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Dubai Mini Guide

"All the world's a stage" or in Dubai's case "All the world's an island". Its history reads like a tale of rags to riches, transformed from a sleepy fishing village into a verdant financial and commercial hub. Boasting man-made islands, super luxury hotels and gleaming office blocks, complimented by legitimate tax-free living and an idyllic climate, the evolution of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) has been both dramatic and mesmerising.

No longer looking over its shoulder at 'The West'; the likes of Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain are actively demonstrating what the U.A.E can do on its own. With reports citing an 18% growth in population by 2010, unsurprisingly, the imitable Middle Eastern lifestyle is seducing increasing numbers of British expatriates annually.

Moving abroad, however, is a huge and complex decision. Apart from emotional considerations concerning family and friends, there are issues around citizenship, financial arrangements, pensions, tax, healthcare costs, residential status, property purchase and rentals that you will need to bear in mind.

This may sound overwhelming, but it is surprising how many people launch into moving abroad based on little more than the tenuous assumption that the 'grass will be greener'.

Whether you're pursuing a dream of working or retiring abroad, looking to give your family a better life or working for a multinational that is offering you a transfer, emigrating can be successful and rewarding providing you do the homework and prepare thoroughly.


Tax is taxing even in one's own country. Presented with an unfamiliar system, the problems are often compounded.

One of the key reasons behind expat fascination with the U.A.E is because it doesn't levy tax on personal income earned in the emirate. There are also no withholding taxes - such as dividends, interest or royalties either. Whilst currently there is also no VAT in the emirate, the U.A.E as a whole is planning the introduction of VAT in the near future.

Notifying the Inland Revenue and National Insurance Contributions Service about your impending move is essential. The latter will also be able to inform you of whether your pension is payable abroad and whether your NI contributions should continue. People often believe that by upping and leaving they can avoid tax payments, however in many cases they might actually be missing out on a sizable tax rebate.

If you are retiring abroad, seek independent tax advice about the benefits of offshore banking, as this could reduce your tax liability depending on where you are living. Visit Halifax International's offshore savings pages ( for simple and easy ways to save offshore.


Before you make the decision to emigrate, it's essential to ensure your finances are properly planned and that realistic budgets are in place.

Bank accounts? To remain known in the UK by financial institutions and retain your credit limit, many people opt to leave their UK bank accounts open, especially if regular payments such as transferring UK pensions or rental returns from a UK property, are to be made from there. An offshore savings account or offshore bank account may also be beneficial for long-term savings and for tax planning. Offshore savings can be held in various worldwide currencies. However you will also need to open a local bank account when you arrive in Dubai as this is mandatory for salary transfers when you live and work in the UAE. With a great selection of top international banks with local product offerings, as well as a range of UAE banks, there is plenty of choice for expats moving to Dubai.

Handsome remuneration packages are often one of the plus points of relocating. And, since you'll be legitimately spared from paying tax on your income when you move to Dubai, it's a saving that can be utilised if you save and invest wisely. Financial advice is widely available in the U.A.E, but for reputable and qualified assistance make sure the individual is licensed by the Central Bank of Dubai. Considering a financial institution with a global reach will however give you the capacity to manage your affairs should you wish to relocate again or repatriate, without having to go through the often onerous process of setting up foreign accounts.

For those considering retirement abroad, it's advisable to get a pension forecast from the Inland Revenue as entitlements vary according to the country of residence. Private pensions should be payable worldwide but its advisable to check this with your company in order to confirm payment arrangements if you move.

Cost of Living

Dubai is an expensive city, the cost of living has spiralled over the past five years owing to rising house prices and inflation, so this should be factored in. Living accommodation is expensive as is private education if you still have children who are studying. If you are negotiating a 'package' with your employers before moving out to Dubai, keep in mind that the cost of living for a western expat is at least as high as it is in Central London. A number of websites offer detailed breakdowns into the cost of living that are an invaluable for planning:


Attracting in the region of 800 new residents a day, equating to 33 an hour, the demand for rental properties in Dubai has been strong of recent years. Unfortunately for tenants, this has resulted in skyrocketing rents and has put accommodation in the central locales of Dubai and Abu Dhabi out of reach of many. As such this has left many opting for the more reasonable priced localities of Ajman, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.

Owing to the high cost of renting it's worth noting that approximately half of U.A.E residents spend about 30% or more of their salary on accommodation expenses. Despite this, rather than committing to a purchase, it still may be wise to rent for a time, to see how things work out. Plus, the government has now imposed legislation stipulating that any rent increase shall not exceed 7% of the annual lease price, which should offer relief to many.

As with other aspects of life in the U.A.E, regulations differ to the UK. Unlike in many countries where rent is paid on a monthly basis, in Dubai the entire year's rent is paid upfront by post dated cheque. Beyond familiar requirements such as a deposit and reference, the basic necessities required by the landlord in the U.A.E include; a copy of a residence permit, a no-objection letter from the person's employer, real estate commission, and a copy of the employers trade licence. If a company is paying the rent on behalf of an individual, a copy of the person signing the rent cheque's passport will also be sought.

To minimise the risks of using a disreputable property agent the Dubai Property Group at contains a list of member companies that adhere to the group's code of ethics.

Law & Culture

Daily life can be unsettling at first, but with only around a quarter of the emirate's population being ethnically Emirati, in a population mixture that has to be one of the world's most cosmopolitan, this diversity discourages any real ethnic tensions. Nonetheless there are pertinent cultural differences that have been brought into sharp focus of late.

Fuelled with excitement, in the rush to start a new life in the U.A.E, many expats overlook the differences in local laws. It is worth being mindful that much of what is tolerated at home could well be a punishable offence in the U.A.E. With penalities ranging from imprisonment to deportation, although a number of couples risk it, officially it is illegal for unmarried couples to cohabit. Furthermore, although it is basic common sense to adopt business dress when visiting any government, office or business building, it's interesting to note that it is actually a government offense not to assume this attire. This is also a country where alcohol must be hidden in a paper bag when transporting and consumed in designated areas, and where bouncing a cheque will invoke a much harsher reaction than an officious letter from the bank - this is also illegal!

With high profile cases hitting the world's headlines in recent years of visitors being jailed for carrying prescription medicines, Dubai's hardline stance on drugs is also not to be taken lightly. However, whilst some of the other laws are not necessarily strictly enforced, it is worth being aware of the various sensitivities and where the lines are drawn in day-to-day existence, and to respect the culture and religion of the UAE.


Young or old, there's something for everyone. The social side of life in the U.A.E is fantastic and diverse.

Dubai has a penchant for grand projects - offering lush championship golf courses in one of the most arid areas of the planet, water slides that send riders hurtling up to 50mph and ski slopes in the desert; the city seems to know no end to its ambition, nor does it have any inhibitions. With more ostentatious projects just finished, such as the Dubai Mall (the world's largest mall) last November, this is a shopaholics paradise.

In regions where there are a high proportion of expatriates, look out for voluntary associations formed to assist new and existing non nationals to settle. These groups are often active in organising social events and will provide support services in response to local needs.

For those expats who have escaped the financial challenges of the current climate, many choose to become members of hotel or private beach clubs where there are a multitude of facilities to enjoy during the day. By night, offering an abundance of exquisite restaurants and chic clubs, Dubai's social scene plays host to a myriad of tastes. Timeout Dubai ( offers a great insight into Dubai's best restaurants, nightlife, films, things to do and places to see. Those in search of a quieter, more family focused lifestyle might favour the lifestyle of Bahrain or Qatar.

If you're a horse racing fan, drawing spectators and riders from the international world and graced by the presence of the ruler of Dubai, the Dubai World Cup ( is the world's richest horse race with stakes running into the millions.

The government does operate a higher degree of censorship on things like film and access to websites, however. This may take some adjusting to for those Brits used to the 'idiosyncrasies' of British TV. Some, nevertheless, may find a return to more family-friendly entertainment refreshing.


The prospect of moving to another country may seem daunting, but can be highly rewarding given proper research and planning. Taking professional advice on as many topics as possible as well as talking to those who already live, or have lived, in the U.A.E will give you the greatest chance of success. There are a vast number of expat blogs, website and forums out there, where you can find a wealth of on the ground information that will ensure that you 'hit the sand' running when you arrive in the U.A.E. "The Dubai Explorer", issued by Explorer is also a great book, which provides advice on everything you need to know about moving to Dubai, from Visa's and working regulations, to shopping and taxi's.

To do list

1. Sort out Visa and Passport - Check passports have at least 2 years remaining

Foreign & Commonwealth Office


2. Understand shipping costs and obtain quotes

Shipping International

UAE Interact

3. Ask your bank for credit references

4. Switch to online banking & statements

5. Credit cards & unpaid debts - receive full closing statements

6. Cancel direct debits and standing orders (utilities & service providers)

7. Inform official organisations - DVLA, NI Service, Inland Revenue

8. Open an offshore account

Halifax International

9. Obtain handover files from your dentist & doctor

10. Obtain temporary accommodation

Dubai Property

11. Identify and register children in school

BSME: British Schools in the Middle East


Schools and Universities in Dubai

12. Organise transfer of family pets


Passport for Pets

13. Talk to other expats

Dubai Forum

Get a Skype account for cheap and easy internet telephony communications

Money Management Case Study

Paul McMillan (36) originally from Kilmarnock, on the west coast of Scotland, has been living in Dubai since August 2008, working in the oil and gas industry.

As a Halifax customer for 16 years in the UK, when he moved to Dubai Paul decided to open an offshore account with Halifax International in order to manage his finances effectively. Such accounts are specifically designed to meet the needs of British expatriates who are resident abroad.

Paul in fact opened four Halifax International offshore accounts - a sterling Web Saver, a dollar Web Saver, a euro Web Saver and a Regular Saver. Paul chooses to transfer as much of his earnings as possible into these accounts every month as an insurance measure, and to avoid certain restrictions which can be placed on funds held in Dubai bank accounts. He uses the Web Saver accounts to transfer money into and between the offshore accounts depending on the best exchange rates at the time, enabling him to save effectively and make his money go further. The Regular Saver account enables him to pay between A3100 and A32,000 per month into his account by standing order. Paul highlights that thanks to the Internet and telephone banking, the process of transferring money between his accounts in the UK, Dubai, and offshore is convenient and simple.

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