A news bit on how Filipino maids are not prepared for the expat life in the UAE (If you click through and read the article, please get past the racist undertones of the article – as commonly found in most UAE publications – and let’s focus on the main message: Filipinos – or insert nationality of choice or just expats – are not prepared for the expat life in Dubai.) shared by fellow blogger and friend Sandier Pastures struck a chord in me. It actually has bothered me for the past couple of days. Thinking about it woke up me at 5AM. It was that bothersome.
I know there will always be surprises in the expat life, BUT it doesn’t hurt to prepare, to know the good, the bad and the ugly. So that you jump in fully aware, eyes wide open of the expat life ahead.
Anyways, here are some of the key things I’ve learned by way of experience and reading about being an expat in Dubai:
#1: Dubai is not a country. It is just part of a Muslim country.
Rather, it is one of the seven emirates / states of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Now more famous than the more powerful and richer emirate and country capital Abu Dhabi, Dubai can be considered as the tourist capital of the country because of fame brought by the self-proclaimed seven star hotel, Burj Al Arab, and the world’s tallest building to date, the Burj Khalifa.
I do not say Muslim lightly. It is not just a predominantly Muslim country, but a Muslim country in every sense of the word. Meaning most, if not all of the country’s laws are governed by Muslim tenets, which are also imposed to non-Muslims. As long as you live in Dubai, you will be subject to their laws no matter what nationality you are or what religion you practice.
So, for fellow Filipinos, please do not expect a Christmas bonus (or even 13th month pay for crying out loud!) nor a standard Christmas holiday. You will be lucky if your employer is Christian, who celebrates the Christian holidays, allowing you a day off on Christmas day. Yes, you may see Christmas trees , candy canes, Santa Claus in the shopping malls, but this does not mean that the country celebrates per se. Christmas is merely a commercial holiday (yes, more business for them) for the country.
#2: There is zero tolerance for homosexuality and HIV / AIDS in the UAE.
Homosexuality is not tolerated BUT this does not mean that there is an absence of homosexuals in Dubai and in the UAE. There are a number of homosexuals, whom you can detect if you have a highly capable gay-dar or if you just actually know these people.
So if you are a homosexual – gay or lesbian – who prefers to cross dress, then the UAE is not the place for you as you do need to put those clothes back in the closet or you will be serve jail time and eventually be sent home or even worse, be punished by death penalty.
In Dubai, expats are required to take a medical test to screen tuberculosis, hepatitis B & C and HIV/AIDS as part of the residence visa process. You will be taking the medical tests every time you renew your residence visa, which is every three (3) years – or this may have changed. If HIV/AIDS is detected, you will be deported at once…you will be escorted to the airport and be given a one way ticket home with no chance to pack your belongings and close your personal business in the UAE.
#3: Sex / pregnancy out of wedlock is illegal in the UAE.
Okay, let’s face it. With lonely expats abound, separated from their loved ones – husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends or just plain single and ready to mingle, there is an increased possibility of romantic, or rather, carnal, relations. BUT this is illegal. According to Attorney Michael Barney Almazar of Gulf Law, “Under Article 356 if UAE Penal Code, it is illegal to engage in consensual sex at Sharia Law considers this as an act of disgrace and dishonor. Minimum jail term is 1 year followed by deportation.” So imagine what happens if a women eventually gets pregnant from “illegal” consensual sex.
#4 Living in Dubai is EXPENSIVE, even if it is “tax-free”
When planning to work abroad you should research carefully and consult reliable sources on the costs of the following:
- Rent and any housing related costs
- Utilities – water, electricity, communication (mobile phone and internet), television, cooking gas, etc
- Transportation – rental gar, gasoline, public transportation costs, toll, etc
- Food and toiletries – groceries, eating out, delivery, tips
- Health costs – Insurance, medicines, etc
- Others – clothing, entertainment, relaxation, beauty, etc
Consider what kind of lifestyle you want to lead along with the amount you need to save and send home to your home country and you should be able to compute how much salary you need to earn to support it.
#5: Alcoholic beverage purchase and consumption in Dubai is limited.
These rules on things, including alcoholic beverages, differ from emirate to emirate. In Dubai, you do need an alcohol license to be able to buy and transport alcoholic beverages, which are also only available in alcoholic beverage chain, MMI Dubai. (Though you can buy a bottle or two – maximum of 4 liters – in Dubai Duty Free when entering the country from a flight, but you are still at risk of illegally carrying alcohol) But you can consume alcohol in licensed establishments like hotels and restaurants and in the comfort of your very own flat…as long as you don’t cause a ruckus that would cause the neighbors to report you to the police.
Let’s not even get into the ramifications of drunk driving because of the aforementioned. Okay, let’s get into it anyway. According to Attorney Barney, if you are caught driving under the influence, the consequences are as follows: fines that will cost you around 20,000 AED (est. USD 5,555 / PHP 244,420), suspension of your driver’s license plus jail time and deportation.
#6: Purchase of pork is also limited to licensed supermarkets and restaurants.
Unlike other emirates and other GCC (i.e. Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, pork is accessible in Dubai, albeit relatively expensive (depending on where you purchase it from). If you can’t live without pork, don’t fret. Just prepare a little extra to get your pork fix.
Or maybe get used to eating more beef, lamb, mutton, goat, chicken or seafood.
#7: It is illegal for your employer to hold your passport.
There are some employers in Dubai and in the UAE, who “require” employees to turnover their passports as long as they are under their payroll. This is against the UAE Labour Law. It is your right to hold on to your passport no matter what as this is your official identity document when abroad.
BUT there are other people who do allow this practice, so it will depend on your own needs. The downside of not having your passport at hand is you will not be able to “escape” your employer or the country if you desperately want out.
#8: It is legal for the UAE government to sequester your bank’s funds.
They can hold your money in the bank, especially when you still are in debt with credit card balances and / or loans when your residence visa is cancelled. You are required to pay back the debt before exiting the country. If you are not capable, you may be subject to jail time. And who wants to spend time in jail?
So how about making sure you earn enough and not get into debt, eh?
#9: It is illegal for unmarried people of the opposite sex to live under one roof.
BUT because of the already expensive and continuing rise of rent costs in Dubai coupled with the low pay of expat workers, flat sharing / bed spacing amongst the opposite sex is a standard practice. It is the usual, but still, there is a high risk to be caught by the Dubai police.
According to Attorney Barney, “Fine ranges from AED1,000 to AED50,000 pursuant to Local Order No. 3 of 1999 on the regulations of buildings in Dubai. The power and water supply will also be cut if (tenants) refuse to vacate the premises…UAE Penal Code punishes unmarried members of the opposite sex cohabiting under one roof, even if on separate rooms. Article 312 (3), also known as the Tahseen Al Ma’asiya punishes unrelated couples of opposite sex if they share a flat. Punishment is jail term of 6 months to 3 years in certain cases, deportation.”
Soooo if you are not willing to live under the same roof with random strangers and risk getting caught, especially if your salary won’t allow you to live on your own, then Dubai is not the place for you.
#10: The color of your skin / nationality matters in Dubai.
I will not expound on this further, but I encourage you to read my experience on how I learned how race matters in this country.
The UAE is still a developing country with ultra-modern 1st world fixings, so even some of the laws are a work in progress, constantly changing depending on the circumstances that arise. This means that you, as an expat, should always be on your toes, consulting relevant and reliable sources (Important note: Do not ever rely on hear-say alone) on the changes in certain laws.
Having said that, please do feel free to correct details on any of the above that have evolved in the past months. I’ve been away for so long now, so I am pretty sure that there are a lot of things that have changed. Oh, and please feel free to add some more tips that you think are essential to know before considering Dubai as your next expat destination.
Special thanks to my UAE law consultant Attorney Michael Almazar of Gulf Law. In case you have any legals needs, you can check out http://www.gulflaw.info/home, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +971 (4)449 2076