Social Life in Dubai: opportunities, limits and customs


    If you're considering a move to Dubai, you've probably researched what kind of property you can afford, and where. You may have a job lined up or you may be planning to use your property as a holiday home. But you might still be wondering what social life you'll enjoy in Dubai. We're going to give you a few answers.

    Expats make up the vast majority of the population in Dubai - less than 20% of residents are citizens. So as you might expect, there's a big expat social scene; in fact Emiratis and expats don't meet socially all that often, even though they might work together. The expat population is quite diverse; there's no single big employer, as there is in some other cities, and while Brits and Indians are well represented, there are many other nationalities in the mix. That makes Dubai one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet.

    Dubai is truly multicultural. Chinese New Year is a huge celebration - there are nearly a quarter of a million Chinese residents in Dubai - and the Indian holiday of Holi is celebrated big-time, too. There's even a K-Pop festival!

    Younger expats have a big party scene, with a lot of drinking - and many admit they go out much more often than they would do at home, mainly because with no tax to pay and lower property prices, they've got more money. The All-you-can-eat Friday brunch is a Dubai speciality (Friday starts the weekend in Muslim countries), and at some restaurants it turns into an All-you-can-drink boozefest later on. But if you're not into clubbing, or if you're moving to Dubai with the family, there's a lot more to the city's social life.

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    You'll never be bored in Dubai

    Many residents join a sports club or beach club which gives them a ready-made social life as well as activities. There are hundreds of different societies ranging from the Irish Society and choirs like the all-female Dubai City Sound to running, rowing and bicycle clubs.

    Gourmets will love Dubai. There's always a new restaurant to try in this fast and happening city, with famed restaurants like Copenhagen's Noma starting joint ventures as well as local chefs cooking up a storm. The coffee shop scene is a wonder - some seriously good baristas work in Dubai these days.

    Shopping is definitely a Dubai activity. You won't find anything you couldn't find in the Faubourg Saint Honoré or Regent Street, but the malls are luxurious places to loaf, and head for a coffee shop with a friend. For the more outdoorsy, as well as sailing, windsurfing and other beach activities, you can head for the dunes to go sandboarding, or watch the camel racing at Al Marmoum race track - for free!

    Are there any downsides of living in Dubai?

    There are some downsides to life in Dubai. While alcohol is available, you'll need a personal alcohol licence to purchase it. And the expat life can get a bit cliquey, with some expats sticking to their own nationality. There's a fast-track high-spending life, too, which can be seductive - some people come to Dubai to make money, but end up spending more than they earn.

    And not everyone is treated alike - Emiratis are at the top of the tree, Western expats next, Indians and Filipinos lower down, and labourers are treated rather poorly. You'll need to get used to living in an Arab city, too - public displays of affection are a no-no, even if you're married. Until quite recently, it was illegal to live with someone you’re not married to. As of 2020, unmarried and unrelated men and women are legally allowed to live together. Also keep in mind that swearing and public drunkenness aren't tolerated, and you're best off adopting modest dress (covering up your arms, shoulders and legs).

    You'll also come across a certain evasiveness. Emiratis really don't like to say 'no', instead indulging in circumlocution and vagueness. If you've been brought up in a more direct, plain-speaking culture, you may think you've got to 'yes' when the answer is actually anything but.

    But all in all, Dubai is a pretty good place to live. HSBC's 2021 Expat Explorer Survey put UAE 8th in the world for quality of life, and fourth overall - ahead of the US, UK and Singapore. While integration isn't a strong point, and the cost of childcare and education is high compared to other destinations, clearly Dubai residents are glad they've chosen the Emirates as a place to live.