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Relocating to Dubai

Relocating to a completely new land is a task easier said than done, especially when a family is involved. Moving to a different country and settling into a new life is a period of emotional and physical upheaval that needs to be tackled intelligently with the right help and guidance from friends, family, companies offering relocation services.

A new lifestyle indicates starting everything from a scratch, especially the travel costs, visa procedures, health and medical tests, accommodation, getting accustomed to the culture, new home & workplace, new friends, arranging for a driver’s license, setting up telephone and satellite connections, searching for the best school for your child and much more. All this has to be often sorted out with little knowledge about the place. Employers do offer help by funding the travel costs or arranging for a new home, but all this is uncountable since it differs for employers and employees.

There are very few places on earth where families and careers both get an equal chance to prosper. Dubai fits the profile of an ideal relocatable city where career ladders can be enjoyed with families in the safe confines of a prosperous emirate.

Residence Visa

Except for GCC nationals, citizens of other nationalities contemplating to shift bag and baggage to Dubai, have to apply for an employment visa, a legal document mandatory to reside and work in UAE. After arrival, a health card is essential, followed by a residence permit stamp on the passport and a labour card, crucial if you plan to work for the private sector. Those who work for the government sector, it will take the required steps to finish off the procedure.

The health card is a primary requisite for an expat to obtain a residency visa and labour card. This is done so by undergoing medical and blood tests confirming that he/she is entitled to health care services in Dubai. Private sector companies take care of their employees by providing health insurance coverage, but if not so, then it becomes all the more relevant to obtain the card to cover medical expenses at government hospitals.

Whilst the health card is renewable every year, residence visas expire after three years and termed invalid if the concerned expat resides outsides UAE for a continuous period of more than six months.

For parents:

UAE expats with a minimum salary of AED 6,000 per month with accommodation or AED 7,000 without accommodation can get a one-year renewable resident visa for their parents or in-laws. It is essential to prove that they are the sole providers for their parents and there is no one in the home country that will take care of them. In case, parents are divorced or one of them has deceased, the necessary documentary proof has to be produced. Parents should be protected by a minimum essential medical coverage of AED 600 per year before applying. After entering the country with an entry visa, parent’s visa should be converted to a residence visa in no more than 60 days from arrival.

For family (wife and children):

Families of expats (wife and children) residing outside UAE should apply for an entry residence visa and within 30 days after arrival have to apply for a residence stamp. A monthly salary of AED 4,000 or AED 3,000 of the sponsoring expat, with accommodation is mandatory.

For the residence visa to remain valid, he/she should not travel outside UAE for more than 6 months.

For newborns:

Parents or guardians of newborns should apply for their residence visa within 120 days of her/his birth, failing which the child will not be allowed to leave UAE. In addition, the legal guardian must pay a fine of AED 100 per day over the 120-day period.

For maids:

A residence visa for a maid can be applied by the sponsor, commonly the head of the family. Usually a male, his salary must not be less than AED 6,000 per month or AED 5,000 with accommodation. Unmarried men cannot apply for maid sponsorship. Only maids from India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Indonesia can be sponsored.

There are two types of Residence Visa available for expats: Free Zone and Regular. Free Zone visas are issued if the company office is registered in free zones alike to Jebel Ali (JAFZA) or Dubai International Airport (DAFZA). Unlike other visas, a free zone visa does not require the approval of the Ministry of Labour. It is important to remember that the free zone sponsors the expat and not the employer. Therefore, the expat can switch jobs within the free zone, gifting him/her many opportunities to explore new career choices.

Regular visas are issued to those planning to work outside free zones. The employer will be the sponsor, limiting the expat’s chance of seeking new avenues. If they plan to change their job, the earlier employer can ban their entry into UAE for 6 months citing his discontent with the work output.

Getting a Driving License in Dubai

Although there are many public modes of transport in Dubai, travelling in a car is the most preferred option. Citizens of the 36 countries approved by UAE can obtain their license through transfer procedure, without undergoing any training. Others can get their driving licenses by undergoing training at an authorized school. If you are between 18 to 21 years of age, you can apply for a probationary license.

Candidates applying for a driving license through an authorized driving school will have to undergo a theory test, road test and get an eye test done at a local optician. Passport (original & copy), residence permit copy, 8 passport photos and NOC from your sponsor is mandatory for obtaining the license.

Passport (original & copy), residence permit copy, eye test certificate, current driving license (original & copy), one passport photo, translation of license if necessary and NOC from your sponsor is mandatory for the transfer procedure.

Renewal of licenses is a very quick procedure that takes place at any RTA Traffic Office branch or mall outlet in less than 30 minutes. Dubai also permits renewal of licenses and car registration of vehicles from other emirates. A Passport copy,, eye test certificate, 1 passport photo, inserting existing personal file or new one at RTA portal, paying renewal fees or/and fines if any is mandatory for the renewal procedure.

TV & Satellite

TV is a prime source for entertainment and world news for an expatriate. A life without TV is unimaginable and Dubai understands this predicament. A resident in the emirate is exposed to various international and local satellite channels operated from the Middle East region. The choice also indicates a growing competition between cable companies resulting in changing schedules of popular TV programmes. Although, there are a few terrestrial television channels, expats in Dubai mostly opt for regional non-terrestrial channels as they offer diversity in the choice of programmes and language.

As said earlier, the competition triggered between cable companies has led to shuffling of popular TV programmes. If your subscription to a certain cable company is based on the channels and TV schedules offered, then preferably avoid signing long-term contracts.

Subscription channels in Dubai are made available on cable via E-Vision (a division of Etisalat) or via satellite by providers like OSN, Star TV and ART. In addition to OSN, which is favoured for broadcasting first run English shows, E-Vision is also popular since the Elife package includes phone and Internet as well.

Getting a Bank Account

Opening a bank account in Dubai is not always full of problems as anticipated by an expat. If they stay true to their intentions of providing the correct legal paperwork, foreigners are more than welcome to open an account in Dubai banks. In fact, Dubai banks need to be stringent with bank formalities since a large number of visitors and businesspersons apply for an account.

Expatriates have it easy with opening a bank account if they provide proper, correctly filled documents that include a passport copy with residence stamp, NOC letter from employer/sponsor and an official document of identification. Further, the bank may ask for tenant’s agreement regarding address proof and a few passport-sized photographs.

If the family member is opening a bank account, the head of the family or the earning member acts as the sponsor. Additional procedures tend to remain the same for family members.

Salary Account: A salary account is a mandatory for any expat working in Dubai. A NOC letter containing the salary details from the employer is one of the necessary documents asked by the banks. Additionally, a valid residence visa stamp and passport photos is also required.

Foreign Currency Account: Many expatriates send a part of their income to their home country. This necessitates opening of a foreign currency account where local Dirham are converted to widely used global currencies like dollars and pounds.

You can find a list of Commercial Banks and their Representative offices here.

The first and foremost step for any visitor to Dubai is to acquire a reasonable map for driving directions and sightseeing in the city. Dubai Geographic Information Systems Centre offers good quality printable maps. In addition, The Wojhati (Journey Planner), launched by the Dubai Roads & Transport Authority allows visitors to plan their journey real-time as it calculates the approximate time the passenger will take to reach the next public mode of transport.

Public transport in Dubai is the cheapest and the most popular mode of transport, preferred by lower-income class travellers. Managed by the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA), it includes public buses, inter-emirate buses, metro rail and taxi services. Bus and Train Ticket fares/passes are available online as well as on boarding. Routes and bus numbers are placed in both Arabic and English. While travelling in Old Dubai, Abras or Dhows are used as transportation to cross the Dubai Creek to the Al Sabkha station. Extremely cheap compared to other transport services, the Abras are revived as a part of a conservation program, running from Creek Park Station to the Public Library Station. Public Transport in Dubai is controlled by the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA), which includes public buses, inter-emirate buses, and metro rail and taxi services.

Telephone & Internet

The World Economic Forum has approved UAE as a growing and profitable emirate amongst it competitors in Middle East and North Africa. The telecommunication industry is the most prominent service industry in Dubai that connects its residents with global ongoing through various mediums such as telephone, mobile phone and the internet. One of the largest market holders, Etisalat had built a fantastic stronghold on the telecommunication industry until a few years back when it was the only service provider. However, with changing nature of mobile sector new companies have gained foothold resulting in an increase in competition and decrease in prices. Du and Al Yah Satellite Communications are set up to give tough competition to Etisalat by wooing customers through satellite telecom, voice, data, video and content services either independently or under an agreement with Etisalat.

How to get a Telephone Line:

Etisalat and Du are the two major service providers for fixed landlines in Dubai. Du may be a recent entrant in the market, but offers services on par with Etisalat. In order to get telephone lines you need to submit copies of your passport with a residency stamp, tenancy agreement or proof of ownership and a letter from employer mentioning your salary. As soon as you submit the documents at the nearest operator’s shop, the telephone line installation will be completed in a day or two. Residents younger than 21 years need to submit a letter of approval from their parents or legal guardians.

Visit Etisalat or Du websites for more details

How to get a mobile phone number:

Acquiring a mobile number in Dubai doesn’t take much effort since not many formalities are necessary except for a passport copy with residency stamp/proof. In addition, you need to sign up a yearly renewable contract with an initial fee.

Service provider companies have set up various modes of payment of mobile bills that include direct debit, registering credit card, bank transfer, cheques, and payment through cash at operator’s offices or cash operating machines or using automated payment machines. Again, the payment method will differ from company to company. Pre-paid SIM cards (Wasel) are recharged with an e-voucher and are available at any outlet or shop displaying the card logo.

For mobile calling rates and plans visit Etisalat or Du websites.

International Calling:

Although Dubai is an expensive place to make International Calls, there are ways out to rescue money using an international calling card, which will save up to 90% on abroad calls. Furthermore, UAE has granted VoIP licenses to local Etisalat, Du, Yahsat and Thuraya, even though it has blocked international favourites like Skype. In fact, Du is developing services similar to Skype for people residing in UAE. There is a tough competition between Etisalat and Du, so it is better to check their websites for current plans.


Internet is one of the preferred options of communication in Dubai as it is quick, easy and affordable. Depending upon the speed, price and companies, internet services fluctuate in Dubai but overall offer good results. While Etisalat and Du are major providers, there are other high-speed internet providers like Precedence and OGER Telecom. Combo packages involving Internet, cable and telephone services are available that is cheap on the pocket.

To get an internet connection, one can apply online or visit the service provider’s office. Take a passport copy with residence visa stamp and filled out the application form along with you.

There are various public places in Dubai where one can enjoy free wireless internet access. Here is a list of the places supplied by Etisalat.

Water & Electricity

Dubai residents are the biggest consumers of water & electricity in the world. DEWA, which supplies water & electricity to the emirate of Dubai, estimates around 20,000 kilowatt-hours per person per year and a gargantuan 130 gallons of water consumption each year.

DEWA charges monthly for water, electricity, sewerage and a housing fee calculated five percent of yearly rent divided into twelve instalments. However, this is applicable only to tenants and property owners are not expected to pay the five percent housing fee.

Bills will fluctuate for different types of accommodations, especially if the house includes private swimming pools and gardens. Similarly, bills during summer months tend to be higher when the consumption of cooling electronics like refrigerator and air-conditioner is more.

While applying to DEWA, tenants will be asked to pay a fully refundable deposit depending upon the usage and the type of accommodation. However, it is essential to safeguard the original receipt.

Air-conditioning in Dubai households is provided through cold water system piped utility whose cost is usually included in the electricity bill, though newer developments like Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeriah are charged separately. A fully refundable deposit ranging from 1,500 AED to 5,000 AED is charged for apartments or villas that are reimbursed 30 days from the final bill payment.

Visit DEWA website for more information


Dubai leads in the expensive property market, according to a recent survey with the ceiling of luxury showcasing large variety of exclusive apartments and villas. Consequently, rents squeeze out a large proportion of most workers’ salaries responsible for skyrocketing costs of living. However, 2010 has experienced a speed in construction projects resulting in a surplus of commercial and residential property. Today, buyer dominates the scene reflecting a drop in property prices throughout the year. Even for an expat in Dubai, buying a freehold property in Dubai is profitable in the long term rather than paying large sums of money in rent. Since 2006 foreigners have been allowed to own freehold title on property in Dubai with no restrictions on re-selling or renting out. As the year progresses and more residential developments are completed, Dubai residents will have a good chance at negotiating property at favourable terms.

One of the most sought after residential areas amongst expats in Dubai is the Palm Jumeirah Island. There are other favourites as well which include the Dubai Marina, Burj Khalifa, Jumeirah Beach Residences, Umm Suqeim and the Arabian Ranches and Springs. These areas are dotted with some of the most expensive and fanciest properties on earth providing a range of unending in-house luxuries that include private access to beach, swimming pools, golf course, spas, etc.

Cost of Living

Before landing in Dubai as an expat, it is always important to judge the lifestyle and cost of living. Dubai was always an expensive place to live, but the steadily increasing inflation rates showing no signs of release, the cost of living is strangling the current income of workers.

Accommodation is a major decider in the budget of the common man in Dubai. Rising housing prices provide no relief and it is no wonder that migrating workers with low or medium income share flats with friends & colleagues. However, this is possible only for those with no families or are ready to compromise their privacy to save money. On the other hand, expats arriving with families have to rent out or buy an apartment or a villa, subsequently paying up for the bills and deposits accompanying them.

Other major contributing factor to the cost of living is food, groceries and dining out.

Eating is a necessity but dining out should be reserved for weekends or special occasions since Dubai restaurants are a costly business. Dubai enjoys an advantage of offering all kinds of cuisines and eateries, right from street food to expensive restaurants. Disciplined planning of lifestyle suiting the current income will help expat beat the high costs of living in Dubai.

If the expat has arrived with family, then looking out for good educational institutes for school age children is another major concern. Private education is expensive especially with all the accompaniments such as tuition fees and school materials. It is quite hard for a family of four to live and maintain a cosmopolitan lifestyle if school going children are involved.

Next comes traveling to work, either by car or public transport. Ironically, transportation has the least amount of pressure on taxable income given that gasoline is cheaper than water. Having a car is always an advantage as it offers the maximum privacy and flexibility during travel. However, Dubai traffic jams are notorious for picking on precious time, not to forget stringent traffic laws and penalties. Driving with a liquor bottle without a license is illegal, to be avoided in all situations. License to purchase liquor is provided only to men subject to certain requirements.

Communication in Dubai is also very cheap as local calls are free and there is variety of options available to make international calls.

Ultimately, the cost of living depends on the person’s income & lifestyle and as such there is no fixed answer on this subject. It will be advisable on the employer’s part if he makes the expat aware of the cost of living before negotiating the contract. If it is lucrative enough, the next flight to the magical city of Dubai is never far away.

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