Your guide to expat life in United Arab Emirates

Moving to the UAE

If you’re moving to the UAE, you can look forward to a high standard of living in one of the most progressive countries in the Gulf region.

English is widely spoken and the expat community is large and diverse, making it easier for new arrivals to settle in. You may struggle to adapt to the intense heat. And you may not be used to the conservative Islamic culture. But it helps to keep an open mind and be patient – the benefits of living in the UAE are worth it.

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Basic info

  • Population: Around 9.7 million
  • Capital city: Abu Dhabi
  • Largest city: Dubai
  • Political system: The UAE is a federation of seven constitutional monarchies (emirates). Traditionally the ruler of Abu Dhabi is also the president of the UAE.
  • Main languages: Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken and understood.
  • Main religion: Islam is the official religion. Other religions are tolerated, but proselytising is illegal.
  • Time: GMT+4
  • Electricity: 220 and 240V, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are the most frequently used.
  • Currency: Dirham (AED)
  • International dialling code: +971
  • Internet domain: .ae
  • Emergency numbers: 999
  • Road traffic: Drives on the right

Next holiday

May

12

Eid Al Fitr

Islamic holidays are subject to the sighting of the moon, and dates can change on the Gregorian calendar.

Public Holidays

2020
1 January New Year's Day
22 March Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet)
23–24 May Eid Al Fitr
30 July Arafat (Hajj) Day
30 July to 3 August Eid Al Adha
20 August Hijri New Year's Day
29 October Prophet Mohammed's Birthday
2 December UAE National Day
2021
1 January New Year's Day
11 March Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet)
12–13 May Eid Al Fitr
19 July Arafat (Hajj) Day
19–23 July Eid Al Adha
10 August Hijri New Year's Day
19 October Prophet Mohammed's Birthday
2 December UAE National Day

Your relocation checklist

Moving to a new country takes a lot of planning. To help you get started, here are some of the things you need to do before you leave home – or just after you arrive.

Key phrases

  • Hello As salam alaykom
  • Good evening Masaa el kheer
  • Goodbye Ma’a Salama
  • How are you? Kaifa haloka (male), Kaifa haloki (female)
  • Thank you Shukran
  • Yes Na’am
  • No La
  • Do you speak English? Hal tatakallam ingliziya?
  • Can you help me? Hal beemkanek mosa dati?
  • Sorry Ana a’asef

Top tips

View a selection of tips sourced from expats about the UAE:

“Dubai is famous for holding many world records, such as the tallest building, largest shopping mall etc., so take advantage of these history-making things, as well as experiencing the local culture in rural areas near Dubai.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Accommodation will cost way more than any company HR department will let on, check prices before you come and add 10% for local fees and several thousand Dirhams per month for utilities.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Explore the different emirates at least every month for the first year. It will give you more understanding of its culture. Learn beforehand the language since it’s important to ease communicating with others. Be aware of the dos and don’ts considering that it is a Muslim country.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“The most important thing is, know your laws, some may seem restrictive, others not and don’t be intimidated by the local people or believe in stereotypes, you can learn a lot from them and expand your cultural horizon and empathy.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Securing a spot for your children in a "good" school is very difficult, so if possible try to have this organised before you come out, or have your employer guarantee a place in a top school.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Talk to people residing in the country to understand the cost of living, social life etc. and evaluate if you will earn the same or better and then decide. Do not just look at salary in isolation or no tax structure. There are plenty of hidden costs.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for United Arab Emirates

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Come with a positive mind - you're moving to a great country! Nowhere in the world will you find a place with such a large mix of people from so many varied cultures.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for United Arab Emirates

Shipping

The UAE has strict rules about what you can and can’t take into the country.

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Banned items

Anything considered against the values, traditions and morality of the UAE is banned. There are also bans on various medicines, so check the UAE Ministry of Health’s list of controlled drugs before you move. Being caught with banned items can result in a jail term.

Furniture

Most rental accommodation in the UAE is unfurnished and even the most basic appliances may not be provided. Shipping your own furniture from home is a good idea, but appliances from countries with different voltage requirements won’t work in the UAE, so it’s best to leave these at home. Many companies give expats a shipping allowance. It’s worth negotiating this into your employment contract if you can.

Pets

Shipping your pet to the UAE can be complicated. Two pets are allowed per person and animals have to be in good health with up-to-date inoculation certificates. There’s no quarantine requirement unless a pet is less than four months old. In Dubai, cats and dogs have to be registered and micro-chipped.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Islamic holidays are subject to the sighting of the moon, and dates can change on the Gregorian calendar. You are therefore advised to confirm these dates with your local embassy or consulate.