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The Expat Experience

The UAE Residential Issues and Ways to Solve Them

Building on my experience of residing in Dubai for 18 years, I am sharing my present perception of the UAE. I am breaking down major issues regarding climate, transportation, property, housing, and suggesting practical ways to solve them with technology.

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The UAE is one of the leading commercial and touristic centers in the world. Its image is associated with affluent people, high standard of living, breathtaking architecture and luxury resorts. I used to view the country as a true paradise before moving there in 2004. Building on my experience of residing in Dubai for 18 years, I am sharing my present perception of the UAE in this article. I am breaking down major issues regarding climate, transportation, property and housing, and suggesting practical ways to solve them with technology.

The UAE is a country of unthinkable opportunities combined with futuristic buildings, high standard of living, low interest rates on buying a house or a car, cheap gasoline - but is everything so perfect? Let's figure it out.

I arrived in Dubai looking for better job prospects back in 2004. It was the month of July. I got off the plane and immediately felt sick from the tormenting combination of scorching air, burning hot pavement and extremely high humidity.

In spite of the annoying weather, there was a feeling of euphoria, as back then, hardly any single girl under 30 was allowed into the UAE. The government opposed the idea of locals marrying foreigners and they even introduced a law prohibiting a woman from another country to become the first wife.

Things weren’t that easy even for tourists. Not everyone was granted an entry permission, disregarding paid reservations in 5-star hotels and booked tours. Thorough checks of previous law violations were carried out both within the UAE and the country of origin. Moreover, all visitors have to undergo a retinal scan, and the system immediately identifies a violator trying to cross the border. This is the most reliable way to detect violators, as human retina can’t be falsified. 

Health checks upon arrival are obligatory and in case of any dangerous diseases, the visitor is given 24 hours to leave the country.

The reasons that sparked my desire to move to Dubai:

Sea at hand, fresh air, mild winter season.

Picturesque beaches with some areas of sand cooled in summer.

Modern, safe, calm, clean city that was rapidly expanding, mind-blowing architectural projects and exciting amusement parks.

Cheap cars and gas, no taxes imposed on buying and owning vehicles.

Loans on purchasing a car or housing with interest rates of 1.2-2%.

Impeccable roads.

I viewed the country as a ministry of happiness, where everything was done with people in mind.

Absence of bureaucracy.

Favorable conditions for self-realization when qualifications are recognized and brains are valued.

Even though one will never become native in the UAE, they will definitely feel as if they belong here. As this is a country of expats, the percentage of the local population is as small as 10%.

Religion

In the UAE, people are never told how to live, as this is prohibited by law, and if someone tries to impose their beliefs or philosophy on you, feel free to call the police. In Dubai, there are a lot of temples for people confessing religions other than Islam. Even in the most religious and strict emirate of Sharjah, there is an Orthodox church. Difficulties for tourists and people of other religions arise only in Ramadan, the time of holy fasting. During this period, Muslims refuse themselves food and water from dawn to dusk. That’s why tourists cannot eat, chew gum and drink in the street. However, food can be bought as a take-away and eaten at home. During this period, you can also make orders from home. All restaurants, cafes and food courts are closed until sunset. Supermarkets are open 24/7 as usual.

All the above restrictions considerably affect business life, as the city seems to be sleeping. The working day in offices is reduced to 5 hours a day, but exhibition showrooms practice a prolonged lunch break of several hours with very long working hours at night.

Alcohol and drugs

It is a common belief that there is no alcohol in the UAE. Nevertheless, it is possible to buy alcohol in a shop/hotel/bar, with a special license issued by the police, having a decent salary and a NOC Letter from the employer. The license costs money. It is valid for a year and granted solely to non-Muslims. Only adults can buy and drink alcohol, you will see neither teenagers drinking beer nor drunk people in the streets. In the bar, the first shot of a hard drink is exchanged for the client's car keys, and they will need a taxi to get home. 

There are no homeless people and beggars in the country. If an immigrant is caught begging, they are arrested and deported. They will not stay in the country if they suffer from alcohol addiction and /or do not work.

It is not common for the native Emirati to become broke or homeless, as most of them own 51% of the shares of all foreign companies in the country.

Drugs are non-existent. In general, I believe that the lack of availability of alcohol and drugs, together with a low crime rate, makes this country an ideal place to raise your children in.

Problems

Having lived in the UAE for 17 years, I’ve gained experience to give you an insight into the problems concealed under beauty and convenience. I would like to talk about housing conditions, areas for the poor and problems of housing and communal services. These issues are highly unlikely to be solved, as the current situation seems to suit everyone. At the end of this article, I will suggest a number of relevant solutions to the above difficulties in terms of IT, automation and optimization of rental and maintenance processes.

It is difficult to get around without a car, even very difficult 

People living in Europe and who have experienced the delights of public transport will be surprised by the lack of infrastructure and the fact that getting from point “A” to point “B” will be extremely problematic. You will have to undertake transportation changes and endure walks under the scorching sun unless you take a taxi.

The cheapest means of public transport is the bus and metro (launched in 2009), but they do not cover all the areas. Not owning a car turns your way to work into an adventure. Taking all the transportations issues into account, a number of companies have come up with a transfer service for office workers when they are picked up from home and taken to the office and back. Most of these companies are located in Media City, Internet City and Free Zones. The latter have a large concentration of companies. For instance, in Internet City one can find almost all the world’s leading Internet companies like Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, IBM, Dell, HP, Canon and many more. Only this free zone counts 24 000 employees. 

Let's define the Free Zones phenomenon: foreign companies open up regional offices in free zones for plenty of reasons, like 50-year tax exemption, total foreign ownership and repatriation of profits, etc.

On the other hand, the quality of the road surface exceeds any expectations, the system of roads is quite intuitive. It is possible to get used to it within 6 months.

Toll roads

Salik gate system implies charging each car/driver for using the road with the help of a special chip located on the windshield. The system has been introduced to reduce the traffic on the most popular routes (bridges and highways). Topping up an account is as easy as with a mobile phone. You can do it via your bank account app or with the help of a scratch card. If you do not have money in your chip account, you will be charged a fine every time you drive.

The sun

Not infrequently, the temperature reaches + 55C ...

The time from May to November is the period of extreme heat, and for those who are not accustomed to such weather, it is not a good idea to be walking under the sun for a long time. Covering open areas of the body with thin clothes of natural fabric, wearing a hat and SPF is a must. Drinking plenty of water is vital. When the car has been standing in the sun for a long time, you shouldn’t get into it straight away, let it cool down for a while.

Rain

A seemingly simple word ‘weather’ often causes dilemmas for the Emiratis. Because of the lack of precipitation, the “Cloud Seeding” method is used in order to somehow ‘catch’ the clouds and cool the temperature in the country. This method is not always successful, though. Occasionally, the clouds are carried away to the neighboring countries. 

In general, rain in the UAE is equated to a natural disaster, since there is no drainage on the roads and parking lots. After a heavy rain, life stops, as it is impossible to go to work or school until special equipment arrives and removes water from the flooded areas.

During the storm, the water gets into the apartments and houses through the windows, as they are not watertight enough.

Sandstorms

They happen rarely, but have serious effects. During thunderstorms, the entire living area, all appliances and furniture get covered in dust; I had to secure the air exchange fans, all windows and balcony doors despite the fact that I lived on the 27th floor (in fact, on the 34th floor, if to take into account G floor and 6 parking floors). We lived in a very cool modern building with a swimming pool, a gym, 2 saunas, a play area inside and outside the building (above the parking lot), with a gorgeous view, but the windows and doors to the balcony were the cause of numerous troubles.

House numbering

The first problem faced by the people who come to the UAE is that only large streets and city districts have names, and houses on these streets are not numbered, i.e. the address for the house on Al Maktoum street will not be read as 10 Al Maktoum street. Each house is defined by a certain landmark, for example, a shop, a dry cleaner, a hairdresser, etc. So, when you need to explain your location to the courier, you have to give the district name, street and house name, apartment number and the landmark. If there isn’t a landmark, you are not very lucky. Letters are delivered only to PO boxes, either personal or business ones.

Utilities

Utility bills are enormous, and even if you leave the country for a month, you still have to pay your utility bills, as meters are installed outside apartments. It is better not to use a boiler at all, because they often rust from the inside, which ultimately affects the quality of the skin and hair. Since it is hot in the country, air conditioners increase electricity consumption and saving energy is possible only if you happen to live on the northern side of the building. Therefore, a practical piece of advice here is to carefully study an air conditioner specifications before installing it, and check a building plan in order to choose the northern side of the building. Here is a typical apartment plan where you can see if the windows face north, which will let you enjoy a cool draft in the apartment for at least 4-5 months a year and significantly reduce energy costs. It is not a good idea to purchase or rent apartments with window-type air conditioning, as the central air conditioner is quieter and cheaper. In addition, the maintenance is easy - just blow out the shafts and wash the grates once a year.

Mobile connection

Costs per month as per year in my country of origin. The cheapest thing is to get a business package, provided by the company where you or one of your family members works. 

Housing and utilities 

There are various types of apartments available in terms of location, size and view from the window.

We decided not to look for an apartment in areas with cheap property, since both the infrastructure and the view from the window mattered; in elite parts of the city, there is real estate of very different types. For example, there can be a skyscraper with a G+4 building next to it, where the living conditions are quite poor.

Such areas are characterized by the following phenomena:

Sharing partition is a room divided into mini-sections to accommodate 10-15 people. There is a bed, bedside table, sometimes a wardrobe or shelves in each section.

Executive sharing room is a room for 1 or 2/3/4 people.

Master Bedroom - the most luxurious sharing option, when one can rent an entire bedroom with a built-in private bathroom. The room can be so well planned to combine a bedroom area and a living room area.

Communities - if the whole apartment is rented by one family, people of the same nationality gradually occupy the whole building.

I recommend viewing all apartments in person, as the online photos of an apartment might not be real.

Rats

These smart animals have learned to hide in open areas and live in palm trees, right in the middle of the most elite area. In order for palm trees to grow upwards, the lower branches are cut off, and the palm tree, when viewed closely, looks like steps, so it is convenient for them to climb up and down. If you walk on the coastal zone or the beach in the evening, they are very clearly visible.

Human waste

This is a problem of an ecological scale. There are several ways to get rid of waste products - they are either thrown into the sea or vacuum truck services are used. Waste is taken to the processing plant, the water received as a by-product is used for agricultural purposes and irrigation of lawns. The solids are processed, packaged and sold as fertilizers.

City planning

Let’s consider the Emirate of Sharjah - an orthodox city, with families prevailing in its population. 

The thing that I fancy the most is the planning of sales zones - the city is divided into theme areas: Computer street, Mobiles Square, Cars Market, Fish Market, Fruit and Veg market.

The Educational Zone is located too far from all the other areas, so residents of the orange zone (the best area of ​​the city) have to either use school bus service costing from $ 1,000 a year, or be very careful with their time management to be able to take the children to school and then pick them up. Taking a school bus has a number of disadvantages: being at the bus stop on time, as the bus doesn’t wait for anyone; as children from districts 1-3 go by the same bus, they have to get ready for school by 5:30-5:45 in the morning. 

My husband used to take our child to school by car on his way to work. He had to get up at 6:50 and leave at 7:20 in order not to be late for classes that started at 8:00. According to school rules, after 8 the gates were closed, and no one was allowed in without an explanation. The lessons ended around 2-3 p.m., and I was responsible for picking my daughter up due to a flexible schedule.

How I see the solution to some of these issues related to housing and utilities:

As a part of a team in the IT company, I have vast experience and strong expertise in project development

I have participated in a cool project on the accounting and control of utility bills that allows the client to see the meter readings in real time and understand their costs. I believe such an application will come in useful for the residents of the UAE.

Other technology web services that will be beneficial:

developing an online property booking/buying portal with multiple features, including video apartment/ room tours to build up the credibility for renting businesses; 

an application that helps you get a taxi and / or build a route by bus and metro, shows how much the journey will cost with different means of transport and how long it will take;

a web solution that helps to compare the drinking water available on the market (chemical composition) and sign delivery agreements with the shortlisted suppliers online;

the web service for taking children to schools and universities that will help parents to save money.

an application that helps track / catch stray cats. Many of them are sick and need a family.

Conclusions:

I think if there is an interesting project, and you are invited to work in the UAE, it is worth trying. The country has comfortable living conditions and is interesting to live in, and I do not regret spending 17 years there. But I do not plan to return, although I've already received several offers. I don’t regard the EUA to be the best place for permanent residence. The biggest disadvantage is being a stranger forever, as you will never be granted its citizenship - only a resident visa, which is renewed every 3 years. Foreigners can live in the country only if they have a job or a family there. 

Nevertheless, wherever I choose to live, I will always seek the same level of living conditions, comfort and security. You will probably never feel the same either in your homeland or anywhere else.

Salaries are high and can reach $10,000-15,000 depending on the color of your skin. Because of the high cost of living, all the money stays within the country. You always strive to live in a more luxurious apartment, send your child to a more prestigious school, drive a better car and buy premium things. That is, if you want to set aside a certain amount of money, you will have to save on everything.

In general, in this country everyone will find what they are looking for - religion, family, good income, remarkable shopping experience and entertainment, opportunities to travel, do sports, acquire knowledge, etc. 

 by Nelly Veger

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