Living in the United Arab Emirates
This guide sets out essential information for British national residing in the united Arab Emirates.
This guide sets out essential information for British national residing in the united Arab Emirates, including advice on health, education, benefits, residence requirements and more. We are unable to provide any guidance on general lifestyle enquiries apart from the information and links listed below. See ‘Our Services’ section for more information on the services we can provide for British nationals.
Before coming to the UAE, visit the health section of our Travel Advice. For information on bring medication into the UAE, see the section below entitled “Guidance on bringing medication into the UAE”.
Generally, emergency treatment in government hospitals is free. Any follow up treatment may be charged and can be expensive. If you use a private hospital, make sure you have a UAE medical card and/or comprehensive medical insurance.
For information on accessing healthcare in the UAE, visit the healthcare section of the official portal of the UAE Government.
For a list of Government hospitals and clinics, see the UAE Ministry of Health website.
More and more people are visiting the UAE for medical tourism. We do not usually contact or visit people who have travelled specifically for medical treatment.
Employment and recognised qualifications
For information on employment in the UAE, visit the finding a job section of the official portal of the UAE Government.
For information on recognised qualifications, check with the UAE National Qualifications Authority. For recognition of UK educational qualifications and details of their verification services, check with the British Council in the UAE.
Entry and residence requirements
For information on entry requirements, visit our Travel Advice pages.
Further information can be found on the visiting the UAE section of the official portal of the UAE Government.
It is mandatory for all citizens and expatriate residents of the UAE to have an Emirates ID card. Visit the getting an Emirates ID card section of the official portal of the UAE Government for information on how to get one.
The UAE Government does not provide social welfare benefits to non-UAE nationals.
Find out what benefits you might be able to get while abroad and how to claim them by visiting Benefits if you’re abroad on gov.uk.
The retirement age for expatriates working in the UAE private sector is 60 years of age. Two year extensions to work after the retirement age up to the age of 65 are possible and can be applied for through the Ministry of Labour.
Driving licences and vehicles
British nationals with a UK driving licence are eligible for automatic driving licence transfer in the UAE. For more information, visit the driving a car section of the official portal of the UAE Government.
The drinking age in the UAE is 21 years old, with the exception of Sharjah where the sale of alcohol is prohibited.
Everyone should have their own alcohol licence if they wish to consume purchased alcoholic beverages at their personal residence, or at any private residence where they are a guest or in a licensed bar. If you are sponsored by your spouse, you will need to apply for a supplementary card which will be linked to your spouse’s licence in respect of the total amount of alcohol that can be purchased on a monthly basis. All Abu Dhabi alcohol licences must now be applied for online through the Special Licence Office website. All Dubai alcohol licences must now be applied for on-line or at a local MMI or African & Eastern store. For other Emirates, contact the local authorities for more information. These licences are valid only in the Emirate that issued the licence.
It is a punishable offence to drink, or to be under the influence of alcohol, in public. Passengers in transit through the UAE under the influence of alcohol may also be arrested.
Bouncing a cheque is illegal in the UAE. If a cheque is presented without adequate funds to cover the amount, you will face criminal and civil charges. After you have served your jail sentence you will not be able to leave the country until the funds have been paid in full.
Residents of the UAE are able to open a local bank account. Visit the opening a bank account section of the official portal of the UAE Government for more information.
There is no income tax on salaries or wages paid in the UAE. Depending on the Emirate, there may be taxes on some services and goods, municipal taxes and customs duties. For information on corporation tax, contact the Ministry of Economy.
The UK does not have a Double Taxation Agreement with the UAE.
For information on Free Zones, visit the official UAE Free Zones website.
Fund raising/charitable acts
If you’re considering undertaking or promoting fund raising or other acts of charity in (or while passing through) the UAE, bear in mind that these activities, including where conducted online and via social media, are heavily regulated. You should familiarise yourself with the legal requirements and seek professional advice as necessary. Non-compliance can incur criminal penalties, including heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
Property and property disputes
If you are considering buying a property in the UAE, you will need to bear in mind that the legal system and steps to follow are different from those you may have experienced in the UK. Please read our guide on buying property in the UAE to help you obtain the information you need to make a full and considered decision about your property purchase.
Guidance on bringing medication into the UAE
Some prescribed and over the counter medicines may be controlled substances in the UAE. See our Travel Advice for more information.
Sponsoring family members
The information below is a general guide. Contact the relevant authority in each of the Emirates for further information:
- General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs in Abu Dhabi
- General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai
- General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs in Sharjah
- General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs in Ajman
- General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs in Fujairah
- General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Umm Al Quwain
- Government of Ras Al Khaimah
A male expatriate can sponsor certain family members provided that their salary is not less than AED10,000 or AED8000 plus accommodation. The prospective sponsor must have their residence visa in their passport prior to starting the residence procedures for their family members. A male expatriate can sponsor the following family members:
- dependant parents
Sponsoring your wife in UAE
From 1st December 2013, the British Embassies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will no longer issue No Objection Letters to British nationals to sponsor their non - British spouse. We have notified the UAE Government. If required, we have produced a Sponsorship note No Objection letter - Relatives (PDF, 307KB, 2 pages) which can be used as necessary.
A husband who wishes to sponsor his wife will need the following documents:
- application form (available in most typing offices)
- passport in which the original entry permit has been stamped
- one photograph on a white background
- original medical clearance certificate
- copy of the husband’s employment contract
- salary certificate from the employer stating the employee’s monthly salary
- legalised marriage certificate (see our notarial and documentary services page for information on how to get a document legalised)
Sponsoring your children in UAE
A father can sponsor unmarried daughters up to any age and sons up until they are 18 years old. If a son is studying in the UAE after the age of 18, the father can continue to sponsor him if evidence of their studies in the UAE is supplied. The following documents will be required in order to sponsor children:
- the same documents as listed under the wife category
- legalised child’s birth certificate (see our notarial and documentary services page for information on how to get a document legalised)
Sponsoring your stepchildren in UAE
Applications to sponsor stepchildren are considered by the immigration authorities on a case-by-case basis. The authorities may ask for additional or a variation on the following documents:
- the same documents listed under the wife category
- if the biological father is deceased, the legalised death certificate of the biological parent translated into Arabic (see our notarial and documentary services page for information on how to get a document legalised)
If the biological father is separated from the mother and is in agreement to the child’s move to the UAE, he should make a declaration before a notary public in the UK. This declaration must state that the father has no objection to his child living in UAE under the sponsorship of the stepfather. This declaration should then be legalised (see our notarial and documentary services page for information on how to get a document legalised).
If, for whatever reason, a declaration cannot be obtained from the biological father, the UAE authorities will require evidence that the mother has sole parental responsibility.
The UAE authorities will require a declaration signed by the stepfather undertaking to support the child throughout the family’s residency in the UAE.
Sponsoring your parents in UAE
In certain cases, such as the parents being financially dependent on the sponsor, the UAE authorities will allow sponsorship of elderly parents. The sponsor will need to provide the immigration authorities evidence that he is the only son that is able to provide for his parents and the main financial supporter of them.
The following documents will be required:
- the same documents listed under the wife category
- a statutory declaration. We have provided a list of English speaking local lawyers that can provide this service
In Abu Dhabi, a wife can only sponsor her husband and children if she holds a residence permit stating that she is an engineer, teacher, doctor, nurse or any other profession related to the medical sector and her salary is not less than AED10,000 or AED8,000 a month plus accommodation. The same documents listed above will be required.
In Dubai, if a woman is not employed in one of these categories she may still get approval to sponsor her family based on her salary being more than AED10,000 a month and with special permission from the Department of Naturalisation and Residency Department.
A single mother can sponsor her child with the same documents needed under children. The UAE authorities may ask for documents similar to those listed under the stepchildren category.
Social ethics and traditions in UAE
Thinking about a holiday in the UAE, or maybe you are considering the possibilities of employment here? There are a few things you need to know before you go and while you are here. There are an estimated 100,000 resident British nationals in the UAE and over a million British nationals visit every year. To ensure that your stay is memorable, for all the right reasons, keep in mind that you are no longer in the UK. Respect the laws and values of the country and your stay should be an extremely enjoyable one!
The UAE is built on generations of Islamic traditions which are rooted firmly in its culture and tribal heritage. These traditions have been passed down from generation to generation and form the very cornerstone of everyday life for an Emirati family. The Emiratis are friendly people who show tolerance and an open minded approach to visitors in their country; but their culture and values should always be respected.
In the last 30 years, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the other Emirates have gone through a total transformation from small Arab trading ports into modern cities. Over 150 nationalities (including an estimated 100,000 British expats) contribute to the UAE’s modern society. The streets, shopping malls and business areas are alive with numerous languages and cultures. Do keep in mind that you will probably meet many people with different values and opinions.
The culture and laws in the UAE are designed to ensure that everyone is respectful of each other regardless of their faith and nationality. Visitors and residents alike should avoid types of improper conduct and behaviour which can otherwise lead to fines, imprisonment and deportation. Alcohol consumption is allowed only by non-muslims in licensed restaurants, pubs, clubs, private venues, and at home (for residents who have acquired an alcohol licence). For those living in the UAE a special licence must be obtained before purchasing alcohol from the exclusive, specialised, licensed stores. This licence is only a permit for buying alcohol. It does not give any immunity for alcohol related criminal offences. It is an offence to carry alcohol in your car if you do not hold the special alcohol licence. If you come to the attention of the police you may be arrested, even though you may have purchased the alcohol legally. You need to be 21 or over in order to drink alcohol legally in the UAE (18 in Abu Dhabi). Alcohol is not available in Sharjah.
Drugs are strictly forbidden. The penalties for drug trafficking, smuggling and possession, of even residual amounts, of drugs are severe. Consuming or carrying drugs, even if you are transiting through the airport from one country to another, can result in a standard 4 year imprisonment and deportation. Buying or selling narcotics is considered a serious crime which can result in life-imprisonment and sentences for drug trafficking can include the death penalty. Some medicines (accepted in the UK) containing psychotropic substances are also forbidden, so check out our website for further information. If you are using prescribed drugs it is advisable to carry a doctor’s note. If you are bringing prescription drugs into the UAE you may need to seek prior agreement from the authorities. You should check with the nearest UAE Embassy or Consulate BEFORE you travel.
Sexual relationships outside of marriage are illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK. Cohabiting, including in hotels, is also illegal. If you become pregnant outside of marriage, both you and your partner face the possibility of imprisonment. There are also legal ramifications when registering the birth with the local authorities.
The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. You can be charged and imprisoned if you are caught with even the smallest amount of alcohol in your system. Tailgating, speeding, racing, lane jumping and using a mobile phone while driving are all against the law. There are numerous speed cameras on the roads and motorways. Fines in the UAE are heavy. If you are caught you may also face the possibility of having your car impounded. Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory. Jay walking is also illegal and the police. Abu Dhabi, have launched a campaign against jay walking. If you are caught committing this offence you could be subject to a fine.
Dancing is allowed in the privacy of your home or at licensed clubs. But dancing in public is classed as indecent and provocative. Sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public, or taking their photos without permission, is strictly frowned upon. Offensive language, spitting and aggressive behaviour (including hand gestures) are viewed very seriously and can result in imprisonment and deportation. This includes “road rage”.
Holding hands for married couples is tolerated but kissing and hugging are considered offences against public decency. Open displays of affection are generally not tolerated.
You should be aware that the UAE Personal Affairs Law, which is based on Islamic principles, can apply to foreign nationals in child custody and divorce cases.
Smoking is forbidden in government areas, offices and shopping malls. There are however many designated areas where smoking is allowed. Working without the proper visa is illegal. You cannot partake in any kind of paid employment without first obtaining a work visa. If caught, you will face imprisonment.
A Word of Warning
The UAE is a relatively safe country from a crime perspective. Nevertheless, when you are out and about, take the necessary precautions to stay safe just as you would do if you were in the UK. If you are going to visit pubs and clubs, do not accept drinks from strangers, and never leave your drink unattended. While rare, having your drink spiked in the UAE can happen.
Emiratis dress conservatively in traditional dress and can be offended when people dress inappropriately or not in accordance with Islamic values. In public places such as shopping malls, restaurants and parks, you are encouraged to dress appropriately. Clothing should not be transparent, indecently expose parts of the body or display offensive pictures or slogans. Be aware that if you enter one of these areas dressed inappropriately you may be asked to leave (most of the larger shopping malls display signs warning respectable clothing should be worn). Any form of nudity is strictly forbidden, including topless sunbathing. Swimwear should not be worn in any other area outside the beach, water parks, or swimming pools.
Respect for Religion
Islamic religious values are greatly respected in the UAE. Showing any disrespect towards religious beliefs or practices is considered deeply offensive and very likely to result in a heavy fine and/or imprisonment. Other religions are respected and can be followed by the expatriate community.
Follow a few simple rules of respect:
- Muslims pray five times a day. You will notice that the mosques call people to pray through a speaker system. At this time you will also notice public music is turned off as muslims perform their daily prayers.
- be aware that drivers who are not close to a mosque, may stop at a convenient lay-by to pray privately.
- during the holy month of Ramadan, muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Throughout this month eating, drinking, smoking, playing loud music and dancing in public places during daylight hours are strictly forbidden and punishable by law, including for non-muslims.
- every evening during Ramadan, muslims celebrate the breaking of their fast with an evening meal called Iftar. You will find many hotels and restaurants throughout the UAE who provide Iftar buffets.
The vast majority of British expatriates and visitors have a trouble free and enjoyable time while staying in the UAE. Foreign and Commonwealth Office research shows that the majority of difficulties that British nationals find themselves in abroad can be avoided. Respecting local laws and customs can help you avoid getting into trouble. Have a great time in the UAE, but make the necessary preparations to ensure you are well-informed and know what is expected of you as a visitor to this country.
Visitors and residents alike should avoid types of improper conduct and behaviour which can otherwise lead to fines, imprisonment and deportation. We have published a guide to help British residents respect the UAE’s laws and values, including sections on alcohol, drugs, sexual relationships, drink driving, dancing, sexual harassment, smoking and acceptable public behaviour.
Leaving the UAE
If you have been resident of the UAE and are leaving for good, you will need to cancel your residency status, close all your accounts (bank and credit cards) and pay off fines or debts. Failure to do so could delay your departure or mean you are marked on the immigration system as an absconder or debtor. This could cause problems in the future, even if you transit.
This information is provided as a general guide and is based upon information provided to the embassy by the relevant local authorities and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice. The FCO and the British Embassy will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information. British nationals wishing to obtain any further information must contact the relevant local authority.
Published: 22 March 2013
Updated: 26 September 2016
- Update charities
- Update local websites
- Important changes based on rules of the UAE for foreign nationals in child custody and divorce cases.
- More information added to Living in the UAE - Drug section
- Small changes to 'In Summary' as per Consular.
- Update Dos and Dont's
- Adjustment to the page: Sponsorship of families removed and will be added to a new document
- amendments to text in sponsoring of family members, as per UAE consular team added Do's and Don'ts document
- First published.