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9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Moving to Dubai

by Ann Benjamin Sep 13, 2016

1. You will always queue for petrol. Always.

Even if the gas is cheaper than anywhere else in the world, there are certainly a lack of gas stations. No matter what time of day, there are only a select few petrol pumps in the city where there will be no waiting — and no, they aren’t located in convenient locations. From our current residence, I usually plan to build in an extra 10-20 minutes just to get to the pump.

Depending on the time of day, it could be longer.

2. If you want to receive mail, it’s best to set up something with a third party in your home country.

If I told you that mail is delivered to your work in the UAE, would you believe me? Yup — everything gets sent to your employer. Since I recently started working from home, I set up a post office box in the US (one that has a shipping agreement with Dubai). This way, it’s much easier to receive and order packages and documents. Yes, it’s a bit of an extra expense for shipping, but it’s a much simpler and guaranteed way to make sure things are delivered overseas. I’m still waiting for a wedding invitation a friend sent more than a year ago.

3. You will pay $10 for some form of food that should only cost $3.

Call it homesickness, call it whatever, but there are a number of American products that show up randomly in grocery stores here, and I have paid dearly for them. While it’s a lot better than when I first arrived, there are still items that make practically weep with joy when I see them in the store. I know I would never do the same again, but I have no shame in admitting to paying nearly ten bucks for a box of Triscuits — and I’ve got my eye on specialty Oreos at the moment which cost even more. This is why upon traveling back to the States, I plan for an extra suitcase for products that I can only get at home.

4. It’s a good idea to have your finances in order.

There were a number of things we did to make our lives a lot easier as expats before moving to Dubai. For example, if there’s a friend or family member you trust implicitly, giving them power of attorney makes your life much easier — unless you want to help keep FedEx in business… I sent a six-page document to the US last week to the tune of $60! Even if you don’t know a lawyer, there are a number of online legal companies that can help you with the correct documents. Furthermore, I would recommend keeping at least one bank account open in the US. Nearly ten years in, we still have a credit record. We’re not entirely sure when we’re coming back, but it’s good to know we won’t have to completely start over.

5. It’s also a good idea to have the other big stuff in order.

To have my husband sponsor me, we had to have our marriage certificate attested by the state we were married in (California), the country we were married in (USA), and the country we were moving to (UAE). Ditto with other countries we moved to. Sure, we have a piece of paper that says our marriage is recognized in the county and state where we were married, but the UAE is its own nation — how would they know (or why would they care) we were married in Malibu? Similarly, both of our college degrees had to be attested by the UAE consulate in Washington, D.C. I do have a bit of a laugh every time I pull out our marriage certificate — it’s got so many stamps and ribbons and items stapled to it that the document barely resembles its original state.

Something else to look into? Sure, I’m in my thirties, but I’m not going to live forever. By having a will in place, I know my earnings, belongings, and last wishes (no matter where I am in the world) will be observed. We chose a lawyer in the US, but there are specialty lawyers in the Emirates who are very clued into local law, etc.

6. It’s going to be red before it’s black.

Starting up (in any city) takes money, but for some reason, it seems like Dubai is exceptionally tough on the pocketbook. Now, certainly, many of the employers in Dubai are willing to pay a loan or relocation allowance (with little or no interest), but the reality is that for the first few months, it’s going to feel like you are absolutely bleeding money (and you’ll wonder how or when this situation will ever change). And then one day, it does. It may take a few paychecks, but it does become worth it.

7. You will inevitably need a passport photo for everything.

I still carry pictures in my purse because… I never know. While you can get photos done in a number of places once you get here, just plan on coming with about 30. Given these photos go on just about everything related to any government transaction, take some time to look nice and not as if you were just running through a mall weeks after you needed your roots colored. I’m just saying. You’re welcome.

8. The UAE residence visa process will make no sense.

While it is easier and more direct if your company is the one sponsoring you, no matter how many times the process is done, getting a visa in Dubai will make little to no sense. There is the matter of going to the typing center (which is not located in any government building), the exchange of (so much!) cash, and of course, the medical test. That one undergoes this process on almost a yearly basis does not help in the understanding whatsoever.

9. Do your homework.

Although I don’t have children, when I was recruiting, it was often the first thing we told candidates who were considering a move. While Dubai has opened more schools, there can sometimes be waiting lists for the top primary and secondary schools in the city. To avoid any disappointment, I would advise any parents who are thinking of moving over to do their research and start the application process just in case. As we don’t have public schools, it is for the parents to research and decide what is the best option (and then apply accordingly).

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