Dubai is situated on the Persian Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates, directly within the Arabian Desert. The city has no natural river bodies or oases, but does have a natural inlet, Dubai Creek, which has been dredged to make it deep enough for large vessels to pass through. Dubai is an important tourist destination and its port, Jebel Ali, constructed in the 1970s, has the largest man-made harbor in the world. Dubai is increasingly developing as a hub for service industries such as technology and finance.
Of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has the largest population. Dubai’s population comprises mainly of expatriates, with UAE nationals constituting the minority. According to the UAE Ministry of Labor, more than one million residents of Dubai, or 83% of the population is foreign born. The majority of foreign nationals hail from India (51%), followed by Pakistan (16%). Dubai is home to some 100,000 Western Expats.
The official language of Dubuai is Arabic but English is widely spoken, especially in the business sector. Since most road and shop signs, restaurant menus, etc., are in both English and Arabic, one could live quite easily in this city without speaking Arabic. Persian, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Tagalog also widely spoken.
Dubai has a desert climate with temperatures ranging from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 118 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Rainfall is infrequent and UAE residents term the climate as “seven months in paradise and five more in an inferno.” The warm climate makes it acceptable to wear shorts and T-shirts however, as Dubai is a Muslim city, visitors should be aware of their attire: shoulders should be covered and women should avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing.
All visitors, except for nationals of the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council (AGCC), which includes visitors from Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, will need to have a visa sponsored by a local entity such as a hotel or tour company. British citizens with the right of abode in the UK and expatriate residents of the AGCC of certain nationalities and professions may qualify for automatic 30 day visit visas on arrival, but regulations should be checked before traveling.
There are several items that should not be brought into the UAE including alcohol, pornography, ivory, drugs, walkie talkies, remote & cordless telephones, religious items (crosses, Buddhas, videos with biblical images), firearms, ammunition, draggers, knives, swords and spears.
The unit of currency is the UAE Dirham (Dh), and there are 100 fils in each Dirham. The Dirham is available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 notes and in 25 fils, 50 fils. For every day purchases, such as groceries, cash and credit cards are commonly used. Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are available around the clock.
The most popular neighborhoods for expats are areas such as Jumeirah, Umm Sequim, Emirates Lakes, Emirates Hills, Mirdiff for villas and Bur Dubai & Sheikh Zayed for apartments. Each of these areas is prized for its proximity to good schools and shopping. Most expats tend to rent, as until recently they were not allowed to own property in the UAE. However, beginning in the Summer 2002, this started changing. Today, many expatriate subdivisions (including the Dubai Marina, The Greens, The Meadows, Arabian Ranches, the Palm Project, etc.) are available with the option to buy.
For Expats renting a home in Dubai, their rent is usually paid by check. To open a bank account, a passport and visa (or application) will be needed. A work contract or No Objection Letter from a sponsor and a document that can identify one as a local resident, such as a utility bill or driver’s license, may suffice. Non-residents are not able to open bank accounts.
Due to the high expatriate population, the educational system in Dubai is extremely diverse. English is the most common teaching language. The majority of the British curriculum schools have waiting lists and availability of other schools will vary depending on the time of the year the student will be enrolling. Local schools generally have three terms: Autumn, which runs from mid-September to mid-December; Spring, which runs from early January to early April; and Summer, which runs from mid-April through early July.
For university education, many expatriates tend to send their children back to their home country or to Western countries. Even though Dubai has plans to increase more accredited colleges, they continue to send 90% of all potential secondary school students to India for a stronger technological education. A sizable number of foreign accredited universities have been set up in the city over the last ten years. More and more ‘A’ level and International Baccalaurate education institutions are being establishing in the region.
Driving is the most popular mode of transport in Dubai, where people drive on the right hand side of the road. Valid license holders from certain countries will be able to “swap” their licenses for a Dubai one. These countries are: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States.
Anyone holding a license from a country not listed above will have to take a local driving test. It is mandatory for front seat passengers to wear seatbelts in cars and it is illegal for children under the age of 10 to sit in the front seat. Taxis are plentiful and neighborhood buses are available but most people prefer to drive. If it’s convenient, the abra, a water taxi that crosses Dubai Creek, is another option. There are also buses that provide transportation to many destinations including outside Dubai and throughout the Emirates.
Stores in Dubai are generally open for longer hours than in other countries. Many are open from 10:00am to 10:00pm, with the exception of Fridays when they may be open from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Some of the smaller shops keep to the old tradition of closing for a siesta from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. Dubai has international food companies, white goods stores and pharmacies, all selling a wide variety of items at competitive prices. There are retail outlets to suit most shapes, sizes and budgets. There are also many local tailors who will make virtually anything at a reasonable cost.
For the children, Dubai is comparable to many large towns throughout Europe or North America with a wide range of activities tailored especially for the youngsters. Some of the more popular kid-friendly attractions in the area are softball parks, Wild Wadi Water Park, Dubai Zoo, Cyber Games Park, Children’s City, Wonderland Theme Park and Magic Planet. There are many activities available both during weekends and after school, ranging from sports to arts. One important thing to remember is that the hot sun of Dubai can be very dangerous for young children. It is essential that they drink plenty of water and use sun block.
Like most major cities, Dubai’s malls are a very popular gathering place for teenagers. To help teenagers learn more about the culture and local customs, a good source of information is the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural understanding. This organization hosts an array of opportunities such as Mosque visits with explanations, and “Question & Answer” sessions.
Dubia has a impressive nightlife, a variety of sports and beach clubs, etc., where singles and married couples and families can easily meet others who share their interests. Most Dubai residents have at one point been new to the city. This being the case, Emiratis are eager to welcome newcomers and are well known for being welcoming, hospitable, tolerant and friendly.