Living and working in the United Arab Emirates, particularly in the most popular locations of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, can be a fantastic experience, with the quality of life being second to none globally - but there are a few things to consider before you go... here's our quick guide to living and working in the UAE.
Do your research!
There are a wide range of expat forums online which should give you real life experiences of people who have lived and worked in the UAE.
Visit, or speak to others who have
With Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular being very popular holiday destinations, it’s likely you’ve already visited the UAE once or twice – or at least know someone who has! Yes, holidays and the realities of day to day life can be very different but it’s good to have an idea of the place before you commit, so speaking to someone who has visited is definitely a good start.
Find other expats
As anyone who’s ever upped sticks across the globe can attest to, having a friend can really help to ease the transition into day to day life in a new country. The Emiratis tend to be very welcoming and gracious people, but it will be handy to have other expat friends too. There are many expat groups online organising events to meet likeminded people whilst you’re in the UAE, but even if you don’t join one of these groups you’re likely to just stumble across expats every day – some of them will have been there for years, whilst others will be in the same boat as you.
Know what you’ll need
At a minimum you’ll need to get a residency visa (although this will most likely be supplied by your employer), an identity card, a UAE driver’s license and car registration paperwork, a bank account, PO Box and access to electricity and water. WRS can help you with most of this so don’t struggle in silence if you’re contracted through us!
Life can be expensive
Yes, the salary is tax free, but (particularly in Abu Dhabi), the cost of living is quite high – eating out and entertainment can rack up as the lifestyle is quite hectic and you’ll be entertaining a lot, but petrol, basic food items and even domestic staff are very affordable.
Dress sensibly and be considerate
It’s quite obvious really but for women, it’s best to cover up a little more than you might at home and generally be sensitive to the Islamic culture. It makes sense from a comfort point of view, too - cover up so you won't burn, and wear loose fitting clothes to keep cooler. We recommend wearing loosely fitted, modest clothing – women don’t have to wear a veil or cover their shoulders, but, for example, swimwear is unacceptable anywhere other than a beach or pool. During Ramadan, dress more conservatively. Holding hands and public displays of affection can be seen as quite offensive so they are best avoided – and having sex where you may be seen by others means a prison sentence.
Driving in the UAE can be quite dangerous so you’ll need to drive defensively. Some roads have tolls. If you don’t like the sound of driving, public transport is OK and taxis are very cheap – which leads us on to our next point…
Lots of people get confused about the UAE’s drinking laws… You need a licence to buy or transport alcohol, and if you are caught with alcohol either in your home or car (without a licence), this will be confiscated and you could face a prison sentence based on the quantity you have. 30% tax is added to all alcohol purchases, so it isn’t cheap to drink in the UAE – but, as taxis are very cheap, there’s absolutely no excuse for drinking and driving (even trace amounts can land you in hot water, legally). In terms of drugs, if you need to bring medication in with you do check that it’s legal in the Emirate you’re moving to, as illegal drugs carry heavy penalties.
Learn a little Arabic
Most Emiratis speak English well, as do the vast majority of expats from around the world, but it’s best to learn a few key phrases in Arabic – even if it’s just out of politeness. You’ll find the locals will be very impressed.
Enjoy your time
The UAE is a beautiful place where there is always plenty to do. Enjoy your time there.