Ever though about moving to Dubai? Dreaming of a tax free life and saving some real cash? Lots of people I come across talk about it so I thought I’d give you guys the lo down!
So, if you’re interested in what it’s like to live and work there – how expensive is it, can you really save a fortune, is the lifestyle bearable etc. Well today we can finally find out! I had a chat with Matt Green, a twenty something expat in Dubai, and you can read about his experiences below:
So what are you doing in the UAE Matt?
I left the UK in November 2010 at the age of 26, to live in Dubai and work for a specialist finance house, funding businesses across the UAE. The key part of my role is visiting existing and prospective clients in a wide range of industries, across all 7 of the Emirates. Personally, I’m seeing and living in a new part of the world, meeting a range of people from different backgrounds and enjoying new experiences. Professionally, I’m adding a depth of experience in my field, learning a lot every day and hopefully opening up a wider range of opportunities for the future than I would if I’d stayed in the UK.
Was it easy to find a job there?
For me, it was very easy. I had a number of contacts in the UAE from my previous jobs – an opportunity was presented and I grabbed it. A month and a half later, I arrived here in the sand-pit!
Generally speaking though, getting employment here varies according to the field you’re in. I understand that Power/Oil/Gas are strong (as you’d expect), as are Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare. There are a few sectors that are less actively recruiting at the moment, but don’t let it put you off – just search harder!
It’s worth having a look at the various Ex-Pat forums and blogs to get a feel for what may or may not be out there too. If you already work for a multi-national company with offices in the Emirates or elsewhere in the Middle-East, I’d suggest that speaking with someone there would be a good place to start, even if you’re thinking of leaving that company. They’ll be able to give you the low-down on the market and some pointers on how things might be done differently in the Middle-East than back at home. If you’re on the hunt for a job, it’s best to avoid Summer as it’s quite common for people to leave the country for a few weeks to escape the heat, returning in September. Also, most business operate reduced operating hours during Ramadan (the timing of which varies year to year) which may make job hunting difficult for the month.
How is life, as a foreigner, in the middle-east?
I think it depends on what you’re used to and where you’re from. The local culture is different from other parts of the world but it’s not like living on another planet. Dubai, to me, has a particularly ‘western’ edge to it although the climate is distinctly Middle-Eastern! My car thermometer has shown anything from around 20c in the depths of winter to 50c in the middle of July. Almost every time I’ve been home I get asked “where’s your tan?!” – well, in answer to that question, 50c is not an ideal sunbathing temperature! Also, although Dubai is a holiday destination, you have to remember that you’re not here on holiday which is something I think most people need to remember when they consider moving to another country, wherever in the world that may be. The UAE as I’ve said, does make things easy for the foreigner to adjust (unsurprising given that almost 90% of the population are expatriates), coming from the UK, I can easily get pretty much all the familiar groceries and clothes from home, while also having a wealth of new things available to me too. Countries in the region vary greatly though in terms of lifestyle – for example in some areas the sale of alcohol and pork have limited restrictions (i.e in certain areas and to non-muslims only), in other areas alcohol may be sold to non-muslims but pork is completely prohibited, in others both are completely illegal.
What about the language barrier, the mother tongue there is Arabic, do you have problems communicating on a daily basis?
As there’s such a wide range of nationalities here, there are a wide range of languages spoken. Pretty much everyone speaks English though, so communication problems are few and far between. It does take a little while to get used to some of the phrases and words that aren’t used in “English” English, but in the main, no problems at all. I’d say it probably would be a bit of an advantage to have some knowledge of other languages, but it isn’t essential.
Would you recommend an expat life there to other people considering it?
Definitely, as long as you know what you’re signing up for – just the same as becoming an ex-pat in any country really. I wouldn’t say it’s everyone’s cup of tea though, as I’ve mentioned, the climate can be a bit oppressive for a couple of months in the summer if you’re out of the A/C for too long and from time to time it seems that getting something done that might take a day in the UK can take a week or more here which can be frustrating, but my view is that’s part of living somewhere different!
Do you know any teachers there, do they like it?
I know several as it happens and yes, as I understand it they do like it very much. I don’t know a massive amount about teaching here but I understand that in the main, teachers get paid a bit better than in the UK, with the tax free element making it even more attractive. In most cases, the parents of the kids in the schools are paying a fair old whack for the privilege (directly, or as part of the remuneration package from their employer), so the kids are generally better behaved than some of my teacher friends at home would be used to. Schools generally cater to children of ex-pats from a particular country or area, with syllabuses and exams to match – so the UK’s GCSE set up for example, India’s ICSE/CBSE, or in some cases the International Baccalaureate. It isn’t my profession, so I’m not too sure about the qualifications you’d need to teach, but I think it is safe to assume that you’d need to have the same or similar qualifications here as you would in the ‘home country’ of the school.
EDITOR: You generally need a bachelor of education, or a PGCE or equivalent full-time teaching qualification to work in the UAE. There are some English teaching positions too, but you need to be experienced with good TEFL credentials. CELTA as an ABSOLUTE minimum but preferably DELTA/Masters too, with 5 years+ experience. It’s very competetive!
How about the finances? We hear there’s no tax, do you live a luxury lifestyle?
There’s no direct taxation as such, so what you earn is what you’re paid which is pretty awesome. There are indirect ‘taxes’ though, such as “Housing Fees” added to your water and electricity bills (my “Housing Fee” makes up about 75% of my monthly utilities bill!) but in comparison with many other parts of the world, I’d have to say we get off fairly lightly!
As for luxury lifestyle – well, that’s subjective; one man’s luxury is another’s poverty! How luxurious or extravagant your lifestyle here is depends on what you earn (and how you chose to spend or save it!), but it is definitely possible to enjoy a comfortable life here.
How expensive is life out there?
I can only really compare the cost of living to the UK from experience and again, it really does depend on your perspective and how you choose to spend your cash – it’s all relative. Some things are a lot more expensive than at home and some are cheaper – personally, I’d say that the cost of living for me is a bit higher than it would be at home (England). To give you a rough idea though, I’ll cover some of the basics to help you make up your own mind. Accommodation one of the biggest costs wherever you are, Dubai’s property rental market is huge so I can only give a brief and very rough guide: a good apartment/villa share might work out to be around 800USD p/m, a high quality 1-bed apartment in a nice part of town around 1400USD p/m and a nice 3-bed villa possibly around 3500USD p/m. I’d recommend www.dubizzle.com as a good place to start if you’re looking for somewhere to live. General grocery shopping is a bit more expensive than the UK, primarily because most of the products on the shelves have had to be transported from afar. Transport is generally pretty cheap, travel by taxi costs very little (the 30-minute drive to the airport from my apartment costs around 20USD, whereas my local firm in the UK would probably charge 75USD for the same journey), petrol prices are set by the Government at a very reasonable rate and it costs around 30USD to fill the tank of a large, thirsty 4×4. Treating yourself to a meal out can be relatively inexpensive with a large number of good restaurants competing for your business – especially with various deals and vouchers that can be found quite easily (more of that later). Equally, you wouldn’t be hard pressed to find somewhere to really push the boat out and indulge in some high-end, fine dining should you wish! Be prepared to part with your cash if you like a drink or two though – a pint of lager will probably set you back upwards of 8USD!
Is it realistic to be saving $10k -$20k per year there as a twenty something, in a normal (ish) job?!
Depending on your salary of course, and the lifestyle you choose to live, I’d say it is definitely achieveable, yes.
What do you get up to in your free time?
I’ve been busy sampling as many bars and restaurants as possible since I arrived – all in the name of research, so I can be a good host to my visitors, of course! – the ‘Dubai Brunches’ are a regular feature in my diary. “Brunch” here isn’t the meal between Breakfast and Lunch, but more of an all-inclusive afternoon or evening session, where you part with anywhere from 30USD to 200USD and are then entitled to get stuck in to as much of the food and drinks menu as you can handle for 4-5 hours. Apart from that, I try and get out and about keep relatively active – watersports (swimming, wakeboarding, kitesurfing), waterparks and themeparks, shooting, desert camping, off-roading, quad-biking in the desert, indoor skydiving, football and golf have all been on the agenda so far! Unfortunately, I’ve left my bike in the UK so I’ve not been able to do any cross-country riding, though I’m not sure the climate or the terrain help much either! There’s plenty to get involved in if you want to – I have friends who’re active in Rugby, Boxing, Running, Sky-diving and all-sorts! If you’re more into the quieter side of life and would rather spend your time at the beach or by the pool at the weekend, then you won’t be short of options either. Most of the travelling I’ve done this year has been to the UK and Europe for weddings and so on, but next year I’m hoping to take advantage of Dubai’s standing as a global hub for air transport and get myself out to a few new places in the Middle and Far East. I’ll be tapping you up for tips Johnny!
We hear horror stories about booze/sex in the Middle East, is that for real? Or just media furore?
I suppose there is an element of truth to that, there have been well publicized cases of people falling foul of the law – however, it’s important to remember that a newspaper’s job is to sell itself and there’s always more than one side to every story. It would be wrong of me to comment on particular cases – as I wasn’t there and I simply don’t know any more than anyone else! – but from what I gather, you’d either have to be quite unlucky or really pushing your luck to get arrested and deported. I mentioned Brunches earlier (which can get just as boozy as any other bar or club I’ve been to in the world), they’re on at most licensed premises across Dubai at least once a week, serving thousands of people – the number instances we see in the media are very, very small in comparison to the number of people who enjoy themselves without any problem whatsoever. In answer to the question – it is for real, to a very small extent, but taken out of context and proportion in much of the media. My view is that if you respect the local culture, generally conduct yourself well and have good manners you should be fine, just like anywhere else!
Finally, do you have any tips/advice for ‘would-be expats’ thinking of moving there?
Make sure you’re moving for the right reasons to start with, take some time and think it through – what you’re going to leave behind (friends, family, familiarity etc) and what you hope to get out of the move (new experiences, improved financial position, change of direction), how long you intend to move for and where you want to go afterwards (home or to another new country?). Definitely do as much research as you can, particularly around Visa’s (though if you’ve got a job lined up, your company will arrange this), living costs versus your salary, where you want to live relative to where you’re going to be working and so on. All of that is fairly generic for anyone moving to any country, but specifically regarding the Middle-East, I’d recommend getting a good understanding of the culture of the country you’re moving to and what, if any major differences there are to your home country (particularly for westerners) – this will differ significantly depending on where you’re moving to! Be prepared to adjust to a very different climate to the one you might be used to – despite the ever-present A/C, 50c heat and in your face humidity isn’t for everyone!
If you’ve made the move, there are a few websites I’d recommend you have a look at too:
www.dubizzle.com – I’ve mentioned this already, it covers most of the Middle Eastern countries and you can find loads of stuff there – a place to live, a car, furniture, jobs, loads!
www.theentertainerme.com – The Entertainer sells a range of ‘Discount Books’ full of offer vouchers for dining out, spa’s/gyms, activities and so on. I bought one at the start of the year and the first voucher I used saved me more than the cost of the book. Definitely worth investing in!
www.gonabit.com – Online group buying website. I met the company CEO earlier this year and I was very impressed by the story behind the set-up, growth and mentality of the company – great deals provided by great people!
I suppose the final and most important tip I can make is to talk to as many people as you can, especially if you know someone out here already. If you’ve got any more questions – I’m always happy to help.
Thanks Matt, great info there mate 🙂 So there you have it – the ups and downs of living in the desert! It’s pretty cheap to get to Dubai, either by a very cool overland trip or from searching for flights to Dubai.Hope that helps if you guys have been considering getting some cash together (to fund an awesome trip around the world I hope :P). If you have any more questions, just send me an email or comment below and Matt and I will get back to you asap. Happy travels!