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Riding a camel in the desert is a must | © Pete the painter
Riding a camel in the desert is a must | © Pete the painter | Flickr
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10 Things All Expats Experience When They Move to Dubai

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 8 October 2017
Dubai is the city of expats—almost 70% of the population in the UAE is made up of them! This means however that there can be a lot of bonding over the comic things many of us experience when moving to Dubai for the first time. Here are 10 things all expats go through at least once when moving to the great city.

Realizing You Don’t Have to Shake Hands as a Greeting

When dealing with co-workers or new acquaintances in the UAE, more likely than not you won’t be shaking hands with the opposite gender. Both because of the local culture and Islamic tradition, most people in the UAE won’t initiate body contact, which means if you’re someone who loves their personal bubble than Dubai is the place to live!

Dubai, one of the most international cities in the world
Dubai, one of the most international cities in the world | Flickr

Being in Shock at How Hot It Is

Yes, you’ve read about how hot it can get in Dubai, especially during the summer, but nothing really prepares you for the reality of living in the desert. Burning eyes, constant sweating, dry throat, and a throbbing headache are just some of the lovely symptoms we all experience when trying to get used to living in Dubai in the beginning.

Keeping cool in hot weather
Keeping cool in hot weather | Flickr

Obsessing Over the Desert Scene

While the futuristic skyscrapers of Dubai are captivating, nothing really compares to the raw beauty of the desert surrounding the city. We’ve all experienced it … the barbeque in the desert, social media profile pictures of us jumping over a sand dune; the desert is just so different and exciting!

Riding a camel in the desert is a must
Riding a camel in the desert is a must | Flickr

Getting Excited at How Everything Can be Delivered to Your Door

Everything, from food to furniture and your groceries, can be delivered to your front door. We’ve all been way too enthusiastic about this in the beginning and have ordered things left and right and regretted it later!

The chicken burgers in Dubai are surprisingly amazing
The chicken burgers in Dubai are surprisingly amazing | Flickr

Feeling Underdressed

People in Dubai are always so well-dressed, glittering with jewelry and scented with the most exquisite perfume, so it’s no wonder we’ve all felt underdressed at least once! We either learn to step up our game, or learn to ignore the stares and continue going to the corner shop in our pajamas.

Hot weather plus make-up usually isn’t a good idea, but in Dubai it’s the norm
Hot weather plus make-up usually isn’t a good idea, but in Dubai it’s the norm | Flickr

Getting Angry at the Maid Culture

Almost every middle class or rich family in Dubai has a maid, and if coming from a country or culture where having a maid is not the norm, this tradition can be a bit upsetting or even infuriating in the beginning. Most of us have experienced the shock at the sight of a maid trailing after a family at the mall, and while there is nothing we can really do about it, it’s still something that we’ve all had to internally come to grips with.

Family in Dubai enjoying the waterfront
Family in Dubai enjoying the waterfront | Flickr

Realizing You Completely Outnumber the Local Population

Coming into Dubai as an expat, you expect to have to adapt to the local culture and traditions … until you realize that the expats in fact completely outnumber the local Emiratis. In fact, most expats will adapt into the international expat culture of Dubai more than the rather exclusive local culture!

At a Land Rover event in Dubai
At a Land Rover event in Dubai | Flickr

Overusing the word “Inshallah”

The Arabic word “inshallah” means “God Willing”, and is used after a sentence in almost every single scenario. “You have to come to work on time tomorrow!” will be answered with “inshallah”. “Do you know where this is located?” you ask your taxi driver, with him answering “inshallah”. The word becomes addictive, and you quickly learn how useful it is!

Women in Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Women in Sheikh Zayed Mosque | Flickr

Going to Dubai Mall to Do All Your Shopping Because, Why Not?

Dubai Mall is just so active, so colorful, and so addictive for anyone in love with shopping or being in a crowd … and we’ve all experienced the love of doing all our shopping at Dubai Mall. Even if it’s a little more expensive and crowded, it’s worth it to be able to walk around in the biggest mall in the world.

Dubai Mall’s fashion avenue
Dubai Mall’s fashion avenue | Flickr

Realizing All of Your Last Minute Efforts to Learn Arabic Were a Waste

While the local language of the Emirates is indeed Arabic, and while many of us binged on last minute attempts to learn the language; almost every single expat has been through the shock of realizing that you really don’t have to know Arabic to live in Dubai. In fact, because of the large number of expats from India and Pakistan, you’ll more likely pick up a few phrases in Hindi or Urdu instead.