Frequently Asked Questions - Abu Dhabi & Dubai, UAE

A) LIFESTYLE

What is the distance between the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

The drive from downtown Abu Dhabi to downtown Dubai is about 150km (93 miles), so in good traffic, it takes about 1.5 hours ... but it can definitely take longer.

Who makes up the expatriate community?

An April 27, 2013, Arabian Business article estimates the population of the UAE at about 8.3 million, of which just over 11% are citizens.
The expatriate community in the UAE is made up of citizens from around the world: Americans, Canadians, Australians, British, Germans, Irish, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Egyptians, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Malaysians, South Africans, etc.

Where will I live?

Expatriate staff is usually housed in hospital-provided accommodations. Some employers offer a housing allowance in lieu of providing accommodations, in which case, you would have the option of finding your own accommodation.
Note that housing allowances do not always cover the costs of one's chosen accommodations.

What is the social life like?

There is a large expatriate community, and as a result, people there tend to be highly sociable. Whether in a group or on your own, there is something to satisfy many interests, including art (see: Abu Dhabi Louvre), tennis, mahjong, bridge, reading, walking, shopping (see: Dubai Shopping Festival), bowling, badminton, horse-racing, beaches, etc. At night, you can also enjoy the clubs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Also see our video about shopping in Abu Dhabi.

Are there any women's associations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

Yes. Groups include the Abu Dhabi Women's Association, the and the American Women's Association of Dubai.

Will I be able to play any sports or workout while I'm in the UAE?

UAE offers a wide variety of sports and fitness activities; you'll have plenty to choose from whether you enjoy water sports such as swimming, windsurfing and scuba diving, team sports such as baseball and soccer, or activities such as tennis, running, cycling (see: Letter from Abu Dhabi) and horseback riding. There are even ice rinks for skating and hockey fans! Also, there are several fitness clubs and a number of fitness classes including aerobics, pilates, ballet, and aquafit. One of these is the Zayed Sports City, which includes sports fields, a skating rink, a pool, a bowling alley, tennis facilities, fitness facilities, etc. See our video about Zayed Sports City.

Often the housing accommodations provided for expatriate staff have a pool, tennis courts, and/or a small gym.

And see below re: golfing opportunities.

Is there anywhere to golf in Abu Dhabi & Dubai?

We thought you'd never ask! There are a number of golfing courses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club (in Abu Dhabi), the Yas Links Golf Club (in Abu Dhabi), the Abu Dhabi City Golf Club, the Dubai Golf Club, the Emirates Golf Club (in Dubai), and the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

Our Abu Dhabi Overview video has some scenes of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, mentioned above.

What religions are practiced in the UAE?

Islam is the official religion of UAE. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is particularly spectacular, and they welcome visitors for self-tours, and also offer free guided tours, every day except Friday. (See our video from our visit.)

However, in the major cities, there are Roman Catholic, Protestant, and/or Orthodox churches that serve the expatriate community.

In Abu Dhabi, some churches include: St. Joseph's Cathedral Abu Dhabi (Catholic) -- and a new Catholic church, St. Paul's Church - Mussafah is now under development; St. Andrew's Church (Anglican); the Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi; St. Stephen's Syrian Orthodox Church; and St. George Orthodox Cathedral.

In Dubai, some churches include: St. Mary's Catholic Church, Dubai; Holy Trinity Church (Anglican); St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral, Dubai; St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church; the United Christian Church of Dubai (evangelical) and the Arab Evangelical Church of Dubai, which are based at the Dubai Evangelical Church Centre; and the Dubai City Church.

Can I bring a Bible with me to Abu Dhabi?

Yes, but out of respect for local culture and traditions, we suggest that you pack it discretely in your checked luggage.

Are there any local English newspapers?

Yes: Gulf News, the Khaleej Times, The Gulf Today, and The National.

And of course one can have online access to news broadcasters such as BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, or others. One can also easily access one's home newspaper online.

What sort of clothing will I wear while I am away from work?

It is recommended that non-Muslim men and women dress in conservative, loose-fitting clothing. And, although occasional Western tourists are seen wearing "short" shorts and sleeveless shirts, this is considered to be disrespectful to Emirati Muslim society. (Note: Shorts, can be worn, however, they must be conservative.) Women do not have to wear an abaya or veil.

Will I be able to wear my bikini bathing suit while I am at the beach?

Expatriate women do wear their bathing suits/bikinis at at most beaches in UAE, e.g., Abu Dhabi's corniche has several large public beach areas: one is for women only, one for families only (i.e., women can go without families — men can't), and one is mixed (any/all people can go). There are also private beach areas.

What languages are spoken in the UAE?

The official language is Arabic. English is commonly spoken, and Hindi and Urdu are also spoken by many of the expatriates who live there. English is the language of operation of all hospitals and translators are available for communicating with patients who do not speak English.

Can I drive a car?

Both men and women are permitted to drive in UAE. Both locum and permanent employees should get international driving permits (IDP) before they leave for the UAE. (The cost for an IDP is approximately C$25 through the Canadian Automobile Association, and US$15 through the American Automobile Association.) Locum employees can only drive in UAE if they have an IDP. If you are in the UAE on an employment or dependent visa, you can drive in UAE on your IDP until you receive your residency visa, which can take several weeks. Once you receive this, you will need to apply for a UAE driver's license. To apply for a UAE driver's license, you will also need to present your original driver's license that is issued from the same country as your citizenship; make sure you bring your original driver's license with you as well as several copies of your license. Without it, you will not be able to easily obtain a UAE license — in fact, without it, you may not be able to obtain one at all. Please note, Canadian and American citizens do not need to take a driving test to obtain a UAE driver's license.

Can I bring a pet?

People on single-status contracts who are in shared accommodations usually cannot bring any pets (confirm with your recruiter). People on married-status contracts, who are not in shared housing, can bring a pet only if the building allows it (the number is typically limited to one pet or two pets), and you are responsible for all expenses and arrangements for its transportation to UAE, and any damages it may cause. Buildings often have a high security deposit for those with pets. Note: Regarding dogs, there are some public places that do not allow dogs (e.g., public beaches) and there are some breeds banned from import to the UAE, which means that even if a building allows a dog, that particular dog cannot be brought into the UAE. (For more information, see: How to Bring Your Pet ...)

I have tattoos/facial piercings/body piercings. Is this a problem?

No. However, it's best to keep tattoos covered, and piercings in non-traditional locations (e.g., the eyebrow, lips) may be frowned upon.

I don't want to appear culturally-insensitive. Other than dress, is there anything else I should be aware of?

Do not take pictures of any government buildings or palaces. Do not take pictures of local women without their permission.

During Ramadan (the annual month of fasting), don't eat or drink amongst Muslims during daylight hours. Typically,
restaurants, cafes, etc., except in major hotels, will be closed during daylight hours during Ramadan.

Women should not offer to shake hands with a Muslim male, unless, of course, the hand of the other person is offered first.

What is available to buy?

Pretty much everything.

  • Alcohol — Although the UAE is a Muslim country, purchasing and drinking alcohol in a licensed club, bar, or restaurant is legal for non-Muslims who are over 21. To buy alcohol for home consumption, one must have a personal liquor license, which can be obtained once the person has residency status, which can take four to eight weeks. In Abu Dhabi, the license is free. As of 2012, it can be ordered online through the Special License Office. Applicants must attach to their application scanned copies of their passport, including the visa page, plus their Emirates ID, a passport-sized photograph, and a no-objection letter from their employer confirming their salary. (A non-employed spouse may request a supplementary licence using the same process, but must submit a no-objection letter from their sponsor in lieu of an employer.) (While drinking is permitted as described, obviously, being drunk and/or disorderly in public is not permitted, and you will very likely be arrested.). Please note, the state of Sharjah is a dry emirate, and therefore alcohol is not permitted in this state.
  • Pharmacies — Pharmacies are open at convenient times, and as in the West, many pharmaceuticals can be obtained over the counter.
  • Clothing — "Regular" and high-end designer clothing and sportswear is easy to find.
  • Bathing suits — These are easier to find in the UAE than in Saudi Arabia, but you will want to bring at least one with you.
  • Electronics — Electronics stores abound, selling the latest in computer, audio, and video equipment. Videos and DVDs are also available, but some may have been censored.
  • Jewelry — Jewelry shopping in the gold souqs is so popular with expatriates that most leave with a sizable gold collection.
  • English-Language Books — English reading material can be found at book stores and grocery stores, but the materials are usually more expensive than in one's home country and the selections is not as varied. An e-reader may be your best bet, e.g., you can download to your Amazon Kindle in the major cities of the UAE.

See our articles:
* Costs in the UAE - Shopping for the Basics
* Furnishing Your New Abode in Abu Dhabi

What is the food like?

The UAE has a wide variety of restaurants, allowing expatriates to go on a culinary world tour sampling Arabic (such as tabouleh, hummus, pita, baba ghanoush, etc.), Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, Mexican, Turkish, Indian, etc. cuisine. For a taste of "home," the standard American chains such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Dunkin' Donuts, and Dairy Queen are available. Supermarkets provide all sorts of food which you are accustomed to buying at home. Fresh produce is readily
available.

See our video, Abu Dhabi Overview which includes some restaurant scenes.

Do most restaurants serve alcohol in the UAE?

Hotel restaurants and bars are usually licensed to serve alcohol; most other restaurants are not. The emirate of Sharjah is "dry," so alcohol is not permitted/served.

Can I bring alcohol into the UAE?

Yes. You can bring one bottle of liquor into UAE, except to the state of Sharjah, which is designated as a "dry" emirate.

What about education?

  • Adult education: Expatriates who want to take degree courses (e.g., BScN or MBA) usually enroll in distance education or online courses at institutions in their own country, since most colleges and universities now offer this type of program. However, there are a number of colleges and universities in the UAE that have foreign connections. Note: At this time, the UAE does not accept online/distance education degrees for use in the country.
  • Children's education: If a person is eligible for a married-status contract (generally only doctors and senior administrators), the contract usually provides education assistance for two dependent children, sometimes more. The amount of coverage is capped, so the full cost of education is not covered. Also, coverage is typically only from kindergarten to 12. Preschool classes are available, but are not covered by most contracts. The children of expatriates attend local private schools or are sent to boarding school abroad. Spaces are very limited in desirable schools, so apply early. See International Schools in Abu Dhabi.

Will I be safe in the UAE?

There is relatively little crime in UAE. The level of violence is far less than one would find in a city of comparable size in the United States or Canada. Generally, Western people say they feel safe.

What happens if I don't like living in the UAE and don't feel I can complete my contract?

If after much thought you feel that you do not want to stay, you are free to return home. But if, at a later date you decide to re-apply, it will be very difficult to get another position in UAE.

How would I contact my country's embassy or consulate in the UAE?

Abu Dhabi is the name of the capital city of the UAE and is one of the seven Emirates of UAE (the other emirates are: Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, and Ras Al Khaimah).

As the capital city, Abu Dhabi is home to all of the government ministries and foreign embassies, including those of the United States and Canada.

Dubai, as a major city and port of entry, is the site of many consulates, including those of the United States and Canada.

What if I feel that I need to leave due to the international situation?

All of our client hospitals were very concerned for the physical and emotional wellbeing of staff in the wake of September 11. Regular meetings were held to provide staff with updated information. Also, staff members can always contact their embassy or consulate for updates on the international situation and their government's recommended response. Following September 11, the vast majority of employees decided to stay and "wait it out" and those who wanted to leave did so.

Where on the internet can I get other information about the UAE?

The following websites provide information on UAE:

Where can I get additional information about travelling abroad?

Canadians can contact the website of The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This is a useful site, providing a variety of information (in English and French) for Canadians planning to go abroad. Some information includes: passports; travel reports; consular services; regional characteristics; etc.

Americans can contact the website of The Department of State. This site provides information for Americans planning to go abroad, such as: passports; travel and health reports; consular services; regional characteristics; currency exchange; etc.

B) WORK ISSUES

What is the official business week in the UAE?

The official work week in UAE is from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday is the weekend.

Who are the patients?

The patients are UAE nationals, expatriates, and UAE hospital staff and their dependents. You will see all types of patients including heart disease, common cancers, and interesting genetic diseases.

Who are my coworkers?

Your coworkers will be healthcare professionals and support staff from UAE and countries around the world: Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Jordan, the Philippines, Sudan, Somalia, South Africa, etc.

What language is spoken at the hospital?

Although English is the working language at the hospitals, your colleagues come from all over the world, so English may be a second language to many of them. Some patients may speak English, but many speak only Arabic; translators will be available. Usually, people quickly pick up basic Arabic phrases related to their jobs.

Do I have to have a UAE license to work?

You will need to be licensed in the Emirate in which you work, e.g., by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD), the Dubai Health Authority's Health Regulation Department (HRD), etc.

In Abu Dhabi, licensing is also very different from what people are used to in Western countries. One is not only licensed as, for example, an RN, or an RRT, or a pharmacist, but one is also licensed by level within the profession and there are different education and experience requirements for the different levels. So, for example, there are different requirements to be licensed as a Staff Nurse versus a Charge Nurse versus a Nurse Manager, Nurse Educator, etc. And a person with a Staff Nurse license cannot work in a higher capacity.

The credential verification and licensing process will be completed as part of the application process, and typically takes more than 60 days.

Will I have to wear a uniform while I am on duty at the hospital?

Whether or not you have to wear a uniform depends on your position. For example, nurses typically wear white uniforms/scrubs, physicians wear lab coats, and administrative staff (i.e., coders, administrative assistants, etc.) do not usually have uniforms. If you have to wear one, the hospital will provide it to you.

If I do not wear a uniform, how should I dress at work?

If you do not wear a uniform the dress is professional clothing.

What kind of healthcare coverage am I entitled to?

In a full-service hospital, typically hospital employees, and their contractually eligible dependents, are treated at that hospital free-of-charge. However, employees (and eligible dependents) may not be covered for services that are not offered at their hospital.

In Abu Dhabi specifically, employers are now required to provide health insurance for their employees. The level of insurance coverage (full coverage; 80-20% split; minimal coverage) varies depending on employer.

In the case of non-eligible dependents which may accompany an employee, the employee must pay for health insurance for these non-eligible dependents before the dependents will be granted residency. We have been told insurance is quite expensive.

C) MONEY MATTERS

What is the currency in the UAE?

The currency in the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham, commonly referred to as the Dh. The Dh is pegged to the US dollar, and the US exchange rate is fixed at US$1 = Dh 3.67.

What does "tax-free income" mean?

There is no income tax deducted in UAE, and there is no sales tax. However, your foreign income may be taxed in your home country:

  • Americans are excluded from paying taxes on any amount up to US$97,600 (tax year 2013) if the person was out of the country for at least 330 full days out of 365 days of a consecutive 12-month period. Exclusion amounts are subject to change, so please refer to: Internal Revenue Service; especially see "Publication 54."
  • Canadians have a more complicated situation which involves severing residential ties to Canada (e.g., spouse, dependent children, non-investment property, etc.). For information, please refer to: Canada Revenue Agency

How am I paid?

You are paid monthly by direct deposit into a local UAE bank.

How easy is it to open a bank account?

The hospital will help you open a bank account soon after you arrive. Money in this account, however, does not earn interest, so you should transfer your money to an account outside UAE. Islamic law prohibits earning interest on money; Islamic banking; however, provides another method for making your money work for you without violating Islamic law.

What should I do with my money then?

Since no interest is paid on accounts in UAE, most people keep only basic spending money in their UAE bank account. Instead, people transfer most of their savings to offshore accounts. Also, many large foreign banks (e.g., Barclays, Citi, Royal Bank of Canada, HSBC, etc.) have branches in the UAE. Internet banking is common.

Can I use my ATM card?

Yes. Most ATM machines accept cards from all over the world via systems like Cirrus and Plus. You can also get an ATM card for your local bank account. Occasionally machines have trouble with "chip cards."

Can I use credit cards in the UAE?

UAE is generally a cash society, but credit cards are accepted in most major department stores, restaurants, and in the gold souks (markets). Generally, mini-marts, other outdoor souks, etc., do not accept credit cards. Occasionally machines have trouble with "chip cards."

Is UAE expensive to live in?

It depends on what you are purchasing. Housing rental is expensive and alcohol is expensive; brand names and imports can be expensive, compared to the prices at home (where they may not be imports). The general cost of clothing, food, etc., is not particularly expensive.

D) CONTRACT & VISA PROCESS

Do I need a visa to go to the UAE?

Individuals from several Western countries (including Canada and the United States) do not require a visa to enter the UAE to visit. (For a brief period, January 2011 to June 2013, Canadians did need a visa, following a diplomatic dispute.)

However, employees relocating on a one or two year contract are required to enter the country on an employment visa. Employment visas are sponsored by the hospital. As your recruitment company, Helen Ziegler & Associates will request your visa from the hospital as well as visas for any family members who are listed in your contract (if they are required). After being approved for a position at one of our client hospitals in UAE, it takes between 1 and 4 weeks to obtain an employment visa. You will be given a copy of your employment visa prior to your departure for Abu Dhabi but you will need to pick up the original visa at the customs counter in Abu Dhabi before going through customs.

I have friends and family members not listed in my contract who would like to visit me while I am overseas – how can they get visas?

The hospital is not responsible for family members and friends who are not listed in your contract. Citizens of most Western countries do not have to apply for a visitor's visa to enter UAE. These individuals will be granted a visitor's visa upon arriving in UAE free-of-charge and can stay in the country for 30 days. (Note: One's passport must be valid for more than six months and one must have a round-trip airline ticket or a ticket to a non-UAE destination.) The visitor's visa may be extended for an additional cost.

Citizens of countries who require a visa in advance, will have to make their own visa arrangements. (See question immediately above.)

What is "residency status" and why is it so important?

In order to reside in the UAE long-term, you have to obtain a residency status. Residency status is required to do anything from obtaining a UAE driver's license, to making long-distance telephone calls from your home, to obtaining a dependent visa for a family member. Residency visas are arranged by the hospital.

How long will it take to get my residency status?

Like many other things in the UAE, obtaining your residency status will require plenty of paperwork and plenty of patience, and may take as long as 4 to 8 weeks. To ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible, give several passport-size coloured photos, copies of your passport, and copies of your initial work visa to your employer as soon as you arrive in UAE. You will also have to have a blood test done as soon as you arrive in UAE.

I read somewhere that I will have to relinquish my passport to the hospital once I arrive in UAE, which makes me very nervous — why do I have to do this?

The hospital will need your passport to apply for your residency permit. The people that meet you at the airport will take your passport and a copy of your work visa. There is no reason to be anxious about relinquishing your passport to the hospital since it is standard procedure. However, as an added precaution, we recommend that you keep a photocopy of your passport on-hand, and either register in advance with the US State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada's Registration of Canadians Abroad Program or register upon arrival with the Canadian Embassy or US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Will I be able to leave and re-enter the country whenever I want?

While you are applying for residency status, the immigration office will have your passport. Therefore, you will not be able to leave the UAE during this period (which can be as long as 6 to 8 weeks for employees). However, the first three months of your contract is a probationary period during which you won't be able to take any vacation anyway. After you obtain residency status, you will be able to freely exit and re-enter the country — you will not require an exit/re-entry visa to do this. (Note: you may, however, require visas for the countries you visit outside of the UAE — these will be your responsibility.)

Who will arrange my flight to the UAE?

Helen Ziegler and Associates, Inc. works with the hospital to arrange your flight from your point-of-hire to the city where you will be working. The hospital pays for your flight.

If I book my own flight, will the hospital pay me back for it?

No. Nor, for logistical reasons, can the hospital honor requests to fly specific airlines, or accommodate requests for additional or extended stops on your way to UAE.

Are interviews required?

Yes! We will interview you in person or via Skype. Additionally, an interview with the hospital in the UAE is likely.

What is HZA's recruitment process?

Our comprehensive recruitment process is outlined on our Application Process page.

E) PRACTICAL ISSUES

Do I have to share my apartment/house?

Physicians and most senior administrative positions are entitled to non-shared housing. All other contracts typically receive shared accommodations, with a maximum of one or two other housemates.

What television channels can I get in the UAE?

Depending on housing, a TV package may be included or you may have to pay for your own satellite TV; packages typically include stations such as ESPN, CNN, BBC, the Movie Channel, etc. The cost of the cable packages varies on the type of package purchased.

What is the voltage in the UAE?

The voltage is 220 volts, so most North American appliances will require transformers, while small electronics will just require adaptors. It is therefore recommended to purchase most large household appliances in UAE.

Is smoking cigarettes legal in the UAE?

Smoking is legal in certain places in UAE (except for Sharjah). Since 2008, there have been bans on smoking in enclosed public places (e.g., malls, restaurants). Under a January 2010 law, smoking was banned when driving a vehicle in the company of a child under 12 years.

Is internet available? Should I bring my own computer?

Yes. A person can apply to an ISP for internet access from home once s/he has obtained residency status and obtained a personal phone line. There are also internet cafes in the cities and computers at the hospital. All internet traffic in the UAE is processed through centralized servers that filter content that is contrary to Islamic values, so some sites will not be available, such as those with sexually explicit content, some entertainment sites, etc.

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