10 things to consider when relocating to the UAE
The UAE has become an expat hotspot attracting people from all around the world to relocate there. However, even after so many years of expats flocking to the Emirates, many still make the mistake of not fully planning the new work and personal life that is awaiting them. Whilst many might think the move is an easy risk-free one, they would be wrong. There are many laws and formalities that one must follow rigorously and it takes a lot of careful planning and oftentimes quite a long time.
In this article we will look at 10 things you must consider before you make the move to relocate to the UAE.
1. Secure your job before you relocate
It is essential that you invest a lot of time and effort in your job search before you even consider relocating to the UAE. Regardless of the industry you’re in or the level of position you’re looking for, research on the job market as a whole is important. You will also need to understand the local job hunt best practices to ensure you avoid any job-related headaches.
You should allow 3 – 6 months to find any new position abroad – and the UAE is no exception. This will allow you the time to plan your job search, research the market and hold any telephone interviews that you get invited to. Planning a trip to the location that you’re looking to relocate to is a good idea, but only if you use your time wisely and not on the beach!
2. Understand what salary to expect and what you will need
Depending on the industry and position that you’re looking at your salary will vary in the UAE. Whilst expatriate relocation packages (also known as hardship packages) are mostly a thing of the past ( the UAE is not seen as a hardship location anymore), there are times when you will get a certain number of extras from your employers. This can include a flight for you and your dependents back home once a year, money towards schooling, housing, travel to and from work and even health insurance. The likes of yearly travel home and health insurance are the most common nowadays, with school and housing less common.
One of the most attractive things for expats looking to work in the UAE is the fact that there is no income tax. This means that many will save as much as 30 – 40% of their income. However, it is important to remember that many of the living costs in the UAE are more expensive, and in some instances employers pay slightly less than they would in a country with income tax due to the fact that you’ll keep all of your earnings. Whilst a reduced income won’t be by much, it can make a big difference in the UAE. Accommodation can be found relatively cheaply (especially for the quality and location) but other cost such as entertainment, food and clothing can be much more expensive than in other locations due to the cost of import. On the flip-side, many other day to day costs may be cheaper but you need to know what is more important for you and weigh up the costs.
It is essential therefore to do your research. Understand exactly how much you need to earn to live the lifestyle that you require and that will help you to narrow down your job options. Many expats have made the mistake of not doing the research and others have decided to take any job regardless of the potential risks, only to find out that 6 months later they need to leave the country and return home.
3. Research the area you wish to live in and plan your move
In my opinion this is the most important stage of your relocation. It’s one to thing to find a good job and understand your financial limitations, but to know the area that you’re moving into is essential. When you leave work everyday it is important to know that you’re going back to a nice home in an area that you enjoy and feel safe in. Without this the enjoyments of work and career success will be overshadowed.
It is important to research the areas that you can afford to live in, understand where they are located – living in a gated community in a dangerous or seriously overpopulated part of a city is no fun at all, especially for those that have children and want to explore – and understand what the commute to work is. Whilst it is normal to commute up to an hour to and from work, the less time you spend commuting the better, and sometimes travel can be very expensive or take too long. When you know the area(s) that you’re going to be working in, do your research on the residential locations that you can afford to live in. Then you will be able to plan your trip to work and back, understand which areas around your home are best for dining out, going to the cinema, where the parks are, where the train and bus stations are, where the schools and hospitals are and so on.
If possible, plan a trip to the location before you make any serious decisions. This way you can do some further research and experience your new life first hand. You might find that one area, whilst nice, is slightly too far away from work, or you might find that a slightly less desirable location is perfectly nice and much closer to your children’s school.
4. Familiarise yourself with the top residential areas and how much do they cost
As discussed before, understanding the residential areas is key to a happy home life. It is important to compare a number of factors when deciding which residential area to live in. Whilst one area might be cheaper than another there might also be a much longer commute, the build quality might not be as high, or the general local amenities might be lacking and so on.
Consider the distance to and from work, school, areas that you would spend your evenings and weekends. This will help you to weigh up the options and make the best choice for you and your family. Don’t overlook other costs too such as the moving and relocation costs. These will add-up regardless of where you live, so keep this in mind when thinking about pushing your housing budget up. There may also be service or cooling charges depending on where you live, so don’t overlook the cost of that too.
5. Understand what you need to get your own tenancy contract
Renting a house or apartment in the UAE is not as simple as it is in many other countries around the world. To rent a property you must have a residential visa (which itself requires a working visa) and a bank account. To open a bank account you must be in the country and provide the bank with a letter from your employer. Once opened you can begin the potentially lengthy process of applying for a residential visa. Once your residential visa has been granted only then can you legally rent a property in the UAE.
Unlike many countries, rent in the UAE is paid in 1 – 4 cheques, meaning that in some instances expats are required to pay the full year’s rent up-front before moving in. An agent’s fee and deposit may also need to be paid, so this all needs to be considered when calculating the first down payment you need to make for your rent.
Every property in Dubai must also have DEWA connected – Dubai Electric and Water. On top of the cost of both your water and electricity usage, DEWA will also collect a housing fee (essentially a tax) of 5% of your yearly properly rental cost. This is paid monthly (along with the electric and water bills).
6. Arranging interim accommodation
Whilst we would all like to think that a move can be achieved with little to no hassle and any change to the weekly routine can be avoided, this might not be possible with a move to the UAE. There are many factors that need to be considered including residential visas and bank accounts, which can only be setup once you’re in the country and using a letter from your employers stating that you have employment with them – but even with a bank account you will only legally be able to rent a property with a residential visa.
All such visas take time to complete, sometimes as long as 6 weeks after applying for one, which again can only be done once you’re in the country and have proof of your full time employment. Therefore you may have some time before you can rent your own property. This may mean living with a friend or colleague, searching for a room to rent for a short period of time or staying in a hotel or serviced apartment.
We genuinely feel that interim accommodation is a great way to get to know the local communities without committing to long contracts. You can get a feel of the area and also familiarise yourself with other areas. By the time you’re ready to move, you may have changed your mind entirely about the area or actually had the time to find a really good offer. Short term leases are readily available, even furnished, and will help to alleviate some of the stress that comes with a move.
It may even mean that the best option for you and your family is that you move over on your own for the first 1 – 2 months to ensure that all of your visas, permits and bank accounts are setup and that your family has their own home to move into on arrival. Many expats have overlooked the issues of relocating to the UAE and it has caused unwanted stress during the early (and most important) stages of their relocation.
7. Family – Getting family visas & choosing the right schools
Relocating to the UAE with your family is not as easy as it might sound. You must be married to your partner and only your dependable family will be granted entry to the country (i.e. children under the age of 18). Moving your family to the UAE is done by ‘sponsoring them’ and requires certain permissions from your employer and the Government.
To prevent people with a low income from bringing their families over, it is now required that you submit your bank statements to the residency department in Dubai (this was introduced in early 2013, according to Gulf News). Three months worth of bank statements are required to sponsor your family (proving that you earn a high enough income) for expats who already live in Dubai and one months bank statement is required for new expat residents.
Since 2006 it has been possible for expatriate children to attend UAE Government funded (public) schools by paying tuition fees. The public schools teach Arabic as their first language and the literacy rate among the citizens is 80 – 90%. There are also a number of very good International schools in the UAE, however these of course come at a higher price to the public schools.
8. Understanding the laws and regulations
Understanding the laws and regulations is very important in a country like the UAE, and ignorance is no excuse in a court of law. Here are five rules that have cropped up in cases involving expats.
- Swearing and indecent gestures – whilst it won’t offend everyone in the same way, swearing and indecent hand gestures can get you into a lot of trouble, even a prison sentence.
- Taking pictures of others without permission – whilst a holiday or tourist snap of you and the family might seem innocent, beware. Some may take offence, especially women, so be sure not to take any pictures in crowded places.
- Kissing and touching – whilst holding hands may be OK, kissing and heavy-petting is not.
- Inappropriate clothing – clothing of a decent nature is to be worn in most public places, so very short shorts or short skirts are not allowed, and you must not expose the midriff. However, rules are much more lenient on beaches, but topless sunbathing is still not allowed.
- Living with the opposite sex – the rules have changed and adapted over recent years allowing individuals of the opposite sex to share hotel rooms and apartments. However it is advised that you be careful of this and strictly speaking sharing any public space with someone of the opposite sex (if you’re not married) is forbidden – this includes a house, room or even a car.
9. Manage your finances
Primarily, it is important that you must do some planning and researching to better understand the financial implications of your relocation and move to the UAE. As discussed above, the costs are high and time taken to relocate are long, so ensuring that you have taken these costs into account is essential. A large portion of your yearly costs will need to be paid for before you move into your new home and as many of the extra costs associated with your home are related to the size, location and rental cost you must be careful to fully understand how much these bills will amount to. Therefore, aiming for that slightly bigger house or apartment might seem like a worth while investment, but are you sure you can afford the larger bills that go with it?
Another consideration to take into account is the cost of groceries. As much of the produce in the UAE is imported – it is a desert after all – the prices are fairly high, and things that you might think would be relatively cheap are surprisingly expensive. I was shocked to find that a toothbrush, some shampoo and body wash and a small tube of sun tan lotion was over double the price it was in the airport, even with no sales tax added on. The cost of eating out is also fairly expensive – especially when you factor in alcoholic beverages.
10. Getting about
The majority of people in the UAE have a car. This is due to the low tax, cheap fuel and incredibly hot temperatures – walking anywhere at certain times of the year is not a pleasant experience.
Whilst you can rent a car very easily with a tourist visa you will need to transfer your driving licence to a UAE licence once you have obtained your residency visa. This is another factor that you must consider when planning your move to the UAE as it can take some time to get your license transferred. Borrowing money from the bank to buy a car is also possible, however you will typically be required to pay a 20% deposit on the car and prove that you have been working in the country for at least 3 months and that your salary has been paid into your bank account during this period.
Taxis in the UAE are everywhere, so getting a lift is very easy, especially if you’re located near to a tourist destination or a hotel. Taxis are also very cheap, with a twenty-plus minute journey costing around 100 Dirhams ($30).
Dubai has its own mono-rail train that goes from one end of the city to the other, with more track being added. This provides a fast and cost effective way of getting from the Marina, for example, to the Financial centre and avoiding any busy roads.
You can never plan too much when looking to relocate to the UAE. There are many online resources and guides to help you with your move and your new employers (if you’ve secured a job) should be able to help with many of the tasks and issues that you have in front of you – some employers will even provide you (and your family) with temporary housing, transportation and assist in the costs of relocation, but don’t expect that as the majority of employers won’t offer that.
If possible, visit the UAE for a holiday before relocating. This can be an expensive and time consuming trip, but it will allow you to explore the areas and get a feel for where you and your family would be best suited to live. However, many tasks cannot be completed until you have actually moved into the UAE and so the most important thing to do is be prepared, have a plan of what needs to be done and how you are going to achieve it and get on with as soon as possible – leaving tasks for a week or two could prevent your family from moving within the first few months.
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