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Trading in your old life for a new one is no easy task, especially when crossing countries and cultures. Debonair is here to help you settle
When relocating to the UAE, there are some basic tenets and principles that you need to understand before you can begin life as you imagined it in this most enigmatic megatropolis.
Naturally, there are various obstacles you’re going to come up against when settling in somewhere new. Some bigger than others. Some less obstacles and more like annoyances. And some more like general life admin.
So, we’ve compiled solutions to some of the more common obstacles you’re likely to meet with in the City of Shifting Sands.
Code of London
Residency visa: Go Express
Under normal circumstances, we would never advocate harassment in the work place. However. When it comes to getting your visa sorted, it might be a grey area you want to explore.
Hound your company’s public relations officer (PRO) like they know where the pot of gold end of the rainbow is. In the long run, this little bit of well-intended pestering (if done on the cautious side of harassment) is better for your, the PRO’s and the company’s state of mind. If you outstay your entry visa period — there’s currently a grace period of nine days — you, or your company, will incur a Dhs360 fine plus Dhs100 for each day you’re in the country without the legal docs.
Bear in mind: for some nationalities, you can extend entry visas by doing a ‘border run’ to give you another 30 days to re-apply for your residency visa. Best Visa Run, Go Tours Dubai and Elite Visa Run all offer easy and affordable visa run options.
For those nationalities prevented from doing a visa run, entry visas should last longer in order to get the requisite employment visa documentation in place. The easiest thing to do in this instance is check with your embassy. And continue hounding your PRO.
The easiest way to avoid all of this, though, is by making sure you get the express visa service. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s well worth the time is saves. From application to completion, the express service will take less than seven working days, opposed to the potential thirty it could otherwise take. Go express.
For most companies out here, PROs tend to be equipped with the requisite brain capacity to sort out a residency and work permit. But there are plenty that aren’t. So make sure you access the IQ of your PRO, and decide whether you need to feed them daily reminders of your legal requirement to be on a work permit before you actually start going after them.
And yes, you do need to take a medical. As part of the visa process, you’re required by law to take a medical — a blood test and a chest x-ray to check for tuberculosis and HIV. In the event of which, you should probably have sought medical attention before moving to the UAE.
Sidebar: if you are leaving your employer and cancelling your visa with them after six months of employment, you are not legally required to pay any visa costs to your employer. If an employer asks for the fees they’ve spent on your visa, they are acting outside the law.
Transport: Don’t rent (if you can help it)
Despite many city-planning improvements coming online, walking is often still as practical a form of getting from A to B in the emirates as swimming on sand. And while the metro and monorail are great in principle, we are after a more commodious and relaxing means of travel — as you should be, too.
Taxis are commonly the easiest, and sometimes most cost-effective ways of getting around (Uber accounts will take a hammering out here). Set up RTA and Careem accounts for all available cabby options: there’s bound to be a computerised black car hovering on a phone screen around your pin location on one of the apps at the very least.
But if you’re living further afield from the office, your own car is essential.
And here’s the tip: don’t rent. Buy or lease on finance as soon (visa and Emirates ID dependent) as possible. You’ll haemorrhage cash for even the most basic of models in comparison to what you’ll spend on a finance deal, or even, given the immediate capital, buying outright. Compared to what you’ll be spending as a minimum per month, even for a (and I say this with no ill-feeling towards them, they are merely the cheapest options available) Nissan Micra or Sunny, it’s preferable to own as soon as possible.
That’s not to say that cars should be treated as an asset out here. Not at all. They lose their value the moment you push the accelerator for the first time. You’re looking at up to 20 per cent depreciation per year for some models. Staggering. But life as we know it.
Incidentally, the best time to buy is Ramadan. Each year, Ramadan offers knock substantial amounts of cash off what you’d usually be paying.
The UAE also has an incredible array of pre-owned vehicles which can be bought and financed at excellent rates. Go directly to dealers for the best deals and payment plans. Where Dubizzle can offer great short term cash purchase options, we'd suggest going direct to dealerships.
The heat: Water, water, everywhere
Hiding and hibernating is not an option. You are not a squirrel. The human cheek was not designed to stretch that far. And even if you manage to crawl into the darkest corner of the coolest room for a while, you will need to leave at some stage. Or risk decomposing and wilting.
And the heat, much like the mother-in-law, is going nowhere. Unfortunately.
So, stay hydrated. It’s an obvious point, yes. But one it’s too easy to forget out here. To save yourself lumbering a two-litre flagon around with you everywhere, Fitbits are helpful for reminding you to drink water constantly. But even easier, and a deal cheaper (if purely for water intake), is a smart water bottle that monitors your daily consumption. From the standard sports flask to smart hydration trackers that sync to your phone — the H20Pal is a good one on the market at the moment — be mindful of your water intake.
Small headaches as a result of dehydration and the heat are common and can often go unnoticed until you slake your thirst by heading to your nearest watering hole after work (this will only worsen the thump in your skull the morning after, despite the feeling of euphoria you might experience at the time). Also, start using a face cream with SPF.
Ramadan: Get your supplies in
Eating, drinking and smoking in public, even for non-Muslims, during daylight hours is prohibited: so don’t. Now, despite the recent relaxing on laws during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar out here, it’s still not the easiest time to find food and drink during daylight hours. So, get to Spinney’s, Waitrose, Carrefour and stock up on all your supplies at home so you’re not caught short. And if you’re planning on eating out once the sun has set, book early. Restaurants fill up quickly with those breaking fasts as the sun sets.
Sidebar: We recommend you get your hands, and subsequently eyes, on Jeremy Williams’ Don’t they know it’s Friday. It’s one of the most useful and readable guides to all the relevant cultural nuances you should be aware of before settling into a Gulf country.
Driving license: Get the card
Depending on the country of original issue, you can convert your existing driving license to a UAE license without having to take a test. Countries included in the exchange deal include:
Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK and the US.
If you’re not a citizen of the above, get all the information and book a test on the RTA website.
Accommodation: Rent watch
If you find yourself bored with little to do on an idle Tuesday at work (don’t tell the boss), browse Property Finder or Dubizzle to keep an eye on the ever-fluctuating rentals market. At the time of writing (May 15, 2018), rentals in previously in-demand areas like Dubai Marina and JBR are at an all-time low. Where a one bed apartment would’ve set you back Dh90,000 a year, you’re now looking at sub Dh70,000. Hoards of residents who’ve moved out to affordable luxury developments towards Dubailand and other patches of reclaimed desert wilderness is driving rents down across the board. So, if you’re property hunting, don’t be afraid to bargain hard with eager estate agents.
VAT: Work on your arithmetic
It’s a tax-free haven, isn’t it? Something like that is most people’s perception of the UAE. While there’s still no income tax (though rumours have been flying) there is now a five per cent VAT to consider. And that automatic bonus POS services claim from you these days does tally up, especially if you don’t account for it. Whatever you’ve bought, add on 5 per cent, before you get the bill. That way there’s no little surprise waiting for you. And it will save you the embarrassment of querying, in the politest possible manner, where those additional dirhams came from.
For a full, corporate and legal jargon low-down on all tax matters in the UAE, visit the Federal Tax Authority website.
Skype is banned: Legal network tunnels
If you like doing any of the things you’re not supposed to do in the desert — like watching the Great British Bake Off, analysing odds markets or simply catching up with Mum for a natter over an internet calling provider — you’re going to need a subscription to a programme that will help you find a way around the internet laws that prevent certain websites being reached and used in the UAE.
There are some network service providers that have the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’s (TRA) stamp of approval, and thus are okay to use. However, if you’re using companies that are forbidden by the authority you stand to be punished with anything from a life sentence to a fine of Dh3 million. So do your research. And read everything.
Dress codes: Be respectful. Be classy
This is the UAE, yes. It’s hot, yes. And you need to dress light, yes. But it’s not Costa del Sol and you’re not here for an extended stag do. You’re here to work and live. And part of the benefits that living and working here confer on you is assimilating to the culture you’re part of. Respectful length shorts, just above the knee. No singlets — unless you’re on the beach (and even then, the place of a singlet in today’s world is questionable).
Beyond the respect you need to show for local custom, most offices tend to adopt a relaxed approach to day-to-day attire. So you’ll need plenty of chinos, smart polos, and casual loafers for office-based days. Then for the days when you’re out of the office at meetings, be sure to get yourself a good selection of suits (preferably tailored). People dress well and look good out here, whether they mean to or not. Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons. Get your dapper attire game in shape. And instead of running the chaotic gauntlet of mall traffic, shop online here for every look you need to carry in the desert.
Friends and more-than-friends: Get active
Because it’s not that easy, or socially acceptable, and because you don’t want to look like a maniac with no friends, we tend not to approach strangers and say, ‘Hi, you look my sort of person. We could be friends. Fancy going for a drink?’ Yeah. Don’t do that. You’ll soon be on lists and registers you don’t want to be on if you do.
Make no mistake: moving to the UAE without a network of friends to rely on during social hours, is not an easy thing to overcome. Thankfully, the internet and your smartphone are here to help. It may pleasantly surprise you to know that Tinder and Happn (among a host of others) are open and available in the UAE. Or it may not be a pleasant surprise at all, depending on the century from which your mind set is programmed.
But whether you’re looking for a life-long partner or just some cool people to hang out with, there’s a host of social apps and sports societies you can join to throw yourself into the lively social scene out here. The Meetup app and website is also a great way of finding like-minded people to hang out with across a range of social activities, from tech geek-outs to dog walking and book clubs.
Bank accounts: Docs needed
Before you can so much as give a split second of thought to opening a bank account here, you need to have an Emirates ID, residency visa (60-day pink slip at the very least) and a permanent address. If you’re likely to move anytime soon, wait until you’ve moved — the hassle of changing addresses is not worth the three hour wait inside a bank to speak to someone over a counter.
If you’re going to be using a bank account from your native country for a prolonged period of time — visa and emirates ID pending — exchange rates on credit cards tend to be better than Debits. Do not, please do not, withdraw cash from a hole in the wall with a foreign bankcard. Some banks are kinder than others, but they’re generally egregious and love to slap mind-boggling fees onto your withdrawal costs, just because, well, they are bankers...
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