Once a small fishing settlement, Dubai today is a cosmopolitan city-state embodying both old and new, east and west. Visitors to the city will find ancient windtower houses along with modern high-rises, bustling souksas well as sophisticated shopping malls, raw desert along with lush green parks. Home to more than 674,000 people, the city is also the port of call for an increasing number of expatriates who lend a colorful and exciting mix to its customs, culture and cuisine.
Dubai is the second largest of the seven sheikdoms comprising the United Arab Emirates (UAE), formed in 1971 when Britain withdrew its presence from the Persian Gulf. The UAE’s most important port and commercial center, the city is located on the banks of the Dubai Creek, a natural deep water inlet that divides the city into the Diera district to the north and Bur Dubai to the south.
The discovery of oil in 1966 was followed by rapid development that laid the foundation for modern-day Dubai. Much of the credit for this development is attributable to the late Ruler, HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saced Al Maktoum, whose vision ensured Dubai’s oil revenues — although relatively modest by the standards of the region — were used to maximum effect.
Sheik Rashid’s work continues today under the present Ruler, HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, creating an advance infrastructure of transport facilities, schools, hospitals, tourism developments and other amenities.
A hot, sunny climate
Dubai has a sub-tropical climate with very little rain. Summers are exceptionally hot and humid, and winters are mild. The climate is most pleasant from November through the end of March, when temperatures range from 50F to 68F, and sometimes warmer. The weather turns hot from May to October, with July, August and September being the worst months. Temperatures at this time may exceed 113F and humidity is over 85%. Understandably, many people leave Dubai on holiday during the summer to escape the heat.
Getting around town
Expats will find that having a car in Dubai is a necessity due to the fact that most residential areas are located some distance from commercial zones. Taxis are readily available in the city. Some are equipped with meters, while fares for others are subject to negotiation between the driver and passenger.
Dubai has an extensive network of highways both in and around the city, but central areas of the city have changed little and can become quite congested, particularly during peak periods.
The lay of the land
Although Dubai’s official language is Arabic, English, Hindi, Urdu and Farsi are also widely spoken. Both Arabic and English are commonly used in business and commerce, so it is not necessary for expatriates to learn Arabic. They’ll find, however, that knowing at least a few phrases is both useful and appreciated.
The official monetary unit of Dubai is the Dirham (Dh), which is divided into 100 fils. The Dirham has stayed more or less constant against the US dollar since 1980 at approximately $US=Dh 3.67.
There are a number of established banks within the UAE that provide the usual commercial banking services. Since there is no exchange control and the Dirham is freely convertible, currency exchanges are easily made.
Generally, banks are open from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday, and from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Thursday. Some banks are also open from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
We recommend the Mashreq Bank for newcomers to Dubai, since it offers speedy service for obtaining check books and credit cards.
Telecommunications are excellent for both local and international calls, and phones have international direct dialing to most countries. Phone calls within Dubai are free. Full telex, fax and e-mail are also widely available.
To apply for a telephone line, expats will need a completed application from Etisalat (the local telephone company); a copy of a tenancy agreement; location map; the telephone number of a neighbor’s house; a valid resident visa; a copy of their labor card; and 250 Dhs.
Postal service in Dubai is also reliable and accommodates deliveries to most anywhere in the world.
A shopper’s paradise
One of Dubai’s greatest attractions is its shopping, which draws visitors from as far away as Eastern Europe, Africa and India. Souks or street markets sell everything from spices, fish and fresh vegetables, to gold and jewelry. Modern shopping malls boasting a wide range of shops, boutiques, restaurants and fast food outlets are found throughout the city. Shopping hours in Dubai are usually from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. or later. Most supermarkets stay open all day from Saturday to Thursday. All shops close for prayer on Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Expats will find there is no shortage of quality food in Dubai. Imported fresh and frozen meat is readily available in supermarkets and butcher shops. Fresh and long-life milk are also available, as is reconstituted powdered milk. Good fresh fish, imported vegetables and fruits can be purchased in local markets. The city’s tap water is considered drinkable, although many people prefer to drink bottled water.
Health and well-being
Basic modern medical care and medicines are available in the UAE’s main cities. As is true with any foreign assignment, expats should bring appropriate health and accident insurance documents and copies of any important medical records.
Aids testing is required for entry into the UAE member states. The testing must be performed upon the expat’s arrival in the UAE; tests performed in the US are not acceptable. For further information, contact the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates at (202) 338-6500.
Vaccinations should be considered for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid. A booster shot for polio is also advisable. For more detailed information, visit Shoreland’s Travel Health Online.
Getting down to business
The typical workweek in Dubai is between 40-45 hours for most commercial and professional firms. As is the case in all Muslim countries, Friday is the day of rest. Traditionally, the “weekend” for office personnel has been Thursday afternoon and Friday, although some companies are changing to a five-day week, with Friday and Saturday as the weekend.
Men generally wear dress pants, shirts and ties to the office (jackets are worn for important meetings), while women wear dresses, or a long-sleeved blouse and a skirt.
Leisure time activities
Dubai is home to a number of excellent recreational and sporting facilities. Its waterfront location makes it an ideal spot for all types of water sports — from diving and sailing to water-skiing and fishing. Other favorite pastimes for expats include golf (the Emirates Golf Club is home of the Desert Classic, and the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club hosts an event on the Asian PGA Tour), tennis, and squash. Many expat families also take trips into the desert in four-wheel drive vehicles to camp and enjoy the scenery.
Entering the UAE
The UAE Federal Authorities are primarily responsible for all immigration matters. Visitors who are in doubt about their visa requirements should contact their nearest UAE embassy or consulate, or the overseas offices of the Dubai Commerce and Tourism Promotion Board.
With a few exceptions, all visitors to Dubai must obtain visas sponsored by a local entity, such as a hotel, company or travel and tourism firm. A business visitor may enter Dubai using either a transit or visit visa. A transit visa enables the visitor to stay for a maximum of 14 days exclusive of arrival and departure. Those planning longer stays may prefer to enter the country with a visit visa, which entitles them to a stay of 30 days, which is renewable twice up to a total of 100 days. Visit visas also entitle their holders to change their status to that of residence or employment providing certain conditions are met.