As you prepare for your move to the UAE, you are certain to have many questions. The following information was taken from a variety of sources, including tips from the staff of Dubai Men’s and Dubai Women’s Colleges. We hope it proves useful!
Thirty years ago the southern coast of the lower Gulf was a barren, under-populated land comprised of several autonomous states. Today, as the United Arab Emirates, it has become a dynamic, modern society with the infrastructure of contemporary twentieth-century life. Geographically, the region which is now the UAE is about 80,000 square kilometers stretching from the Indian Ocean in the east to the ends of the Empty Quarter in the west and from the mountains of the Sultanate of Oman in the south to the temperate waters of the Arabian Gulf in the north.
In the sixties the oil boon began the process of change, and in 1971 the Federation of the United Arab Emirates was formed, uniting seven Emirates, namely: Abu Dhabi (the capital and has the bulk of oil reserves), Dubai (the commercial center), Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ajman. The Federation replaced the old association of the Trucial States which had been under British mandate and set out immediately to bring the benefits of the new world to people throughout the land. A new political structure was introduced, bringing closer together the individual Emirates which until then had each lived separate and independent life under the rule of their own Sheikhs.
The great wealth derived from the UAE’s oil and gas production has given the country one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Proven oil reserves at the end of 1985 totaled 31 billion barrels, enough to maintain current rates of production for the next eighty years. The largest portion of these reserves is in Abu Dhabi, where oil was first discovered offshore in 1958 and onshore in 1960.
This wealth from oil and gas has been spent over the past twenty years on construction and development which has proceeded at an amazing rate. All of the original settlements have become dynamic urban centers and Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Dubai have grown into large contemporary cities. Rural villages have been reconstructed; many nationals (natives of the UAE) have new homes which feature modern conveniences of typical major urban lifestyles. A network of multi-lane highways link the main centers. The more remote regions are accessible by all-terrain vehicles and both the desert and the mountains are popular destinations for leisure and recreational activities.
Less visible but more important has been the expenditure on developing the country’s most vital resource – it’s people. Today, all nationals are entitled to free medical care, all children go to school, and some 28,000 young people are university students, most of the them at the UAE University in Al Ain , The Higher Colleges of Technology ( 11 of them) and Zayed University in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Better housing coupled with improved medical care and prosperity have brought a large natural increase to the population. In the early decades of the century, the population was estimated at 80,000; in the first census of 1968, it was 180,000 and the latest census taken in 1995 revealed an increase to 2,400,000. The population in Dubai alone is currently approximately 1,400,000. This dramatic increase does not, of course, come only from the local population; by 1985 nearly 80% of the country’s population were foreigners.
Many who come to the UAE are surprised by the availability of top quality products, modern facilities, excellent services, and variety of recreational activities. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, facilities for living, shopping, and entertainment are generally comparable with those in other world cities. Abu Dhabi has more of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a big city, while Dubai is reminiscent of an active, vibrant trading center.
Life in the smaller Emirates has distinctly different qualities from that in larger cities. The few Westerners who live there are in much closer contact with the local community, and their life more closely resembles that of expatriates in Dubai before the 1970’s oil boom. Today, for those with a pioneering spirit, life in the smaller Emirates can be extremely rewarding, offering closer relationships and a greater insight into local life.
The men of the Arabian peninsula wear the gleaming white (sometimes brown or gray) ankle length dishdasha. Local men wear a small skull cap (gafia), covered by the white or sometimes red-checkered head cloth (gutra) and held in place by the twisted black coil (agal). Only rarely will a national appear in western dress within the Emirates. For important occasions and men of standing, the white dishdasha is covered by a flowing black cloak (bisht) edged with gold braid.
Emirati women usually wear trousers (sirwal) fitted tightly at the ankles. Over the sirwal is worn the jillabeeya, a floor length dress which is often decorated in embroidery and covered by a black cloak (abaya). Some women cover their face with a black cloth (nikab) that only reveals the eyes and others, mostly older women, wear a canvas mask called a burga which covers eyebrows, nose and mouth. Almost all women cover their hair with a shaila or hejjab as, according to Islam, hair is private.
The climate of the UAE is hot and humid in the summer (May through October) with temperatures ranging between 40-45 C (104-113 F) and humidity in excess of 90 percent. Life slows down in the summer as most nationals and expatriates vacation outside of the country to get away from the heat. The country comes alive in the winter months (November through April) as the days are warm and pleasant with midday temperatures at about 20-35 C (68-77 F). Winter evenings are comfortable and cool. The climate varies between the inland and coastal regions.
Rainfall is sparse and in most regions more prevalent in the winter. Rain rarely exceeds five inches a year, with mountain areas experiences more precipitation. There is a persistent wind (shamal) frequently laden with dust and sand which reaches gale force in the winter and can greatly relieve the summer heat. A cooling northwesterly wind prevails between May and October, while coastal areas sometimes have thick early morning fog during the winter months.
It is very important that one keep cool, especially during the summer. The body’s natural response to the heat is to perspire more freely, resulting in loss of fluid and salt. Acclimatization generally takes at least two weeks for people who are generally fit and of average weight.
Hours of Business
Hours of business are not as defined as in most western countries. Government hours are: 0730-1430 Saturday to Wednesday; closed Thursday and Friday. Hours for private companies vary; some companies work a straight shift, although many work a five-hour morning shift, break for three hours in the afternoon and resume in the late afternoon for another three-hour shift. Many supermarkets and shops stay open until 2200-2300. Some close on Friday from 1100-1330 for congregational prayers. Business hours for the HCT are 0800-1700 Saturday to Wednesday with an hour off for lunch. DWC runs from 0745-1935 Saturday to Wednesday, in two shifts. Higher diploma and degree classes are run from 0745-1600, Certificate Diploma classes run in two shifts either AM 0745-1335 or PM 1425-1935. Staff work a forty hour week. Staff also are rostered on a Thursday half day duty once or twice a year
Generally, clothing should be lightweight, easy to clean and practical. Cotton is the best material to wear as it absorbs half its weight of water and is therefore of great value when one is perspiring. If clothes do not absorb perspiration, skin remains bathed in moisture and develops a condition known as ‘prickly heat’ (applying powder after showering can help prevent this condition). Loose-fitting clothes allow a layer of air between the clothing and the skin which assists the evaporation process. During winter months, warmer garments may be required.
Professional and business men are expected to wear trousers with a long sleeved and a tie. Suits or jackets are worn for work in the business community; lightweight suits and very occasionally a dinner jacket may be required for social occasions. Ties are rarely worn in the summer months except during working hours.
Women usually wear cotton dresses, tops, slacks, skirts and leather shoes or sandals, which are more comfortable than those made from synthetic material and do not breathe. A light jacket for business meetings or evening receptions is advisable, particularly in view of the cooler air-conditioned surroundings in offices, hotels, and commercial buildings. Evening wear is needed for formal occasions.
There is an unwritten dress code for both men and women and care should be taken not to give offense by wearing clothing which is revealing. Women should avoid wearing skirts which are shorter than knee length and otherwise tight-fitting, revealing or transparent garments in professional settings. Men should always wear a shirt in public and a tie when attending important meetings or social functions. At the pool or on the beaches, trunks, shorts and swimsuits are acceptable. Casual clothing is common in most clubs and private parties.
Where ever you live in Dubai, you will not be far from a supermarket which offers most of what can be found in North America, Australia and Europe. In fact you are likely to find more variety as goods are imported to suit the needs of many different nationalities. Prices are comparable to most western countries. See Country Comparisons section for more detail.
The fish market offers a variety of freshly caught fish, cleaned and gutted for you, at reasonable prices. Likewise, the vegetable markets offer a large variety of both locally grown and imported fruit and vegetables.
To avoid health complications, such as urinary infections, stones, and dehydration, it is necessary to drink plenty of water, especially in the summer when fluid loss from sweat can be as much as 5 liters per day. The water in the Emirates is safe to drink from the tap, although in the summer it can be very hot. Most people prefer locally bottled or imported water which is easily available.
One of the major hazards of living in the Gulf is sunburn. Be careful about exposure, taking extra care with babies and children, until you know what your skin can take. There are numerous sun care products available at reasonable prices. Good sunglasses are a must to protect you from the sun’s glare, especially while driving. Sunscreen is expensive in the UAE.
The preferred and most convenient method of transportation is a private vehicle. Cars are readily available and prices range from Dhs 30,000 for a small car to as much as you are willing to pay. Only individuals with resident status may buy cars in the UAE. Gasoline sells for about Dhs 4 per gallon and is widely available in major urban areas. There are few filling stations between cities, however, and a spare can is a sensible precaution for off-road driving. See Licences, Car Registration, Cars sections for more details
Domestic help, if required, is readily available on a part or full time basis. The nationalities most often employed as domestic help are Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan. Skills vary, but with careful selection it is possible to employ a domestic helper who can clean, iron, look after the children and cook.
The cost for a suitable full-time employee (living in the servant’s accommodation in a villa or apartment) ranges from Dhs 500-1200 monthly. Public holidays are allowed off with pay and an annual holiday of four weeks with pay is usual. To employ full-time domestic help, you will need to sponsor the employed person according to the law. This commits you to bear the repatriation costs of the employed person when necessary and must be formally canceled when your employment in the Emirates terminates. There are large fines for the employer and prison sentences for the domestic helper to reinforce these requirements.
Part-time helpers are paid a monthly or hourly rate depending on the arrangement made; hourly rates are commonly between Dhs 8-12. Sponsorship is not required for part-time domestic employment. You can also hire a cleaning service to do cleaning in your apartment/villa.
See also Maids page for more information and comments on having them.
Many expatriates join private club facilities which offer golf, swimming, tennis, squash, badminton and other activities. Most of the major hotels offer club membership to residents who wish to use their facilities. There are many specialist clubs, such as sailing, rugby, cricket, etc. For outdoor types there are organizations like the Natural History Group and the Dubai Historical Society. The Dubai Arts Society offer a variety of courses such as painting, photography, tapestry, etc. Telephone numbers for many clubs and societies can be found on the back pages of the local magazine, What’s On.
Driving in the desert, mountains or river beds (wadis) is a favorite weekend pastime for many people in the Emirates. There are numerous well known places for camping and picnicking, but it is often more fun finding your own private place in the desert or at the foot of the mountains. For most off-road driving you will need a four wheel drive vehicle. Many expatriates choose to buy a four wheel drive, but it is possible to hire one for the weekend from one of the many car rental companies. If you enjoy off-road trips, there are two books published locally that are well worth reading: Off-Road in the Emirates (Vols I & II) by Dariush Zandi and The Green Guide to the Emirates by Marycke Jongbloed. Additionally, local magazines often print interesting articles about places to visit. However, the best way of finding your way around is to ask the off-road enthusiasts at your college – there are sure to be many who will be too glad to have an extra car to add to their outings.
Photography and Videos
Opportunities for enthusiasts abound, however taking photographs is forbidden near government and military installations, airports and inside mosques. As common courtesy dictates, permission should be granted before photographing individuals, especially women.
There is a good selection of reading material and videos on the UAE available from the Learning Resource Center (LRC). Most of these items can be found in the DS section of the LRC. Some highly recommended books are listed below. On subjects other than the UAE, you may want to bring some of your own books with you as the limited selection here is quite expensive.
Official National Holidays
The HCT is closed for all official national holidays. Please note that western and/or Christian holidays are regular working days in the UAE. Just as Muslims in Western countries are normally expected to work during Islamic holidays, non-Muslims (especially in government organizations in the UAE, such as the HCT) are expected to work on Christmas, Easter, etc.
The Hijra (Islamic) calendar is lunar; each month begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon. There are twelve months in the Hijra calendar: Muharram, Safar, Rabi’ al-Awwal, Rabi’ al-Akhir, Jumada’ al-Ula, Jumada’ al-Akhirah, Rajab, Sha’baan, Ramadhan, Shawwal, Dhul-Qi’dah, Dhul-Hijjah. Each month is 29-30 days long, making the Hijra year shorter than the Gregorian year. Unlike the Gregorian day, which is from midnight to midnight, the Muslim day starts and ends at sunset. The Hijra calendar began with Prophet Mohammed’s migration from Mecca to Medina. The first year corresponds to 622 ad in the Gregorian calendar.
It is important for newcomers to the Middle East to understand that Islamic dates are not fixed, rather they depend on the sighting of the new moon each month. For example, Eid Al Fitr is only known the evening before, thus everyone must watch the evening news or read the morning paper to know whether the next day will be a working day or Eid. This can be a source of anxiety for newcomers as in many parts of the world holidays are known way in advance and plans can be made for traveling, etc. It is one of the differences of living in the UAE and you are encouraged to be flexible, adaptable and accept that there is nothing that can be done to change this practice. The quicker you accept this, the less anxiety you will experience!
Important Holiday Dates
* subject to change according to the sighting of the moon
Holy Month of Ramadhan
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Fasting during this month is one of the fundamental acts of worship in Islam, the others being:
All adult Muslims must fast from dawn to sunset for each of the 29-30 days of Ramadhan by abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking, conjugal relations, and unclean thoughts. While earning blessings from Allah, they are also rewarded socially, economically, spiritually, culturally, psychologically, and physically.
Ramadhan Rituals and Observances
The evening that the new moon is sighted determines the month of Ramadhan has begun and the next day is a fasting day. For the entire month Muslims observe a fast until the new moon is sighted again, signaling the completion of one lunar cycle.
The Holy Qur’an was revealed during the month of Ramadhan on the night which is better than a thousand months of living called Lailat Al Qadr (Night of Power). This occurs during the last ten days of Ramadhan during which many Muslims stay awake praying and reciting the Holy Qur’an all night.
Fasting develops self-control and self-discipline. Ramadhan prepares Muslims to carry out their duties towards Allah. During Ramadhan, Muslims are reminded that they should not tell lies, break promises, talk slander or commit any deceitful act. In other words, all parts of the body (eyes, ears, tongue, hands, heart, and mind) should be fasting.
In addition to fasting, Muslims offer additional prayers and recite the Holy Qur’an. The Qur’an is divided into 30 sections so a section may be read each day during the month. It is also a very social time, spent with family and friends. During Ramadhan, Muslims experience a strong sense of unity and brotherhood.
There are very important social aspects of Ramadhan. A fasting Muslim, when feeling the pains of hunger and thirst, is reminded of the masses of people who experience these feelings each day. When breaking fast, a Muslim then realizes that for many there is no food to end their hunger. This helps develop feelings of sympathy, caring, and generosity for the poor.
Muslims who are exempt from fasting include those who are sick, traveling, women during pregnancy, lactation or menstruation, the elderly, the insane, and those engaged in battle. In most cases, the missed fast must be made up later.
Daily Life During Ramadhan
Muslims generally eat two meals each day : the first (sahoor) is usually eaten about an hour before dawn and must finish before first light, the second (iftar) immediately follows sunset, which in some places is announced by the firing of a cannon. Once the sun goes down, Muslims usually break their fast following the example of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) by eating a few dates, offering prayers, and sitting down to dinner.
In many Muslim countries, labor laws stress that Muslims may be required to work a maximum of six hours daily. Offices, shops, and other places of employment adjust to the reduced working hours. Restaurants close and food may not be consumed openly during the day by non-Muslims or Muslims who are not fasting.
Night turns into day with prayer and family life being the focus of activities. In the UAE, shopping centers are open late into the night, the streets are crowded with people, and television offers special late night viewing for the entire family.
Allowances should be made for a marked slowing down of daily life and it may take longer than normal to transact business. More care should be taken in traffic as the level of concentration might slump due to fasting and lack of sleep. When making appointments, allow for more flexibility than would normally be required.
Eid Al Fitr
Ed Al Fitr is the three-day celebration following Ramadhan. It is a festive and happy time during which Muslims do not fast; in fact, it is a time for feasts. The first day of Eid begins before dawn. After eating something (probably dates), showering, and putting on good or new clothes, Muslims gather in large outdoor areas for the first prayer of the day. Returning home from prayer, Muslims spend the day greeting friends and family. Homes are busy with visitors arriving throughout the day. Sweets, fruits, and snacks are offered to all and gifts are often given to children. Eid is a time to be thankful and generous.
What They Say About Ramadhan
"When the month of Ramadhan begins, the gates of Mercy are opened, the gates of Hell are locked, and the devils are chained." Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him)
"Ramadhan makes my life easier. I like Ramadhan for the good times I have. I’ve been waiting for Ramadhan since it finished." Wafa , Level 1
"Faculty should consider that we are up late during Ramadhan." Mariam, Level 5
"This month is for cooking. We learn how to cook and we ask each other for recipes." Ahlam, Level 5
"Ramadhan is the month when a person is really close to God." Hala, Level 5
"Students take off all their make-up during Ramadhan so faculty shouldn’t be surprised if they look pale!" Sana, Student Services
"Ramadhan is not just fasting from food -- it is to keep away from every bad thing. You have to keep remembering God all the time so you can keep away from anything He doesn’t like." Abdulla, Arabic Instructor
"Last year many teachers did not give us any tests during Ramadhan and we thank them." Fahima, Level 5
"It’s a time that surrounds the whole world -- Ramadhan is peace, quiet and love." Shamma, Level 1
This page was last updated by Leigh Butler on March 04, 2013