One of the wealthiest cities on the planet, with futuristic architecture, luxury shopping and dream-like resorts, Dubai does attract. Lots of British people are inspired by the idea of moving from London to Dubai to reap the joys of living in pure opulence that prevails in this Middle East metropolis.
This extraordinarily rich oriental city offers brilliant work and enterprise opportunities, boasts an excellent quality of education from most prominent colleges and universities in the world, and has a superb healthcare system. Given these compelling reasons, relocating to Dubai from the UK could not be a bad decision.
Moving to Dubai has many benefits for British expats. From favorable weather to great money-making possibilities, it is the ultimate destination to migrate to. More than 240,000 Britons have already settled in Dubai, and this figure seems to be growing.
Although it is a pretty rich metropolis, real estate is surprisingly affordable in Dubai. Of course, the cost will depend on the type of home, location, and other market factors, but, on the whole, renting and housing prices are very moderate, and there is also no annual property tax in emirates.
So, possibilities are plentiful for Britons who consider moving from the United Kingdom to Dubai. If you want to grab them all, be sure to equip yourself with useful information about this sandy paradise on the Persian Gulf shore.
Dubai Visa Requirements for Brits
You should start your emigration project with getting the right type of visa when relocating to Dubai from the UK. The good news is that each type of visa in the United Arab Emirates comes with a residence permit. It means, if your visa application is approved, you will also receive residency in Dubai or any other of the UAE emirates (which are seven). Here is a brief review of popular visa types for Brits in Dubai.
A visit visa is issued for free at the UAE airport upon arrival. It lets UK residents stay in the country for 30 days. A visiting visa can also be extended twice for another 30 days at the end of its validity period. A visiting visa has certain requirements, such as having a return ticket to your native country and a passport that has been valid for at least six months before your trip to the UAE.
There is a useful alternative to visiting visas – a multiple-entry visa. It is a great solution if you are planning to fly to and from the UAE frequently, for instance, for business purposes. A multi-entry visa is effective for 6 months, and it does not allow you to stay not longer than two weeks at a time. You can get it at the UAE Embassy in London.
With an employment visa, you can stay in Dubai as long as you wish, provided you have received a job offer from some UAE-based company or organization. The employer (sponsor), interested in hiring you for some role, will arrange the process of obtaining a working visa for you, saving you from lots of paperwork and legwork.
Yet, you will need to supply certain documents for an employment visa. This includes your education certificate, copy of your employment contract, and two-month work permit issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) on the request of your employer. This permit is effective for two months, so your employer has enough time to arrange some formalities, such as medical testing, Emirates ID, Labour Card, and employee residency for you.
Alternatively, when you initially arrive in the emirates to find a job, you can request a probationary three-month work permit from the Ministry of Labour. With it, you will gain the right to start working immediately, even if you do not have any job invitation from a sponsor. Non-residents working in the UAE without a work permit (or holding only a visit visa) run the risk of being fined, deported, and even imprisoned.
International students looking to get an education in Dubai require a student visa, which is valid for full-time programs. The student visa is effective for 12 months, and must be renewed at the end of the 12-month period if the educational program is longer than that. To qualify for this visa, foreign students must receive an admission offer letter from some UAE college or university.
Purchasing a property unit in Dubai makes you qualified for long-term residence visas in the United Arab Emirates. Property ownership visas have different validities ranging from 3 to 5 and even 10 years. However, visa application requirements may vary, depending on the property price and some other factors. You should discuss available property ownership visa options with your developer when buying a home in this place.
An investor visa is designed for international individuals who wish to launch their own company or invest in an existing business in the UAE. It allows a holder to reside in the UAE, as well as leave and return to the country without restriction, during the visa valid period (which is 3 years). You can get it from a free trade zone in Dubai.
If you want to assist your mother and father with moving from London to Dubai, a dependent visa will come in handy. However, it has some eligibility requirements: you must earn at least AED 20000 per month to sponsor a dependent visa for your parents.
You can also sponsor visas for your spouse and children (under 18 years of age) if you desire to unite with your family in the UAE. This entails a minimum financial requirement as well: you must earn AED 4000 (or AED 3000 if accommodation is provided) per month to be able to bring your children and wife/husband to the UAE.
You may want to consult your UAE embassy in London to find the latest information on UAE dependent visas before you depart. Brace yourself for a tricky and lengthy approval process because requirements for dependent visas are constantly changing.
Eligibility for UAE citizenship is regulated by Emirati nationality legislation that is essentially based on jus sanguinis. It is a nationality law according to which citizenship is determined or acquired by the nationality or ethnicity of one or both parents.
International nationals can be naturalized and granted citizenship, but this process is very limited due to the declining share of the Emirati population and fears of erosion of national identity.
Only certain groups of foreigners can qualify for UAE citizenship:
- Creative individuals
- Doctors, scientists, and inventors
- Acclaimed experts in certain industries
- Foreign investors
If you do not fall into any of the abovementioned groups, you can obtain UAE citizenship by marrying a UAE native (which mandates holding a valid residency permit first). Another way to get it is by naturalization after 30 years of residency in the country.
The process of getting UAE citizenship is long and tiresome because each application is reviewed independently, and the approval decision is finalized by the top leadership of the country (including the Crown Princes’ Courts and the Cabinet). If you do not have any outstanding merits or are not married to a UAE resident, chances of getting Dubai citizenship are slim.
When relocating to Dubai from the UK, you may have thought about bringing your children to Emirates as well. Generally, it is the father (head of the family) who can sponsor the child. Sometimes, the mother can sponsor bringing kids to the UAE if the father has lost his job or passed away, or if the mother is divorced or single. In the UAE, expatriate parents can sponsor their children’s visas up to the age of 25 (instead of the previous 18 years).
An application for a child’s visa is submitted with General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai (GDRFA), requiring a sponsor to provide a set of papers, including:
- a valid UAE employment visa,
- an Emirates ID,
- a child’s birth certificate,
- a marriage certificate, a bank statement,
- a tenancy contract, and probably some others.
The minimum salary criterion is observed too (at least AED 4000 or AED 3000 plus accommodation allowance from the employer). Only unmarried children under 25 years can be sponsored by their parents.
The child’s visa in the UAE can be valid during one, two, or three years, and is linked to their sponsor’s residence visa. This means if your UAE residency visa is canceled, your child’s visa will also be canceled.
Life in Dubai
Many believe that Dubai has weirdly strict customs and lifestyles regulated by not-so-liberal Shariah laws. After moving from London to Dubai, you will be relieved to discover that non-Muslims no longer require a liquor license to buy alcohol in bars and specialty stores, and that an Islamic dress code is not mandatory (although tight or revealing clothes should be avoided). Even pork is easily available in designated areas within supermarkets (though you should not eat pork meals in public, but in your residence).
The lifestyle in Dubai is something British expats seldom complain about. Although blazing sun may sometimes limit outdoor activities, pushing you to stay indoors with an air-conditioner on, it is still a city of glitz and splendor to revel in.
The place spoils you with a diversity of theme parks and recreation options for families. Well-groomed beaches, incredible shopping malls, jaw-dropping cinema complexes, matchless architecture – Dubai is unrivaled no matter how you slice it. The city often hosts remarkable events, music festivals, and trading fairs. It is also known for its unique artificial islands, singing fountains, and extravagantly tall skyscrapers that literally pierce the clouds.
Here are some lifestyle considerations for those relocating to Dubai from the UK:
- Although Dubai is a liberal location in most aspects, there is one area that may present a huge problem for some foreigners – unmarried couples are prohibited from premarital cohabitation. This means that couples wishing to move to Dubai from London may face difficulties if they do not get married.
- Dubai is very tolerant of other religions. Although Islam is its official faith, the emirate is very liberal toward foreign lifestyles and religious persuasions. The rules of Islam are not seriously imposed on the daily routine of every person, compared to other emirates, which are not so liberal.
- In 2020, the UAE passed new legislation, according to which drinking without a license is no longer prohibited in the Emirates. Still, avoid drinking liquor anywhere in public; in fact, you should not even try to transport alcohol in a taxi or on public transport. And prepare yourself for ridiculously high prices on spirits.
- Shopping is primarily tax-free (except alcoholic beverages), so prices are likely to be lower than in Britain. For your money in Dubai, you will probably buy a lot more goods or get a much better quality of services than in the UK.
- The greatest lure behind moving to Dubai from London is the absence of income taxes in the UAE. British expats will not encounter any tax deductions on their annual income. This is one of the major reasons immigrants flock to this area for employment, as money-making potential is remarkably high.
English is widely spoken in the emirate, although Arabic is the official tongue. British expats will not face any language barrier in Dubai because road signs, restaurant menus, and documents have an English translation, and both locals and other foreigners in the UAE are quite fluent in English too.
It is worth noting that immigrants can purchase their own car in Dubai only after acquiring a UAE local driving license (and a residence visa), but renting a car is possible with your international license. Lots of local rental dealers will even let you take an auto for rent using your UK-issued driver’s certificate. So, car rentals are a preferred way to get around.
The hub of the world’s tourism, business, and entertainment, Dubai brims with dining venues from every national cuisine possible. From cheap street foods to haute restaurants, there is a suitable option for every foodie. Whether you are a vegetarian or meat-eater, the city has something for every gastronomic taste. Lots of venues will make you feel home-like as they represent the tradition of your own culture. You will not have any difficulty finding a British restaurant in your Dubai neighborhood to relish your favorite English breakfast.
Dubai has a desert climate. Only two major seasons can be distinguished in the country: winter and summer that are separated by two transitional periods.
During winter months (December – March), the weather in Dubai gets as warm as 16°C – 23°C. Months from April to May are the first transitional period when weather becomes very unpredictable and variable. During this period, the average temperature ranges from 26°C to 34°C.
The summer season (June – September) features extremely high temperatures, which can reach up to 50°C, especially in the southern part of the city. The average temperature during this time ranges from 32°C to 37°C. And it is the time where there can be no precipitation at all!
During the second transitional span (October – November), an average temperature can vary from 24°C to 30°C. Precipitation is rare and scanty. The emirate is also notoriously known for its occasional strong dust storms called Shamal winds.
Modesty is welcome in clothing and behavior; a conservative dressing style is encouraged in public places. You should choose clothes that cover your shoulders and your knees when you make a public appearance. Items that are too tight or too provocative, including prints with offensive slogans, must be avoided by males and females. When visiting local mosques and other holy sites, women must cover their heads too. Children can wear anything they like, but they must never be nude when in public.
The Sharia Law mandates that couples in love can only cohabit under one roof if they are officially married. Non-Muslim Brits, willing to tie the knot in Dubai, can follow the same marriage laws as in their native country. However, one of the intending spouses must hold a valid UAE residency visa, and both parties must undergo pre-marital medical examination. After that, you need to authorize your marriage certificate in the British Embassy in Dubai.
Same-sex and LGBT marriages in the United Arab Emirates are illegal. Although the British Embassy in Dubai may allow such individuals to get married in the emirate, couples must not show any signs of their affection in public because this can result in imprisonment, fines, or deportation.
To deliver a baby in the UAE, a woman needs to register and open a maternity file with a government or private hospital before the seventh month of pregnancy. To do so, she will need to provide her marriage certificate.
Government hospitals automatically issue birth certificates, but with private ones, you will have to apply for a birth certificate with the Ministry of Health by yourself. You can also resort to the British Embassy in Dubai to issue your child’s passport.
When opening a maternity case, you want to review the hospital’s policy to see whether your husband can stay overnight in the hospital with the mother, and if he can stay after official visiting hours. Not all hospitals in the UAE will allow this.
The major distinction between private vs. government hospitals is that the former can offer private rooms and suites, while the latter may not. Service fees can also be drastically different. The total cost of giving birth in public hospitals hovers around the AED 6000 mark. Private establishments may charge twice the amount of that. Maternity and antenatal packages will also vary among different hospitals.
Doctors and medical personnel speak English in both private and public medical centers. The level of care is equally great in both. Payment is usually required in advance, so it is worth checking.
In the event of death, you will first receive a death certificate and must also report it to the UK through the UK Embassy in Dubai.
One of the most fruitful business hubs on earth, Dubai is home to many dynamically developing companies and big-name corporations. The city attracts lots of specialists and entrepreneurs from the whole planet, so workplace environments are truly eclectic in Dubai. You are likely to find an ideal environment where you can feel comfortable if you do some preliminary research. This will help you choose the right office atmosphere and avoid a culture shock.
As for gender, offices are usually mixed; males and females can safely engage in professional interactions without restrictions. However, do not confuse Dubai with a liberal Western country like the United Kingdom. You may sometimes have to dress and behave more conservatively than you are used to, out of respect for your colleagues or clients.
As for the workplace dress code, it remains formal, though it may vary widely across sectors and office roles. A business suit for men seems to be more common in the emirate than in London. A casual dress style (a T-shirt plus jeans) is also becoming more acceptable, especially in the growing IT sector. Muslim employees will generally wear their traditional Emirati attire.
The working week lasts from Sunday to Thursday, while Friday and Saturday are weekends. In Arabic culture, Friday is a day of special prayers and family reunions. During Ramadan, working hours are shortened by two to three, depending on the organization.
Ramadan is also a period when all restaurants and dining venues are closed during the daytime and open after sunset. To show respect for the local social customs, you want to avoid drinking or eating in public places during this holy period, especially if your colleagues are Muslims. This is a sign that you understand and appreciate the traditions of the host country. When planning business meetings, it is best to schedule them outside of prayer times and important Muslim holidays.
The best aspect about Dubai’s workplace environment is tax-free salaries!
There is very little crime in Dubai. Mainly because the main population is made of overseas migrants, and if they commit a crime, they will be deported. Popular areas also have a strong police presence, and there are security cameras along the streets, meaning you will be safe living here as a UK expat.
Living in Dubai is pretty safe, provided you do not commit the inadvertent violation of local religious law. The country has strict regulations toward the public display of alcohol, drugs, E-cigarettes, and sexual behavior, which are important factors for Britons to consider.
Women are expected to dress modestly and cover most of their bodies (exceptions are made on the beach). And while sexual assault is very rare in the city, the UAE’s legal system has the potential to punish women in the same way as offenders, leaving victims with little to no legal protection.
Imprisonment, whipping, deportation, and even capital punishment might apply to such cases, although the most extreme consequences usually are only applicable to Muslim defendants and in combination with other crimes such as adultery. In fact, any kind of romantic relationship outside of marriage is illegal, meaning even heterosexual immigrants should also be careful.
Transsexual individuals arriving in Dubai can be detained and interrogated at airport customs, as their gender is not recognized by local legislation, and they can be deported back to their home country. Also, you cannot wear clothes that do not correspond with your official gender because cross-dressing is punishable in the UAE.
Healthcare for Expats
UAE residents can access public medical centers free of charge or for a low fee. British expats willing to avail of the UAE public healthcare system will first need to obtain a health card from the Department of Health and Medical Services.
Some years ago, the Dubai Health Authority passed new legislation that would require all residents to have health insurance. While Emiratis are insured under a government-funded scheme, UK expatriates need to take out a private health insurance scheme. Companies are required to provide health insurance to their expatriate employees. The government also encourages employers to cover their workers’ immediate relatives (children, spouses), yet it is not mandatory.
Before relocating to Dubai from the UK, you may want to talk to your health insurance provider to find out whether your UK coverage can go with you to emirates. If not, you can consider purchasing additional medical and travel insurance that will meet your healthcare needs in the UAE. You will also be able to pay for all healthcare services by cash in private medical establishments.
It sounds unbelievable, but the UAE government has recently announced that foreign expats would receive pensions, the amount of which would be determined by the type of work, company, and length of employment. Many companies in Dubai will also have their own pension schemes, so you may want to check this with your HR manager.
Britons working for UAE companies are able to keep their UK State pensions as well, provided they continue to make their National Insurance contributions for the first 52 weeks of working abroad. But this faces several conditions:
- An employee must be a UK resident.
- An employee must have been living in the UK for a while right before relocating to Dubai from the UK.
- An employee must work for a company that has an office or premises in the United Kingdom.
If you are a self-employed UK citizen, you are released from the obligation to make any Class-2 National Insurance contributions. Nevertheless, if you want to maintain your national pension and entitlement, you may choose to continue paying, but you must also meet certain conditions. To determine if you are eligible, talk to HMRC for more details.
Cost of Living
According to the online service numbeo, Britons would normally need around £4300 (AED 19014) in Dubai to maintain the same standard of life that they could have with £5300 in London (assuming you rent accommodation in both cities).
Lots of merchandise and services are much cheaper in Dubai compared to large European cities. Rent prices are almost 30% lower than in London. Groceries, outdoor dining, and public transportation are also significantly more affordable in the Emirates than in Britain (one-way tickets in Dubai by local transport will only cost £1.29 versus £2.60 in London). Overall, local purchasing power here is nearly 50% higher than in London.
Property costs will mainly depend on the location. In Dubai, the price per square meter to buy an apartment in the city center will be nearly £3123 versus £12025 for the same offer in London.
If you buy an apartment outside the center city in Dubai, one square meter will cost approximately £1966 versus £7349 for London offerings.
The average monthly net salary in Dubai is £3507, while in London employees will only get £2955 (after taxes).
Going around a bustling metropolis by car can be quite a challenge for freshly-minted British expats. Fortunately, Dubai is working toward becoming the smartest city in the world in terms of public transportation.
The city is already equipped with completely automated driverless Metro trains, electric car taxis, and even self-driving buses. So going by public transportation can be an ideal option for those who want to avoid the stress of driving in a foreign land.
In Dubai, public buses are managed by the RTA (The Roads and Transport Authority). The fleet consists of over 1,500 public buses that serve over 100 routes throughout the emirate. Each bus comes with an array of comforts, including air-conditioning and informative screens that inform you about the bus stops. Buses are equipped with special entrances and spaces for wheelchair passengers. Audible alerts with corresponding flashing lights will signal when the doors open and close.
The Metro in Dubai presents a state-of-the art rail system. It offers a convenient and swift way to get around the city, as trains run every few minutes from early morning till late at night. Trains are driverless, and they include separate sections for women, children, and first-class passengers. Panoramic windows offer amazing views over the city while traveling by Metro.
Metro has two major lines: Red and Green. The Red Line serves the territory from Centrepoint (near Dubai International Airport) to Expo 2020 (plus branch line from Jebel Ali to UAE Exchange). The Green Line covers the area from Etisalat Metro Station in Al Qusais to Creek in Al Jaddaf.
Ticket prices are different, depending on the trip length and the number of zones you go through. You can choose between two payment schemes: you can either buy a Red Ticket, which starts from £0.41 or apply to get a Nol Card (an electronic ticketing card), where prices will start at £5.17. It can be used for all modes of public transport in Dubai and will provide you with 19 trip credits or more as you upgrade to a higher class card.
Taxi cars are easily available in Dubai, and their service is properly regulated by the RTA. The fares are metered, so you will not overpay. Users can take a taxi or limousine at public places, commercial centers, or major landmarks, and the fleet of vehicles is spread all over the city.
If you have not yet bought your own car in Dubai, but wish to have more flexibility while getting around the city, you can opt for car rental services, which are numerous in this Middle East metropolis. Dealerships have a delightful selection of luxury, sports, and exotic cars for rent, so you can even get your dream automobile.
Car rentals are often available via online booking, and after a few formalities, your chosen vehicle will often be delivered right to your doorstep, with a full tank, and ready to go. When moving from the UK to Dubai, you will be surprised to know that you can drive a rental car using your UK driving license.
Driving in Dubai
Vehicles in Dubai travel on the right side of the road, while steering wheels are typically placed on the left in cars. British expats need to convert their UK license to a UAE one to drive an auto in Dubai. The process is very simple, and it can be arranged at the nearest RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) office. You will be asked to provide some papers, including:
- a valid driver’s license from your native country;
- Dubai residence visa;
- Eye test results;
- DHA certified Medical screening (for senior applicants of age 65+).
Additionally, you may need to furnish a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your sponsor to prove they allow you to obtain a driver’s license.
It is worth noting that British immigrants can purchase their own car in the UAE only after acquiring a local driving certificate.
Property in Dubai is a temptation that is hard to resist, as the city is gloriously famed for its unbelievably gorgeous architecture that is coupled with very moderate prices. In 2002, a new law was passed in the country that would allow freehold property ownership in Dubai for non-residents.
When relocating to Dubai from the UK, British expatriates can easily purchase, sell, and lease their property on a freehold basis in designated zones that are determined by the UAE government.
There is no shortage of freehold areas, and you can find lavish real estate offerings in Dubai Marina, Downtown Dubai, Palm Jumeirah and many other prestigious localities. UK nationals looking to buy or rent property in Dubai will find a decent selection of real estate types, including apartments, duplexes, lofts, villas and townhouses.
Expats willing to purchase property in Dubai can even get a mortgage from the UAE banks. The eligibility requirements for expat mortgages may vary between banks, but as a rule, you will only need to provide your bank statement and proof of work status to qualify.
The UK has a double taxation treaty with the UAE that ensures that companies and individuals do not need to pay taxes in both the UAE and UK for the same income or revenues they make.
While the United Arab Emirates does not impose income tax on any of its residents, whether they are expatriates or citizens, you may be taxed on your business. For example, companies operating in fin-tech or oil production sectors are subject to taxation.
It is also important to consider where you are in your tax year when relocating to Dubai from the UK. If you move to the UAE for an indefinite period, you will have to report this to your local tax authorities in Britain. This guarantees correct taxation in every jurisdiction.
If you are leaving at the very end of the tax year in your home country, your transition to a tax-free lifestyle will be easy; however, if you are moving halfway through, you may still have unresolved financial obligations in your native country. This may result in you paying for the remainder of the tax year even if you no longer live in the country.
Currently, the UAE establishes no personal income taxation on individual salaries. Therefore, Dubai offers a lucrative opportunity to earn a 100% tax-free wage. Yet you may want to consult your tax expert in the UK before relocating to Dubai from London for an extended period because everything you earn abroad might involve tax implications as a foreign income when you return home.
Public schools in Dubai are only available for Emiratis, and their curriculum is taught solely in Arabic. So if you are moving to Dubai from London with kids, you need to consider the costs of private schooling.
There are almost 200 private schools in Dubai, providing different curricula, including the British curriculum. Every private school will also teach a certain amount of local content. Expat children will learn Arabic up to the 9th grade and take classes in Islamic studies or UAE social studies.
Schooling fees are fairly affordable and often do not exceed AED 10,000 per year. Still, attending top private schools can be rather expensive and cost you as much as AED 100,000 per annual tuition.
Schooling fees are regulated by the government. Schools are inspected and assigned a status. Top schools have a “very good” or “outstanding” status. If a school does not maintain its status, it is not allowed to raise tuition fees. All education tariffs are linked to an education spending index set by the government in the UAE.
British expats mainly prefer to settle in Downtown Dubai, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Umm Suqeim, and the Arabian Ranches. The emirate is also home to numerous English pubs where you can unwind and dine in a true English style after a busy working day. These include Eloquent Elephant, Crown & Lion and Reform Social.
Packing List for Your Move to Dubai
The all-year warm weather requires light clothing but the local culture welcomes modesty. No matter where your destination is, you will need your documents and money in hand, as everything else can be purchased upon arrival, should you forget to pack something.
When moving from London to Dubai, make sure to bring along your passport, visa, health insurance, job offer invitation (if any), driving certificate, a couple of passport-size photos (just in case), bank card with a good balance on it, and cash. If you are traveling with kids, do not forget to pack their birth certificates, insurance policies, and visas, too. Married couples should fetch a marriage certificate as well.
The UAE has a strict regulation about medications entering the country. If you take any prescription drugs, make sure you have appropriate documentation to prove that your health depends on it.
As your essentials are packed, you are ready to hop on the plane toward this mid-east megacity. Whether to reap juicy employment prospects, bask in gorgeous weather or just for a change, moving from London to Dubai results in no regrets.