Dubai is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai, one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is the largest city of the UAE and is seen as the global business, trade and transport hub of the Middle East. Oil revenues accelerated the development of Dubai and its modern infrastructure in the past. Nowadays the economy relies on trade, tourism, aviation, real estate, and financial services, while oil counts for less than 5% of the emirate’s revenue.
The urban area of Dubai covers 3,885 sq. km and the city is roughly 35 sq. km. A network of well-maintained roads, an integrated network of state of the art trains and buses as well as hundreds of taxis ensure that you can travel cheaply and easily around the city and beyond. Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic and the sixth busiest cargo airport. The Al Maktoum International Airport near Jebel Aliis is expected become the world’s largest airport once its expansion is completed.
Dubai’s population is 3.2 million (2018), but only about 15% are nationals. The majority are low-income migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Iran, Egypt, Nepal and China. There is also a significant number of high-income expats from the UK, South Africa, the US, Canada, France and Australia, many of whom stay longer than just a couple of years. All in all, Dubai is a socially stratified society with an extremely wealthy upper class, a large middle class and an extensive, but largely unseen, laborer class. The median age is 27 years, while there are three times more men than women due to the high number of foreign laborer with families staying in their home countries.
Arabic is the official language in Dubai, however, the majority of the population doesn’t speak Arabic. In particular among the low-income laborers from the Indian subcontinent, there are only other major languages spoken. So Emiratis are often forced to speak Hindi or Urdu to communicate with the migrant labor force. Due to the high level of expats in business, English is widely used as a lingua franca within the city.
The Emirate of Dubai is a constitutional monarchy that is ruled by the Al Maktoum family. Via an electoral college the citizens vote representatives to the Federal National Council of the UAE. Historically, the (deputy) ruler of Dubai is also the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
Islam the official state religion, approximately 60% of the residents are Muslim.
Expat life in Dubai
Dubai is home to the regional headquarters of many multinational firms as well as an ambitious ruling family. With tax-free incomes and top modern facilities and services provided, the average standard of living for expats from Western countries is high. That is why in many surveys Dubai is ranked top for quality of life, quality of healthcare and quality of education and childcare year after year.
Besides, Dubai is practically crime and violence free. You can travel around the city on public transport in total safety, day and night. Locals are seen as extremely hospitable, generous, family oriented and friendly, while the international atmosphere makes the city the most attractive option in the region for expats from all around the world.
Where to live
Dubai is an extremely large city. While roads are well-maintained and public transport is cheap, getting a house near your workplace is still advisable due to high traffic during rush hour. Living on the fringes of the prestigious Palm Jumeirah, for example, can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare when relying on public transport or car journeys to get to work somewhere on the other side of town.
There are many very beautiful residential areas which are also very expensive. Other places might look extremely rundown, so you don’t want to live there as a foreigner. It might be best to ask for recommendations from expats in your company.
In good areas, the minimum rent for a one-bedroom-apartment might be as high as 1,000 $ per month. On top of a high upfront deposit you will be asked to pay your annual rent by two to six post-dated cheques. Your landlord won’t cash them early, but wants to have security that all due payments during the year will be made. It is also possible that a landlord requests only one annual rent cheque upfront. Tenants with a good track record, however, can use it as a leverage to get the rent spread across more cheques. Like most things in Dubai, rent rates and payment terms are negotiable. Be very careful what you agree to, since a bounced cheque can land you in jail.