With a shortage of hundreds of teachers in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and the growing tourist and hospitality industries, demand for native English speaking teachers from the UK, US and Canada is increasing. Living and working in the UAE where the culture is very different from the West can be a challenging life event. Here are some useful tips to help you get prepared.
The Central Bank of the UAE regulates the banking system in the UAE. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, the UAE has the largest number of local banks like the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and international banks such as HSBC and Citibank. Opening a bank account is fairly simple. To open a current account, you must have a valid residence visa. You also need to bring your passport and salary letter or a letter of NOC (No Objection) from your employer to open the current account. Some banks make it mandatory to retain a minimum balance. When comparing bank accounts, check the fees that you’ll be charged. To avoid the hassle of opening the account upon arrival, why not open it before you leave?
You can also apply for personal loans, car loans, and credit/debit/prepaid cards with banks in the UAE. In 2011, the Central Bank of the UAE issued new regulations that allow a borrower to obtain a loan up to 20 times his/her salary or regular income for a maximum repayment period of 48 months.
In general, banks are open from 8am to 3pm (Sunday to Thursday) and close on Friday.
To work in the UAE, you need to be sponsored by an employer. You also need to apply for a residence visa and an Emirates ID card to live and work there. As the visa is granted by the separate emirates, you need to contact the regional UAE embassy or consulates to find out more about the rules. For example, if you’re going to Abu Dhabi, the residence visa is valid for two years. If you intend to take your family, you must have a minimum monthly salary of AED 4,000 (£670) or AED 3,000 plus family accommodation provided by your employers. The Emirates ID card is issued by the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA). The charge is AED100 for each year of residence.
The language spoken in the UAE is Arabic. Although English is increasingly used in a business context, take some time to learn Arabic so that you can converse with the locals. It also shows that you’ve made an effort to learn about their culture. With many translation jobs available in the UAE, you can become a translator if you’re fluent in both English and Arabic. Acquiring new skills will open more options.
Medical and health services across the UAE are broadly up to European standards. The UAE ranked 27 in the world health systems ranking of the World Health Organisation (WHO). All medical treatment is paid for in the UAE. You can choose either public or private healthcare facilities. While both offer high standards of medical care, the types and levels of services may differ. The majority of expatriates in the UAE use private ones. If you want to use public healthcare facilities, you need to apply for a health card to be eligible for government healthcare subsidies. Your employer should also provide private medical insurance for you.
Remember to ask for a copy of your medical records from your doctor before you move overseas. Should you need to see a doctor, he/she will have access to your medical history such as previous conditions, treatments and vaccinations.
Some prescription drugs and over-the counter medicines are considered controlled substances and are not permitted in the UAE. Produce a doctor’s letter or a copy of the original prescription if you intend to bring medicine into the UAE for your personal use. As a resident, you’re allowed to bring 12 months’ supply.
Dress modestly at all times in public places. Men generally wear long trousers and shirt while women should cover their shoulders, upper arms and knees. Short skirts and dresses are not recommended in public. Most shopping malls will indicate the dress code that is considered permissible. Your swimming attire is appropriate on the beaches and in the swimming pools. Topless swimming and sunbathing are strictly forbidden.
Social life and etiquette
With a high proportion of the UAE’s population being expatriates, you’ll meet people from different nationalities. The UAE is becoming a popular place for expatriates from the UK. Since 2007, more than 10,000 Brits moved there a year. Most UK expats live in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
While living standards are higher in Abu Dhabi than other emirates, it’s relatively easy to achieve a higher quality of life in the UAE because there is no income tax on wages or salaries. During the weekend (Friday and Saturday), you can visit the beautiful beaches or the indoor ski slope in Dubai. To meet other expatriates, you can join business clubs such as the British Business Group Dubai that organises a broad range of hobbies and interests.
Avoid holding hands and kissing while walking in the streets as public displays of affection are considered disrespectful. Male business associates usually shake hands with each other but will shake the hand of a female business associates only if she extends her hand first. Do not be surprised if an Arab person pulls back his/her hand and holds it against the heart. This is a sign of greeting.
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. Most restaurants are closed during the day and alcohol is served in some emirates only after sunset.
If you follow these tips, you’re well on your way to overcome the hurdles of moving to the UAE and enter a new phase of your life.
Originally from London, Jenny Smith has lived and worked in the UAE for four years
Image by Martha de Jong-Lantink used under creative commons licence