Moving to the UAE? How to Find a Home

Schools and all things education are our forte at, so for this feature in our comprehensive guide to moving to the UAE, we thought we’d better call in the experts. Our team spoke to Luke Joyce, Founder of to bring you all you need to know about finding a home in the UAE.
Moving to the UAE? How to Find a Home
By Jenny Mollon
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Luke Joyce is the Founder of, a comprehensive and user-friendly website designed to help you find the right home for you and your family. We asked Luke to give us the lowdown on searching for homes in the UAE.

Luke, what is the first thing families should think about when choosing where to live in the UAE?

I’d say that the two primary considerations should be distance to schools and distance to work. Traffic can be an issue, as in any big city, so think about how long your family are happy to spend in a car each day. Don’t forget that travelling to school isn’t just about the morning and afternoon school run, it’s also important to remember things like running back and forth for extra-curricular activities, sports fixtures and of course different timings for children of different ages. Plus, your children will no doubt want to live as close as possible to their friends, especially in their teenage years!

Do most people live in villas or apartments in the UAE?

Historically, local (Emirati) families, would live in family villas, often in villa compounds, and the expat community would live in mid-rise apartment blocks such as those found in Deira and Bur Dubai.

As the city has developed southwards, it has been exciting to watch many new communities spring up. These have been very popular with expats, notably the Dubai Marina area, which is all apartment buildings, and the DubaiLand region, which is largely villa communities. That said, the city is still predominantly apartments. On right now, the apartment to villa ratio is roughly five to one.

JLT is a popular area for apartment dwellers

Where are the property 'hotspots' for expats?

Every city has its hot spots and up and coming areas. is primarily focused on Dubai, where I can tell that apartment-wise, Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) and Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) are the hotspots for apartments. For villas, the hotspots are the established villa communities in DubaiLand such as Arabian Ranches, Damac Hills, The Villa, Serena, Victory Heights or anything in the "Emirates Living" district, which includes, The Meadows, The Springs and The Lakes.

Should I live close to my child's school?

A recent trend I have noticed in UAE employers is increasing support for work-from-home arrangements, and if this continues, school location is likely to be the single most important consideration for a family looking for a home in the UAE. has a drive-time filter for all schools in Dubai to make it easier to find ideal properties. For example, this link will take you to a list of villa rentals within 15 minutes drive of Kings’ School Dubai.

Are there any schools I can walk to?

Some schools such as Dubai British School, Fairgreen International School and JESS in Jumeirah and Arabian Ranches are located in residential areas. That said, you would need to find a property in very close proximity to the school gates for it to be considered walking distance in the UAE summer heat. From May to October, "walking distance" reduces to about 100 metres! Another thing to consider is that many popular schools are located in areas that are still under development, and may not yet have pavements or safe road crossings.

Should families choose town or suburbs? Why?

This would generally come down to personal preference, although the age of your children will be a huge factor. Jumeirah Beach Residence aka "JBR", for example, is a fantastic place for young children with many nurseries, playgrounds and swimming pools on the podium level and plenty of things to do within walking distance. When the children are older, and need to be ferried around to various schools and sports activities, JBR/Marina traffic may become intolerable!

Emirates Living has a wide variety of villas

Are there any up-and-coming locations where families might find a bargain?

Absolutely. If you are willing to live a little further south on the Al Qudra Road, a recent development named Town Square is coming into its own and offers one of the best quality : cost ratios. Three-bedroom villas can be rented for around AED 80,000 per year in the current market.

Just over the road from Town Square is Reem. Villas there are larger, but still more affordable than other Emaar communities such as Arabian Ranches. A four-bedroom villa can be rented in Reem for around AED 100,000 per year.

Is it better to buy or rent?

For anyone moving here for the first time, renting is the norm, at least for the first year or so, and is preferable for a few reasons:

  • Many expats are unsure how long they'll be staying
  • It takes time to get to know the city and the various communities
  • The city is popular with foreign investors and as such there is an abundance of rental properties available

After that, I have to say that the decision to buy is a highly personal one and will depend on each family’s unique circumstances.

I have heard that you have to pay rent in one annual cheque. Is this true?

Happily, in the current market, the answer is no. Many landlords will accept up to 4 cheques although it is worth remembering that the number of cheques is a bargaining tool, and a single-cheque can be used to negotiate a lower rent.

What is Ejari?

Ejari is the Dubai government's system for attesting and registering tenancy contracts. It’s a system that can be a mystery to newcomers in Dubai and can even catch long-term residents off guard! I’ve put together a detailed guide to Ejari. One thing I’d like to highlight to anyone new to Dubai is that any delay to registering your Ejari can delay your move, as you won’t be able have utilities (also known as ‘DEWA’ i.e. water and electricity) connected. For that reason, I always recommend that new arrivals stay in a hotel apartment on arrival, and that there’s a bit of overlap between the hotel apartment and new home – just in case!

What other legal issues should families think about when it comes to property in Dubai?

Household insurance is always the responsibility of the tenant, I think that is important to note.

With thanks to Luke Joyce of

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