Life in Dubai

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by Jamie Marshall

What is life in Dubai like? Dubai is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE a country officially formed in 1972) although there had been a long standing association between these emirates under British protection before that. Officially, Dubai is an Arabic speaking country, but many signs are in both Arabic and English. English is the most commonly spoken language perhaps because it is the most convenient way for the diverse population to communicate.

The population of Dubai is roughly 2 million and rising. The Emirati citizens are in the minority both in Dubai and the UAE as the majority of people are expatriates from all over the world. Dubai is a socially stratified society with a very wealthy upper class, a large middle class and an extensive, but largely unseen, laborer class. Because of the dependence on an expatriate unskilled labor force to undertake the construction of Dubai, there are many more men than women in Dubai. This does not cause problems as groups of men are discouraged from frequenting areas where women and families spend time.


Islam is the religion of Dubai and the city is dotted with elegant mosques. On the whole, it is wise to assume that the mosques are not open to non-Muslims; however, the Jumeirah Mosque is open to people of all faiths. It also offers a brief introduction to Islamic practices at a cost of AED10. Other more informative or involving activities are available.

Islam requires that both men and women dress modestly. However, Dubai is a liberal city. Emiratis are proud to wear their national dress, both men and women, but do not expect this of foreigners. Although there are signs at the entrance to the large malls requesting visitors to dress modestly, there is no requirement for expatriate women to wear the traditional hijab (headscarf) and abaya (full length coat). To dress modestly avoid: revealing your midriff, wearing very short shorts or any type of backless outfit. If you want to show respect to the Emirati people it is best for women to wear clothing that covers the body to the knees and the shoulders. Some people prefer to wear skimpy tops because of the heat but carry a shawl to wrap around them in the malls. This is a sensible precaution as the air-conditioning can make the malls quite cool.

Dubai has a very open approach to religious observance and has donated land to religious groups to allow them to build houses of worship. Some religious groups do not have the resources to build their own church, so it is common to share a building or to have services in hotels or private houses.


The city of Dubai is strung out along the Arabian Gulf. Dubai was originally centered on Dubai Creek with pearl diving and fishing being important to the economy along with being a trading hub in the region. The city has extended inland more and more as it has grown.

Due to the initiatives of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, approximately 15 years ago Dubai began a construction program that saw the infrastructure race ahead in an attempt to keep up with the vast numbers of people attracted to the area. The Emirates Road is a multi-lane highway that connects Dubai to the northern emirates. Within Dubai itself the city is laced together with motorways and smaller roads, and three multi-lane bridges span the creek and keep traffic flowing on key motorways. There may be some traffic congestion at peak times on smaller roads and Sheikh Zayed Road, but on the whole, traffic delays are kept to a minimum these days within Dubai. Traveling from Dubai to Sharjah at peak traffic times is not such a smooth affair, however.

The Salik toll gates operate on the main feeder roads in and around Dubai. At present the charge for use is a modest AED 4 each time. To use Salik, you have to register to get a sticker for the windscreen. Then, the charge is taken automatically as you go through the tollgate making it a very efficient system. /

The Metro in conjunction with the bus system provides fast efficient transport for many of Dubai’s workers and serves the city well. For those without a car, taxis are freely available.

Visa Entry

Due to the close ties with Britain, British citizens have always had easy access to the UAE. The UAE has been quick to offer visit visas at the border to those countries that have offered the same to Emiratis. So it is very easy for most Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders and North Americans to enter Dubai. A guide to obtaining a visit visa for other nationalities can be found on the Dubai government website.

Work Visas

The process for getting a work visa is quite complicated and depends on the level of education of the individual, the job description and the company you will be working for. This cannot be done without the assistance of your employer. Although some people come to Dubai as visitors, make contact with a prospective employer get an offer and settle in Dubai, it is not always that straight forward. Especially if you have a family, it is better to have everything in place before you bring your family to Dubai.

Although Dubai has taken major steps to reduce its paper heavy bureaucracy, there are still some stumbling blocks. Make sure you get reliable advice on the following:

What documents have to be attested? These could include marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates and all your qualifications. If your wife/husband expects to work as well, then it is worth getting all qualifications attested at the same time.

What does verification/attestation involve? It could be that a document just has to be attested by an official in your country of origin, but sometimes the documents then have to be attested by the UAE embassy in your country.

The key thing is to ask your employer about this until you are sure that it is all being dealt with. Some big companies have a lot of power and can get things done that smaller companies cannot.

Drivers Licenses

Getting a driver’s license transferred is a simple process for many nationalities. To find out if you are amongst the lucky ones follow this link.

If you have to sit for a driver’s license, it may be necessary to go through a period of training with one of the approved driving schools. Some people struggle to pass the practical test, so good luck.


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