UAE Expat Guide

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With 80% of its population being foreign born, the United Arab Emirates is a popular destination for expats, we take a closer look at what life is like for an expat in the UAE.

By Allianz Worldwide Care | February 13, 2017

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The UAE is made up of 7 self-governed emirates which formed a federation of hereditary absolute monarchies in 1971.

In its brief history the country has undergone a very rapid demographic transition. In 2015 the UAE's total population was 9.3 million, of which 1.4 million were Emirati citizens and 7.9 million were expatriates.

Expats moving to the UAE will encounter a modern country with progressive architecture, a desert landscape, a subtropical climate and world famous shopping malls.

Most expats move to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but Sharjah also has a growing expat community.

It should be borne in mind that the UAE is grounded in traditional Islamic roots, each emirate has varying degrees of Islamic religious conservatism. Expats should make themselves fully aware of the UAE laws and cultural practices, in order to successfully immerse themselves in this exciting country.

UAE quick facts

 

Main languages: Arabic, English is widely spoken

Population: 9.3 million

Main religion: Islam

Political system: Federal Islamic absolute monarchy

Currency: UAE dirham

Living and working in the UAE

 

Expats in the UAE enjoy a high standard of living in one of the Gulf regions most progressive countries.

With such a large expat community, newly arrived expats often find an easy transition to many aspects of life in the UAE.

A prime business destination due to a strong economy, most expats moving to the region choose to settle in Dubai. The 2016 Mercer Quality of Living Survey places Dubai 75th and Abu Dhabi 81st out of 221 cities evaluated on quality of life factors including political, economic, environmental, personal safety, health, education, transportation and other public service factors.

The extreme heat takes some getting used to for many expats, with temperatures hovering around 30°C in winter and reaching an intense 50°C in summer.

It is crucial that expats develop an awareness and be respectful of religious practice and traditions in the UAE, these traditions may have an impact on daily life and will require expats to dress in a more modest form wardrobe than they may choose in their home country. During Ramadan it is advisable to refrain from eating or drinking in public.

As with all new experiences and opportunities approach difference with an open mind, and immersion into life in the UAE will be rewarding.

Education in UAE

 

Like most popular expat destinations, The UAE offers expat families a choice of public and private school alternatives, all of which meet a high standard academically.

There are nine years of compulsory education, six years at primary level and three years at middle level. Following completion of middle school, pupils may opt to continue into secondary education.

There are two alternatives for secondary level schooling in the UAE. Regular secondary schools teach academic subjects aimed at a secondary school leaving certificate (the qualification for university education) for 3 years. Technical secondary schools are skills based, on completion pupils attain a technical secondary diploma.

Teaching in public schools is mainly through the local language, therefore many expat families opt to enrol their children in one of the many international schools.

Most expat families opt for an international school, of which the UAE has many excellent options, teaching various national curricula and the International Baccalaureate programme. In the best schools, competition for places is high and spaces are limited.

As these schools tend to be quite expensive, substantial financial pressure may be placed on expat families who do not have an education allowance built into their expat package.

It is essential that families thoroughly research the school options for expat children prior to settling on a school.

For more information visit the UAE Ministry of Education.

 

Cost of Living

 

Overall the cost of living in the UAE is high, despite the favourable tax climate.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi rank among the most expensive cities in the Gulf region. The largest expenses for most expats will be accommodation, education and healthcare.

A recent survey by HSBC found that for 88% of expats the cost of raising children in the UAE is more expensive than in their home country. 81% said moving to the UAE increased their childcare costs, while 91% said education costs increased.

Example costs*:

McDonalds meal AED 25 (€6.40)
Litre milk AED 6 (€1.50)
Pint of beer AED 40 (€10.25)
Broadband AED 312 per month (€79.00)
Studio apartment AED 6500 per month (€1,665.00)
Petrol AED 1.70 per litre (€0.40)
Public transport (monthly ticket) AED 270 (€69.15)

 

Healthcare

 

The health care system in UAE is a mixed public-private system. There is a public system for Emiratis with centralised management and financing models and there is a large and growing private sector in the main urban centres.

 

Public health care is organised in 2 tiers:

Primary care is delivered through primary healthcare centres in various levels based on location and size of population served. Hospital care is delivered through general and central specialised hospitals. Emiratis reflect a general lack of confidence in public medical facilities due to lack of local expertise and perceived high costs of care. There is a national strategy in place to reform public healthcare delivery services and to improve quality and efficiency.

 

Private health care services are increasing at a rapid rate everywhere in the UAE through clinics, private hospitals and medical cities. The number of private hospitals (43) exceeds the number of public hospitals (31).

This growth has been driven by the large numbers of foreign workers and expatriates who are usually not allowed to use Ministry of Health facilities except for emergencies. Cost of health care in the private sector is high and increasing at over 13% annually.

 

Hospitals in the UAE

Public medical facilities in UAE are well-organised with a high standard of care. They are dedicated to the needs of the local population, may be overcrowded due to high demand, and are not user-friendly for foreigners and expatriates. Sophisticated medical care is available at all private hospitals and clinics, however quality can be variable, caution is advised. Medical staff are well-trained, usually expatriates and English is spoken universally. Nursing care is usually by expatriate nurses from all over the world, commonly from Philippines. Private hospitals do not usually deal with major trauma, certain complex emergencies, and other specified pathologies, which remain in the public domain as a matter of policy.

 

Prescriptions in the UAE

A wide range of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and medical supplies are available in UAE.

Pharmacies are privatised with good supply chain management and procurement. Prescriptions must be issued by a local doctor. Most pharmacists will not recognise a foreign prescription. Many medications are available over the counter without prescription. Tranquillisers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills are banned in UAE. For patients using these medications, it is advised to carry a notarised translated copy of the prescription with an original cover letter from the prescribing doctor explaining the requirement. This should allow a limited supply to be carried into UAE in person and with the original documentation in hand.

 

Visitor information

Visitors are generally not required to undertake a medical exam or carry a medical certificate unless they have been in cholera or yellow fever infected areas in the past 14 days. However, visitors should ensure that they are perfectly healthy prior to visiting the UAE as medical costs are high for expatriates and foreign workers. Some of the most common health conditions of foreign nationals in Dubai are alcoholism, respiratory-related problems, dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn. Alcoholism is usually brought about by depression among foreign nationals working in Dubai. Respiratory-related problems are often triggered and aggravated by sand and dust in the air, brought about by the continuous construction in the country. Heat strokes and sunburn are brought about by the extreme heat in the country, which can reach temperatures as high as 50°C.

In cases of health emergencies, it is best to either call an ambulance or proceed to the hospital using a taxi. It is advisable for expatriates to know the location and contact details of the nearest hospital in case of an emergency.

For expats living in UAE a good international health insurance plan is crucial to ensure continued access to quality healthcare and avoid expensive medical fees. When assessing health insurance options, expats living in UAE should consider including a repatriation plan.

For more information on the healthcare system in UAE, visit the UAE Ministry of Health & Prevention.

 

Visa Info

 

For expats considering relocating to UAE for work or study, advice and the most up date information on visa requirements and regulations can be obtained by visiting the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation here.

*Costs accurate at time of publishing