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11 Things People Get WRONG About Dubai

Hey everybody!
As some of you may know, I used to live in Dubai. I lived there for the greater part of my 20s…about 7 years (2010-2017).
When I meet people and they find out I lived in Dubai, one of the first questions I get is “what’s it like?”
I usually just say “different.” Not because I want to change the subject, but because there’s SO much to say that I don’t want to open the floodgates of Dubai-life-stories and anecdotes, etc. 
When I chat with people in the USA about Dubai, they’ll either say “isn’t it like Vegas on crack” or something to the effect of “were you allowed to be there as a woman alone? didn’t you have to cover ur hair? etc.” 
For this video, I wanted to try and address a few of the misconceptions people have about Dubai…
Note: I want to remind you that I moved back to LA in 2017, and some things have changed since then. But we’ll get to those later.

1. Weather in Dubai

First, the weather situation. Yes, it is a desert and hardly rains. Yes, it is HOT for most of the year (think 80s-110s F). That said, it is also VERY humid.
We’re talking the humidity that makes your sunglasses will fog up when you go outside in the summer. It’ll adjust in a few seconds/minutes, but be prepared. Same thing goes for camera lenses, my fellow producers. 

2. Being Female (and Solo) in Dubai

2.Let’s address being female in Dubai, because many people in LA – even very educated people- get it wrong about women in Dubai. For the record, NO, women don’t have to cover their hair in Dubai. I’m a little surprised I have to even say this, because I thought it was obvious. For the record, women can wear whatever and also drive cars in Dubai. They can even drive in Saudi too (as of June 2018). I think the misconception comes from people hearing things about Saudi cities and applying them to Dubai. Just remember that Dubai is definitely more of an “expat” city, with at least 80% of the residents being expats. 

3. Gyms/Getting Exercise in Dubai

With Dubai being as hot as it is, many people opt for a gym membership (or reside in a building with a gym). In my experience, most gyms are co-ed but may have certain “women only” hours. I remember visiting Jeddah in 2013 and finding that all gyms were gender-separate. Interestingly, the only gym in my hotel was “Men Only.” I proceeded to go anyway, figuring who cares if a guy sees me wearing a tee shirt and shorts?

Well, a hotel staff member came to kick me out. When I asked ‘where should I run, outside?’ he replied with ‘no, that would cause a huge problem.’

Wow. Okay. 

So for the record, in Dubai, YES you can go for a jog outside. I did.  However, it is extremely humid in the summer. Dubai does have huge malls which are great for walking (get those steps in!).

4. Super Nice Cars

Is everyone driving a Bentley? Um, no. Sure, I’ve seen some super nice cars there, and I worked in the motor show twice. Gas is cheaper and it’s generally cheaper to own and maintain a car (than it is in LA). One thing I did notice, though, is that car batteries generally don’t last as long as they do here in the USA because of the extreme heat…I feel like I had to get a new battery every couple years.

5. Is Dubai dog-friendly?

Not as friendly as it is in LA. Not many places allow dogs, and in general you don’t meet as many dog owners. It may have something to do with Dubai being a Muslim country; I have heard that one is not supposed to pray in a room with a dog. In general, I didn’t see many dogs there–maybe a handful in areas like JBR. Just something to keep in mind.

6. Wealth distribution in Dubai

Is everyone rich? No. But there are no homeless, either. To live in Dubai you need to have a visa…your visa is paid for by your employer. If you are a local citizen (Emirati), the government takes care of your housing. Some people renew their tourist visas by driving to Oman and back every month or so, but I wouldn’t say that’s very sustainable.

I’ve heard of freelancers buying their own work visas, but am a bit fuzzy on the details. When I lived in Dubai that was more of a black market.

7. Food

What’s the food like? Amazing. We have food from all over the world. You can get amazing, authentic Indian food from cheap, hole-in-the-wall places in Karama. You can also go to Nobu, the Ivy, Zuma (great black cod), Burger & Lobster…or Krispy Kreme, Dunkin, McDs, Burger King, Chili’s, the Cheesecake Factory…etc. etc. 
For groceries, you can go to Spinney’s, Carrefour, Choithram’s, Waitrose…the list goes on. I’d say Carrefour had the lowest prices in general, and they have everything from fresh produce to souvenirs and rugs and home goods. In Dubai grocery stores you’ll see a lot of British imports (McVities, Dairy Milk, etc.). One thing I miss about Dubai is the abundance of fresh juice places that are good and CHEAP af. The chikoo milkshake was my favorite, and I haven’t found a place in LA that has them yet…
Chikoo fruit

8. Money

Regarding the money situation: in Dubai we use dirhams (AED).

The dirham is pegged to the USD, and 3.67 AED is one USD. When you open a bank account in Dubai, you’ll need to show your proof of residency (usually work visa/Emirates ID), and when you are approved for a credit card, your credit limit is based on your salary. When you leave a job, your employer informs the bank and your credit card will be put on hold/not work…until you take a new job and show them your salary certificate. 

Another note: when it comes to credit score, keep in mind that they don’t use your social security number in Dubai. They don’t even use credit scores there (at least not while I was living there). So if you are coming from the USA, remember to keep using your US cards once in a while, because your credit score may go down after a prolonged period of non-usage (it happened to me!).

9. Taxes

When I lived there we didn’t have “taxes” per se…but the electricity & water bills are much higher for expats than they are for citizens (as I discuss in the video).

In January 2018, they started charging a 5% VAT sales tax. I left Dubai before this happened so needless to say it was a bit weird re-adjusting to life in LA, where the price of the item is less than what you pay at the register.

For real estate, the transfer fees are approx. 4% in most areas. Tenants pay a municipality fee of 5% of annual rent (divided into monthly payments).  Property owners pay a fee of 0.5% of the property purchase price (again, divided into monthly payments).

10. Safety

Is it safe? YES. I’d never seen anyone carry a weapon in Dubai…or even witnessed a fight in public, to my recollection. 

11. Are Locals Friendly?

Are Emiratis friendly? Super friendly. Most of the locals I met are very generous and kind, so don’t be intimidated by the big walls around their houses. That’s for privacy (remember that many local women cover their hair when they go out in public). 

Also, Arab hospitality is amazing. If you go to a gathering, you’ll notice the abundance of food. If there’s a party for 10 people, you may see food for 50-100 people. There’s always a plethora of food. Yum.

Extras: Contact lenses, PDA, and smiling at strangers

I hope you enjoyed this video and found it useful, if you did, please Like and Subscribe! 
A few extras (at the end of the video!): 
Contact lenses: you can buy them over the counter. No prescription necessary.
PDA: Not allowed. Holding hands is okay, but making out in public is a no-no. 
Smiling at strangers: Just my experience, but I found that smiling at strangers (esp. those of opposite gender) would lead to them approaching me and thinking I want to go out or something. 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. kay durham

    Loved this!

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