So, you’ve made the big move. And now, you’re in a very different part of the world. I hope this post will make everyday things a little less daunting in a new city.
Your First Days
I arrived in Dubai on a Wednesday evening. I was excited, but I also felt very alone on that first night. Walking into my new apartment felt surreal. Am I really here? Am I really doing this? Is this a good idea? These are just a few of the questions that ran through my head.
I didn’t think about food that night seeing as I indulged in every delicacy Air Canada’s Business Class Cabin had to offer. I showered, and slept an unusually deep sleep that night.
I woke up around 8:30 AM and I needed coffee. I remember seeing a Costa café in the lobby of my building the night before, so I got changed and down I went. As I sipped on my Americano and picked at my croissant, I realized that I had to get groceries. In every other country I’ve lived in; cities were pedestrian friendly. Dubai, not so much.
So I Googled the nearest grocery store. It was Waitrose at The Dubai Mall. I didn’t think about taxis or Über because I knew my building had an indoor walkway connecting it to the mall. I guess I lucked out because it was the middle of summer and the temperature was a scorching 56 degrees Celsius and 100% humidity. That tunnel seemed never ending. About 20 minutes into my walk I had to re-think my grocery list because the mall was still nowhere in sight and I remembered I had to carry everything home.
I reached the grocery store 45 minutes later – note The Dubai Mall is the biggest mall in the world so finding the Waitrose was no small task. I picked up a few things (eggs, bread, cheese, milk, coffee, sugar, butter and laundry detergent) my bill was about $55 CAD! I lugged my overpriced groceries back to my apartment and made myself an overpriced omelette.
I later discovered that Carrefour, a French grocery store chain, is way more affordable than Waitrose. Most locations are open until midnight while others stay open 24 hours.
I also found out that Choitrams, an online grocery store, is VERY affordable and delivers right to your doorstep! The produce was fresh, and the service was excellent. I still recommend checking your bill with the items you receive because sometimes they run out of a product but still charge you anyways. If you want to order online, you will receive your groceries the next day, at a time you designate.
There are many smaller grocery stores, like Zoom, often in the lobby of neighbouring buildings that deliver for free or a nominal fee.
The main lesson here: everywhere delivers. I mean everywhere, even McDonalds. Websites like Talabat and Deliveroo (a little more pricy), are great because they allow you to search for restaurants based on your cravings and often show you which restaurants are offering a deal! Ordering in can be very affordable in Dubai, but if you’re worried about your weight, I advise against it. I gained nearly 15 pounds in my first six months, it was the Freshman Fifteen all over again!
Some eateries are open 24 hours but most places are open until 2 or 3 AM.
If you don’t have a car right off the bat, the metro is a great alternative. You can buy tickets at the metro station much like in Europe, or you can get an NOL card, this is like they Oyster card in London. For tickets, you have two choices: Silver or Gold class. In this case, definitely, go for the gold! If you are traveling during off hours, silver is ok, but if the Metro will be your primary form of transportation, splurge on riding gold class.
Regardless of which option you choose, I recommend getting an NOL card because it offers you discounted tickets. The only difference between silver and gold is that you pay more for gold class. Most people are not willing to do that, so the gold carriage on the train is a lot less crowded.
Trains are clean and air conditioned, but for some reason during rush hour they always smell like stinky feet and B.O.
Note, eating or drinking on the metro is prohibited and you will be fined if you break this rule. So, no coffee and no chewing gum!
When it comes to crowds, during rush hour the Dubai Metro rivals the Hong Kong Metro. It is common for you to miss 7 or 8 trains because there’s no space. People literally push their way in, to the point where you no longer have control over your movements. It is scary and quite frankly, dangerous. Things never get like that in the gold section. It’s much more civilized.
Note, there is a women and children only wagon on the metro. It is pink. This cart is often less crowded than the rest of the train, but during rush hour, it also looks like a can of sardines.
The Dubai public transport system also has a tram and a newly developed water taxi. Along with the Metro, you can use your NOL card to ride the tram and the water taxi.
Driving is simple in Dubai, much easier than Europe in my opinion. Car insurance, car payments, and gas are all affordable. Though you should know that until you get used to the city, driving can be confusing because just about every week there is a new road, bridge or tunnel in Dubai. Your GPS can’t keep up! It can guide you in the general direction of where you’re trying to go, but you must follow the road signs. They are clear and do an excellent job of guiding you throughout the city. The signs display both Arabic and English.
Location, location, location
Even though you probably have your accommodation planned out in advance, you should still know where certain areas are.
I found that for a rather small emirate, Dubai had many different neighbourhoods. When I think of “downtown” in any major city, I usually expect to find the financial district, some restaurants and other forms of entertainment.
In Dubai, the downtown area includes the Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa and The Boulevard. The Boulevard is short for Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Boulevard. Here you will find many popular cafes and restaurants. The financial district is housed in the Trade Centre neighbourhood.
Another popular neighbourhood filled with shopping and food is Al Wasl, it is home to the famous City Walk.
I live in Business Bay. Which is very close to downtown, here you will find offices and residential towers. Business Bay is my favourite neighbourhood in Dubai simply because of its strategic location. Living here is cheaper than living downtown, and it borders Sheikh Zayed Road, the largest highway in the U.A.E.
Further away from the city center you have neighbourhoods like Deira, Bur Dubai, Al Barsha and Silicone Oasis. Rent here is significantly cheaper. However, buildings are not as new nor do they offer luxuries like a gym or pool. Furthermore, these neighbourhoods are more crowded, and traffic always seems to be at a standstill.
The advantage to living in the “less luxurious” areas is that everything else is significantly cheaper than the Downtown area. For example, a shisha and a coffee cost an average of 30 AED ($10 CAD) in Al Barsha or Deira compared to 90 AED ($30 CAD) Downtown.
Jumeirah is home to Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel, and is popular amongst young professionals. Jumeirah Road is the spot to go on Friday nights if you are single and ready to mingle!
Marina and Jumeirah are where most Western expats live. The neighbourhoods are lively and filled with food, shopping, bars, and beaches!
For more information about the social aspect of living in Dubai, check out my favourite 10 Things to do in Dubai.