Ellie Allen

All you ever wanted to know about moving to Dubai

7 min read


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Dubai is an exciting modern city that attracts the rich and glamorous from around the world and stands in contrast to many other cities in the Middle East. This desert metropolis has surged in popularity as an expat lifestyle destination in recent years, with many people now calling it their new home. Some are drawn to the city for its fabled zero rate income tax, while others find the allure of cheap property and sun too hard to resist.

If you are thinking about making the leap to the 'City in the Sand' from the UK, let's get started with the hows and whys of it. First off, let's look at some key statistics.

Name: Dubai - capital of the Emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Population: Approx 4 million

Currency: Dirham

Language: Arabic

GDP: $108 billion per annum

Average salary: £30,000 (tax free)


There are lots of reasons why you might want to move there, but here are some of the more common ones:

Property. There's a huge array of property for sale in Dubai, from beachside cottages to luxury high rises on artificial islands. The good news is that in 2020 prices are down some 40 percent from their peak in 2014, meaning you can easily bag a bargain.

Money and taxes. With no income or business tax, it's possible to live and work in the United Arab Emirates for a few years to build up your business or savings and then move on (if you wish). Of course, money isn't everything, but it sure helps to have some.

Vibrant international scene. From restaurants and nightclubs, to water sports and golf clubs - there's always something going on when you're living in sunny Dubai. In fact, the lifestyle is what makes the majority of expats want to stay there, even if they only planned to relocate to the UAE from the UK for a short time. What's more, you don't need to speak Arabic to join in.

Great facilities and infrastructure, including a well funded healthcare system and world-beating ground and air transport facilities. Furthermore, being a travel hub, the UAE acts as a stepping stone between East and West, meaning travel to - say - London or Hong Kong is just as easy as hopping over to Abu Dhabi or Saudi Arabia.


The first thing to do when thinking about moving to Dubai is check your paperwork is in order and that you have a legal right to settle in the United Arab Emirates (most people do). This means making sure your international passport is up to date and getting the correct visa.

The type of visa you need depends on your likely work situation. If you intend to seek employment once you have arrived it's advisable to get a long term Multiple Visa, which will allow you to stay in Dubai for up to 90 days - you can also extend this when it runs out. At the same time, you'll need to apply for a probationary work permit from the Ministry of Labour, which is valid for three months.

Otherwise, if you already have a job in the UAE, you will get a Work Visa - something that will usually be paid for and handled by your employer. All foreign expats in Dubai need to have a Work Visa if they are working.

If you want to live in the UAE long-term, you may also apply for a Residence Visa. Holding a Residence Visa will give you a lot of benefits that other expats may not be entitled to, such as being able to take out a loan or visa-free travel to surrounding countries, such as Abu Dhabi


Most of the United Arab Emirates' wealth comes from the oil sector, but there is a host of other industries based in the country and all of them require qualified workers. For those seeking an employer, some of the major industries in the UAE are:

  • Finance
  • Tourism
  • Real estate
  • Hospitality
  • Security
  • Technology
  • Teaching

In fact, almost all industries can be found in the UAE, and professionals can secure lucrative tax-free salaries by moving there from the UK.


When moving from another country, expats can choose from a number of super modern areas to set up home in Dubai, and each has its own distinct appeal. Starting off with one of the most popular and affordable zones, Mirdif is located just to the east of the international airport. Popular with families, Mirdif offers a number of good schools, excellent leisure facilities and a sizeable mall. It's a good starting place to look for accommodation if you've just arrived from the UK as it's popular with the expatriate crowd.

Jumeirah Islands. When you see brochures of Dubai you'll probably see images of the famed Jumeirah area. These are a series of 50 man-made islands which are covered in sprawling villas, luxury hotels and high rise penthouse apartments - the most famous of which is the instantly recognisable Burj Khalifa. Each zone has its own distinct flavour, and so it's probably no surprise that living here is not going to be cheap. The whole area is a gated community, with everything you need right there, from hospitals and schools to marinas and beach clubs.

Downtown Dubai. Living in the centre of the city - simply known as Downtown - is a popular choice with UK expats. Everything is right on your doorstep, meaning you can combine brunch with business, but rents can be expensive. If you are planning on a temporary relocation and want to live the full-on Dubai lifestyle then consider renting an apartment in Downtown.

Various major industries have sections of the city named after them. For example, if you are working in the media or advertising and want to work close to your employer you may want to consider living in Media City. Here you will find all the publishers, broadcasters and marketing agencies that service the creative media sector.

Likewise, if sports and exercise are your thing you may want to have a closer look at Sports City. This zone contains everything associated with sports, from stadia, gyms, sports clubs and everything else for the active expat. What's more, it's not an overly pricey area to rent or buy in compared to other areas in the city.

However, not everyone wants city bustle, high luxury or a themed city zone - some just want a bit of peace and quiet! If that sounds like you then have a look at the area just outside the city known as Arabian Ranches. This gated community is perfect for equestrians and countryside lovers, and is ideally suited to families. Villas here are expensive, but you get to live an exclusive country club lifestyle.


Dubai, with its high rise buildings, beaches and fast food restaurants may look familiar on the outside, but it can actually be quite different from Western cities in terms of culture and legalities. Although Dubai is extremely cosmopolitan (around 200 different nationalities call the city home - expats make up some 80% of the population) it retains its heritage and is influenced by the surrounding culture.

Working week. So, you might think that the working week is pretty much the same everywhere in the world, right? Not so fast. In the United Arab Emirates the working week generally starts on a Sunday and ends on a Thursday. Shops are usually open every day except Friday, and business hours are normally 08:00 to 13:00, and then 16:00 to 19:00 - thus avoiding the hottest part of the day.

Schools. If you have children of school age you'll need to enrol them at a private school, as public schooling is only available for Emirate nationals. The price of tuition varies, with fees as low as £500 per term, ranging up £25,000 for top-end schools. Many expatriates living in the Middle East send their kids to school in the UAE.

Conservative society. Although the average Emirati is very tolerant of expatriates and different cultures, it bears remembering that the UAE is a conservative monarchy and a Muslim society, and so its customs must be respected. Generally speaking, however, as long as one sticks to the law in the UAE one will be treated with fairness and respect - just like anywhere else.

Heat. Did you know that it is hot in the UAE? Hot as in hotter than anywhere else you have probably ever been? A record of 48.2 degrees Centigrade (120 Fahrenheit) was set in July 1996 and locals say that the winds in summer can get so intense it is like blowing a hairdryer on your face. So it's a good thing that everywhere indoors is air conditioned. Of course, the positive aspect of this hot desert climate is that it is sunny almost all the time from May to November.


It can be exciting to think about relocating to the UAE from the UK. Not only is there the glitzy lifestyle and all the luxury malls and marinas, but Dubai really is one of the most dynamic places in the Arab world and it's packed with things to do.

What's more, with its generous tax advantages and excellent schools, the UAE could be an ideal place to grow your business and your family. Many of those who have already done the relocation from the UK and are living in Dubai talk about the opportunities they would have missed if they'd stayed at home.

Remember though, moving to a new country from the UK is a big step, but all it takes is a little research and preparation. We advise spending a holiday there to see if you like it before moving - that way you'll know if life in the UAE is for you. Seek out pages on social media frequented by UAE expats and ask them for their top tips about moving - there's a wealth of information available at your fingertips if you ask.

Final thoughts

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