Six really important things every expat should know when moving to Dubai

So you’ve got that dream job, but it just so happens to be in the desert?

Or you fancy a bit of luxury lifestyle, weekend brunching and sun all-year-round?

Or you just like really, really tall buildings? (Like New-York-on-acid tall).

Whatever your reason for embarking on your big journey, here are six really useful/annoying/wtf things I discovered over the past four weeks (it’s officially one month today since we moved!).

1. Metro Etiquette 101

Sweaty armpit carriage
Sweaty armpit carriage

You know all those things a few people do on the tube/subway which are really annoying? Yeah, EVERYONE does them here. For some reason, the general rule here is to barge your way into the carriage before everyone has got off. Apparently that’s just the done thing, don’t fight it. Yeah and if you’re pregnant or elderly, don’t even think for a second someone will give their seat up for you. And always be prepared to wait at least ten minutes for a tram, this isn’t the Central line where you know the next Epping train is less than a minute away.

Also, do yourself a favour and get a Nol card – single trips cost as little as 3 AED (60p!).

One for the ladies though – the women only carriages are an absolute god-send. I will gladly leave Chris, my husband, in the sweaty armpit that is the general carriage and cruise over to the airy, empty seats in the women-only section, whilst the men look on, wedged in like sardines. I choose air-con and zero body odour, thank you.

2. If you have a job already, skip this one. If you don’t, you might find yourself waiting a while…

I’ve written a whole other rant about recruiter etiquette over here, but I won’t be publishing that until I’m employed! But my God, get a job before you come out here. If you’re in a particular industry such as banking or construction, then you’ll probably be ok. But for a 28-year-old, female, former journalist/travel agent with a drama degree…yeah you get the gist. I’ve had a handful of interviews and second interviews, before getting the silent treatment and I cannot tell you how many jobs I’ve applied for. I came out here thinking I was pretty employable, a former manager, a very wide skill set with varied job experiences, excellent communication skills. Turns out it’s very much who you know – so get networking, go to expat meet ups, be bold (see No.5) and don’t lose heart – there are actually some fantastic opportunities in the UAE, it’s just a whole lot of luck and about talking to the right people.


Jumeirah Beach post-brunch
Post-brunch on Jumeirah Beach

If you don’t already know about the brunch scene in Dubai, then where have you been?! When you think of Dubai, you think of decadence, luxury and overall ridiculousness. And that’s brunching in a nutshell. Most brunches are on Fridays (the first weekend day, still can’t get used to that) and most are in hotels which have an alcohol license, although there are plenty of dry brunches too. The majority include an all-you-can-stuff-into-your-face buffet or menu and unlimited alcoholic beverages for a fee, starting anywhere from 200 AED pp (£40) (or less for the dry ones) all the way up to 600+ pp (£120) or more. Most people go in a group of friends, but because we don’t have any (sad face) it was just the two of us when we went to a Lebanese Brunch at Al Maeda in the DoubleTree by Hilton on Jumeirah Beach. After countless G+Ts and hummus, we made our way down to the private beach and had a swim, before continuing the party in the hotel’s sea facing pool, and finally collapsing into our hangovers no later than 7pm that night. Hardcore.

4. Normal every day things just…aren’t that simple

Mysterious washing machine symbols

Every now and then I find myself going, ‘Oh, Dubai!!’. It is a fact universally accepted that if you want to walk somewhere in Dubai, you will meet a big hole in the road/construction site/get too hot and have to turn back again. Walking just isn’t a thing. But I intend to walk as much as I possibly can (at least until summer arrives and 3 minutes in the sun is enough to cook a frozen chicken). Taxis are very cheap, thankfully. Oh and if you expect the man to come on time to fix your air-con, think again, and cancel all your plans for that day. And if you want to pay by cheque, that ain’t gonna work if your signature is even the slightest bit different. Also, who even pays with cheques anymore?! And don’t get me started on my washing machine…I just want spin cycle??

5. Say YES to everything. Be BOLD

My best shot from my Abu Dhabi Road trip with a stranger and his couch surfer
My best shot on my road trip to Abu Dhabi with a stranger

A rule which applies when moving anywhere new. Say yes to everything (within reason). I’ve been to expat meet-ups by myself, yoga in the park at night and even went on a road trip to Abu Dhabi with a stranger and his couch surfer (sorry mum). Being unemployed means I’ve had to go that extra step to meet people, but it’s also just what you do when you’re in a big city where people are always coming and going. I’ve found that not many really settle here for too long unless they have a family, so it’s about making as many of those connections as possible.

6. Yes, women can drive. No, I don’t have to cover up. Yes, you can drink alcohol. Yes, you can eat bacon

Precious bacon 🥓
Bacon. Bacon. Bacon.

I’ve had so many questions about all of the above and more. Yes there are other Emirates where these things are strictly forbidden, but Dubai is such a huge, international, modern (ish) metropolis that such rules just don’t exist or are applied within reason. I live no differently here than I did in London, and if I go to a mosque for example, then of course I’ll cover up. You can’t expect to go into every restaurant and be able to order a beer, and there are barely any shops where you can buy alcohol, but it’s pretty cool not having every social occasion centred around a drink. And if you do want to get boozy, it’s not hard to find it.

Follow me on Instagram @rachaelhelena for more adventures


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