Relocating to the UAE? New and just arrived? Here’s your cut-out-and-keep guide to moving to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah or any of the other northern emirates, with tips from both ourselves and expats who’ve moved here.

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  • Banking can feel very different in the UAE – the Al Etihad credit bureau is very new so there is no individual credit scoring yet, which means banking can feel very bureaucratic – even your company’s reputation counts when you’re applying for a loan. Direct debits are also very new, and post-dated checks and standing orders are still the norm.
  • Cash: Bring money that will keep you going for a few months when moving to Dubai – you will have a lot of initial outlay and deposits and year-in-advance fees. Osman, British, in UAE 15 months
  • Bank account: You’ll need to have a bank account as soon as you arrive. Choose carefully – it’s quite hard to switch. Local banks have more branches – international banks tend to have only one or two branches and otherwise service centers in malls, etc, which cannot handle cash and can only deal with paperwork. [Related: How to set up a new bank account in the UAE]
  • Checkbook: Ensure you have your checkbook ordered and in hand when you start looking for accommodation – you’ll need to put down several post-dated checks for up to a year’s rent in advance. If you write a check and make a mistake, you will need to sign your initials next to the mistake.
  • Islamic finance: Most banks offer both conventional and Islamic finance. We have many guides to Islamic finance. [Related: The appeal of Islamic bankingIslamic credit cardspersonal financehome financecar finance]
  • Home accounts: Don’t shut down your home country bank accounts, even if you think you’re never going back. Have some transactions there to keep a credit score going. It’s taken me a long time to get one back. Karen, British, in UAE five years and back in UK for three
  • Tax: Take advise re tax and implications; it’s not always that simple to know your home country’s liability when you live here. Keren Bobker ( writer), British, in the UAE 10 years [Related: Financial issues to address before moving overseas]
  • Leaving: Arrive with an exit strategy, otherwise you can get sucked into the lifestyle. Start saving immediately. Caithlin, South African, in the UAE seven years

[Related: Five things you need to know about banking in the UAE]


  • Attestation: Get your education certificates attested before you leave your home country – and bring them in your hand luggage, don’t ship them! You’ll need them to apply for sponsorship and residency.
  • Photos: Bring LOTS of passport photos – best to do them at home rather than hunt around looking for a photo shop. Get around 12 per person.
  • Labor card: You have to have a labor card to work in the UAE; you will only get this once you have your residency.
  • Traveling during application: You can’t travel while your residency application is in process.
  • Dependents: If you are not from one of the 33 countries exempt from visa regulations, when bringing your wife or dependents in the UAE before their residency visa is arranged, know that you cannot convert a tourist visa to residency whilst remaining in the UAE so you will need to make visa runs to neighboring countries (Hatta on the Oman border is a favorite) for an exit stamp. On a visit visa the process is simpler – a status change is made while staying in the UAE for a fee. Shikha, Indian, in the UAE for four months
  • Traveling after visa: After obtaining your residency you can only leave the UAE for six months or less at a time or your residency may be canceled.
  • Maids: If you want to hire a maid, only the head of the household can do this; bachelor men cannot. [Related: The cost of hiring a maid and the legality of part-time help]


  • Rent: You will normally need to pay up to a year in advance when renting – exactly how many checks is part of the negotiation. [Related: Negotiating your rentYou may need to get a personal loan to pay the rent. [Compare loans]
  • It’s hard to get to know the areas from a distance but there are ways. We list the top areas to rent by cost – apartments and villas – with Google Maps to help you familiarize yourself with the Emirates. [Dubai rent costs by area | Abu Dhabi rent costs by area]
  • Cash: If your company is not arranging accommodation when you are moving to Dubai, you may need to bring a lump sum of cash to pay your first rent check. Sezen, Turkish, in the UAE two years
  • Area: Stay in hotel apartments before you sign a year’s lease on a house in an area you later decide you don’t like. Caithlin, South African, in Dubai seven years. Settle down for at least a year in moderate accommodation before you splash out on anything extravagant. Osman, British, in the UAE 15 months
  • Furniture: There are plenty of furniture shops (Pan Emirates and Home Centre are local favorites) but it often seems hard to find exactly what you’re looking for (and beware the different bed dimensions in different shops according to US, European, Scandinavian, UK etc). Ikea may be your best bet to start – especially if you’re moving into rented accommodation, which is normally completely unfurnished. You can buy everything in one go, Ikea doesn’t charge delivery if you spend over AED 2,500 and, unusually, in the UAE they assemble for free too! (Emirates NBD has had an ongoing offer for credit card holders to get 0% installment plan on Ikea buys.) Secondhand? Go to Dubizzle and Gulf News Classifieds.
  • Ejari: Make sure you get an ejari registration done when you sign a tenancy agreement. Osman, British, in the UAE 15 months [Related: Know your rental rights and how to register for Ejari]
  • Maintenance: Normally as much your responsibility as your landlord’s. Get a maintenance contract sorted out – particularly before the summer, when air conditioning breakdowns are a killer. [Related: Leaks and damage – Whose problem is it anyway?]
  • Letting can be perilous – landlords can turn out to be unscrupulous tenants looking to sub-let and pay off their own rent, grabbing your money and making promises of daily cleaning services and free internet which then fail to materialize. Do plenty of checks before handing over cash or checks. Christian, British, in the UAE four years [Related: 10 things your landlord won’t tell you]
  • Home insurance: It may be safe here but don’t forget home contents insurance – you still have the risk of flooding or fire damage, and need to consider insuring your maid while she’s on the property too. [Compare home insurance | What you need to know about home insurance]
  • Buying: You may want to consider buying a home rather than renting – we have articles to help. [Related: The real cost of buying | Buying for the first time | Understanding mortgages in the UAE]


  • Taxis are cheap but drivers may not understand you or take you to the wrong place. Before your driver sets off, check he knows where he’s going and what route he’s taking. Sezen, Turkish, in the UAE two years
  • Lady-only taxis (pink taxis) are for women or families – you must have a woman in your group to take one.
  • Car rental: Many people just use taxis for months when they get here but car rental is quite cheap and helps you get to know the UAE fast so do it sooner rather than later. Once you’ve decided if you’re going to drive though, you might as well consider buying a car. Iraklis, Greek, in the UAE three years
  • Converting license: Only 33 countries can automatically transfer and convert their driving license to a UAE one.
  • Driving lessons: For the other countries, expect to take 20 – 40 classes and an exam (or several!), even if you have a driving license from your home country – and to pay an exorbitant amount for it. Shikha, Indian, in the UAE for four months
  • International license: Consider getting an international driving permit for the early days when you arrive but remember, once you have residency, you must get a UAE driving license.
  • No claims certificate: A no claims bonus can be converted from your home country on your new car insurance – remember to obtain and bring your certificate.
  • Satellite navigation is less useful than in other countries as the roads change so often! Do accept that, with or without GPS, you’ll get lost a lot! And try to treat it as part of your orientation…
  • Driving is fairly notorious in the UAE – there are a couple of hundred nationalities on the roads, after all – but is still much better than some countries. There is a federal black points system and a unified list of traffic fines. There are hundreds of speed cameras in the UAE and no lines on the road to mark out speed camera areas so you can get flashed without realizing it. You can check your points on the individual emirate police or government sites online (e.g. RTA in Dubai) and will need to pay off all fines when you register your car annually.
  • Car insurance: You will pay for 13 months, with a one-month buffer effectively wiped out when you re-insure your car. Check whether you want offroad cover and whether you are insured to drive elsewhere in the GCC – also whether flooding damage is covered (relatively common in the rainy season, for instance in underground car parks). [Related: Compare car insurance | The little extras with your car insurance policy | What makes a good insurance policy?]
  • New cars are much cheaper than in Europe but do your sums to decide whether secondhand or new is best for you. [Related: Secondhand or new? | How to get the best deal on a secondhand car | Cash or loan for your car?]
  • Deals: Look for new car deals and promotions as you can save a lot and get a lot of added extras thrown in – Ramadan car deals are infamous. Osman, British, in the UAE 15 months [Best car offers and deals]



  • VOIP is not banned, per se, but using Skype to landline for cheap calls is blocked.
  • Internet: The UAE’s internet is censored for culturally or religiously offensive content and VPNs are officially banned.
  • Mobile: Du and Etisalat are the only telecom companies and therefore mobile phone providers – the pre-paid (pay-as-you-go) service is called Wasel by Etisalat and Pay As You Go by Du, and there are plenty of post-paid (contract) plans too – you can compare them all on our site. You can also get special visitor pre-paid plans from the moment you arrive at the airport – Ahlan from Etisalat and Visitor Mobile Line from Du.
  • Triple play: You will get your landline, TV subscription and broadband from either Du or Etisalat, depending on which area you live in (each monopolizes certain areas). If in a villa you can get an OSN TV satellite dish and subscription.
  • Broadband is expensive, no two ways about it, and there is little competition in a duopoly. [Related: Compare broadband plansFinding the right broadband package]
  • Mobile tips: There are a lot of mobile commands and shortcodes – like buying parking using your mobile credit – that you can use with Du and Etisalat. Use our handy guide.


  • Health insurance: You must have private health insurance as an expat under the Isahd scheme and your employer should provide it by law. You need to get your maid insurance too.
  • Hospitals: Check your insurance carefully to see what clinics and hospitals it covers – you cannot go to just any hospital you want as you may do in your own country. Sezen, Turkish, in the UAE two years
  • Private system: Do seek second opinions and question results; this is a private, profit-making healthcare system. Once I went in to a clinic for a problem with my nose and they insisted on running a raft of tests – including urine! Samantha, South African, in UAE eight years
  • Compare health insurance plans


  • Emergency phone numbers: Know what number to call – there are separate numbers for the police, ambulance and fire brigade. Crime rates are very low – there are isolated cases of burglaries from homes or cars. Each emirate has a separate police force, all independent from each other. [Related: Emergency phone numbers]
  • Voltages and appliances: The UAE is 220/240 volts and uses British three-pin plug sockets. When you buy appliances here, check that they have three-pin plugs – they now should by law but they may have been fused on which can look ugly. It may be worth you shipping your own appliances here rather than buying again – there is not a huge range available and it can be expensive to replace everything.
  • Food: Shop around for your groceries as supermarket produce and prices vary wildly from store to store and by taste. Osman, British, in the UAE 15 months
  • Alcohol license: You will need to apply for an annual alcohol license to consume or buy alcohol in the UAE. You can apply at liquor stores such as MMI or African & Eastern, which are normally located in discreet corners of malls. You will need to be a resident, over 21, non-Muslim, earn more than AED 3,000 per month and will need to provide letters from your landlord and employer. It can take several weeks to come through.
  • Pets: There are established vets, kennels, catteries and pet stores in the UAE but it can be quite hard work to own a dog as there are not many places to walk them – beaches and parks are normally no-go areas; even the Dubai Marina Walk recently banned dogs. [Pet hotels and pet sitting]
  • Learning the language: Arabic is a difficult language to learn but in 30 – 60 hours of lessons you will at least have the basics and be able to read the alphabet – which opens up a new world in which you can read both sides of shop and road signs!
  • Shopping overseas: Don’t forget you qualify to get your VAT back in a lot of countries when shopping as a tourist. For instance if you’re British, as a proven British expat with UAE residency in your passport, you can still get VAT back. [Shop ’til you drop on holiday; it’s a better deal]
  • Public holidays: Tend to be based on the lunar calendar so are not announced until just before the event. The number of days off varies for those working in the public and private sectors. Two days are fixed – UAE National Day on 2 December and New Year’s Day on 1 January. [2014 UAE public holidays]
  • Ramadan: If you arrive during Ramadan, it’s a quieter and much more peaceful time. Be aware you cannot eat, drink or smoke – or even chew gum – during fasting daylight hours, regardless of your religion. Even if you come from a Muslim country, the rules can be different so do your research. Sezen, Turkish, in the UAE two years
  • Make it home: Don’t assume anything works like it does in your home country but try to think of this as home. If you don’t, you’ll never settle. Keren Bobker ( writer), British, in the UAE 10 years
  • It is what it is: Don’t compare it to home. Dubai is Dubai – enjoy it for what it is, because you’ll be leaving one day and you’ll take all the memories and stories with you – Maysa, Lebanese, in the UAE eight years

It can take a good few weeks to get set up, after moving to Dubai or the UAE, with your visa, bank account, accommodation, transport and schools – but there is a magic moment it gets easier, at just over three months!

It’s probably put best by Jennifer, who has been in the UAE eight years but also spent nine years as a child here. “Remember there are lots of good and bad things about the UAE – just like anywhere else in the world. Make sure you make friends with great people because they will become your UAE family. Enjoy the lifestyle you would probably never have in your home country but respect the laws here and don’t be an idiot! Lastly – a smile, a tip goes a long way to making the day of the many workers here who make our lives easier every day.”

[More from New to UAE section]