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Moving to the United Arab Emirates?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the number one expat destination.

Its cosmopolitan culture, beautiful beaches, tax-free salaries, and excellent health care attract people from all over the world.

There are a number of practical issues to plan for before you leave. The UAE operates under an entirely different legal and constitutional system, with rules and laws unfamiliar to westerners. Expats can be baffled by the amount of red tape and bureaucracy. Ensuring that you have the right type of insurance will help cover every eventuality, and our online guides can help you to prepare.

Rapid development

The famous skyscraper-lined horizon of the Emirates is a relatively new one. Wealth from the oil industry has funded rapid construction and infrastructure development from the early 1970s, but before then the UAE was mostly desert.

The UAE’s economy is still growing, despite a decline in the price of oil. If you have the right set of skills, your talents will be in demand. Major firms such as DHL, Ericsson, and Microsoft have shifted operations to this region, and many more are set to follow. Typical sectors for expats include sales, IT, finance and banking, construction, manufacturing, teaching and health care. Health care is a growing industry, and there is currently a shortage of nurses, doctors, and midwives.

The majority of UAE expats are Indian and Pakistani, but it has become increasingly popular with Brits and Americans. Most tend to live in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah, which are the most densely-populated of the seven emirates.

Moving with your family

For attracting skilled workers, UAE relocation packages used to cover costs more comprehensively for families; companies provided a salary, relocation package, rent (in advance) and children’s school fees. It was possible to save enough to buy a house (mortgage-free), back home within a few years. Living costs have since risen sharply, and while salaries are still competitive, and tax-free, it’s important to ensure it will be sufficient for your whole family (Including school fees, paying a year’s rent in advance, transport costs and utilities). 

There are many ‘hidden’ extra costs and fees to budget for (see our  ‘Living costs and saving money in the UAE’ section for details). The safety and quality of life in the UAE is a lure for many families. There are excellent schools, longer work holidays than for example the U.S. and Britain, and relatively few crimes. Women must work in specific professions to be able to sponsor your family's move.

Things to know

  • Climate: There are two distinct seasons: the hot season, from May to September, where temperatures range from 35 to 49 °C (up to 50°C in June and August), and from October to April when it is a more comfortable 25 to 28 °C.
  • Language: Arabic is the official language spoken in the UAE, but English is widely used, as are Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu.
  • Visas and work permits: Your employer will usually ‘sponsor’ you for the necessary residence visa and work permit. If you apply for a residency visa, you must take a blood test. Your application will be refused if you are HIV positive or have hepatitis.
  • ID card: All residents (expats and Emiratis) must have an Emirates ID card. You can apply for one at the UAE Government website.
  • Currency: The dirham is pegged to the U.S. dollar. One UAE dirham is roughly around 22 cents.
  • Housing: You’ll probably choose to rent initially, even if you go on later to buy a property. You will be expected to pay for a whole year, in advance, for your rental contract.
  • Your marital status: When planning to move to the UAE, be aware that it is illegal to cohabitate with a member of the opposite sex to whom you are not related or married, even if you have children.
  • Schools: Non-UAE residents pay anywhere from $1,600 (£1,300) to $12,500 (£10,000) per child each year in school fees, which vary depending on the school.
  • Families: The UAE requires all birth/marriage certificates to be legalised by the government in your home country; this allows you to get a residence visa for your family.
  • Driving: Don’t forget to apply for your international driving licence before you go if you intend to drive in the UAE. You will need to apply for an Emirati licence once you arrive.

Make sure you are fully prepared to relocate. Contact our team of expert advisers for a chat about what cover you might need. Also, see the UK Government’s guide to Living in the United Arab Emirates.

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