Firstly, I should have wrote this post a long time ago, the demand for this was huge! But sure anyways, here we are now 😉 It’s a long post but I really wanted to include as much as possible!
We packed up and moved from Ireland to Dubai in September last year. We’ve been living here for 7 months now and have learnt everything there is to learn in terms of how to move here and how NOT to move, haha! There seems to be so many negative assumptions around the topic of living in Dubai, from people who have never been here. If you’re thinking about moving here, don’t listen to the people who have never been here that try to put you off. The whole of the Middle East isn’t entirely what the media may have led you to believe. Come here and decide for yourself. You’ll get a shock at how liberal this city is and the mass amount of opportunities that are here!
WHERE IS DUBAI AND WHY IS IT SO POPULAR?
Seven completely different emirates makes up a country named the United Arab Emirates (UAE),
Dubai is one of these emirates. The others are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.
Dubai attracts attention from the entire world as a result of it’s revolutionary real estate projects, such as the Burj Khalifa (which knocked NYC’s Empire State Building off the ‘Tallest Building In The World’ spot) Some of the other famous buildings in Dubai are the world’s largest shopping malls, the famous Burj Al Arab 7 star hotel and we can’t forget the man-made Palm shaped islands and multiple beaches.
*** You may have been offered a job in Sharjah and be told it’s ‘close to Dubai’, which is true as it’s only 25 mins by car but each Emirate is different and some are less liberal as others, so do your research!
I can only speak for Dubai as that’s where I live! It’s like comparing the Donegal to Dublin, same country, but so different.
WHY DID WE CHOOSE DUBAI?
Honestly, it was such random choice! We started talking about moving abroad at Christmas 2015 and Dubai came up in conversation. We booked a trip to check it out for June, but actually spent the whole week chilling on the beach and still decided “Sure why not, let’s just move here in September”, but here were our initial reasons:
- Sunshine, year round.
- Dubai is a travel hub. It’s so easy and inexpensive to visit dream destinations such as India, Egypt, The Maldives, Bali, Thailand and so many more!
- Relatively easy to get visas
- Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world
- Career/networking and study opportunities
- A complete change of scenery
Dubai is a crazy place and now that we actually live here, there are some previous unimaginable luxuries that add to the above list. It’s impossible to be bored in Dubai. It’s the city that has everything, and so many places to visit within the city and nearby.
Also, everything you need/want is at your fingertips. You get anything delivered at any hour of the day.
Run out of toilet roll and craving an ice pop at 1am? Open the app, order and the delivery guy will arrive at the door in less than 25 mins. McDonalds at 4am after a few drinks? Open another app and expect delivery to your door within 25 mins yet again
At home, I used to complain that there was nowhere to pop out for a tea or coffee after 5pm, now I have to many to choose from. Now, I have too many places to choose from at 9pm. A digital nomads dream!
The service here is 99% of the time out of this world. I’m rarely greeted without a smile or a ‘how are you today?’ and there’s no ‘whaddeyawant?’ met with a grunt, which is so refreshing! The huge Filipino population here are to thank for that, the best people!
So, let’s get to it…
There have been many highs and many lows too of course, but the overall journey has been great and I am so glad we took the leap. Now that we’ve done this once, we feel like we could do it many more times over. If you can move to Dubai and not die of a meltdown, you can move anywhere. Trust me.
I found it very hard to settle here for the first 3 months, there were mornings I would wake up in tears just with sheer fear, ‘What am I doing? Was this the right decision?”. I didn’t fully relax until right before Christmas, when we finally settled into an apartment we loved, more about that later.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
GETTING A VISA / EMPLOYMENT
It’s quite easy to get a visa to work and live in Dubai if you’re an Irish or British national. To live here, you won’t be able to rent your own apartment, get a phone contract or open a bank account without an ‘Emirate ID’, which you only get if you have a residency visa, which you only get if you get sponsored here…
In terms of employment, you pretty much have three choices:
Find a job online before you get here, do a Skype interview, get the job and your employer will sort your visa.
Benefits: Financial security from the word GO
Cons: Things are not always as they seem, research your employer!!!
I know so many Irish teachers here for example, and this is how most of them secure their jobs. Many employers will provide accommodation, pay your bills, pay for transport to and from work, pay your flight over and summer holiday flights home and also give you extra cash to fill your fridge too, on top of your actual salary, however you are usually given a lower salary because of it. There is usually a choice between the above or a full salary where you pay your own bills and rent. Do your research on what exactly they are offering you and what conditions you will be working/living in as things are not always as they seem. I know one lady who’s husband landed a huge job here, they have their panoramic view penthouse paid for, their 2 kids education paid for and all the other whistles and bells on top of that. He’s an in demand high level job though, this is not the case for everyone. Pilot? Yup, you and your family is going to be well looked after too! If you’re a teacher, you’ll more than likely be sharing an apartment near your school with other teachers and won’t be able to demand your own living space, unless you have children in tow perhaps. My point is, it completely depends on the job, what you have to offer, and your experience. The good thing is that your employer will do all the visa paperwork for you, and your family, which is a huge stress lifted! Remember though, your employer can just as easily fire you and cancel your visa. When offered a job, ask what is included in the package. You won’t be able to live comfortably here on less than €2500 a month. That won’t let you live in luxury, that’s just to live comfortably.
Trusted job search: https://www.indeed.ae/ or https://www.bayt.com/
Search for jobs once you arrive here
Benefits: Freedom to shop around and choose where you would like to work
Cons: Stress! You might not find anything. Oh, and bring an extra piggy bank.
The opportunities are endless here, if you’re good at what you do that is!!! On arrival to the UAE, you’ll get a free 30 day tourist visa stamp in your passport but that will need to be renewed after 30 days or you’ll be fined for each day you overstay. It’s perfectly legal to leave the UAE/do a border run to extend you stay for a further 30 days. To do that, there are many border run companies that help you do just this! They run a bus to the nearest border, Oman, which is a 2 hour drive. Once there, you go into a government building and get a new exit and entry stamp. Don’t be afraid of this, it’s allowed, you’re not doing anything wrong! The border run company charges around €25 for a return trip and then you’ll pay €50 for the UAE exit/Oman entry stamping process. We had to do this once in the beginning as our visas still hadn’t processed. It took 5 hours max, and was so easy! You can apply for jobs in the meantime, once you land a job, you will then have all the stress lifted as your employer gets your visa for you.
Setup your own company and sponsor yourself as the director/employee to get a visa (This is what we did!)
Benefits: You’re in charge of yourself, no one to answer to.
Cons: Costly. Also, as above, you’re in charge of yourself, no one to answer to. Your hustle game better be strong AF if you’re gonna do this.
Being self-employed and freelancing for years, I didn’t fancy working for say, another fitness centre, and had also heard many crappy stories so we went down this route instead and setting up a company is what we did. In Dubai, you can set up a free-zone company, which means you can only operate in the free zones of Dubai.
Free zones were created to encourage economic activity in those quieter areas. There’s multiple free zone areas in Dubai. For example, we couldn’t simply open a coffee shop in the very popular Marina area of Dubai without a local Emirati citizen owning 50% of the entire business we run (even if they have nothing to do with the running of the business) but we can open a coffee shop in a free zone area, such as Media City, for example, and own 100% of the business, since Media City is a free zone area that they want to encourage economic growth in. Make sense?
So we went down the Free-Zone Company route.
In July while we were still in Ireland we started the company building process. I’m not going to lie, this was hard as shit as it seemed to be a never ending flow of paperwork and we didn’t entirely understand what exactly was going on the whole time. I searched online through so many different company formation businesses, as there’s no clear-cut advice out there. I finally settled with a company-formation business named Virtuzone, I contacted them and we went from there. Firstly, you’ll go through the ‘company formation’ process which is where you choose your business activity, your company name, incorporation paperwork and so on. Once the government approves your company, you then go on to applying for your immigration card and residency visa. This process seemed to take forever. You’re allowed to enter the UAE while this is in process (hence why we had to do one border run after our first 30 days)
This is costly! Fees for year 1: http://vz.ae/fees/ (we went with package no.4 as the company license provided us both with work and residency visas) If you think this is something you would like to do, please email me lisadeefitnessATgmailDOTcom and I’ll help you out before you apply.
SIDE NOTE FOR ANYONE FREELANCING IN TECH, MEDIA OR DESIGN:
We didn’t hear about this option until last month.
There’s many incubators in Dubai, enabling platforms for entrepreneurs and startups. Being a part of one of these provides you with creative spaces, specialised industry centers, training and mentorship programmes, community wide networking events and access to investors, bringing your idea and business to it’s next phase of growth!
I don’t know much about this but it looks like a great idea, this one seems really popular: https://infive.ae/
Before you get your visa / Emirate I.D …
You’ll get to a stage of the application where you have to go to a local hospital for tests. They’ll do a blood test, take fingerprints (from every damn angle of each finger, lol!) and scan your oul’ eyeballs too! They don’t hold back on this as they take their national security very seriously, and I love that about this Country. This part of the process is fine for us ladies, as every man will step out of the way to let us ahead of each queue, actually there’s usually separate queues for us women, which speeds things up! Once they test everything and realise you’re not a threat to the country or terminally ill, you’ll finally get your I.D, which has everything stored on it in the form of a wee chip, like a debit card. This card contains everything about you within that chip, and by law, must be kept on you at all times.
MONEY / LIVING COSTS
Contrary to popular belief, money does not actually grow on trees here. The cost of living is hard to compare and it depends on the products and services in question, but is generally similar with any major city in the world, expensive! It will take your breath away at first. A tax-free salary sounds enticing but make sure that the salary is enough to cover you, and enough to have extra in your savings account at the end of each year, if part of your plan is to save money here. Money goes up in smoke here. You won’t want to cook all the time as the social scene is pretty amazing and you’re always on the go, rent is extremely expensive and food and drinks are usually way overpriced. Essentials aren’t cheap either. Cash flow can be a problem initially, especially with how rent is usually paid here (more about that below) Salaries are usually good though, and will match those living costs.
Let’s say your employer isn’t providing your accommodation and you have to do it alone.
When you first move here, you won’t be able to rent an apartment all to yourself, as you probably won’t get have the EMIRATE ID and residency visa that’s needed to rent a full apartment of your own.
So you only have two choices for now.
- Hotel apartment
- Rent a room in a shared apartment
My advice is to book a hotel apartment for 3 – 4 weeks, and when you get here, starting looking for rooms to rent. If you don’t find a room, you can always extend your stay. This is quite expensive though. We used hotel apartments for 3 months, spending around €3000 a month! It would have been much cheaper for us to rent a room, but we didn’t like the idea of that and wanted our own space. We learnt later though that everyone rents rooms. It’s affordable and you’re not stuck in a contract, the way you would be if you rented your own place. I was so annoyed when I realised how much better renting a room would actually be, so don’t be put off. There’s some fab apartments here with enough space. Forget everything you’ve seen in the past, there’s apartments here the size of the ground floor of your local shopping centre alone.
BOOK A HOTEL APARTMENT:
I’ve used this website for years now as it’s easy to use, allows me to book without prepayment (In case I might want to cancel later if I find something better and oh, it’s constantly updated with deals, so I’m always cancelling and booking others!)
Website I always use: click here
The first hotel apartment we stayed in: Marina View
The second hotel apartment we stayed in (also my fave out of the 4 we stayed in): Metro Central
We stayed in another called the ‘First Central’, but I really couldn’t wait to leave again. Noisy, busy, smaller rooms. Also, our room was behind a mosque which meant we heard the morning every day at 6am. Most places block out the sound from outdoors but this place didn’t for whatever reason, maybe it was the angle of our room.
RENT A ROOM
Use https://www.dubizzle.com/ to find a room! There’s no shortage of rooms for rent, but there may be a shortage of good rooms to rent. Use whatsapp to enquire about listings and make sure you’re actually in Dubai before you message, or they won’t reply. Rooms are rented out and picked up at lightening speed here, so if you see one you love, take it on the spot. Rent will usually be paid monthly. Ask how many others are in the apartment and make sure the space in the kitchen and living area makes sense for that number. Rooms in the city usually go for €1100-€2000 a month. Currently paying €1600 a month and honestly blessed to have found this place after a line of viewing what can only be described as, disasters.
RENT YOUR OWN APARTMENT
I don’t recommend going down this route until you’ve been here a little while and know you want to stay for at least a year. Renting an apartment will lock you into a year long contract, which you can’t leave/get your money back from if you change your mind. Rent is paid with post-dated cheques in Dubai. This means that the rent is paid in advance for the whole year. Some landlords will require the entire rent amount to be paid in one cheque upfront, while others will allow for 2, 3, 4, 6 or (very rarely) 12 cheques. The more you can pay upfront, the nicer apartment you’ll be able to rent. So say there’s 2 apartment you have your eye on, both are 80,000aed for the year, the one that requires the 1 cheque/the full amount upfront will more than likely be much for exclusive that the other one allowing 6 cheques upfront. (you give 4 post-dated cheques upfront but they’re only cashed every 3 months) You can negotiate the number of cheques you will pay, but the rental price may increase with the number of cheques.If one of these cheques bounce, you will more than likely get fined, and can get into more serious trouble with the law, so make sure there’s money in your account.
You will have to pay the agents fee if renting an apartment. This is not regulated by law really but is usually 5% of the total lease amount. The agent will collect a fee from both the tenant and the landlord. give a maintenance deposit. This is a refundable deposit, which the landlord will use in order to restore the property to what it was like before he rented it out to the tenant. This is usually 5% of the total rent amount. Another cost is setting up your DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) account. This will require a refundable deposit of 1,000 – 2,000 for apartments and from Dh2,000 to Dh4,000 for villas, and is known to be quite the headache to deal with!
From what I can see right now, the cheapest 1000sq ft and decent 1 bedroom apartment at the popular Dubai Marina starts at €19,000 a year, but if you want to live in the sought after ‘Princess Tower” across the road from the other Marina building, for the same size 1 bedroom apartment you’ll be paying upwards of €24,000 a year (usually upfront in 1 cheque)
Just for fun, it’s worth noting that a furnished 2 bedroomed apartment in the famous Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) with a view of the fountains, can be rented for €60,000 per year. That’s €60,000 a year, to rent! Using the broad guideline that your accommodation should amount to no more than 20% of your total annual salary, you’d need to be earning €300,000 a year to comfortably afford something like this.
Familiarize yourself with asking prices, locations and housing types via the Dubizzle website.
Yes, there are unmarried couples living together in Dubai. It is possible, but it’s not permitted, just as it is possible to do many things that are illegal in other countries. If couples do get into trouble with the law, it is usually because they have done something to draw the attention of the police, or offended someone who reports them to the police. They may have annoyed the neighbours who have complained to police about noise, fights, violence, loud parties, and/or drug use in the apartment, and so the police have to of course investigate and stick to the law.
GENERAL LIVING COSTS
This differs from area to area, but generally speaking, these costs are going to be similar for any popular areas where expats live
Grocery shopping for 2: usually €200 a week
Eating out can be cheap, but rarely. Put it like this, we went to London for a few days earlier this year. Our first stop was Costa in the airport. We got 2 sandwiches, 2 teas and 2 cakes. I nearly threw a party when she asked for £6. Only £6?! I used to think London was expensive haha! The price for the exact same as above somewhere here next to where we live costs us about €35, and that’s actually in a cheaper cafe.
You can spend €70 on a nice dinner for 2, or you can spend €500, it really depends where you go and more importantly, what you order!
Gym membership – €125- €150 monthly (BUT most apartment building have their own resisents gym, outdoor pool, sauna, steam room etc. some of these gyms are deadly! Some are measly! It’s great to be able to ‘pop upstairs’ for a wee swim and sauna when needed 😉
Personal training session – €60 – €90 per hour
12 eggs – €3.50
1 cocktail – €15
1 beer – €10
1 litre of petrol: €0.45c (on another note from this, it’s pretty cheap to rent a car and pay monthly, many expats do that instead of buying a car, as maintenance is included in the price) Traffic is bad only around the built up areas between 6-7pm when most are coming from work. Public transport is really good here, so you may not need a car! If you want one, you can use your Irish or UK licence to apply for a UAE license. You can use your Irish/UK license to drive a rental
15 min taxi drive without traffic: €7
Metro: Great value! If using return trips daily around €50 a month. Single trips are between €.75 – €1.50
House cleaning service – €15-€30 for 2 hours
Phone: €50 a month (includes international minutes)
2 movie tickets – €20
Air-conditioning bill: (will be included with room rental, only applies if you rent your own place) €400 a month in summer, much less in winter
Clothes: Although Dubai is duty-free, the cost of clothing and footwear is expensive in comparison to other cities. In popular shops from home, like River Island, Topshop and Zara, prices will run a little bit higher.
Hair: If using an Irish or British hairsalon or hairdresser, expect to pay at least €200 for a colour and cut. A blowdry will cost €30-€45 in a local salon
I bet you didn’t realise that Dubai’s population is actually 85% fellow expats! The expat community for most nationalities is pretty huge in Dubai. Every year thousands of people from all across the world settle here. Even if you don’t know anybody when you move here, making friends won’t be hard at all. Your workplace is guaranteed to have many expats with similar interests to you. You’ll be invited to parties, brunches and ladies day events constantly, so don’t worry about making friends. I love the fact that Dubai gives you the opportunity to interact and make friends with people from all corners of the world, which is wonderful in itself. I’ve spoke to people from so many different Countries and backgrounds since moving here, as a result, I’ve learnt a tonne about other cultures and love getting the chance to talk to these people and learn more! I’ve also added so many places to my travel bucket list because of these people and their influence, which is so cool!
Dubai is known globally for its entertainment and night scene, plenty of major acts have played in the city! The city almost has a Las Vegas feel to it, and if you’re ever in need of somewhere to go on a night out, or day out, you’ll find so much nearby. It tops most major cities worldwide in terms of entertainment! This month alone we have Alesso, Guns n’ Roses and Justin Bieber playing, with Mary Poppins in the Dubai Opera, how’s that for a random mix? There’s something for everyone! YES, alcohol is available here, you’ll never be stuck trying to find a place for a good night out.
There’s different ladies day events that happen in all the beach clubs. Expect to pay no more than €25 for unlimited bubbly or maybe 6 cocktails, lunch and nibbles while laying on a day bed by the beach.
There’s also brunches which is more expensive, on average €125-€150 each but includes (really good) unlimited food, buffet style along with unlimited alcoholic drinks all.day.long. You’ll find these brunches at the bigger chain hotels. If you go to one along the coast, you’ll have the beach access along with the pool access. FRIDAY is brunch day, in most places.
Similar to ladies day, there’s multiple ladies nights running all over the city, every night of the week. Each offer is different but usually includes a set amount of free drinks for ladies until a set time. Eg. drinks free for ladies 7-10pm.
In Dubai, the cost of general healthcare, medical insurance, consultation rates, hospital private ward, daily rates, non-prescription medicine, private medical insurance, medical aid contributions, are all comparatively more expensive. A basic consultation with a GP or dentist is around €100, this is exclusive of any other tests or treatment. In case of any serious accident or illness you need to have a good health insurance back up to make use of the private healthcare facilities in Dubai.
Many medications, antibiotics and monthly birth control pills are easy to buy over the counter. On that note though, the use of the ‘morning after pill’ is illegal here and so you won’t be able to buy one anywhere. Be careful with your contarception as Pregnancy outside of marriage will see you deported or behind bars if reported. TRUE STORY.
Islam is the official religion of the UAE and the majority of local Emiratis are Muslim. However, the government is very liberal in this respect than some of its neighbouring countries, the right to freedom of religion is respected here. You don’t have to suddenly partake in the traditions of the Islam religion just because you live here! I can’t believe how many messages I get from ladies asking me if I have to cover my whole body and face here, or if I’m allowed to speak to other men. My religion and culture is completely respected here, just as I respect theirs. There are Christian churches here and now that I think about it, the mass we attended on Christmas week here was the busiest mass I’ve ever seen, jam packed with people, my guess is that there were close to 2000 people there. Word of advice? Don’t be an asshole and you’ll get on just fine.
A Christian, a Muslim, a Jew and an Atheist walk into a bar.
They talk, laugh, have a great time, and become good friends.
It’s not a joke. That’s what happens when you’re not an asshole.
The only time you’ll notice anything different to than what you may be used to, in terms of religion, is during the holy month of Ramadan in June, where Muslims fast throughout the day until sunset, which is around 7pm. Non-Muslims are required to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public during the fasting hours (sunrise to sunset) simply out of respect for the Islamic practice. Some places close down throughout the day, but the nightlife is bustling as soon as sunset hits! This is actually a more inexpensive time to visit Dubai!
The laws in the city are very strict and because of that, the people here are very respectful of each other. Dubai police are amongst the most feared and respected, you’ll find many police patrolling public areas. If you’re the kind of person that enjoys getting absolutely hammered drunk and then picking a fight on the street outside the club at 3am for no reason, then stay at home, you’ll end up behind bars here. The crime solve rate in the city is 99.1%, which is pretty amazing. Also, if you genuinely forget or lose something somewhere, you will more than likely get it back! I feel very safe here, and have never had an issue.
Which reminds me…
On New Years Eve, we went to an outdoor concert where Axwell | Ingrosso were playing.
Open bar all night long… trouble, right?! We managed to grab a decent spot on a balcony near the bar (of course) at one point I was dancing away enjoying the music and Ru said he was going to the bar to grab us more drinks. He wasn’t gone 20 seconds until a random guy came over to me and chanced his arm, I looked at him blankly and looked over my shoulder wishing Ru would hurry up and get back. The guy got the message within seconds, no big deal here, but what was fucking amazing next was that, this other random guy at a table behind us tapped my shoulder, I turned around and he just asked ‘Are you OK?’, I replied that I was fine and thought nothing of it. Ru came back and this guy patted him on the back and winked at him, like ‘I got your back lad’, kinda thing?! Of course, Ru has no idea what he meant at that time but I remember thinking how deadly that was, that another stranger kept an eye, for no reason. I didn’t see any fights that night, apart from one guy getting dragged out and put in a taxi by security as he was literally not able to stand up himself. So yeah, open bar doesn’t necessarily mean trouble. Again, just don’t be an asshole or go looking for trouble, and mind your own business.
I’m not saying that no crime happens here at all, but what I’m saying is that I feel a lot safer here than I have in other places I’ve lived in over the years. No matter where you live, have common sense and keep your wits about you of course.
WHAT TO WEAR
You’ve seen my instagram photos? You know what I wear! I usually advise people just to bring a suitcase of the usual holiday clothes, especially if most of your time will be spent on the beaches or by the pools. You’ll need to be more respectful in the shopping malls, as that is where you’ll be mixing with locals more. Use common sense and don’t prance around in a bra and hotpants. Anyways, the air conditioning here means the malls are freezing cold, so you’ll soon learn 😉 On nights out at restaurants and bars, you’ll notice that many girls wear less here than at home, so pack your bodycon dress, it’s ok for the most part! Carry a shawl/scarf in your bag if you’re unsure of where you’re heading for the day. Wear shorts, just not shorts that are up your arse crack during the day. When I first went to a beach here, I was terrified to wear a bikini, I couldn’t relax, always looking to see if I was being tutted at. Which seems ridiculous now as I spend all my time in bikinis
I’d love to cover childcare and education too but I have absolutely no experience with that and it wouldn’t be fair to give an unclear view into that, as I don’t have kids. Many Irish and British families move here with children and also give birth to children here and seem to love it. Apart from that, I hope I covered everything needed if you’re thinking on moving here. I’ll come back and update this post with more, if I need to.I will also have a new post up soon detailing all the fun spots to hit if you’re coming to Dubai on holiday, so please stay tuned! Join my newsletter (see link at bottom of page) for updates on new posts.
Please let me know if this has helped you, I wish I had this post to read before I moved!
You can tweet me at (@lisadeefit) or send me a snap (lisadee89)