The UAE's most useful apps: an A to Z guide

Whether you're new to the country or a seasoned resident, here's what you need on your mobile's home screen

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There are myriad ways residents can make their life easier in the UAE, where there's a real focus on comfort and convenience.

Mobile apps are part and parcel of this, offering almost everything you can think of at your fingertips, from government services to food delivery and even medicine.

Here are some of the most popular apps, that make life that bit easier.

Abu Dhabi Police

None of us are proud of getting speeding tickets but inevitably, despite our best efforts, it can still happen. Keep your mind at ease by checking in here (or on the corresponding Dubai Police app) every couple of months or so (you can search by licence-plate number) to make sure you have not accrued any and missed a text message.

The apps also have a wealth of other information — find updates on your long and short-term visas, information about other road-related services and criminal status (if any).

Airbnb

Discover holiday rentals and homestays not only across the world, but also right here in the UAE. On the app, you can search through properties, filtering them by facility, criteria, theme or destination. You can also book, pay and send instant messages to the hosts, not to mention sign up as an Airbnb host within the country yourself.

Al Hosn

In the pandemic era, there has never been a more important app in the UAE. This is where your recent PCR test results and your vaccination status are stored. You cannot travel or enter many Abu Dhabi facilities and attractions without it.

Askwho

Moving to a new country can be a daunting task, particularly when it comes to making a new set of friends. That’s where Askwho comes in, as it allows you to meet others by joining local groups of like-minded people. Ask questions, get recommendations and share your experiences of groups via the app. You can also DM individuals you’ve struck a chord with. It’s also free and ad-free.

Booking

For hotel bookings, this is the handiest app around. Whether you’re driving to another emirate for the weekend or jetting off on your holidays, Booking is easily the most well-known and reputable of its kind, and the app makes everything that little bit easier, from searching properties via certain criteria, to booking and paying for your stay. Sign up for the Genius loyalty programme, and you’ll also find discounts and bank rewards.

Cafu

This is possibly the most "Dubai app" on the list: it allows you to get petrol and/or diesel delivered straight to your home, around the clock. There is no delivery fee, it costs the same as at the petrol station and you can pay via the app.

It also refuels boats and watercraft at select marinas in Dubai, offers car wash and steam sanitisation services, plus engine oil changes, battery services and tyre changes.

Check the app to make sure it can do this in your area (a service only shows up if it’s available at the pinned location).

Careem

Among the taxi-booking apps, Careem is king in the UAE and there are various ride types you can choose from. Book a Hala taxi for more affordable rides, or pick a more sleek car or even a bike. You can also book a driver to pick something up for you, then have it delivered to your location of choice.

But it’s also so much more than a taxi app, as you can order food and groceries through it, too. And even become a Captain (what they call their drivers).

Careem Rewards is its loyalty programme, which you can sign up for via the app, and redeem points or even make a donation to charity.

Cinema UAE

Rather than trawling through every individual cinema company’s website or app for times, check this app out for what’s on across the UAE. It might not have every single cinema screen in the country, but it has the bulk of them, including the most popular.

It displays a list of all films showing that day, where and when. You can also see what’s showing for the next two days to help you plan ahead, and follow links to trailers and additional info about the films.

For some cinema chains, you can click on a show time and be taken straight to the cinema’s online booking site.

ClassPass

This is a must-download for any fitness fanatic. It allows you to book fitness classes and gym sessions near you, with access to a range of options, from yoga and dance to boxing and spinning. Memberships give users access to a certain number of classes, and studios allow access a select number of times per month. Browse options by studios, activity, times or location, and reserve your spot via the app.

You can access video and audio workouts if you can’t get out of the house. It’s also a global service, if you’re ever looking for workouts in another destination.

Plans start from Dh65 per month for 10 credits, and new users can get one month free.

Darb

Where Smart Salik is your go-to app in Dubai for paying toll fees, this is Abu Dhabi's version and it's a must-download if you're driving through the capital. Register as a new user, pay your fees, check any fines or violations and submit any grievances you might have regarding the service or exemptions.

Deliveroo

The British food delivery app has fully infiltrated the local market and offers delivery from thousands of restaurants across the various Emirates. You can filter through the choices based on various criteria and cuisine. Groceries are also available via the app. Those with Amazon Prime memberships can also get free delivery.

Other popular food delivery apps include Talabat, Zomato (more on that later) and Uber Eats, to name a few.

Dubizzle

Looking to buy a house? Sell a used car? Find a job? Dubizzle is your go-to online hub for all these things and more. It's best known for secondhand goods, and a place to buy and sell furniture. If you're new in the UAE, you can furnish your apartment for a fraction of the cost of buying new goods. And when it comes time to leave, this is where you can list those same items to make at least some of your money back. It comes full circle.

Entertainer

This two-for-one app is a staple for many in the Emirates, and has been for years. In your first few weeks in the UAE, you're likely to hear the phrase, "Is it on The Entertainer?" a fair few times, and because its sole purpose is to save you money, it's a good one to acquaint yourself with fairly quickly.

There are dining deals, as well as ones for fitness and activities, and there are even ways to send unused offers to other people, too. Prices start from Dh420 for the basic package, but there’s also a Lite version for free.

FirstCry

Every parent knows the beauty and importance of same-day delivery. Thankfully, so does FirstCry, which stocks everything you might need in those heady days of newborn haze, right up to the tween phase. The app is easy to navigate, and you can narrow the selection down via criteria, age, gender and so on. Store your payment details and, with a few taps of your home screen, you could have a new dummy, breast pump, nappies — or whatever it is you might need — all within a couple of hours of ordering. There are often app-only discounts to take advantage of on FirstCry, too.

It has a Parenting section as well, where users will find a nutrition guide for families, pregnancy tools such as a due date calendar, and a vaccination tracker, to name a few features.

Groupon

A similar idea to The Entertainer app, but completely free, Groupon offers a changing array of discounts and two-for-one deals at a huge range of retailers, restaurants and more. From pool days to spa treatments to cleaning deals, you'll never need to pay full price (if you're flexible on retailers) again.

Helpling

Sometimes things get away from you, and all of a sudden you realise you need a cleaner straight away. Helpling UAE promises to “book a cleaner in Dubai in just 60 seconds”.

The service is offered for Dh35 per hour, with a three-hour minimum, and charges for extras such as ironing or cleaning out the stove or refrigerator. You can even pay for the staff extra to bring their own cleaning materials, and it is easy to order cleaners on a one-time or recurring basis, either weekly or every other week. Sanitisation services are also available.

InstaShop

Besides food delivery or taxi-booking apps, grocery apps are becoming more and more competitive in the UAE as they’re just so popular.

InstaShop is one of the best, offering options to buy from nearby supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, bakeries, pet shops, butcheries, florists, perfumeries, electronic stores and plenty more, all at the touch of a screen. You can book a last-minute house cleaning or even donate to charity through the app.

Justlife

Formerly Justmop, this app has expanded its services to encompass far more than simply home cleaning. Book a PCR test, virtual therapy sessions, furniture cleaning, salon services, personal training, maintenance and even IV therapy, all to come straight to your front door.

Laundry, pest control and car washing are also options. Services are available in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman and Sharjah, and it promises “no hidden costs”.

Kidzapp

A must for families looking for fun activities come weekends and public holidays, of which there are many in the UAE. Kidzapp allows you to search through hundreds of fun, family-friendly things to do in your area, but it also allows you to book and pay for them via the app, and offers exclusive discounts and cashback to spend on your next activity. It’s available in all Emirates, plus Al Ain, except Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah.

Liv.

Liv. is Emirates NBD’s “first lifestyle banking app” that was launched in 2017, aimed at millennials. It’s since become useful for many busy residents, as it allows customers to open a bank account directly from their smartphones by simply scanning their Emirates ID card.

You can then deposit funds using any bank debit card you have, plus carry out local fund transfers and pay bills. You can then have a debit card delivered to you, with which you can withdraw cash from ATMs, as well as shop on and offline.

Muslim Pro

While in most neighbourhoods, there are mosques on every corner that broadcast the call to prayer loud and clear, some areas, especially within high-rise offices, are oblivious to the sound.

For those who try to pray five times a day, Muslim Pro is a useful app that lists the prayer times and sounds the prayer calls on your smartphone wherever you are. It is especially useful as an alarm for the early sunrise prayer. If you would prefer a more discreet reminder, you can opt for a silent notification.

The app is also helpful while travelling, because in addition to the Quran, it features a compass to give you the prayer direction and times, no matter where you are in the world.

Namshi

We’ve had food, groceries and children’s items, but this app is a go-to for all things fashion and beauty. Search through women’s, men’s or children’s clothing and beauty products, and order and pay for them for same-day delivery via the app.

The easy-to-use interface allows shoppers to narrow down choices from more than 1,000 brands and 130,000 products across clothing, sportswear, shoes, accessories, fragrances, gift items and more. You can search by item, brand, colour, size, style, occasion and more. They also offer a buy now, pay later option, and free exchange or return within 14 days.

Noon

Noon is basically the home-grown Amazon, a lifestyle destination where you can shop all manner of items in one place. Categories span watches, fashion, electronics, furniture, sports equipment, home office products, kitchen appliances and much more, all with free shipping. The app is easy to navigate through the millions of products available, and there are a range of payment options, including cash on delivery, credit or debit cards, and instalment plans. There are also exclusive app-only deals.

OSN+

Want to watch House of the Dragon, The Handmaid’s Tale or Industry on the go? Then it’s worth having the OSN+ app handy. There are plenty of TV series, films and documentaries to search through in a number of languages, including Arabic. It’s not only the home of HBO in the Middle East, but also Paramount+. There’s a free seven-day trial and you can create up to five profiles for family and friends.

There are also other streaming apps to download in the UAE, including Netflix and Disney+.

PayPal

PayPal is one of the easiest-to-use money transfer apps for many people in the UAE who want to send funds home or elsewhere quickly. It’s available in more than 200 countries and regions, and supports 25 currencies, and allows you to do this from the comfort of your home, rather than having to go to a money transfer shop. There is a transfer fee, but you don’t need account numbers or IBANs, simply an email address connected to another PayPal account.

Qidz

Similar to Kidzapp, Qidz allows users to search through thousands of children’s activities, free days out and exclusive offers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The app, created by mums, also encompasses reviews from other customers. You can filter and search for activities easily, and book via the app.

Recapp

As the messages on climate change only get more dire, many more of us are finally beginning to take action. Recapp can help achieve that by allowing you to easily recycle from home. It’s the first mobile app in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to offer these services, and helps users segregate recyclables from general waste. On the app, you can schedule the pick-up time and someone will collect your rubbish at your door and recycle, all for free.

Smart Salik

You can’t drive around Dubai without this one, as it’s the app you use to pay your road tolls. It’s by the Road and Transport Authority or RTA, and it keeps users updated about any violations and allows you to top up your account. It also has handy information on centre locations and an option to post feedback.

The National

Sure, we’re biased, but the best way to get the most important news stories of the day delivered right to your home screen is via The National’s newly updated app. With coverage on everything from local and regional news, to lifestyle features and the latest on the stock markets, it’s the only news app you’ll need.

Tier

You’ll spot electronic scooters around various locations in the UAE, particularly across Dubai, and for many, you’ll need to download this app to use them. Tier introduced its first fleet of e-scooters in 2020, and they have become increasingly popular as a way to get around ever since. Riders can use the “pay as you go” option at Dh1 per minute, or choose a subscription and pay for that via the app. Book a ride and activate the scooter via a QR code, and off you go.

UAE Pass

If there’s only one app to download while you’re in the UAE, this is it. UAE Pass keeps your national digital identity and log-ins for all government service apps and allows users to sign documents digitally in a secure space. It means you can sign into all government websites and services, accessing more than 6,000 services through one login, plus store and share digital documents and update your profile information and address records.

It uses biometric face recognition to register users, and you can get an account within five minutes.

Udrive

Newly arrived in the UAE and haven't got around to buying or renting a car yet? Need a vehicle for an hour? How about only 15 minutes? Udrive, as well as the similar service Ekar, bridge the gap between somebody else taking the wheel for you and driving yourself.

The basic equation is pretty simple: choose your app, download it, register, then find a car to rent via a GPS-enabled in-app map, where the cars you can use are simply parked on the side of the road. Once you have instantly reserved your vehicle, you unlock it using the app on arrival, then punch in a pre-designated PIN to a keypad in the glovebox, which releases the ignition key. Udrive, which is available in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman and Sharjah, charges 99 fils per minute, excluding VAT. It also has daily rates, which vary per city, as do certain excess mileage charges.

Visited: My Travel World Map

Most people who live in tmhe UAE are world travellers. We're in a great location for short hops and those harder-to-reach destinations. So this is a really handy app to document and track all your travels. Add spots to your bucket list, mark off where you've been, get plenty of inspiration and lay it all out on your own personal digital map.

You can also keep a travel journal by country, adding dates, points of interest and memories. There's also a community aspect: share your travel stats with others, compare the countries you've visited and the percentage of the world you've seen.

Washmen

Washmen is a cool app for people who have a bunch of laundry they can't do. A few simple taps will bring the friendly Washmen driver to your home to collect your laundry (in one of their own bags). You also specify when you want your laundry returned. When it is, it is beautifully pressed and cleaned and packaged.

Waze

Waze is a must-have for anyone who drives in the UAE. The community-based traffic and navigation app offers real-time road and traffic information, and is a lifesaver if you're a driver.

Aside from showing drivers where to go, the interactivity of this app allows other drivers to log incidents that may affect other people’s road journeys. Users can log congestion and alert other motorists to accidents that may hold them up.

All you have to do is launch it, punch in your destination — an address or landmark — and it will calculate the distance and the time it will take, offering a number of routes. If you need a petrol station or car park, you can search for those too.

It’s reliable and accurate and the maps are updated regularly.

Xe

To convert currencies, xe.com has long been a go-to website. The benefit of the app, however, is that you can see several exchange rates simultaneously, in real-time. Check live rates, but you can also transfer money globally, and track it. You can also set a rate alert, so the app will let you know when your chosen currency pairs, and when your target mid-market rate is live.

YouTube

It is almost too obvious to mention, but no comprehensive app list holds its weight without YouTube. The video sharing platform has become ubiquitous in every day life, be it watching music videos, vlogs, how-to guides or movie trailers. Parents will also know YouTube Kids has a wealth of family-friendly content. And for a Dh23.99 per month subscription, users can watch all content ad-free, as well as take advantage of other features.

Zofeur

This is the world’s first pay-by-minute chauffeur service — which plays on the Greek word for life, “zoh” — aiming to send residents a personal driver whenever the need for one should arise, round the clock. This not only ensures that you are transported from A to B in the comfort and luxury of your own car, but you can also end up saving money. Rates average Dh1.25 per minute, and there is a booking fee of Dh15.

It’s not only a safe driver service, though. You can book a Zofeur for all manner of services, from taking your car to and from the service station or RTA registration centre, to filling up with petrol or dropping off the dry-cleaning.

The app enables customers to book a driver on the spot, but allows for a 30-minute lag as one Zofeur drops another in the company car to the meeting point.

Updated: September 02, 2022, 7:47 AM
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