Moving to Dubai from the UK: a complete how to guide

Zorica Lončar

Dreaming of a new life in Dubai? You’re not alone, as Dubai is a hugely popular destination for expats.

Life in Dubai promises a high standard of living, in a clean, safe and luxurious city with world-class infrastructure. This is also a city of boundless professional opportunities, along with high-end shopping, dining and incredible high-rise housing.

Moving abroad will always be a challenging step, but we’re here to help.

In this guide, we’ll run through all the essentials you need to know about moving to Dubai from the UK. This includes how to get a visa for the UAE, find somewhere to live and helpful info about the cost of living in the city state.

We’ll even take a quick look at the most cost-effective way to manage your money across borders. Open a Wise account and you can send money between the UK and the UAE for low fees and great exchange rates.

But first, let’s focus on some of the basics you need to know ahead of your big move.

Living in Dubai - what you need to know

Let’s start with a few of the basic facts you need to know about Dubai if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - UAE Dirham (AED)
  • Main languages - Arabic, English
  • Population - around 3 million¹
  • Number of British expats - approx. 240,000²

Cost of living in Dubai

Before moving to a new country, it’s a good idea to check how far your money will go.

The good news is that the cost of living in Dubai is on average around 22% lower than in London.³

To give you an idea of average prices in Dubai, here are a few examples of everyday and monthly expenses compared to the equivalent cost in London. For ease, we’ve given these costs in GBP.

Cost in Dubai, UAE (in GBP)³Cost in London, UK (in GBP)³
Three-course meal for two people£56.25£80
Loaf of bread£1.17£1.36
Monthly public transport pass£63.68£173
Utilities - monthly (basic)£149.81£306.30
Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in city centre£1,573£2,087

Interested in buying rather than renting a home? Dubai is a huge 76% cheaper³ than London, with a price per square metre for a city centre apartment coming in at around £3,231. Buy the same property in the UK capital and you’d pay approximately £13,500.³ So, it could be a good place for property investment.

Healthcare system

Dubai has an excellent healthcare system, which is a mix of public and private.

Expats can access the public system, but services aren’t free. You’ll need to apply online for a health card from the Ministry of Health. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that public healthcare is designed for Emirati nationals, so it's in high demand and services may not be set up for English-speaking users.

As an expat, you’re also legally obliged to have some form of private medical cover.⁴

If you’re working in Dubai, this may be provided by your employer. If not, you’ll need to pay for a private policy. The major benefit of this is access to medical facilities of a much higher standard than in the public system.

Opening a bank account in Dubai

Dubai is the financial hub of the Middle East, so it has a thriving banking scene and lots of different account providers to choose from.

It’s also pretty easy to open a bank account in Dubai as a non-citizen. You’ll need to be living there to open a current account, with non-residents limited to just a handful of savings accounts. These may have high minimum balance requirements.

The process to open an account usually involves visiting a branch of your chosen bank. This is because there are a number of documents to be checked, and your identity verified. Once you’ve submitted your application, it should only take a few days for your account to be opened.

The requirements vary from bank to bank, but you’ll generally need:⁵

  • Your passport
  • A copy of your visa
  • A letter or salary certificate from your employer or visa sponsor, or a salary c
  • Your Emirates ID card (if applicable)
  • Proof of address.

In some cases, you might also be asked for a reference letter from your previous bank, a recent utility bill or recent bank statements.

If you prefer to open and manage your money online, there are a growing number of digital and mobile-only banks which operate in the UAE. This includes Mbank UAE, Liv Bank, Neo, Wiz and Yap.

Finding a job in Dubai

Have the right to work in Dubai and have your work permit? If you don’t already have a position lined up, you’ll need to start job-hunting right away. You might want to do this before you move.

If you’re looking for jobs in Dubai, here are a few handy places to start your search:

There’s no income tax in the United Arab Emirates, so you won’t pay any tax on your salary.

Renting or buying property in Dubai

Finding somewhere to live is going to be at the top of your to-do list for moving to Dubai, along with getting your visa sorted.

You don’t need to be a UAE citizen to buy property in Dubai. But you will only be able to buy freehold property in certain designated areas as an expat. This includes areas in downtown Dubai, Palm Jumeirah, Barsha Heights, Emirates Hills and around Dubai Marina. The list of designated areas are updated every year.⁶

To find a property, it’s a good idea to register with a local estate agent registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency. They can help you find a suitable property in a designated area, give you advice on getting a mortgage and complete the legal steps required.

Prefer to rent instead? This is a popular option among newcomers to Dubai, offering a roof over your head as soon as you arrive. You can also rent for just a few months, while you get a feel for the area and scout out properties to buy.

To find houses and apartments to rent in Dubai, start by looking at these sites:

You could also register with a local estate agent and have them search for a suitable rental property on your behalf.

How to get a visa for Dubai

One of the most important things to do before you can move to Dubai is get your visa.

There are a few different options for UK citizens. Let’s take a look:⁷

  • 5-year Green UAE Visa

    This is a new visa designed for people wanting to live and work in the UAE for up to 5 years without needing visa sponsorship. It’s suitable for highly skilled workers, freelancers, investors and business partners. As part of the application process, you’ll get a 60 day work permit to come to Dubai so you can complete the last few steps once you’ve arrived.

  • 10-year Residency ‘Golden’ UAE Visa

    This is designed for expats looking to settle in the UAE for long-term career or investment opportunities. It’s open to investors, entrepreneurs, chief executives, scientists and students who meet certain conditions. You can also get this visa by making an eligible investment in local real estate or other investments.

There are also other UAE visas for UK citizens, including visas for work, study and retirement.

To apply for a UAE visa, you’ll need to contact the UAE embassy in London or apply through a sponsor in Dubai.

An important thing to note is that if you’re applying for a UAE residence permit, you’ll need to take a blood test. If you test positive for HIV or Hepatitis, your application will be rejected. If you’re living in the UAE, you’re likely to be deported - and there’s no appeals process.⁸

How to move your belongings from the UK to Dubai¹⁰

Now we come to the practical part of planning your move - how you’ll actually ship your belongings over to Dubai.

You’ll need to get quotes from shipping companies, and explore the different shipping options including sea and air freight. It could be worth weighing up whether it’s worth moving absolutely everything with you. It could be cheaper to travel light and buy what you need when you arrive in the UAE.

As an indicator of how much it costs to ship your stuff from the UK to Dubai, you can expect to pay around £2,220 for the contents of a 3-bed house.⁹

Moving to Dubai from the UK - a checklist

Feeling overwhelmed by the long list of things to do before your move to Dubai? Here’s a handy checklist covering all of the main tasks to focus on:

  • Research visa options, gather your documents and apply for your visa.
  • Find somewhere to live - this may involve multiple trips out to Dubai to scout out locations and view properties to buy or rent.
  • Get a job sorted, unless you have a position lined up or want to wait until you arrive.
  • Get quotes for shipping your furniture and belongings over to Dubai.
  • Start researching banks in Dubai to find out the requirements for opening a current account.
  • Get your private healthcare insurance cover sorted
  • Tell HMRC that you’re leaving the UK
  • Book your flights.

Save on your relocation costs to Dubai with Wise

Have rental deposits or visa application fees to send over to Dubai before your move? It might seem easiest to use your UK bank, but a word of warning - international transfers can be expensive with many banks.

Using a Wise account to cover international relocation costs could be the cheaper option. With Wise, you can send money between the UK and the UAE for low fees and mid-market exchange rate.

You can also use Wise to receive income from the UK in GBP. This could help you to avoid the currency conversion fees charged by banks, not to mention the poor exchange rates.

And while you wait for your Dubai bank account to be opened, you can use your international Wise debit card to spend like a local from the moment you arrive.

This clever contactless card automatically converts your money to AED at the mid-market rate whenever you spend. This means you don’t need to worry about changing money or carrying cash around. You can use it in a huge 150+ countries too, so it’s ideal for visits abroad or back to the UK.

Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

And there you have it - the comprehensive guide to moving to Dubai from the UK.

We’ve covered it all, including visa types, the importance of getting private healthcare cover, how to open a Dubai bank account and a list of property websites so you can start searching for somewhere to live. We’ve even thrown in a handy checklist so you can get started right away.

There’s a huge amount to get through before you can finally jet off to Dubai. But hopefully after reading this, you’ll have a better idea of what to do and when. Then you can get your bags packed and start looking forward to your new life in glamorous Dubai - good luck!

Sources used:

  1. World Population Review - Dubai population
  2. 1st International Move - Pros and cons of living in Dubai (2023)
  3. Numbeo - Cost of Living Comparison between London and Dubai
  4. MoveHub - Health Insurance in Dubai
  5. Expatica - How to open a bank account in the UAE
  6. Property Finder - Can Foreigners Buy Properties in Dubai?
  7. Robert Half UK - Thinking of relocating to Dubai? Here are the latest UK Visa regulations in the UAE
  8. Gov.UK - UAE Entry Requirements
  9. 1st Move International - International Removals UK to Dubai, UAE

Sources last checked on date: 01-Aug-2023

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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