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Life in the Emirates

So, you’ve got the job, the work permit, a residency visa.

What next? In this guide, we look at ID cards, how to set up a bank account, transport and what to expect at work. For arranging accommodation see our section ‘A place to call home’.

Next practical steps

The ID card – All residents (expats and Emiratis) must have an Emirates ID card. Apply for one at the UAE Government website.

Labour card (yes, this is different to your ID card!) – Known as your ‘electronic employment card’. Contact the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation to apply.

Next, you will need a bank account. You will need a copy of your passport, your work/residence visa, a salary letter or a ‘NOC’ letter (No Objection Letter) from your employer/sponsor. Some banks in your home country offer ‘expat accounts’, which are worth looking into. Here is the government’s guide on how to open a UAE account.

Transport and getting around

If your salary stretches to it, you could live like a king (or Sheikh) and hire a driver for relatively little.  Abu Dhabi’s public transport infrastructure is probably the best developed, boasting a metro and tram system, ferry services, and a park and ride. By far the most common form of transport is a taxi; they’re cheap, widely available and regulated by the government.


For expats, driving in the UAE is a very different experience to back home; speeding is common, and the World Health Organization reported that Emirati road users are seven times more likely to be killed than those in the UK.

  • Each Emirate has slightly different rules for what to do if you have a road accident. Ensure you are familiar with your Emirate’s policy.
  • You can hire a car and drive on your international driving license (which you must get before you leave) until you get your Emirati license from your Emirate’s traffic department.
  • Early-morning winter fog is a major problem for road commuters, and you are advised not to drive if it’s foggy.

Working life

People in the Emirates work hard, typically working a 47-hour week. Despite the long hours of work, many expats report that one of the most rewarding things about living in the UAE is the friendships and working relationships they develop with people from all over the world.

  • Holiday allowance for expats is usually six weeks.
  • A typical working week is Sunday to Thursday because Friday is the Islamic holy day.
  • Office attire for men is a suit (albeit a very lightweight suit), and for women it is long-sleeved tops, which can be lightweight, and skirts which will need to cover the knee, when seated.
  • If your boss or a hotel asks to keep your passport say ‘no’ — legally, they have no authority to do so.
  • There are too many labour laws to mention here, but we advise that you research and know your rights on the UAE labour law website.

Business etiquette

There are many subtle differences between western and Emirati working practices. In general, it is best to spend time developing working relationships with your colleagues to build up trust. Try to avoid rushing negotiations, as vague agreements will only become certainties in future meetings if more senior members of staff are involved.

Santander has produced a useful guide to Emirati business practices.

There is no government support in the UAE if you lose your job or have a car accident. Contact our expert advisers to see what type of cover you might need.

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