By the 1930s, Dubai’s popularity was growing, with immigrants making up around one-quarter of the population. The city’s growth really took off when oil was discovered in the 1960s.
Over the past 50 years, Dubai has undergone unprecedented change, and large amounts of money have been invested into infrastructure and development. We take a look at how multicultural Dubai is, and what to expect from Dubai’s culture and lifestyle.
Dubai’s multicultural growth
The Dubai Plan 2021 was launched in December 2014, aiming to reinforce Dubai’s position as a global centre and leader across various fields. Six key areas of focus were: The People; The Society; The Experience; The Place; The Economy; and The Government – to make Dubai the best city it can be.
The Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan was unveiled in 2021, laying out the Emirate’s future urban development with a focus on enhancing people’s happiness and quality of life and reinforcing Dubai as a global destination for citizens, residents and visitors over the next 20 years. The plan will undoubtedly generate new business opportunities and reconfirm the status of the UAE as a haven for global investors and a leader in the post-Covid recovery.
Between 1960 and 2020, the population of Dubai has multiplied 80 times from 40,000 in 1960 to 3.3 million
Dubai’s cultural melting pot
Today’s Dubai is a fusion of more than 200 nationalities – with Emiratis making up only around 10% of the population. Individuals pay no income, property or capital gains tax, which makes it an attractive financial proposition for many expats.
Dubai’s subtropical climate makes for great weather, but for many newly arrived expats, the summer can be a real shock. The hottest months are between June and September, when temperatures average 45°C. A cooler 24-25°C is usual in January and February.
When I arrived here, I was surprised by how open the country was – it felt like a home away from home
British expatriate, Jennifer Bell says: “When I arrived here, I was surprised by how open the country was. It felt like a home away from home. When it comes to socialising, such as experiencing the local nightlife, there is little difference to Europe.”
“It’s an extremely safe place, with a zero-tolerance approach to bad behaviour and crime. As long as you stay respectful to the city and its modern, Middle Eastern traditions, this is one of the best places to live.”
What to expect from a Dubai lifestyle
Dubai’s cultural traditions
Canadian expatriate Anna Stevens has lived in the UAE on and off for more than 20 years. She says: “The culture today has a deep respect for religion, time with family, and intangible heritage like poetry, storytelling and falconry; it can be tricky to navigate on your own.”
“At the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai, you can learn about local customs at special events. Modest dress and a few words in Arabic open a lot of doors and make it easier for others to approach you.”
Newcomers should be considerate of the country’s traditions. Avoid wearing revealing clothes in public and any public displays of affection. It’s particularly important to be respectful on national and religious holidays such as Eid, Commemoration Day and Ramadan; this includes dressing modestly and being mindful of your behaviour.
Modest dress and a few words in Arabic open a lot of doors and make it easier for others to approach you.
Convenience and practical issues
British expatriate James Langton says: “As a Western expat, everything seems to exist for your convenience, from fast food deliveries to someone packing your groceries at the supermarket, and even pumping petrol.”
“However, if you have legal problems – consumer rights issues or tenancy disputes – there may seem to be very little redress.”
The court system operates in Arabic, which sometimes makes it difficult for expatriates to navigate. Understanding the laws – most of which are in Arabic – and finding a good lawyer and/or translator is essential for those involved in a court case.
James also suggests that expats making the move to Dubai sit down and work out what their living costs are likely to be in relation to their salary: “It’s easy to spend all your earnings. The country has become more expensive recently, and lots of companies have cut back heavily on things like housing and education allowances.”
A healthy Dubai lifestyle
There’s a growing emphasis on health and fitness in Dubai, and it is a great place to get and stay fit. Most apartment blocks and compounds popular with expatriates have gyms and swimming pools exclusively for residents.
The Dubai Fitness Challenge has been running since 2016 and was designed to encourage residents to factor in 30 minutes of exercise a day. This initiative was created to inspire a fitness-focused mindset and to help residents and visitors to seek healthy, active lifestyles.
The working week in Dubai
The working week in Dubai runs from Sunday to Thursday, so Friday is the first day of your weekend – though some professions, such as banking or trading, adjust this to align with international markets.
The average amount of overtime worked in Dubai is five hours according to UBS Prices and Earnings 2015. This means that many people are working the maximum 48 hours a week allowed – or even longer.
A welcoming culture
As its population grows, along with its aim to improve the health and wellbeing of its residents, Dubai is seen as the top city in which to live in the Middle East and North Africa.
Expats need to be aware of Dubai’s cultural and religious norms – and an increasing cost of living – but they will be rewarded with a diverse and welcoming place to live and work.
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The information provided in this article is designed as a guide and reference point to what you might expect in Dubai. Please be sure to check any information with local Dubai authorities to ensure information is valid and timely.