Moving to Dubai from the UK
8 February 2023
With the worst of the pandemic coming to an end in 2022, over 500,000 Brits visited Dubai in just the first 6 months of the year. Brits aren’t just coming for tourism – many are permanently making the move to Dubai. Brexit frustrated many UK citizens and further encouraged them to relocate. Over 120,000 British citizens are currently living in the UAE.
Many people choose Dubai because of the weather, family-centric lifestyle, job opportunities, tax-free salary, and modern infrastructure. The UAE offers many visa options that make it easy for foreigners to relocate, as well as other benefits for foreign investors and business owners. Moving to a new country comes with many challenges, but having an idea of what to expect can help you settle into your new life much more easily. This guide will cover some important things you need to know when moving to Dubai from the UK, including visa requirements, overall lifestyle, accommodation, employment, transportation, and costs (such as healthcare and taxes).
To stay in the country for more than 60 days, you’ll need to apply for a residency visa.
The main types of visas are:
- Employment visa - for an employee working in the private sector or a free zone (for a company registered in Dubai). Usually a 2-year visa.
- Student visa - for a student sponsored by an accredited university/college. 1-year renewable visa.
- Investor visa- for expats investing in a UAE company, either by buying shares in an existing company or establishing a company with an investment of AED 72,000 (£16,215) or more.
- Property owner visa- for real estate investors that own a property equal to or more than AED 750,000 (£168,900). 2-year renewable visa.
- Dependent visa- for expat residents to sponsor their spouse or children (can also sponsor parents with some restrictions). Must have a minimum salary of AED 4,000 (£900) or AED 3,000 (£675) with accommodation.
- Retirement visa- for retirees over the age of 55 who own a property with a value of AED 1 million (£225,195), have financial savings of AED 1 million or more, or have a monthly income of AED 15,000 (£3,380).
- Remote work visa- for employees that want to relocate and continue working remotely. 1-year visa.
To apply for one of the residence permits listed above you’ll likely need to provide:
- A recent personal photo with a white background
- Emirates ID Application receipt- all residents must get an Emirates ID card
- Housing lease contract (certified) or proof of owning a residence
- A medical fitness certificate - for all applicants above 18 years of age
- Entry permit
- Medical insurance or health card
- For work visa
- Signed offer letter / job contract
- Educational certificates (attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MOFA)
There may be additional requirements and documents you need to submit for each type of residency permit. It can be helpful to do preliminary research as some processes may be easier to do in the UK before you leave for Dubai.
Dubai also has a Golden Visa scheme that was launched in 2019 and allows expats to obtain long-term renewable residency for 10 years. This scheme is available to different sorts of expats including real estate investors, entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, inventors, athletes, executive directors, and more. Golden Visa holders can also sponsor family members. You can learn more about eligibility criteria, documentation, and fees by reading our comprehensive Dubai Golden Visa scheme blog.
The official language in the UAE is Arabic, so you’ll see various signage such as road signs and public notices written in Arabic. However, English is also widely used as the main language for both business and tourism. You may hear a variety of other languages spoken around, such as Hindi, Urdu, and Farsi, given the large number of expats from other Asian countries. Coming from the UK, you should have few problems navigating the city and communicating with other residents in Dubai. Learning some words or phrases in Arabic can be a great way to show respect for the culture of your new home.
You’re sure to notice a large difference in the weather when you first move to Dubai. Compared to the UK’s rainy skies and moderate temperatures, Dubai might feel like you’re on summer vacation every day of the year. Dubai has a hot desert climate with average temperatures typically above 20°C even in the winter, so you can save space by leaving your heavy winter essentials behind. Spring and Autumn start to warm up quickly, and in the summer, average temperatures can reach as high as 42°C. The good news is that you can seek relief from the heat with a swim in the Persian Gulf or various public and private pools across the city.
In terms of dress, people tend to dress more conservatively in Dubai and they expect visitors to dress more modestly while in public as well. You may see locals wearing traditional Arab clothing, such as a hijab or long tunic. Especially if you plan to visit a mosque, it’s best to wear long pants, skirts, or dresses and some sort of covering over your shoulders. Of course, you’ll also see people lounging in swimwear at the beaches and pools.
Dubai is predominantly Muslim, but other religions such as Christianity and Hinduism are also prevalent. If you are a practicing Christian, there are plenty of churches around the city where you can find community among like-minded people.
It’s important to be aware of local laws since the legal system in the UAE is based on Islamic law. The majority of Muslims don’t drink alcohol as consumption is forbidden by the Quran (the main religious text of Islam) and there are stricter alcohol consumption laws that affect all residents. The sale and consumption of alcohol are only allowed in designated, licensed areas and is it illegal to drink in public places. The drinking age in Dubai is 21 (instead of 18 like in the UK), and you can face heavy penalties like imprisonment or fines if you violate these laws. You’ll still find a vibrant nightlife scene in Dubai, especially in hotels, bars, and upscale restaurants that cater to expats and non-Muslims. However, keep in mind that alcohol has a 30% tax, so nights out may become expensive more quickly than in the UK.
Dubai is a shopper's paradise, with various luxury malls, such as The Dubai Mall, Nakheel Mall, and Mall of the Emirates, carrying high-fashion brands. While you can also find high-end designer stores in the UK, Dubai is specifically famous for its state-of-the-art shopping centers, some of the largest in the world with aquariums, ice rinks, and more. Most shopping is tax-free meaning your money might even be able to go further than it could in the UK. If you’re looking for a more traditional experience you can check out Arabian markets, known as souqs or souks. You can explore a maze of small vendors and find unique souvenirs, spices, fine fabric, perfume, and gold jewelry.
Both the UK and Dubai have a higher cost of living. Dubai is more similar to the cost of living in London since they are both large, international cities, but may be significantly more expensive for those living in smaller cities in the UK. However, in the UK, you are used to paying an income tax of anywhere from 20-45% depending on how much you make each year. One of the largest perks of living in Dubai is that you can expect to save significant money since there is no income tax.
Find a place to live
Finding proper accommodation in the UK can be difficult, especially with the chronic housing shortage and rapidly rising prices. Residential construction is on the rise in the UK, but unfortunately, it’s not yet reaching government targets. Luckily, in Dubai, the property market is on the rise with many off-plan residential properties under construction attracting foreign investors. Dubai continues to see the highest number of new property transactions since before the 2008 economic crisis.
When it comes to property rental, unlike the UK’s pro-landlord laws, Dubai has pro-tenant laws that provide renters with additional security. The entire rental market in Dubai is regulated by Ejari and requires that all rental and lease contracts are registered with the government. This system ensures easy revision, openness, and transparency between landlords and their tenants.
As a Brit, you can buy property in any designated freehold area in Dubai. Property investors can expect higher rental yields in Dubai than in the UK, on average 6.61% compared to 3.63% in the UK and 2.9% returns in London. The tax on rental income in Dubai is also low. Property buyers can generally expect price appreciation over time, especially for villas in Dubai which have seen huge price rises in recent years.
Some popular locations for British expats include:
- Dubai Marina - luxury apartments with waterfront views
- Downtown Dubai - luxury apartments near Burj Khalifa and other landmarks
- Palm Jumeirah - beachside apartments and villas
- Umm Suqeim - villa community with peaceful surroundings near Jumeirah Beach
- Arabian Ranches - a gated villa community popular among families
The off-plan property market is especially attractive, with developers offering favorable post-handover payment plans for certain developments. If you can’t put down a big down payment right now, but still want to invest in your future home, going with one of these payment plans can be a great option. Some up-and-coming areas where foreigners can buy off-plan property include Meydan, Dubai Creek Harbour, and the World Islands.
Check out our property portal with over 5,000 properties in Dubai to search by location, price, property size, completion status, amenities, and more.
Like most property buyers, you’ll probably need to take out a mortgage loan to finance your purchase. While it can be more difficult to find a doable mortgage offer as a foreigner, there are still many options available. A mortgage broker, like Kredium, can provide you with personalized offers from the largest and most trusted banks in Dubai, whether you are a resident expat or a non-resident looking for an investment property. While the mortgage process in Dubai is similar to that in the UK, banks have their own lending conditions (regarding loan tenure and more) and eligibility criteria that our mortgage brokers can help you navigate.
As a prospective buyer in the Dubai market, you should definitely want to become familiar with the following processes and terms:
- Property valuation - a property valuation is necessary when buying, selling, getting a mortgage, renting, or insuring a property.
- Homeownership service charges - annual fees that owners must pay for property maintenance and community upkeep.
- EIBOR - interest rates (for variable-rate mortgages) are linked to the Emirates Interbank Offered Rate.
- AECB credit score - the government organization Al Etihad Credit Bureau issues credit reports.
- Islamic mortgages - many banks in Dubai offer Islamic financing options in addition to or instead of conventional loans. These have specific terms and conditions.
You can also read our comprehensive guide that takes you through the entire home-buying process in Dubai so you know exactly what to expect.
Employment in Dubai
It’s also very easy to establish a company in the UAE. The process can be done online and involves a few simple steps, taking only 4 days. There are around 6,000 UK-registered companies in the UAE.
British schools in Dubai
For families moving to Dubai, it can be a great option to find a private British school in order to provide your kids with a sense of familiarity and continuity in their education. British schools in Dubai follow the UK curriculum, culminating in a General Certificate of Education (GCSE), and providing a holistic approach to a variety of subjects. There are more than 50 British schools across Dubai. Yearly school fees typically range anywhere from AED 20,000-80,000 (£4,500-18,000) depending on the level of instruction.
Here are some highly-rated British schools in Dubai:
- Kings’ School Dubai
- Dubai British School Emirates Hills
- Dubai British School Jumeirah Park
- GEMS Wellington International School
- Dubai College School
- Jumeirah College
- Horizon English School
- Jumeirah English Speaking School
- Regent International School
- GEMS Royal Dubai School
- Repton School Dubai
- PACE Modern British School
- Safa British School
How to get around
You may need some time to get used to driving on the right-hand side of the road while sitting on the left side of the car – the opposite of the driving norms you’re used to in the UK. Driving standards in Dubai may also be a little less disciplined than in the UK, so it’s best to be extra alert as you learn the roads. It’s important to note that drinking and driving is illegal no matter how much alcohol you’ve ingested.
Dubai has a great public transport system with two routes, the Red line and the Green line, covering the main populated area of Dubai. The Red line runs from the east to the west along the length of Dubai, while the Green line covers a smaller area in the east and goes more or less parallel to Dubai Creek. There are two transfer stations between the Red line and the Green line. There’s also a tram line that operates between Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach Residence, and Al Sufouh All transport stations and railway cars are air-conditioned. Lastly, the Palm Jumeirah Monorail goes straight along the island from the Palm Gateway to the Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark.
In order to use public transport in Dubai, you’ll have to get a nol card. This card can be used to pay for trips on the metro, bus, tram, water bus, and, as of recently, the Palm Jumeirah monorail. Each transit station is located in one of Dubai’s 7 zones (as decided by the Roads & Transport Authority). The cost is very affordable for a large city, with a single trip costing anywhere from AED 4-17 (£1-4) including transfers depending on how many zones you pass through. You can also get a 7-day, 30-day, 90-day, or yearly card.
Important costs: healthcare and taxes
Taxes are another cost you should factor into your budget. The UK has a double taxation agreement with the UAE, meaning if you are a UAE resident, you only pay taxes in the country where the income is made (and can submit a tax deduction in the UK). Don’t forget to tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that you’re leaving the UK to live or work abroad for at least one full tax year. And remember, you’ll still need to pay taxes on any income you receive in the UK, such as rental income.
The great news is that all UAE residents are exempt from taxes on income, capital gains, gifts, inheritance, wealth, and luxury. If you are buying a property in the UAE there are 2 types of taxes you must pay: a transfer fee and a registration fee. The property transfer fee In Dubai is 4% of the property price and the registration fee is AED 2,000-4,000 (£450-900) depending on if the property is less or more than AED 500,000 (£112,550). It’s always best to get professional advice when paying your taxes as an expat.
You’ll definitely want to factor in healthcare costs and taxes when figuring out your finances before you move to Dubai.
How we can help
Finding a place to live in Dubai can be a great place to start since your accommodation and its location will have a huge effect on your new life. If you’re interested in buying a property, you can find your ideal home on our property search portal. When you register on our website, you’ll be able to see detailed information about the closest schools, parks, hospitals, and much more as well as a detailed payment plan (as available). Buying a property can be a great short-term or long-term investment and allow you to build equity in your home rather than waste money on rental payments that will bring you no return. If you need to finance a property purchase, you can rely on a mortgage calculator to estimate your budget and payment schedule. At Kredium, we can guide you through the home financing process to find you the best rates available to expats in the UAE.
We also have a variety of blogs about mortgages and real estate in the UAE to help you become better informed. Reach out to our real estate and mortgage experts to get started today!