Confronting the cultural challenges of a move to Dubai

Posted on 22 Jul at 6 PM in UAE
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Confronting the cultural challenges of a move to Dubai

Confronting the cultural challenges of a move to Dubai

Moving overseas to take up a new position is hard enough but, for those heading for destinations with cultural challenges, it can be even harder.

A reassignment or relocation to Dubai is the dream of many upwardly-mobile expatriate professionals due to its promise of fast advancement and a generous salary. However attractive Dubai as a destination seems, its cultural challenges can be hard to understand and even harder to live with. Culture shock is the first hurdle to overcome, as it is in all Moslem countries, with familiarisation with Islamic rules the first step.

Non-Muslims aren’t forced to live by the rules of Islam, but they are expected to respect the religion and understand its customs and behaviour patterns. The two main issues are well-known – alcohol and respectful dress, but less known may be the fact that unmarried couples, however long they’ve been together, are not allowed to live together anywhere in the UAE. Also illegal are homosexuality and adultery.

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to anywhere in the Gulf States is the sheer summer heat which can cause continual sweating, a dry throat, headaches and general malaise. It’s worse for couples with children, as they’ll have to be kept indoors in air-conditioned rooms. Many expatriates take their summer holidays between June and September, heading either back home or to another country which isn’t a de facto desert during these months!

Driving in Dubai may take some getting used to as, although its roads are in excellent condition, navigation can be tricky at best. Local driving habits tend to cause concern for newly-arrived Western drivers, as no-one ever gives way on the roads and foreigners in trouble are simply ignored. Defensive driving is the best idea, and evading aggressive or erratic moves is par for the course. If you’re planning not to get a car, remember that ride-hailing and taxis are expensive, especially if you’re living in the suburbs.

Another shock is that annual rental charges must be paid in full upfront, although a few landlords are now loosening this rule due to a lack of demand. It’s now possible to pay three months’ rent upfront along with post-dated cheques for the remainder of the year. Although it’s now decreasing, Dubai’s cost of living is still high, although it’s rated as some 20 per cent lower than its London equivalent.

One unavoidable culture shock is that of Arab bureaucracy, with permits, licenses and other paperwork needed for even the simplest things, including getting a driving license, buying alcohol or just living legally in the emirate. Obviously, you’ll need reams of paperwork to get your visa and work permit from the Ministry of Labour, although employers usually provide this service as well as paying the cost.

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