Life in Dubai - Six months in the desert
A quick update and overview of life here in Dubai.
It’s been more than six months since my last post. A lot has happened. I was just a bit too occupied with work and university to properly focus on writing a blog post, so here it goes.
For those unfamiliar with the Gulf region, life here isn’t too different from any other high-income nation. You have an apartment, a car to get around and plenty of options to go for food and leisure activities. The fact that this place is set in the desert and most forms of vegetation are artificial usually doesn’t occupy my mind.
After living here for six months, I feel like I have a pretty good estimate of what life is like. Even though I can’t speak for the “pre-Covid” era, my experience should be representative of any professional working in my field.
Dubai is the only major city (with a positive growth expectation) I know of, that has an oversupply in housing. This means it is a “renter’s market”. Real estate agents will aggressively try to get you as a tenant, so you just have to say “yes”. Often you can even go for a lower bid. Unimaginable in the “housing crisis” capitals of London, Munich or Barcelona.
You can rent a nice studio apartment in a decent area (20 mins from the center by car) for as low as 600 USD / month, a 2-bedroom in the same area would be around 1400 USD / month. Electricity is very cheap as well, 0.04 USD/KWh.
There lies beauty in the chaos. You learn to drive at a 1-meter safety distance from the other cars. The traffic situation seems a bit confusing at first, but one gets used to it quite quickly. I much prefer driving in Dubai to Austria. It’s more aggressive but also much more fluid and efficient.
The roads are perfect, they look like a 3D rendering for most parts. 14-lane highways in both directions are quite the sight. There’s just plenty of room, you can always find a parking spot. Even traffic jams here aren’t half as bad. Things might slow down to 50 km/h, but they keep moving at least.
Gas and insurance are quite cheap. I’m paying less than half per liter of gasoline and maybe a fifth for my insurance, compared to Austria.
Safety is definitely a big plus here. Dubai feels much safer than Vienna or any other major European city. You can let go of your situational awareness and just assume that nothing bad will happen. No drunks or vagrants in bars or on the street picking fights, no pickpocketing or stealing, and no threat of violent crime. Sure, there’s the occasional scam here and there, no place is perfect. People leave their car keys in the ignition or their laptop on the table in the café and take a walk.
In fact, the only places where I felt safer would be Japan and Taiwan.
I fell in love with Arab cuisine, Lebanese and Palestinian in particular. I really miss it when I’m away. Tabouleh, Kibbeh, Shawarma and the best hummus you can imagine.
Of course, you can also find any other cuisine you’d want, Japanese, Chinese, Fast Food - anything goes.
They have most of the American franchises here as well. Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s, Five Guys and Shake Shack, among others.
Dubai probably has some of the best coffee in the world. Not too surprising considering the tradition of coffee drinking originated on the peninsula. The price for a premium cappuccino is around 5-7 USD, also one of the highest in the world.
The heat in summer is always a contentious issue. Honestly, it’s not that bad. In the summer months, you mostly stay indoors (similar to winter in Europe), everything’s thoroughly air-conditioned, and nine months of the year, it’s very pleasant. Sunshine around 335 days in the year feels amazing once you get used to it. I don’t miss the bleak blanket of clouds in the winter months.
Taxes and Regulation
Death and Taxes, right? Well, death - yes.
Zero income tax, zero capital gains, zero corporate tax (although they’re changing it to a moderate 9% from mid-2023), 5% VAT. Great value for money if you ask me. I’m done working 6-8 months of the year for the state.
Dubai is the only tax haven that’s actually liveable. Spending most of your time on a Caribbean island might sound fun, but I would assume it gets boring fast. You won’t get bored as easily in Dubai, and if you do, there are plenty of other interesting places in the greater region. India is just 3 hours away, so is Kazachstan or Egypt.
Now some things that are a bit suboptimal or could be improved.
The most pronounced issue for me is air pollution. On average, there are high amounts of PM 2.5, as well as ground-level ozone, caused by fuel combustion and UV radiation, respectively. Some days it’s fine. On other days you tend to get a sore throat after spending too much time outdoors.
Water quality is a bit of an issue too. Most running water is produced through desalination. It’s safe to drink, and I use it for cooking mostly. Most people I know just drink bottled water.
For further reference, check out this list of the most urgent environmental threats the UAE government faces today.
The place lacks high culture and subculture. To be fair, the nation recently celebrated its 50th birthday. It’s a bit unfair to measure it against a central European benchmark. The bar and club culture is very corporate however, some alternative venues are opening up. Still, I’d like to see more good museums and more clubs and bars, less focussed on being “Instagrammable”.
There’s this overwhelming stereotype of Dubai being just a desert with glitz and glamour sprinkled in between. Obviously, that’s an image fed by sensationalist Western media. The real picture is much more nuanced.
My remarks might sound overly positive or a bit biased, to say the least. I concede I really like Dubai, so to me, the drawbacks seem very small compared to the advantages of living here. If you’d like to know more, feel free to drop a comment below.