Things I wish I had known before moving to Dubai

As much as I love living in this city there are a few things that I wish I had known about prior to moving to Dubai, especially how to save money!


I have been a Dubai resident now for well over 2 years, which doesn’t sound like a particularly long time, however, I am stunned at how much I have learnt and how quickly I have settled in.

I was lucky when I first moved here as my parents were also living in the city, and I spent the first 3 months living in their beautiful 3-bed apartment on the Marina…not too shabby! But, this where the “streets are paved with gold” Dubai image ended. I very quickly realised that living here is just like living in any other city around the world, the prices are expensive, the people are transient and the driving is a tad scary!

I definitely made mistakes when I first moved here, and wasted a lot of money, so here are some of the lessons that I learnt along the way to hopefully help you out.

If you have free accommodation stay there as long as possible!

OK, so this point is obviously very specific to people who have relatives who live in Dubai. I came to the UAE from Seoul, Korea where I had been quite happily living by myself for 4 years; the idea of moving to a new city and moving back in with my parents wasn’t exactly an attractive option.

I quickly found myself a little apartment in the Greens and moved out within 3 months. Big mistake, the amount of money I spent on refurbishing the apartment, bills, transportation etc., was a complete waste. I really should have sucked it up and stayed in the Marina and saved my pennies.

Take your time when job hunting

When I first moved out here I panicked and took the first job I was offered. Which happened to be real estate, I was delighted and assumed I was offered this job based on my exceptional experience…I was wrong! Turned out the company I was working for was just a tad illegitimate, wouldn’t give me a visa and were all round…. delightful (*ahem) people to work for. I was so worried about being unemployed that I jumped at the chance, without spending the time to see what other options are out there.

Dubai is very much a networking city; I should have attended Meetup groups and coffee mornings, handing out business cards and my cv, I would have built up my contact list and been given far more advice about what to do and who to talk to. Probably saved myself a great deal of time, frustration and money!


Don’t just look at the obvious places to live

There are certain iconic areas in Dubai that you aspire to live in. The Marina, Downtown or Arabian Ranches. You either have fabulous views, amazing dining or green lush gardens, but they also come with a hefty price tag. Check out the areas such as JVC, JVT, Remraam, Barsha Heights (formally Tecom and currently my hunting ground) and Motor City. Whilst they may not be the prettiest or most convenient areas they are significantly cheaper and there are great deals to be done on the number of cheques you can pay.

I did not realise the huge cost associated with renting an apartment in this city. Firstly, there is the massive shock that you pay in cheques, so your first Cheque could be for a quarter of your rent! An enormous sum of money. You also have to pay a 5% realtors fee, to say thank you to your realtor for showing you the apartment, a 5% deposit to the landlord. There is a charge for setting up your DEWA (water & electricity) and then you have to pay for Internet, which is not cheap.

Suddenly you are down thousands of Dirhams before you have even started furnishing the place. Take full account of your finances before you look at getting your own place; it is also worth considering sharing with friends, as this will bring down your costs dramatically.


Take advantage of all the discounts!

When I first moved here all my friends had the Entertainer app, it took me a full year before I realised just how much money I could have saved if I had spent the money to download it. The Entertainer is chock full of deals for restaurants, days out, beauty treatments and hotels. You can choose if you want to purchase the full package or just certain books. It is well worth the money and will save you so much, especially when you are out dining.

Dubai is absolutely full of deals, whether ladies nights, happy hours or meal deals. When you are heading out with friends spend some time planning exactly which bars have deals on and where your can use the entertainer or guzzle app. Barasti may be a fun night out but there are rarely any good drink deals, making a plan with save you a fortune!


Choose where to shop wisely

I barely buy clothes in Dubai anymore unless they are in the sale. The prices are higher than in the UK and you will find yourself going way over budget. However, if you are in need of a shop head to some of the malls slightly out of the centre of the city, for example Ibn Battuta or Festival City, they tend to have more sales on and the sales stock lasts a lot longer. Plus, if like me you hate busy shopping malls they are like a breath of fresh air, you can while away the hours without being constantly jostled by frantic bargain hunters.

When food shopping try to avoid the familiar, Waitrose is absolutely brilliant for sauces and condiments, but their fruit and veg section is rather expensive. Head to Geant instead, their grocery section is extensive and very reasonably priced. They also tend to have a number of deals and discounts on household items. A great way to save money.


Make friends ASAP

Big cities can be very lonely and Dubai is a place where you need to have a close-knit group of friends. My friends have absolutely made my time here and have become a sort of surrogate family. This was especially apparent when I had a minor car crash and ended up in hospital, I frantically rang around my friends in a panic and a very good friend of mine dropped what she was doing and spent the next 6 hours sat with me. When you are so far from home it is comforting to know that people care about you.

It can be a little intimidating to rock up to a new location and suddenly ask people “will you be my friend?” but this is pretty much what you have to do and most won’t think you are strange or needy as they have been in exactly the same situation. Joining groups and activities is a great way to meet people, very natural and pressure free. I met one friend at salsa classes, another two through the Scottish society and one at an expat women event. Two years later and we are all still in touch and always out and about together.

So shake off any nerves or pre conceived ideas about how you “should” meet people, and head out into the city!

Dubai is an amazing place to live but if you aren’t careful it will drain you of money very quickly, however, it you are sensible and do a bit of forward thinking you can live a luxury lifestyle but not on a luxury budget.


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