Dubai Living Abroad

Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving to Dubai

Thinking of moving to Dubai? I lived there for three years. I think friends had visions of me enjoying a glamorous lifestyle when they discovered that I had relocated to the UAE. Whilst I did have a good time, the first nine months were tough. As it turns out, the reality is very different to perception. Personally, it was an extremely difficult period of my life. In recent times, friends, friends of friends and so forth, have asked for my advice on moving to Dubai. I wish I had known these before moving to Dubai. To be honest, if I had known some of these in advance, I may have reconsidered leaving the UK…

Renting in Dubai

Unless you are relocating through a company, I would strongly advise against moving to Dubai blindly. Don’t do what I did; take the first job offered because the company looks and sounds nice. For instance, what no one tells you is that renting in Dubai is not cheap and you have to spend a lot of money up front to put a roof over your head. The minimum amount you can expect to drop is four months rent advance. Some landlords will ask for a year upfront. Then, you will need to pay a £200 deposit on your electricity/water (DEWA), agency commission and a refundable security deposit. Cheques are paid quarterly, but you must postdate them and send to the landlord. In 2014, I moved from my previous apartment to a new area of Dubai. My one bedroom apartment, including security deposit, DEWA connection, agency commission, moving costs et cetera, came to over £5,000. Let’s look at the DEWA bill for a minute. If there is an outstanding debt from the previous tenant, you have to pay it off. Oh, and my costs do not include the cost of purchasing furniture!

Landlords in Dubai are famous for illegal eviction. This happened to me, and it’s quite distressing. In my case, my landlord emailed me 30 minutes after I landed in Dubai, having had fibroid surgery. I was furious! The Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) laws are quite clear: For a landlord to give you notice of eviction, he/she must serve you 12 months notice and it has to be notarised by a court. Your landlord sending an email does not cut it. Neither does a month’s notice. A lot of landlords tried this stunt at the end of 2013 when Dubai won the Expo 2020 in a bid to re-rent properties at exorbitant rates. All my friends who experienced this issue and reported their landlords to RERA won their cases. My friend’s landlord had to pay her expenses as well when he lost the case. He was not amused!


Moving to Dubai: Autumn, Jumeirah Village Circle, my old apartment block
My old apartment block, but not the one that I was illegally evicted from!

Working in Dubai

A lot of companies advantage of the fact that newcomers who recently moved to Dubai have no idea what the laws are. Some of the issues that have cropped up are as follows:

  • The company holds passport: According to the British Embassy in Dubai, this is illegal. There is no law in the UAE that permits a company to hold onto your passport for any reason. Or certainly not when I enquired in 2012 at any rate. If you are a British Citizen and for any reason, your employer wants to keep your passport or refuses to return it, that’s a big no-no. Contact the embassy directly. In my case, they provided me with a list of lawyers to contact pro-Bono – you will have to tell them that the British Embassy asked you to call them so that the lawyer does not charge you. I can’t speak about the other embassies. However, when a similar thing happened to a Brazillian friend of mine, I insisted she contact her embassy, and they were willing to reissue her a new passport. Just remember, as of the time I’m writing this post, there is no law in the UAE that permits a company to seize your passport.
  • Repatriation: Some companies refuse to pay the repatriation ticket back to an employee’s home country. This is not allowed, but do check with the Labour Office if you are unsure of your situation. A lawyer friend in Dubai told me that the company has to pay your repatriation ticket regardless of whether or not you are terminated. I have had many friends cheated out of money by dubious companies they worked for. Oh and some companies come up with the most outrageous list of fees to be paid, including as an irate friend told me, ‘Agency Fees’. It’s worth noting that there was nothing I could find that be classified as Agency Fees.
  • Labour Contracts vs. Offer Letter – A lot of my friends after moving to Dubai, signed offer letters. These letters were issued by their respective companies and contained a lot of fluff. Things like, if you leave, you repay the company for the ticket and expenses they spent bringing you into Dubai et cetera. However, the Labour Contracts are filed by the Government of Dubai and these are the only legally binding contracts. Your confirmation letter is not. Have a read through the contract, the company’s burden is stated clearly. If for any reason, you are leaving the company you joined and are in doubt, visit the Labour Office. A lot of the time, what companies do is take advantage of your lack of knowledge and basically break the law. And they get away with it too because few people report them.
Moving to Dubai: My UAE residency.
Moving to Dubai: My UAE residency.

Taking out a loan in Dubai

Moving to Dubai is glamorous to a point, but the simplest of things, like paying rent, is a nightmare because of the upfront costs. Whatever you do, do not take out a bank loan, especially for items such as rent. I cannot stress this enough. Once you open a bank account the bank will hound you mercilessly, offering credit cards and loans. Your rent must be paid in advance. This makes renting in Dubai expensive. A lot of people moving to Dubai cannot necessarily afford this, (imagine having to pay £20k+ for a 12-month advance on rent), some companies in the UAE advance the money to their employees and subtract monthly, but not all do this. What happens (I was lucky to be able to avoid this), is that people take out large loans to place a roof over their head. Now, imagine you do that, and then lose your job. You are in a foreign country, which is always harder. But the laws in the UAE could be different to yours. Truthfully, you might not be able to leave the country unless you have paid your debt, which is impossible to do without a job. I currently have a few friends back in Dubai drowning in debt right now.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer nor qualified to give legal advice. This post is based on my experiences, as well as friends in Dubai who faced similar issues. If you are planning to relocate to the UAE, it is good to keep these points in mind and also make sure to contact the necessary organisations for advice if you do encounter issues.