The survival guide to your first weeks in the UAE

From setting up home to opening a bank account and applying for a driving licence, the first three months of a new expat's life in the UAE can be mired by paperwork. Here are some top tips to help streamline the process.

For many new expatriates, the first three months of life in the UAE can feel like a red-tape obstacle course. These tips will make the journey to month four much smoother.

UAE residency and ID

• Your passport must have at least six months left to run for UAE residency – check in good time before you arrive.

• Get your education certificates attested in advance and bring them with you, along with birth certificates and a marriage certificate if you intend to sponsor dependants.

• Bring passport photos for you and the family – you’ll need more than you realise.

• Ensure your employer, as your sponsor, has your employment visa waiting at the airport when you arrive. You are landing as a would-be resident, not a tourist, and cannot work on a tourist visa.

• There are three key pieces of ID you need – residence visa, Emirates ID and labour card. You cannot travel outside the country while your residency is being processed.

• Without your residence permit you will find it hard to get started on buying a car or renting a home. Stay patient.


• It takes time to set up a bank account, so bring enough funds to cover two months – the first month’s salary may be late and early outlays can be high.

• Some international banks allow you to open accounts in advance if you bank there already; others may allow a basic account without residency – you will get a debit card but no chequebook or lending facilities.

• Choose your bank carefully – look at fees, remittance costs, conventional and Islamic banking and whether you can pay utility bills easily with online banking.

• To open a bank account you need a letter of no objection from your employer, your original passport with a residence visa, an Emirates ID and a labour card.

• Credit reporting is new to the UAE and most banks still evaluate your employer when assessing your creditworthiness. Some companies are treated as non-listed companies. This makes it hard to apply for a loan. Check this if you’ll need credit.


• Take time choosing an area and use a reputable and registered agent. You must pay your rent upfront – either three, six or 12 months’ worth, depending on your contract and landlord. Negotiate hard, and not just on rent – the number of rent cheques and whether your landlord provides maintenance are also negotiable.

• In Dubai, the Real Estate Regulatory Agency has made the Ejari registration of rental contracts mandatory. In Abu Dhabi this is called the Tawtheeq.

• Most UAE accommodation is rented unfurnished, which includes white goods. Second-hand options are plentiful and often half the price.


• Utilities (electricity, water, sewerage) come from a single provider (Adwea in Abu Dhabi, Dewa in Dubai, Sewa in Sharjah). You cannot apply without your tenancy contract.

• The two telecoms, broadband and subscription TV companies are du and Etisalat – you are normally limited to one or the other by where you live.

• You can get a basic mobile 90-day SIM card aimed at visitors at the airport without residency, but will need a residence visa and Emirates ID to get a prepaid or postpaid contract from du or Etisalat.


• Waiting lists are long at popular schools, so research in advance and contact them before arriving (and certainly before paying a deposit).

• Once in the UAE, you will need residence visas, birth certificates and immunisation records.

• Fees are high – ranging from Dh2,500 a year to more than Dh90,000. Nurseries can also be expensive (up to Dh60,000 a year). Check the ratio of teachers and assistants to children – this controls both quality and cost.


• Bring your home country driving licence with you if you are eligible for it to be converted to a UAE licence (about 30 countries are). Otherwise enrol for driving lessons.

• Don’t rush to buy – leasing a car is cheaper in the early months. If you do buy, your no-claims certificate from your home country may be valid. Third-party insurance is mandatory for all drivers.

• Remember, once you have residency, you must apply for a UAE driving licence.

Health care

• Your employer should provide health insurance – but not necessarily for your family. You may need to insure your dependents yourself.

• A health card from the Ministry of Health allows treatment at government hospitals in emergencies for half the cost of a non-card holder.