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What’s it like living and working in Dubai as an American?

So, you’re planning on living in Dubai as an American? There are currently around 40,000 people from the US1. living in the city, with Americans making up one of the largest expat communities in the emirate. The majority of US citizens in the UAE are located in Dubai, with only 10,000 others living in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere.

If you’re making the move or taking on an extended work assignment, read our guide to visas, employment opportunities and culture changes.

Preparation

If you’re moving to Dubai, there are some things you will need to get sorted before you set off.

Visa

If you’re a U.S. citizen moving to Dubai, you will need a residence visa and work permit beyond your initial 30-day entry permit. You will not need to apply in advance for a visa to enter the country if you are staying for less than one month — visas are available upon arrival at the airport in the emirate. However, to live in the UAE, you will require a work visa. Your employer will apply for the visa for you and sponsor you to live in the city. The length of these visas is subject to the terms of your employment contract.

It is possible to enter Dubai with a tourist visa and then transfer to a work permit and residence visa. If you find a job opportunity, your employer can sponsor you, or you can launch your own business (or have at least a 25% share in a partner’s business).

It is also possible to move to Dubai by obtaining a spouse visa — this is where your already employed spouse sponsors you to live in the country.

Accommodation

It is likely that you will want to have your accommodation arranged prior to moving to the country. In the UAE, it is illegal to live with a member of the opposite sex if they are not a close family relative or your spouse. So, if you are planning on moving with your partner, but you’re not married, this is something to consider. Although there will be many expats who do it without consequence, if anyone makes a complaint or the police get into your apartment for any reason2, you could be in trouble.

Medication

When travelling to Dubai, it is important to know which medication you can and cannot take with you. The UAE has a very strict drug policy3 — some medication that is readily available in the U.S. may be illegal in Dubai. If you need to bring prescription medication with you, you need prior approval from the UAE’s Ministry of Health (MoH). If you bring any illegal or controlled substances to the airport without approval, you could face imprisonment.

You can find out more about which drugs are legal and which are illegal in Dubai by reading our guide to taking medication to Dubai. You can also learn more about what health care is like in the UAE with our expat’s guide to medical treatment in Dubai (don’t forget, if you’re relocating to the UAE or Dubai, you may require an international health insurance policy).

Group of friends performing a toast while dining outdoors in Dubai Group of friends performing a toast while dining outdoors in Dubai


Is it safe for Americans to live in Dubai?

The answer is generally yes. The crime rates in Dubai are very low4, especially when it comes to acts of violent crime — although this can be hard to measure as the UAE does not publicise its criminal data. However, petty crime is common, just like in any big city. You should watch out for pickpocketing, scams and sexual harassment. The most popular destinations, such as shopping malls, airports, hotels and resorts, are closely monitored, which has helped ensure that few crimes are committed.

Laws

As a Westerner, you may find moving to Dubai requires a shift in mindset when it comes to culture. Not only are certain norms in the U.S. frowned upon here, they are criminalised. If you’re moving to Dubai, it is important for your own safety to know what is against the law.

It is illegal to:

  • Live with someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse or relative
  • Partake in public displays of affection — married couples holding hands is tolerated
  • Be gay
  • Be drunk in public or to drink and drive
  • Wear clothing that is considered too revealing
  • Swear or use rude hand gestures
  • Take pictures of people without their permission.
Group of multi-ethnic business colleagues meeting outside of a business building Group of multi-ethnic business colleagues meeting outside of a business building


Working in Dubai as an American

So long as the correct visa is in place, American expats can work in Dubai — and will need to continue to be employed in order to keep their visa, unless you’re in the country on a spouse visa. Dubai’s largest industries include construction and real estate, tourism and hospitality, technology, and finance.5

The process of finding a job in Dubai isn't likely to be too different from what you're already used to. However, it can be a highly competitive place to seek employment. We've created a guide to finding a job in Dubai to help you find your feet in the employment market.

What is the average salary in Dubai?

The average salary in Dubai is AED 16,775 per month6 — this is roughly $4,570. In the US, the average monthly income is $3,9007. However, the cost of living in Dubai is quite high — although not as high as cities like New York.8

Taxes

Dubai is often considered a tax-free haven. However, while you don’t have to pay income tax in the UAE, you may have to pay it back in the US. If you earn an income in the emirate, including renting out a property you own in Dubai, but are a tax resident in the US, you will have to declare your income and may have to pay tax. Find out more information via the US Embassy9 or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).10

Dubai residents are subject to Value Added Tax, which is similar to the U.S. sales tax, in addition to several government fees on multiple services such as utilities and government services. To find out more about taxation in Dubai, read our article here. ,

Education

If you’re moving to Dubai and have children, you’ll want to know about the education on offer in the emirate. Dubai offers both public and private education, although 90% of the schools are private. All public schools are only free to UAE nationals and compulsory for Emirati boys and girls aged 5-15. Since 2001, expat children have been able to attend public schools in Dubai.

School fees can range from AED 12,723 to AED 64,093 ($3,463-17,449)11. Many international schools offer rolling administration, which allows parents to apply at any time during the academic year.

Most school weeks run from Sunday to Thursday, as per the working week, with hours depending on the school. Students who are not of an Arab heritage are required e to take Arabic language classes until grade 9 (age 13).

To find out more about Dubai’s schooling system, read our guide here.

Driving

In Dubai, people drive on the right-hand side of the road. The speed limits can be quite high in the emirate — with the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain and Sheikh Khalifa highways having limits of 160km/h (99mph)12 — which can take some getting used to. While the 160km/h limit sets a new high for the country, other highways in Abu Dhabi have had maximum speeds reduced to 110km/h, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and Emirates Road.

Never drive in Dubai if you have consumed alcohol, no matter how little – the UAE takes drink driving very seriously and you could find yourself in prison, even if you don’t feel drunk.

To find out more about driving in Dubai, read our guide here.

Woman talking on phone while walking across Dubai street Woman talking on phone while walking across Dubai street


American women living in Dubai

If you are a Western woman moving to Dubai, you may find the city’s customs are different from what you are used to. Women are encouraged to dress modestly in Dubai — shoulders, thighs and midriff should be covered.

If women want to sponsor their family to live in the country, they must earn a minimum monthly salary of AED 10,000 (US$2,723)13. For men, the minimum salary is AED 4,000 (US$1,089).

The city’s metro features a women-and-children-only carriage, and government buildings often have women-only queues. Dubai operates taxis for women, driven by women.

For a more comprehensive look at life as a woman in Dubai and the UAE, read our guide here.

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