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Living in Dubai

10 Dumb Questions About Living in Dubai

by The Travel Captain

I’ve been an expat living in Dubai for over 8 years.  I get asked a lot of dumb questions about living here.  The purpose of this post is not just to call out the silly questions but hopefully dispel some myths, educate people on what it’s like and prevent you from asking these ignorant questions in the future.


The Top 10 Dumbest Questions I’ve been asked about Living in Dubai:

1 – Do you have to wear a burka?

I hope everyone knows what a burka is by now.  You do not have to wear one as an expat in Dubai.  You’ll see the occasional bulletin here and there about what appropriate dress in the emirate should be but never is there any requirement to wear a burka.  There is little enforcement while the bulletins, mostly during the holy month of Ramadan, tell you to keep your skirts not too much above the knee and be respectful.  You’ll see short shorts, tank tops, body hugging clothes and women in bikinis most everywhere.  Nightclubs are nightclubs just like anywhere else.

2 – Can you drink alcohol in Dubai?

Yes.  Many people drink alcohol.  The cost of alcohol is certainly higher but drinks can be bought and consumed at hotels, restaurants and sporting venues of which there is no shortage.  There are even liquor stores to purchase from but you must possess an alcohol license which is usually obtained by presenting an application with an employment and tenancy contract.  Many buy wine and spirits from the duty free store at the airport when flying back in from out of town.  True, you cannot purchase alcohol at grocery stores or venues not associated with a hotel or sporting club/outlet.  Alcohol consumption only becomes an issue when you are publicly acting like a drunken fool or causing some trouble.

Don’t ask about drugs because it is strictly forbidden and you will most certainly go to jail if caught consuming.  They are not easily available.

3 – Did you have to convert to Islam?

This one always makes me laugh.  No, you do not have to become a Muslim.  I am not Muslim, my husband is not Muslim.  We met here, openly dated and are of different religions.  I have never been asked to convert and I have never even heard stories about other expats converting or being asked to.

4 – Do “They” Speak English?

Yes. “They” speak English and so does everyone else.  There is no requirement to speak or read Arabic unless you are looking to enrich yourself by learning another language.  Everyone speaks English in the workplace and at government buildings etc etc.  True you will hear side conversations in Arabic, Hindi, Russian, Farsi, Tagalog, German, Dutch, Italian or whatever other 800 languages the diverse set of people living in Dubai speak.

5 – Is everyone in Dubai rich?

Eyes rolling.  Everyone is not rich.  There are people from every strata of society here, earning from $250 a month to over $100,000 a month.  Rich is a relative term and it is likely that the level of wealth held by the top percentage in Dubai is greater on a per capita basis.  While your earnings may be slightly to moderately elevated compared to home (these gaps are narrowing) and income absent from tax, the cost of living is high especially if you live in a nice place, enjoy going out and engaging in activities.

Many expats forget that without government sponsored retirement plans, it is crucial to save for the future.  Unfortunately, expats can get caught up with the dazzle of Dubai and return home with less money then when they first moved or lots of credit card debt.  Like any other place, you’ll find both locals and expats overspending to keep up the appearance of seeming “rich.”  Some examples are people cramming themselves with five others in a 2 bedroom apartment just so they can drive an expensive car.

6 – Is it safe for women?

I have never felt safer.  Dubai is an incredibly safe city.  I rarely look over my shoulder and, in fact, have to adjust my indifference when I travel abroad or back to the States.  Just use your common sense when out and about.  I’m not saying to walk alone in a dark alleyway at 3am but I am saying Dubai probably has the lowest probability of something happening if you did.  Asking whether a city is safe is not a dumb question but asking it because you think there is a higher propensity toward violence of men from a certain race or religion is.

7 – Do They Hate Westerners?

No, not at all.  I’ve never felt having an American passport limited me in any way.  It probably was an asset.  Nor have I felt any discrimination or misplaced hatred.  The only westerners who are sometimes disliked are ones that ask questions like the ones I’ve listed, disrespect certain customs or ones who think living in Dubai entitles them to some colonial era like superiority.

8 – Are you guys always on vacation?

What do you think?  That we get a salary without doing anything?  The standard by law is five weeks of paid vacation and people take it.  You’ve probably seen whirlwind travels pop up on your newsfeed if you know someone living in Dubai.  Many people use their paid leave to travel.  It’s inevitable with so many great destinations within a 2-5 hour flight.  Nearby Oman is just a few hours drive.   And hanging out after work or on the weekends many times does involve a meet up at an opulent 5 star hotel lined with palm trees with views of beautiful blue sea.  It feels like you’re on vacation sometimes even though you work just as hard, sometimes more depending on the industry.  But work life balance is important and vacation time is generally respected.

9 – Do they have regular food there?

Huh? Yes, they have regular food here.  Dubai even has organic supermarkets which I frequent often.  The emirate has homegrown as well as many international food chains along with restaurants from Michelin starred and every celebrity chef you can think of.  Whether they’re all good is another matter 🙂  Read Dubai’s Food Scene May Be Lagging A Bit

10 – I want to move to Dubai, where should I start?

Hold on.  What makes you think they want you?  While Dubai is very welcoming to expats, not everyone can move here.  Living in Dubai has some requirements.  Are you a professional? Do you possess a marketable skill?  Did you go to college?  Do you have a talent?  Are you a productive member of your existing society?  Ask these questions of yourself before asking about living in Dubai because visas and quality expat life are largely linked to your employment and earning potential.

Need a list of things to do when visiting Dubai? Then read Things To Do in Dubai

Feel free to ask me any other questions about living in Dubai in the comments below even if they’re “dumb”  🙂

And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram 🙂

For insights into expat life in Kuwait, check out Kuwait FAQ by The Life and Times of a Dutchie Abroad


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