You’re fresh off the plane and have just touched down on Dubai soil. It’s hot, you’re excited and the beach is calling your name. But before you throw down your bags and charge towards the waters, do yourself a favour and brush up a bit on your local knowledge. We’ve listed everything from setting up a bank account, to where you can head for the best brunch in the city, so you can properly enjoy your time in the best city in the world.
Yes, there’s now 5% VAT on everything
Decades of tax-free living came to an end in 2018 with the introduction of VAT the UAE in January. But set at five percent, the new levy seems a small figure when compared to 150 countries already implementing VAT or a similar method of taxation (in the UK, for example, VAT is 20 percent). The tax applies to everything from eating out to petrol to hotel stays.
But school fees have been frozen for the next year
School fees can be rather pricey in Dubai, but the good news is that they’ve been frozen for the academic year that started in September 2018.The Dubai Executive Council ordered in June that fees at private schools across the city would not be increased in order to reduce the financial burden on parents, meaning you’ll have more funds freed up for Dubai’s many theme parks, waterparks and animal attractions.
You’ll need a letter from your company to set up your bank account
Opening your bank account in Dubai can be a little bit trickier than what you’re used to. You’ll need a letter of no objection from your sponsor and you may need a salary certificate, depending on your bank. Many banks allow you to apply online or over the phone, though you’ll need to appear in person to provide your passport (including visa pages).
The week starts on a Sunday
The official rest days in the UAE are Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being the start of the working week. Most brunches fall on a Friday afternoon, and the weekends are also an excellent time to hit one of Dubai’s many beaches, many of which have day packages, or head to one of the public beaches for a freebie.
There are three mobile providers to choose from
Take your pick from du, Etisalat and Virgin Mobile. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the providers and all three offer post-paid and pre-paid mobile services – so basically a pay-as-you-go and a billing option. You can also get phones with a monthly payment plan with prices depending on the models. Data packages in the UAE can be a little more expensive than you might be used to in other countries, but Virgin Mobile offers a “pay for what you actually use” service that provides a flexible plan you can change month to month.
Taxis are cheap – but the Metro is excellent
Taxis are the most common way of getting around in Dubai. They’re well-maintained, air-conditioned, and they’ll cost you around Dhs1.82 per kilometre. Fares start at Dhs5 when flagged and the minimum fare is Dhs12. That being said, the Dubai Metro is a brilliant way of getting around. The cheapest way to travel is in standard class, with a single journey starting at Dhs3 and rising to Dhs7.5. The lines stretch from one end of the city to the other, stopping at most major destinations, including Dubai Marina, Business Bay and Old Dubai.
Pretty much everything delivers to your door
Theoretically, once moving to Dubai, you need never leave your home again (if you didn’t mind turning your back on the many brunches, pool clubs, ladies’ nights and the like). Practically everything delivers to your door, including food, laundry, groceries, pharmacy… the list goes on as the step count goes down.
Finding a place to live happens really quickly…
Nowhere to live? No problem. You can be on the verge of homelessness one day in Dubai and living in the pad of your dreams the next. Not because you’ve suddenly come into wads of cash, but because the rental market moves so fast. It’s probably worth looking a couple of weeks in advance of your moving date, but once you’ve found the home of your dreams be prepared to act fast before someone else takes it from under your nose. It’s common to be expected to be ready to move into a place the same week you find it.
Rental payments and estate agents operate slightly differently here
One of the biggest differences you’ll notice is that the majority of Dubai landlords are still fairly reluctant to let you pay your rent on a monthly basis. Many will ask you to meet your annual costs in just four, three or two cheques – or even stump up the whole lot at once (though this is becoming less and less common). Multiple cheques are becoming more common, but be prepared to negotiate. If you can stump up the cash in fewer cheques, you may be able to get yourself a better deal. On estate agents – if you find your apartment or villa listing on sites such as Dubizzle, don’t expect to be shown around the property. Many agents will simply ensure the place is left unlocked, and leave you to your own devices. You’ll still have to pay them their five percent, unfortunately.
But the good news is rent has become 5.8 percent more affordable this year
According to ProperyFinder.ae’s August trends report, rents in Dubai have become 5.8 percent more affordable in the past six months, and by 18.3 percent over the past two years. The cheapest place to rent an apartment in Dubai is Al Nahda, while the most expensive is in Downtown Dubai (though you’ll be a stone’s throw away from The Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Opera).
Getting a driving licence is relatively easy (if you already have one in your home country)
Getting back behind the wheel is a smoother ride if you already have a driving licence from one of a list of 36 approved countries (see www.dubai.ae for the full list). All you need then is your passport, a residence permit copy, your current driving licence, a no-objection letter from your sponsor, an eye-test certificate and Dhs870. We didn’t say it was cheap…
You need a licence to drink alcohol
If you want to consume, store or transport alcohol in this city, you need to have an alcohol licence. It’s the law. You will need copies of your passport, visa, labour contract, a passport photograph and tenancy contract in order to submit an application for a licence. Once you’ve submitted the paperwork and paid the Dhs270 fee, it will take four weeks to receive your licence. Once it’s ready for you to collect, it often comes with vouchers for restaurants and bars across the city that are worth at least Dhs270 fee you paid.
We have two national sports
Shopping and eating. Dubai is home to an astonishing number of shopping malls, each one larger, grander and more mind-blowingly city-like than the next. They’ve got ice rinks in them. They’ve got ski slopes in them. They’ve got shark-filled aquariums in them. And as an homage to the other national sport, they’ve also got an absolute abundance of restaurants in them, alongside world-beating food courts. At least all that shopping will work off those extra burgers.
The best restaurant in Dubai is Il Borro Tuscan Bistro
Because this is need-to-know information. This classy Italian works with ingredients supplied by the original estate in Tuscany, and this is reflected in the taste and quality. Simple, yet delicious, the fresh produce does the talking in the dishes here, all of which are served up in an upmarket, yet unstuffy environment. Inside boasts white tablecloths and olive trees, while outside you’ll enjoy views over Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel’s Turtle Lagoon.
One of Dubai’s best budget restaurant is Hanoi Naturally
Looking for pho? Look no further. Cheap, cheerful and authentic. Tasty dishes, cooked well at a good price. This Vietnamese restaurant is as authentic as they come. From the no-frills cafeteria-style interiors to the eye-poppingly strong Vietnamese coffee, this is a transporting dining experience at a fraction of the cost of the flight ticket. And then some.
The best bar in Dubai is Lock Stock & Barrel JBR – The Walk
LSB 2.0, as it is affectionately known, is the party bar to end all party bars. This is the bigger, newer version of the Barsha Heights original, and it won Bar of the Year at Time Out Dubai’s Music & Nightlife Awards 2018 back in March. Despite its enormous size, it continues to be packed out on a regular basis, which is some feat. It’s lively, home to one of the best party brunches in the city, and is as much fun as its older sister. A true knockout on the JBR scene.
The best pub in Dubai is The Irish Village
A Dubai institution, going strong for more than two decades, The Irish Village and its enduring presence continues to charm hordes of expats every week. Its large garden and homely feel make it a wonderfully low-key favourite among residents. With regular live music, good food and a great vibe, The Irish Village should be your default pub option.
The best brunch in Dubai is Zuma
Picking up the Brunch of the Year gong for the second year in a row, this world-famous Japanese pulls out all the stops time after time. Dig into a range of sushi, sashimi, salad and maki rolls from the cold buffet before moving onto a hot section packed full of rotaba and tempura. Mains are served to the table and include that global superstar – the black cod. The brunch goes on a break for summer, and returns to the roster every winter.
The best ladies’ night in Dubai is The Penthouse
Yes, ladies’ nights are thing in Dubai. Every night of the week, there are bars across the city serving up free drinks and bargain dinner deals for the fairer gender. The Penthouse barged its way onto the Dubai nightlife scene earlier this year, bringing with it some stonking views of New Dubai, plus mega Saturday pool parties and high-octane Thursday EDM night, Skyline. Every Tuesday, ladies’ can get three free drinks at the bar on the rooftop of the FIVE Palm Jumeirah Dubai.
Dubai’s best beach bar is Barasti
Another titan of the scene, Barasti is perennially popular, and not just because of its big screen. It serves great food and the vibe on the main middle deck is properly chilled-out. Let’s not forget the pool downstairs and an awesome beachside hangout with a dancefloor on the sand. Which is needed when this place kicks off with regular major music festivals that you’ll find on the calendar throughout the winter months.
The best club in Dubai is BASE
When this open-air super-club in d3 launched, it brought with it some of the biggest names from the world of music, like 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Axwell formerly of Swedish House Mafia and more. It’s still bringing and the 3,000-capacity club is filling out regularly with ease. This is the place for Dubai’s most partying of party people. It’s closed over summer, but returns on September 21 for the winter season.