Choosing where to live, not just in Dubai, but actually anywhere in the UAE, should be based on a number of considerations, including proximity to your place of work, proximity to schools your children will attend, how much you can afford to pay, the environment you like to live in, and for some, people you may know in the emirates already - if you like a pre-built community to move to.
How much each of these considerations should be weighed will be very much down to personal preference, but each is important if you want to achieve a balance in your life, and put down roots somewhere you can be long term.
Dubai is particularly blessed in the UAE with a wide range of options, each with an often quite unique character, and price point. This makes it to some extent easier for you to choose. There is no point at looking at an area you cannot afford, or one that you know you would not feel happy living in.
Of course, if you're new to the UAE you may struggle in the sense of not knowing what each area is like. It's for this reason we're presently working on area guides for WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
We have started with Dubai, because that's where the team is based, and therefore know best. However, once we complete Dubai, we'll be moving onto the next emirate. If you want to help us cross the emirates more quickly, please feel free to send in your area guides to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All submissions very welcome.
The Key Considerations
1. Proximity to your place of work
In some ways this is far less of an issue than in many parts of the world. If you're arriving from a big city, either east or west, commuting will have been a way of life for some time.
The average commute time in the word's major cities is often well over an hour (in London the average is 75 minutes). In Dubai it can be less than 15 minutes.
If you're not sure of journey times, just use Google Maps with the start and end point of your destination to find out average times. For many Dubai workers one of the city's biggest, often unexpected delights is how quick it *can* be to get into work. And the quicker you can get to work and back the more you can both work and play harder.
Not everyone will of course live close to where they work, and there can be multiple reasons for this. Most importantly Dubai rents are volatile. At the moment we are experiencing a calm, and have actually seen rents reduce over the last eighteen to 24 months. However that does not mean they are affordable, and this means many people move out of Dubai and into Sharjah and the Northern Emirates.
Rush hour in Dubai runs from 7am till 9:30am and 5pm till 7:30pm. In the mornings traffic is heaviest from Sharjah into Dubai and in the evenings from Dubai into Sharjah. If you do move towards the Northern Emirates, prepare for this.
Newer areas of Dubai which are still under construction, lack facilities, and in many cases, access roads linking the area up to main arteries can also be cheaper. However, that last mile home can add a painful and frustrating amount of time to your journey if roads are not yet in place.
Proximity to your school
Getting your child into a great school anywhere in the UAE is tough, and competitive. You have to get very lucky to live next to a great school, and get access to one of its contested seats (although depending on the segment this is getting easier with more choice).
This can be incredibly frustrating when you move to Dubai. If you choose to live in Arabian Ranches for example, you have one of Dubai's best schools on your doorstop - JESS Arabian Ranches. However, as a school with a waiting list - and debentures giving certain company employees priority - getting a place is unlikely.
If you have more than one child, the chances are you will also be picking up and dropping off to two separate locations. If those schools are not next to each other - again, far from guaranteed - you'll need to think about living in a location where you can get to both, without spending a life time in your car.
If you're going through this process WhichSchoolAdvisor.com can help in multiple ways.
- Use the map, which shows the location of (most) schools across the UAE.
- Keep an eye on our new school articles - where you are likely to find most availability of places, and often incentives in terms of founders fees
- Our school search listings pages allows you to search where there is availability - although not all schools yet fill in this information.
- Finally, you can take advantage of our paid one to one consultancy service. Contact us for more information if you're interested in this.
How much you can afford to pay
It goes without saying, don't spend your time looking at 10m AED villas if you can't afford them.
There are multiple resources you can use to get an idea of rents in Dubai. Classifieds site, Dubizzle, has the most up to date list of properties in the UAE. Gulf News property classifieds is slightly less usable, but also pretty up to date. It has a very nice feature that shows property prices by area based on research, and updated monthly. Finally our area guides contain average prices - although these are not updated monthly, but do contain we think the best guides as to how places feel, and what they offer.
In general, areas that are under construction will be cheaper than those that have been built and are bedding down. This is for very good reasons - your standard of life will be better in a place where there are roads, pavements and supermarkets and shops on your door step.
Equally, older parts of Dubai will be cheaper than newer Dubai, but in all likelihood be further away from where you work, likely to suffer heavy traffic congestion, and depending upon the building, be less comfortable and well maintained.
With pretty good roads, apartments and villas in Sharjah and the Northern Emirates are possible, and much cheaper to live in. However the commute can be very painful if you are not in control of when you work and have to travel during rush hour.
What kind of lifestyle are you looking for? Are you coming out alone and want bright lights, big city? Do you have a family? If so, at what stage is it: Do you have young children where nurseries and green spaces are important, or teenagers where sports, malls, and good transport links are probably a bigger consideration?
Dubai does all of this quite well. For every Arabian Ranches serving families with spacious villas, green spaces and gardens, is a Downtown Dubai which is geared up towards apartment living, twinking lights, and city life.
Note: There are many families that live in Downtown, and many people without children that live in Arabian Ranches. Again, read through our area guides to get a sense of the place...
Old Dubai favourites
Not Yet, Unfinished Dubai
Al Barsha South
Jumeirah Village Circle
Jumeirah Village Triange
Affordable Dubai (ish)
Jumeirah Village Circle
Bur Dubai - Karama, Al Jafiliya, Al Mankhool, Umm Hurair, Al Hamriya...
What was your purpose in coming to Dubai?
Before you get sold on the dream by lovely estate agents, remind yourself of why you have come to the UAE in the first place. Is it to live the dream, or is it to save money?
It is very, very easy to allow your expenditure to mirror your income in the UAE, even though you are not paying tax. That's fine if it is a personal decision, but not if your goal was to save. Many people leave the UAE with little - financially - to show for their time here. Some even leave with debts.
One cheque for rent, or multiple cheques? During the financial crisis, many landlords showed increasing flexibility into how many cheques they demanded. As Dubai rents surged afterwards, a lot of the inflexibility returned. Over the last year or so, flexibility is coming back again. Simply, there are no rules except the law of supply and demand.
Two cheques is the most common request my landlords, although some will demand one, and others will still be flexible and give you the option of paying in three cheques or more. Depending upon the state of your finances, you will know what you can manage.
If you're in a position to pay in one cheque, you can use this as a lever to try and reduce the rent that you pay, although as the market has moved back towards the landlord, this is becoming a less effective bargaining tool.
Note: Do not issue a cheque and allow it to bounce. This is a criminal offence in the UAE, and can get ugly unless you can rectify it quickly...
Villas - considerations
Aside the annual rent, villas are considerably more expensive to live in. The AC, water and electricity bill will be of a margin higher (as an estimate, around four times). In addition you will have a garden to maintain (500 - 800 AED a month for a gardener). You may also need to employ maintenance people for repairs...
Note: Older villas will have cheaper rent, but high annual maintenance and utility costs.
Before you do move into a villa, make sure you understand what the landlord thinks he is responsible for... This may not be what you think it is. In general, major maintenance is 'usually' the responsibility of the landlord, while minor maintenance is the responsibility of the tenant
Finally, villas can also be quite spacious, and there is no point moving into one if you don't have the budget to furnish it properly. This can be quite expensive. Just check out the prices in The One, or Marina, both of which do some very nice stuff, but at very premium price points.
Apartments are easier to maintain, and have utility bills that are a fraction of villas.
Apartments can also offer some great shared facilities. Many in Dubai offer a swimming pool, gym, and other communal areas.
However, you also live in proximity to a lot of other families. How close depends upon build. In some apartments you may not even notice your neighbours. In others you may be able to listen into their conversations, and almost taste their dinner...
In general if you live in a villa, a pet will be fine. If you live in an apartment, you will often find a pet is not allowed.
Don't assume however in either case - make sure you check your landlord, the building rules, and the terms and conditions of the lease.
Agents commission: 5% of annual rent (usually)
Deposit held by landlord: 5% of annual rent (usually)
Removals: 1500 AED +
Connections: 200 to 1000 AED deposits for utilities + Connection charges
Note: The landlord will usually be responsible for maintenance and service charges. You need to check he/she is up to date. A recent Dubai trend is for master developers to lock out anyone living in an apartment where service fees are not up to date. Check with the building or the homeowners’ association.
To get your deposit back, carry out and record an inspection, and photograph any damage already existing to your building or apartment.
Check the small print. Dubai has quite clear laws regarding what the landlord can and cannot do (for example in when they can ask you to leave) and what he can ask you to pay. However, if you agree to something else in your contract's small print, clearly you add considerable confusion to 'the law', and may no longer be as protected.
There are many stories (quite real unfortunately) of people in the UAE paying one cheque, swiftly cashed, for the rent on an apartment that was not the agent's to rent.
The result - one year's rent lost overnight with no apartment to show for it.
By law, it is the tenant’s responsibility to ensure that the agents they are dealing with are RERA-compliant and own the property in question. If you do not so your due diligence correctly, you have no recourse.
Look out for rent that is lower than market rate, and if copies of the title deed, service charge payments are not produced. Be particularly careful if you’re asked to write the cheque to another name not the one on the title deed.
Scamsters will try to rush you, and play to your desire to bag a bargain... Always remember if it looks too good to be true - it probably is.
Finally, to buy or to rent
This question is a cause for angst for many people in the UAE, and the considerations are far too large for this article.
Buying is a growing trend however. Many people have made the leap and are very happy. However there are considerable risks involved, and you need to make sure that you can live with the decision, and are able to live with the payments through good times and bad...
Note also, in an effort to remove speculation and the rise of another bubble in the real estate sector, Dubai authorities have made buying an apartment considerably tougher. You will, for example, need to find 20% of the purchase price, while fees to the Dubai Land Department have shot up to 4% of the total cost. (This is supposed to be a shared cost between buyer and seller, but at the moment, but whether it is paid by the buyer or seller depends on how much you want to buy versus how much the vendor needs to sell).
Add agency fees, mortgage fees, insurance, etc and you'll be adding almost 10% to the actual purchase price of the property.
This is quite painful at the best of times. If you're just moving to Dubai, it's clearly best to wait a while, settle in first, explore, and then make this decision.