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Moving to Dubai: a checklist
A sprawling desert city crowned with gleaming high-rises, the modern city of Dubai symbolises middle-eastern ambition. With its modern foundations built upon the dried-out riverbed of a tiny fishing village, Dubai is a hive of innovation, diversity and opportunity and, with its beautiful sandy coastline, is an attractive location for a global community of expats.
It is a city determined to improve itself and its attractiveness to business, residents and visitors. Examples of this commitment include projects such as Expo 2020 Dubai¹ and the 2021 Dubai Plan², which focuses on six key areas: people, society, experience, place, economy and government, to make Dubai the city the best it can be.
For expats currently planning a move to Dubai, or considering moving there in the future, we have compiled a checklist that provides a quick guide to what you need to know before you go.
What visas do I need before I move to Dubai?
Before moving to Dubai, you need to obtain a UAE residence visa to legally live in the city. A residence visa is valid for two years if you work in the private sector, and three years in the public sector, and you should be able to renew it indefinitely. Once you have your residence visa, you will then be able to open a bank account and obtain a driving licence, as well as sponsor the visa applications for your immediate family
As an expat, you should check that the company that employs you is willing to sponsor your UAE residence visa and your work permit. You must have a health check before application, which will include a blood test and chest X-ray
For your company to sponsor your application, you will need a passport valid for at least six months, recent colour photos, your medical test results and any additional proof of identity requested. If your company applies for you, you should receive your visa in two to three weeks. This may take slightly longer without employer sponsorship
Once you have received your residence visa, you will be able to sponsor, and apply for, visas on your family’s behalf. Once they arrive, they will need an entry residence visa (usually free on entry), and you then have 30 days to attain their residence passport stamp
In March 2016, laws regarding the visa application process changed, and you can now apply online, making the application process even easier. Visit amer.ae3, the UAE government portal4 or download the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs of Dubai’s GDRFA Dubai app5 to guide you through the application process
In terms of application fees, a refundable deposit of AED 5000 per person is required, plus around AED 360 for the visa itself and between AED 200-300 for medical tests.
Health insurance in Dubai
As of 1 January 20177, new visas will not be issued or renewed for Dubai residents unless they have health insurance. So, you need to think about the kind of health insurance you require when you are organising your visa
By law, employers are now required to provide health insurance cover for their employees, so you may find that this has been arranged for you by your company before you arrive, along with your visa application and work permit
Check what level of health insurance your employer offers. They may only offer the basic level of cover – known as an Essential Benefits Plan3 – which covers up to AED150,000 (US$40,839) per person per annum. You may wish to arrange additional cover to provide additional benefits and higher limits
Currently, Dubai employers do not have to provide cover for dependants and spouses, so you may need to arrange this yourself8. It is worth checking policies that offer a family health insurance plan, as this may end up as a better option if your family is travelling with you.
Accommodation options in Dubai
Some companies will provide long term accommodation for you as part of your international transfer, while others may only offer a tenancy for a few months, or alternatively a living allowance.
While living costs in Dubai10 are reasonable compared with other major cities, accommodation prices in the city centre are increasing and are approaching London prices. So, while lunch for two will cost around AED 150 (US$40) and a monthly transport pass will cost AED 250 (US$68), a one-bedroom flat in the city centre will cost around AED 7,324 (US$1,994) a month.
- Choose your location based on proximity to your job, or schools if you have children, as traffic congestion is a common problem. It is also worth noting that the accommodation in Dubai city centre and popular areas can be very expensive, which may limit your options
- While expats can be found in all areas of the city, Dubai Marina is seen by many as the best place to live as an expat, and Jumeirah or Umm Suqeim are well-suited to families. You may want to do some initial research into the different areas of Dubai11 before you move
- Additionally, it is worth noting that ‘traditionally’ accommodation is paid for up-front in one annual payment – which can come as a shock. Thankfully, landlords are becoming more flexible with different payment options
- Make sure you are aware of all fees and maintenance charges upfront, and factor-in additional utilities costs, as well as registering your tenancy online12 to make use of your full tenant’s rights.
TOP TIP: Always ask your landlord whether the water from the taps in your accommodation is filtered or if you should buy bottled water
What is the international school system in Dubai?
- There are many private international schools in Dubai. Some schools follow the British education system, and teach the National Curriculum of England. Other schools follow the US, Indian or UAE public school syllabus, or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. There is also a local syllabus requirement in Dubai international schools, so your children will also have the opportunity to study Arabic and Islamic studies or UAE social studies
- The Knowledge and Human Development Authority13 (KHDA) offers general guidance on choosing schools and applications. For example, it warns that schools, particularly primary schools, often have long waiting lists, so you should apply as soon as possible, and you may be able to apply online before leaving your home country
- Which School Advisor14 publishes the KHDA’s school rankings table15 each year, which is a useful resource to help you identify the school that will best suit your children and their needs
- During the application process, you will be asked for a copy of your child’s and parents’ passports and residence visas, a copy of the child’s birth certificate if their passport does not give the exact date of birth, eight passport-sized photographs, immunisation records, and attested certificates and/or transfer certificate. Each school will have its own application process, so you should check the school’s website for details. Source: Government of Dubai16
The KHDA’s online school directory17 is also a source of inspection reports, programmes and curricula for each school.
TOP TIP: For Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, the academic year is from April to March. For all other curricula, it begins in September and ends in June or July
What kind of expat communities are there in Dubai?
Dubai is home to a great number of expats, and over the years, many expat clubs and communities have sprung up all over the city:
Meet like-minded professionals through business groups – such as the International Business Women’s Group18, which holds regular networking lunches and workshops
Connect with people from your home country, with nation-specific groups and clubs from a host of countries, including Australia and New Zealand19, Turkey20 and India21. Dubai’s only Thai restaurant, Café Isan22, draws many Thai expats to experience a taste from home, as well as celebrating Thai holidays with the wider Thai expat community
Join a sports community, such as the 5,000-strong group of cyclists, Dubai Roadsters23
You can often find communities using social media, via Facebook – see the Expats Club26
Download an expat app, such as InterNations27, which can help you meet like-minded internationals in the city
Apps such as Downtown Dubai28 or The Dubai Mall29 show you where to find the highlights of Dubai’s shopping and nightlife culture, while the Time Out Dubai30 app will make sure you don’t miss the best restaurants, music and events in the city.
We hope this checklist arms you with the basic information and resources for your move. To find out more get in touch with other expats and ask them about their experiences. The other articles in this guide are also a good place to start and may help you prepare for your new life in Dubai.
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.