Many Westerners move to the UAE for a number of reasons. Some are transferred by their companies to a UAE branch. Others go in search of job opportunities. Then there are those who want to take advantage of its cultural richness and its highly modern landmarks. There’s also the benefit that the living and working in the UAE is tax-free. That means your salary is not taxed, and neither are your food and other consumables.
But moving to the UAE is not easy. For a start, it can seem like a very transient place. People are coming and going – almost 50% of the population is made up of expats! Also, the 7 Emirates (or states) are all Muslim, as are 95% of the population. Some Emirates are more extreme than others. In Dubai, for example, non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol. In Sharjah, absolutely no alcohol is permitted.
There are some common mistakes that expats make when moving to the UAE which can make the move even harder. These are 5 mistakes you absolutely must avoid.
1. Not preparing for the climate
We all know that the UAE is hot as hell in summer. And Emiratis work around that. All buildings, and even bus stops, are air-conditioned. As little time is spent outdoors as possible.
But it’s easy to underestimate the impact this will have on your way of life. If you regularly exercise outdoors, run, or cycle, your regime will have to change entirely. You can forget about going for an afternoon stroll. And while you currently urge your children to play outside, you might have to accommodate for them staying indoors all day.
2. Overestimating the benefits of living tax free
One of the biggest appeals of the UAE is that you pay absolutely no tax. There’s no fine print – everything is tax free. Which sounds amazing. Unfortunately, many expats associate “tax free” with a low cost of living. Life in the UAE is not cheap. It’s not one of the most expensive places to live, but prices of the basics, including food, accommodation, and clothing, are very close to major cities throughout the world. In some cases, it’s cheaper, and in others it is more expensive.
3. Costly money transfer
Okay, this is not particular to the UAE. Wherever you go in the world, taking your money with can be costly. Banks charge crazy fees to do it for you, and offer you exchange rates that don’t match what you’ll find in a quick Google search. That’s just another way they hide fees and skim money off the top of your transfers.
Using a foreign exchange firm is an absolute must. They charge incredibly low fees and give you the right exchange rate. It’s also especially helpful when moving to the UAE, as Forex firms have dedicated dealers who will help you with all the documentation and bureaucracy. They can also put you in touch with the best property agents and help organise home loans and mortgages.
4. Seeing it as one country
While the UAE is technically a country, it’s important that you realise that its 7 Emirates are each their own entities. They have differing laws, different levels of religiosity, and different expectations from foreigners. You’re most likely going to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, in which case you have probably got all the information you need. But if you plan on setting up in one of the other 5 states, do your research first.
5. Ignoring its human rights record
Let’s face it. There’s nothing you can do to change the fact that the UAE has some ethical quagmires. Living there is not the same as agreeing with all of the UAE’s values and human rights violations.But at the same time, if you plan on living there long term, don’t make the mistake of pretending these things don’t exist.
Firstly, there’s the impact it has on you. Over time, you might get frustrated with some of the archaic laws and realise you have to leave. But it’s when you’re raising children that the problems can be most compounded. If your child is “normal” as proscribed by the ruling bodies, he or she will manage just fine. But even then, you’ll have to consider whether you want your child to grow up in a place in which homosexuals are thrown in prison and anyone who has even visited Israel is denied entry?
Moving to the UAE might be the best decision you ever make, but make sure you’ve taken the above 5 things into account. They can change your experience, and turn a potential failure into a great success.