Relocating to Dubai has always been seen as a big change…

For decades people of all nationalities have been relocating to Dubai to take part in the Emirate’s rapid growth, attractive lifestyle, and amazing climate. It is the most populous Emirate of the seven that make up the United Arab Emirates. As recently as 50 years ago Dubai was a desert landscape. Dubai today is a modern metropolis with activities and culture to suit all ages, tastes, and budgets.

The current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has overseen the rapid growth of infrastructure and mega projects for which Dubai is now famous for. The city is renowned for its futuristic approach, whether it be driverless flying taxis, autonomous metro systems, digital government or the world’s busiest airport, Dubai is always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. The city currently holds 139 world records including the world’s tallest building, the largest shopping mall, the largest man-made ski slope, and the most nationalities singing the same national anthem together.

Popular belief is that oil is the primary wealth generator in the Middle East; whilst this is true in many countries in the region, in Dubai the income from oil production was reinvested to diversify the economy into tourism, technology, real estate, healthcare, and many other sectors. Dubai is regarded as the hub of the digital revolution in the MENA region and many large-scale digital employers now have significant operations in the city.

Expats in Dubai tend to enjoy a very high quality of life driven by abundant real estate options, tax-free incomes, and excellent connections to the rest of the world. Dubai’s culture is still based on Islamic principles, but is also forward-thinking, whereby tolerance of all religions is proactively supported by a stable government.



Here’s everything you need to know about living in Dubai…

Population: 3.137 million

Area: 4114 km2

Time zone: Gulf Standard Time, GMT +3 (Summer) / GMT + 4 (Winter)

Official languages: Arabic and English

Currency: UAE Dirham (AED)

Government: Monarchy run by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Dubai’s economy has grown rapidly in recent years as investments in infrastructure, tourism, and the digital economy have paid off handsomely for the Emirate. For example, the IMF predicts 3.7% growth for the UAE as a whole, in 2019 and beyond.

Work culture in Dubai is often described as ‘work hard, play hard’, the usual workday is 9 am – 6 pm, five days a week. Working in Dubai employees can expect to be part of an incredibly diverse talent pool with over 160 nationalities currently living in the UAE. The country is incredibly welcoming of international talent and has been able to attract some of the best and brightest minds from across the globe.

Arabic remains the official language of the UAE however English is widely spoken in business and 99% of companies now conduct operations in English to allow for the multitude of cultures present.

The cost of living in Dubai is extremely attractive when compared to other international locations. Numbeo, a cost of living comparison site suggests the overall cost of living in Dubai as only 46% compared to major cities New York, (60%), London (58%) Hong Kong (75%) and Sydney (64%). Overall, the city ranks in position 315 of the 536 global cities ranked.

It is predicted that in the coming years, the cost of living will continue to decline as an oversupply of available housing units continues to drive down rental prices and international e-commerce allows for reduced consumer prices. A tax-free income combined with a lower cost of living generally means people have much more disposable income available compared to their home country.

There is an incredible variety of accommodation available in the city. From large family homes in suburban communities to studio apartments in the thick of downtown, there are options for every life stage and budget. Property in Dubai tends to have been built in the past 10-20 years with new developments springing up all the time. This means residents enjoy modern amenities and infrastructure in their living space.

The cost of accommodation in Dubai is currently on a downward trajectory as a boom in the supply of new housing has meant that expats can regularly strike favourable deals with landlords. For example, in the past, landlords usually required rent to be paid upfront in advance for a year, however now 4, 6, or 12 payment arrangements are more common. Utilities are reasonably priced,owing to government subsidies on electricity and water.

Families often pay for extra help around the home such as nannies, cleaners, and maids which generally have a much lower cost compared to their international equivalents.

All education in the UAE is provided by private institutions, typically following well-regarded, international curriculums. Teachers are generally sourced from the country that the curriculum originates from (i.e. British teachers for the British curriculum). Tuition fees for schooling can seem expensive compared to state schooling in other markets, however, costs compare favourably with other private schools abroad. Salt can provide more specific details of suitable schools and associated costs for any candidate considering moving a young family to Dubai.

Private cars are the default transportation option for most expats living in Dubai. Cars can be rented or bought at globally competitive prices due to low VAT (5%). Financing options are common and the cost of gas/electricity for your car is very low.

There are also lots of low-cost public transport options such as a large, well-managed metro system, trams and government-sponsored taxis that are all very affordable. Usually, expats know the location of their work when they relocate and choose accommodation within a short commute of their workplace, hence minimizing transport costs and time commuting.

Groceries in Dubai are reasonably priced compared to other cities. However, imported branded products can be expensive. Expats tend to be spoiled for choice in Dubai with its multitude of malls offering international brands alongside local shopping boutiques. There are large supermarkets from France, the UK, India and the USA across the Emirate.

Eating out in Dubai is generally affordable and there is a range of restaurants to choose from. To drive custom, many bars and restaurants run special promotions and through apps such as ‘The Entertainer’ to promote their offerings. The Islamic culture of Dubai has led the government to tax alcohol; however, it is readily available in the Emirate’s restaurants and bars across the city.

Upon arrival in Dubai most expats comment on how similar many of the options for leisure activities and the culture is to their home country. There is something available for all nationalities to help them have some of the comforts of their home country. However, settling into any new city, especially abroad is inevitably a challenging process and there are a large number of new processes that expats need to acclimatize to upon arrival.

For example, whilst the government is rapidly digitizing many of their services, there is still the need to appear in person and sign physical documents for property rental, electricity and water, internet, mobile phones, driving licenses, and other admin tasks. This can lead to frustration in the first several weeks relocating to the country, however, most expats quickly settle into their new routine once they have tackled the paperwork.

Dubai has an excellent record of safety and reports consistently exceptionally low crime rates. In fact, it is the third safest country in the world. There is almost zero unemployment in the city as employment is required for residency and crime rates are kept low.

Banking in Dubai is similar to its western equivalent, bank accounts have a debit card attached, ATMs are numerous, and online banking is available with all banks. Transferring funds overseas is straightforward online and there are lots of bank branches with major banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Emirates NBD.

Dirhams (AED) are the official currency of the United Arab Emirates. The currency is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of circa 3.67 AED per USD. The Dirham is easily transferred into other currencies.


The UAE is in the process of positioning itself as a major hub globally for medical tourism. For those living in the city, it means that there is sophisticated medical infrastructure coupled with an established medical insurance system. A range of treatments are available in the Emirate including complex surgeries. There are plenty of pharmacies across the Emirate and prescriptions are in good supply.

Travel insurance is advisable for non-EU residents as it offers greater flexibility over where and how you’re treated, and covers expenses for an ambulance and repatriation that will not be picked up by the NHS.


Some hospitals have 24-hour accident and emergency departments. However, in an emergency just call 999 and an ambulance will  be dispatched from the hospital nearest to you.

There are many activity options in Dubai and the UAE, with something to suit everyone: water sports, all types of physical sport, Formula One, art, museums, exhibitions, an Opera House, and large concert venues hosting international acts. If you want a bird’s eye view of Dubai, you can go skydiving over the city, or if you need to escape the desert heat, you can ski in the largest indoor ski slope in the world.

Dubai is a retail hub with a breadth of shopping possibilities, Dubai Mall is the world’s largest retail space, at over 1m sqm. A wide array of international brands is on offer and people come from all corners of the globe to enjoy one of the best shopping experiences in the world. Alongside the mega malls, if you wish to explore a more traditional shopping experience, you can easily make a trip down to Bastakia (old town) to the gold, textile or spice souks where trade has been conducted for hundreds of years.


Dubai has restaurants to suit all tastes, there are over 1000 restaurants in the city serving everything from German to Indonesian! Whether you want to try the local Emirati cuisine of shawarma, tabbouleh, and kuboos (flatbread) or any of the large array of international restaurants. Places like the Marina, Madinat Jumeirah and the Jumeirah beachfront have a fantastic choice of cafes and fast food outlets.

Dress code in the UAE is similar to most cosmopolitan cities, with a significant western influence. All fashions are welcomed, local Arabic individuals will often wear traditional dress. There are some rumours that females, in particular, are expected to fully cover up and not wear clothes revealing their legs or shoulders, however, this is not the case, with the exception of visiting religious areas such as a Mosque. Dress code on beaches and pools is standard swimwear.

Equal opportunities are presented to both male and female applicants for roles. Salt uphold a gender equality policy and will not work with any client globally that discriminates based on a candidate’s ethnicity, gender, sexual preferences or any other protected characteristics. In Dubai, we have never had to compromise on this equality agenda and have found the city to be completely inclusive, more so than many Western cities due to the liberal visa culture.

If you wish to relocate to Dubai, you will likely need to secure a residence visa that allows you to both take employment and reside long-term in the Emirate. In most cases, the residence visa is valid for two years which can then be renewed. Since around 90% of the population in the UAE is expatriate the government has made the process of obtaininga visa as seamless as possible. Very few nationalities are restricted from moving and working in the UAE. Usually, the company employing the individual will be responsible for securing the visa and the associated administrative costs. Your Salt consultant will take you through all of the steps that are associated with securing a visa.

If you are visiting the country on a short-term basis or wish to relocate before your residence visa is processed, you will need to secure a tourist visa. Citizens of most Western European countries and the USA do not need to apply for a visa before arriving in Dubai as it will be stamped on arrival. Citizens of most other countries will require a visa arranged in advance. The process of securing a tourist visa from these countries is relatively straightforward and processing takes around one week.

The documents that are required for a residency visa can vary but the standard requirements include:

–  A completed application form

– A scanned copy of your passport (original document will be required after initial approval is given)

– A signed employment contract

– A short medical test (chest X-ray and blood sample) is taken after initial approval is given

– An attested degree certificate is required for more senior visa designations but is usually optional

Once you have your residence visa there is the option of sponsoring spouses and dependents. Your package will depend on your employer – some will provide full support whilst other policies will only sponsor the employee. In this instance, employers will give the employee the option of sponsoring the visa themselves and then the employee will need to pay the associated charges.

Download the full PDF below!

Thinking of a new adventure in Dubai? Reach out to our specialist digital recruitment team at to find out how we can help you find your ideal career in Dubai.


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