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Dubai culture and lifestyle: what to expect
Modern Dubai is a multicultural and diverse city, that has developed rapidly since its origins as a fishing and trading port in the early 1900s.
By the 1930s, Dubai’s popularity was growing, with immigrants making up around one-quarter of the population. The city’s growth really took off when oil was discovered in the 1960s.
Over the past 50 years, Dubai has undergone unprecedented change, and large amounts of money have been invested into infrastructure and development. The city is now working towards achieving its 2021 Dubai Plan1, which focuses on six key areas: its people, society, experience, place, economy and government – to make Dubai the best city it can be.
Dubai’s cultural melting pot
Today’s Dubai is a fusion of more than 200 nationalities – with Emiratis making up only around 10% of the population of 9.5 million. Individuals pay no income, property or capital gains tax, which makes it an attractive financial proposition for many expats.
Dubai’s subtropical climate makes for great weather, but for many newly arrived expats, the summer can be a real shock. The hottest months are between June and September, when temperatures average 45C. A cooler 24-25C is usual in January and February.
British expatriate Jennifer Bell, 32, says: “When I arrived here, I was surprised by how open the country was. It felt like a home away from home. When it comes to socialising, such as experiencing the local nightlife, there is little difference to Europe.
“It’s an extremely safe place, with a zero-tolerance approach to bad behaviour and crime. As long as you stay respectful to the city and its modern, Middle Eastern traditions, this is one of the best places to live.”
Discover Dubai’s culture
Canadian Anna Stevens, 34, has lived in the UAE on and off for more than 20 years. She says: “The culture today has a deep respect for religion, time with family, and intangible heritage like poetry, storytelling and falconry; it can be tricky to navigate on your own. At the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding2 in Dubai you can learn about local customs at special events. Modest dress and a few words in Arabic open a lot of doors and make it easier for others to approach you.”
Newcomers should be considerate of the country’s traditions. Avoid wearing revealing clothes in public and any public displays of affection. It’s particularly important to be respectful on national and religious holidays such as Eid, Commemoration Day and Ramadan; this includes dressing modestly and being mindful of your behaviour.
Convenience and practical issues
British expatriate James Langton, 55, says: “As a Western expat, everything seems to exist for your convenience, from fast food deliveries to someone packing your groceries at the supermarket, and even pumping petrol.
“However, if you have legal problems – consumer rights issues or tenancy disputes – there may seem to be very little redress.”
The court system operates in Arabic, which sometimes makes it difficult for expatriates to navigate. Understanding the laws – most of which are in Arabic – and finding a good lawyer and/or translator is essential for those involved in a court case.
James also suggests that expats making the move to Dubai sit down and work out what their living costs are likely to be in relation to their salary: “It’s easy to spend all your earnings. The country has become more expensive recently, and lots of companies have cut back heavily on things like housing and education allowances.”
A fit and healthy lifestyle
There’s a growing emphasis on health and fitness in Dubai, and it is a great place to get and stay fit. Most apartment blocks and compounds popular with expatriates have gyms and swimming pools exclusively for residents. One of the goals of ‘Dubai 2021’ is to offer a “diverse set of cultural and recreational options” including beaches, green spaces, and sporting facilities.
The working week in Dubai runs from Sunday to Thursday, so Friday is the first day of your weekend – though some professions, such as banking or trading, adjust this to align with international markets.
A welcoming culture
As its population grows, along with its aim to improve the health and wellbeing of its residents, Dubai is seen as the top city in which to live in the Middle East3 and North Africa. Expats need to be aware of Dubai’s cultural and religious norms – and an increasing cost of living – but they will be rewarded with a diverse and welcoming place to live and work.
The information provided in this article is designed as a guide and reference point to what you might expect in Dubai. Please be sure to check any information with local Dubai authorities to ensure information is valid and timely.