers very little in the way of accommodations when out of doors; it isn't a city for pedestrians, let alone the disabled. However, indoors you will find better accommodations (elevators, and sometimes larger bathroom stalls, etc.), but not extensively. One doesn't see many with disabilities, but not because they aren't here. More likely, they don't get out much; therefore, there isn't a big push to make the city accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The metro just opened in early September 2009. I've yet to use it because there isn't parking nearby. You need to take a taxi or bus to the metro, but they are safe and affordable. However, taxis can be in short supply during the exibition season (October through April) when the city if flooded with tourists.
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?
You can import almost anything to the UAE except trucks if they are under a certain age. Many automobiles are serviced here, but sometimes the parts are unavailable locally, depending on where your car was made. (The local dealer tells us what we need for our US-made Subaru, and we get it shipped from the US.) Window tinting is restricted, so wait until you are here to have that done.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I think we pay about AED 450/month for internet service. It is, however, very slow sometimes.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you are bringing one from the US, make sure is tri- or quad-band and is unlocked. You can purchase one here--it will cost more, but it will be unlocked and able to be used with any service provider (du or Etisalat).
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Yes, but they are becoming fewer due to economy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Even though Dubai is liberal by Muslim standards, it is best to remember that you are always a guest here, no matter how long you have lived here and whether or not you own property. Women need to remember to be modest in dress. There are signs up in the malls reminding women to cover their shoulders and knees. Just because they don't say it somewhere, it doesn't mean you can be a cleavage goddess. Keep the beachwear on the beach. Business attire is appropriate at work unless you are specifically told that business casual is acceptable.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Dubai has air-monitoring stations throughout the city that can be accessed through the following website: https://portal.dm.gov.ae/AirQuality/AirQualityControllerPublic.action?COMMAND=Main&Language=English
The pollution index for non-particulate matter is relatively good. However, respirable particulate matter (PM10u)
is ALWAYS high and ALWAYS unhealthy in the SAFA area.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
Follow the CDC guidelines. The only local difference is that hospitals will give BCG to newborns. You should plan to get influenza vaccine every year and typhoid ever 2-5 yrs.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Dubai is a pretty safe place, but crime is on the rise. Home break-ins are becoming more common, so exercise standard precautions. The majority of issues still seem to arise from "wrong place/wrong time senarios." And the irritated gesture while driving can result in significant road rage and incarceration for the gesturer. Be aware that you are in the majority, but you are not always welcome. Youths who "hang out" in the many malls of Dubai may find themselves in altercations due to miscommunication/percived slights of honor,etc.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Many physicians are US board certified or the equivalent. That being said, they are all part of the expat community. Everyone goes on holiday sometime during the year, and you may find yourself here without a specialist. Ancillary care can be less reliable.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is hot and humid from end of March through mid November. Because of the humidity, it does not cool off at night. The humidity diminishes slightly during the heat of the day, but you will always experience high humidity. In October people start talking about how it should be getting cooler, and in March they start complaining about the how it wasn't this hot the same time last year. This is bollocks; we all just suffer from selective memory loss--probably due to the heat. From mid-November to mid-March it is cooler. Some days you can even put on a jacket. Every once in a while it rains, and when it does, problems ensue. There is no sufficient storm-water drainage system. Schools have closed due to water pooling causing traffic jams. Your home is also not built to withstand a vigorous gardener who likes to clean your windows, let alone rain. Water pools in your house, running into it through poorly-sealed casing around windows/doors, etc. Last winter we had a Biblical-type flood from the upstairs that ran down the stairs and walls to pool in our entryway. If we could have cooled it sufficiently, we could have had a hockey match on the vast expanse of ice.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many school options; however, waiting lists can be long. Apply early! IB and IGCSE are available at several schools. Our kids have attended the American School of Dubai and have been very happy there taking AP courses. Tuition continues to rise as the cost of living increases. The gov't has put caps in place, but people complain that many schools are able to get around them.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There is very little support for children with even mild special needs. Before coming to Dubai, you must work closely with the schools to see that your child will get the necessary support. There are a couple schools, Greenfield Community School and Uptown, that offer some accommodations. There are several good speech, occupational, and physical therapists; however, their patient loads are quite high. You may have to wait significantly for services. Dubai Autism Center has a small facility and long waiting lists.
3. 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?
Many preschools and daycare options are available.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Many schools offer extensive after-school activities. There are also clubs to join that have activities for kids: tennis, swimming, sailing, horseback riding, martial arts, art and theater groups, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Enormous, and you can find people from every continent.
2. Morale among expats:
People seem pretty content to be here.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is easy to live here; you can get just about anything you need (for a price). Singles/couples seem to enjoy the nightlife (restaurants or clubs). It all depends on what you like to do as a family. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time with school- and church-based activites, so we keep pretty busy and are pretty content. My younger, single friends say that there is a noticable decline in numbers at clubs and bars since the economic downturn. Those that seem to have more trouble connecting are older singles. However, there are many special-interest groups to join, and because the city is filled with expats, there isn't a single place to go to get hooked into the local social scene. This can be liberating as well as make the process more difficult.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not particularly, because homosexual activity is illegal in the UAE. Avoid being overt in your sexual orientation. Public display of affection between adults is not acceptable. Get your goodbye kissing/hugging done at home prior to being dropped at the airport.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Those from southeast Asia often are paid less for doing the same work as their "Western" counterparts. Asian colleagues often complain about not being taken seriously in business situations. In this age of political correctness, it is often disconcerting to hear stereotyps slung about with such frequency.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Do you have money? Do you like to spend it? Dubai has many opportunities to separate you from you money: skiing, water parks, water sports, boating, desert safaris, hot-air ballooning, restaurants, clubs, beach clubs, movie theaters, gaming centers, golf, go-karts/racing, shopping, etc. However, if you are hesitant to part with your money, things can become quite dull during the heat of the summer, when even the Gulf's waters are too warm to provide any relief. In the fall, winter and early spring, offroading, geocaching, and camping are great inexpensive activities. Fall and late spring are great for the beach. In the winter months, the water actually gets too cold to swim in, believe it or not.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing is unique to Dubai except maybe the camel milk chocolate and bottles of "Sands of the 7 Emirates."
9. Can you save money?
We've somehow managed to do so, but I think this is because we are focused on the school as our activity base. Every time we go to do something we end up spending about AED 150/person, so we opt for the cheaper options: DVDs, camping, potluck dinners with friends, school sporting and entertainment events.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
Dubai is exactly what it seems to be from recent television programs: under constant construction, in pursuit of the "ests" (biggest, tallest, newest...) and slightly without a soul.