Tips to Help you Settle In

19 Feb, 2018 - UAE Life & Economy

Our role in the UAE is to help British companies gain a foothold in the Middle East market. But there is another aspect to setting up a business in another country, and that is the aspect relating to life and moving home. Whether you are moving with a family or on your own, I hope the following information is useful.

Bank Accounts and Finances

It is not possible for an onshore (i.e. non Free Zone) company to maintain the visa of an employee if a salary payment is not made via the UAE’s Wage Protection System. This means every employee needs a local bank account. Fortunately the world’s major banks operate in the UAE so the choice could be an easy one. Something you may consider is to choose Islamic banking. Islamic banking differs from conventional banking in a number of ways and this document by Standard Chartered details them well. Most conventional banks in the UAE offer Islamic banking products so if you do chose a UK bank you still have options open to you. Islamic banking is not restricted to Muslim customers.

As an newly arrived expat you will have no credit history in the UAE. When you open your account it is very likely that you will be offered credit cards and loans. The UAE financial sector differs greatly from that of the UK so looking before you leap is strongly recommended. Newspaper The National publishes regular personal finance articles and is well worth your time in this regard.

Property: Rent or Buy?

It is possible for foreign nationals to own property in the UAE but only in certain areas. This article details these areas, but we’d suggest you arrive and settle before you choose to buy a property. If you do choose to rent you are free to live in any area of the country and will not be spoilt for choice. The UAE has houses (known as villas) and flats (known as apartments) in all areas and you can live next to a golf course as easily as you can live in a studio overlooking the sea.

To find accommodation you can either visit a website like PropertyFinder or Better Homes, or you can visit the location and look for real estate agents. The majority of the UAE’s real estate market is regulated and if you’re moving to Dubai, your real estate agent will have a RERA number. RERA is Dubai’s regulatory authority and has a rental calculator for end users to use as a price guide.

If you are looking at property outside of Dubai and are not sure if you are protected by regulation, all tenancy contracts in the UAE are supplied and attested by the local municipality. It is very unlikely that you’ll be offered a property without an official tenancy contract and you’ll probably be asked to get the document attested by the municipality yourself (prepare to queue!)

Cars and Transport

The UAE has a country-wide public transport system but it does not offer the same depth of coverage as the UK’s does. Taxis can be flagged easily and the majority are meter operated, the ones that aren’t are usually found in rural areas and a price needs to be agreed in advance. There is no rail service to speak of but Dubai does have a driverless metro and a tram that could be of use if your office is close to a station. For BCB Incubator clients, there is a station nearby but as the temperature warms it is unlikely you’ll want to walk to it. Buses are frequent and plentiful but are not an efficient way to navigate the city if you’re moving from meeting to meeting.

Many Brits choose to lease a car when they arrive. You can drive using your UK licence while your visa is under process, but once you become a resident you will need a UAE licence. Fortunately, if your licence is a UK one, you can simply apply and receive a UAE licence. There is no need to re-test but you will have to supply a positive eye test (done at a supporting optician).

Car finance is readily available once a person has a bank account and many manufacturers offer incentives to help customers buy. If you want to buy it might be worth waiting until Ramadan starts. Ramadan is a month-long event and is marked by many businesses with sales. Car dealers will offer extended warranties, electronic devices, buy now pay later schemes, and many more types of incentives to secure custom.

There is also a vibrant second hand market and a good car can be found for considerably less than a new one. I’d suggest looking at pre-approved vehicles sold by a recognised car dealer rather than cars sold by an independent dealer. Not all second hand cars were made for the region, not all dealers speak English, and the UAE’s version of the MOT checks for roadworthiness but will not identify potential problems.


Education is mandatory for children aged six years and older but many parents choose to send children to Kindergarten or nursery from the age of four or earlier. There are many British curriculum schools in the UAE but it is worth remembering that education is a private enterprise so schools are permitted to create unique programmes within the boundaries of the UAE curriculum. Education is regulated in the UAE and schools are monitored and rated accordingly.

It is worth shopping around as there are many options available. Some schools offer an all inclusive price, others charge a fee and then you handle the costs of uniforms and books; some schools focus on science, others on sports. A good place to start you search is with the KHDA in Dubai or ADEC in Abu Dhabi.


In Dubai it is mandatory for employees to be given health insurance by their employer. In Abu Dhabi employers must also provide health insurance for a spouse and up to three dependents. Similar to education, healthcare in the UAE is a private enterprise, although government hospitals do not charge for emergency care. Coming from the UK and having experienced the NHS, switching to a private healthcare market may prove challenging; not all insurance policies cover all types of treatment in all medical facilities. If you are arranging your own insurance it is worth shopping around to make sure you get the right cover for you.

Home insurance is not mandatory in the UAE and is often overlooked by many. The UAE’s climate means that for the vast majority of residents, the worst that can happen to a home is a light dusting of sand when the wind picks up. Of course, anything can happen but home insurance is a personal choice.

Car insurance is mandatory and can be purchased at the test centre your car is being approved at. Rather than private garages issuing MOT certificates, all cars are tested at government garages before a registration card is issued. Car insurance costs are related to the value of the car rather than the age or skill of the driver so it is possible when purchasing a new car that the dealer will pay a year for you. Even though costs are similar between providers, websites like Yalla Compare will help you evaluate your options.


Newcomers quickly realise that shopping in the UAE is very different to the UK. Chains like Lulu and Carrefour are major supermarkets comparable to Tesco or Sainsbury’s. Most of the things you’re used to are available along with a menagerie of flavours and smells from other parts of the world. The UAE is an international country and its shops cater to many different tastes.

What you won’t find in almost all shops are alcohol or pork products. To sell these products a special licence is required. Supermarket chain Spinney’s is well known for selling food containing pork but it is not the only place an expat can find a pie or a packet of sausages. It is safe to assume a shop does not sell pork but a quick walk around the shop looking for a door to a ‘pork section’ will confirm this. Pork is never sold on shelves next to other meats, products containing pork are always sold with pork meat, in the pork section.

Alcohol is available in bars and clubs throughout the country but there are rules relating to its purchase. Special shops, managed by MMI or African & Eastern, sell alcohol over the counter. To purchase alcohol in the UAE a licence is required but getting one is not difficult. It is illegal to drink alcohol in public and generally not acceptable to carry it openly even if the bottle is unopened.

Rules relating to alcohol and pork vary emirate to emirate. Neither pork nor alcohol can be found for sale in Sharjah and being in possession of alcohol in Sharjah is a crime. If you legally purchase alcohol in Dubai and drive north for the weekend, as you pass through Sharjah with alcohol in your car you are breaking the law.

Neither pork nor alcohol is offensive to Muslims but coming into contact with either is considered Haram (forbidden). For this reason you should consume alcohol in the privacy of your home (or in a bar or pub), and you shouldn’t send children to school with ham sandwiches. When in Rome, as they say.

If you have questions relating to any of this information please ask, the answer is likely just an email away.