25 things UAE newbies can learn from seasoned residents

Once you’ve been in the country a few years, it’s your responsibility to pass on these nuggets of wisdom…

EDGAR staff October 23, 2014

Expat life in the UAE isn't too dissimilar from university life elsewhere. Your fresher year is all about meeting people, getting to know the place and throwing yourself headfirst into every offer and invite you get.

After those initial 12 months, you think you know the place well, you have your favourite spots and you begin to walk around like you've been here forever.

But after a couple of years you get to a point where you're no longer regarded as new and have been in the country long enough to be able to teach a thing or two to an expat newbie. Because if there's one thing that annoys you more than anything else, it's those pesky freshmen who think they already know the place like the back of their hand. Here's 20 things you can teach them...

1. Say yes

When you're new, say yes to everything. You need to meet people and you need to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how welcoming people will be to the new person.

2. Be respectful

If you can't be respectful of other nationalities, cultures, religions and faiths, then the UAE really isn't the country for you. Leave now, and don't come back. UAE residents.

3. Remember where you are

It is easy to feel like you're in a Western country at times in the UAE, but never forget where you actually are. There's a difference between having one too many cocktails in a licensed bar, and stumbling around the mall without any shoes on.

4. Wear suncream

Sunburn when you live in the desert is not considered unfortunate; it's just dumb. If you've got a picnic in the park, you're playing golf or even just going for a walk, you're going to need some factor 30.

5. Learn a language

A lot of people here speak more than one language. More than two in fact. Learning Arabic, French or Hindi will be hugely beneficial both in your job and socially.

6. Taxis

Learn where is the best place to hail a cab, and the best times; it might mean leaving for work 20 minutes earlier to guarantee a taxi. And if you're going to use a Lexus car, be sure to haggle before you get in. Dubai Taxis. 7. Never drink and drive

The blood alcohol limit here is zero. Breaking it is taken seriously.

8. Learn to let go

Everyone misses things from home, but if you're still using your native phone number, Skyping your family everyday and watching your local town news every night, it's going to be hard for you to fully embrace your new home. The more you let go, the less homesick you will feel.

9. Explore

The UAE isn't just about Dubai and Abu Dhabi - far from it. Take a day trip to one of the other emirates to experience something different, or Oman is just a two hour drive away.

10. Get away

As great as the UAE is, it can also be quite intense. Sri Lanka, Jordan, Beirut, Goa are all within a four hour flight and perfect places to switch off and recuperate. Take a week off and get out of town. Petra, Jordan. 11. Seek opinion, but make your own mind up

There are many things people are polar opposites about here - where to live, where to go out, what to do, who to meet. One friend may love one place, while another detests it. Heed their advice, but give yourself the chance to make your own mind up.

12. Three degrees of separation

They say everybody in the world is connected by six degrees of separation. In the UAE that's more like three degrees, and within your industry probably less than that. Whatever you do, just keep that in mind.

13. Appointment times mean nothing

You have a meeting at 11am? A medical appointment at 2pm? The maintenance guys said they'd be at your apartment before 10am? Yeah...take all of those appointment times with a large pinch of salt. There's fashionably late, and then UAE late.

14. Remember your phone number

In the UAE, your mobile number is so much more than just a way for people to reach you. It's pretty much built into your local DNA; a digit-signature. You'll be asked what it is several times a week, so learn it. UAE phone number. 15. You'll never have the right documents

Being new can be frustrating as there's a lot of things to get sorted. Your new home will require the water and electricity (DEWA) to be switched over, same with the air con, you're going to need the internet and of course a local mobile number. You'll think you have all the right documents for these things, but you won't. You just won't.

16. Always have passport photos on you

See above. For every document you sign, you'll be required to hand over at least one passport photo. Go to a photo booth, look your best and take upwards of 10 copies.

17. An E-Gate is the best AED 200 you'll ever spend

Skipping past the huge queues at passport control when you land back in the country gives you an incredible feeling. Invest in an E-Gate card, you won't regret it.

18. Don't try to beat the summer

Summer gets hot, there's no two ways about it. Don't try and take the temperature rise head-on, you're never going to win. Either get away for a couple months, or accept that you're going to spend it inside with air con and TV box sets. TV box sets in Dubai. 19. Ask for local water

The local bottled water is fine, and there's several brands to choose from. When in a restaurant, ignore the foreign brands that are twice the price.

20. You can order in anything

Literally anything. Enjoy the novelty, but don't let it stop you from leaving the house.

21. Avoid Dubai Mall on a weekend

The UAE has a lot of malls, and you'll grow to love them (maybe). In Dubai, the general rule is Mall of the Emirates is for residents, while Dubai Mall is for tourists. Whichever you choose, Dubai Mall on a weekend is possibly the busiest place on earth.

22. Remember where you parked

That said, when you do go to the mall make sure you note down where you park. Not only are the underground car parks huge, but they're often labyrinths of identical layouts. Lose your car, and you may never get out. Dubai Mall car park. 23. Road names are subject to change

Once your sat-nav is one month old, you should take its directions with a hint of caution. Road names change scarily frequently, and sometimes a name is actually just moved to a different road nearby.

24. Replacements are just as good

You like a certain type of toiletry, consumer product or even medicine. If they don't have the brand you're used to here, there will be a local substitute. You don't really have any other option but to embrace them.

25. You may find it hard to leave

People either sink or swim in the UAE. If you're still here after two or three years, you may find it very hard to move back to where you came. But maybe that's not such a bad thing... What others things can seasoned residents teach UAE newbies? Let us know in the comments below.