Indian expat businessman "Prometheus" describes the good and the bad of living in Dubai, the UAE



August 31 2006

-Where were you born?
In a hospital, d’uh. Oh well, in Mumbai, India.

-In which country and city are you living now?
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

-Are you living alone or with your family?
With myself and my myriad split personae. (Read: alone)

-How long have you been living in Dubai?
Since April 2006, which is about 4 months to this day.

-What is your age?
29 years

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Dubai?
The voices in my head started telling me to move here since September 2005. Imprisoned in my government job in Mumbai and itching in rather obscene places to get back into the technology business, putting in my papers was on the cards. A chance trip to Dubai interested me in the software market here. The next few months were a blur, juggling job exit and business setup.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not particularly. Investors don’t have visa issues, though I’ve heard blood-curdling stories from folks employed here. There were issues though. Information dissemination isn’t exactly world class, though procedures are simple. Dates (of the deadline/calendar variety) are not exactly accorded importance here. I had to cancel my flight plans twice since the authorities couldn’t deliver me my approved visa. Fingerprinting is done without biometrics. So they ‘blacked up my hands’ as the rappers would say. Bit humiliating.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
The processes are fairly straightforward. Finding locations, and reaching there by the 1400 hour closing time (for government offices) was a bit of a hindrance. Overall, the paperwork was done speedily and without memorable episodes.

-How do you make your living in Dubai? Do you have any type of income generated?
I currently live on shoestring budgets. That is to say I boil shoestrings and pretend they’re mee goreng. The income part is yet to kick in. I’m told this is a difficult time for startups. This, I was told a tad too late.

My self-employed state means the second part of the question requires minor modifications. It took me three trips and countless emails and phone calls to get precise information and to get things done here. The hard part was ascertaining the veracity of the information. Often, the website, the official and the documentation gave differing, even diametrically opposite data. I even had some parts of the information updated as I was in-flight to Dubai for good.

-Do you speak Arabic and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I’m trying to teach myself Arabic. The written version is a tad difficult since a character may be written differently depending upon whether it occurs in the beginning, middle or the end of a word. As far as the spoken version goes, intonation and pronunciation are rather important. A word can mean very different things, including a profanity, depending upon the pronunciation.

Personally, I have a love for languages, etymology and cultures. Ergo, it is more out of my interest than any compulsion to learn the local language and customs. Globally, knowing the local language always helps since the wet workers, laborers and the like are unlikely to speak the Queen’s English. I would always stress upon following local customs. When in Rome, play the fiddle while it burns.

Similarly, I am quite happy following the rules of this land. The UAE is the most liberal Islamic state. That’s saying a lot, but not too much. Expats shouldn’t expect to get away with a devil-may-care attitude like in a non-theocratic country. Prayer times on all days and the entire holy month of Ramadan is not the best time to shoot the breeze in your pimped up car with the stereo blaring lyrics with references to female anatomy.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Yes would be an understatement. One values things more when they are lost or inaccessible. An expat cab driver threw this nugget of wisdom at me: We love money more than our family, which is why we are here. My mom says the sparse meal with the family is more nourishing than a lavish spread eaten alone. These sentiments, I feel, are the biggest burdens weighing down on the expat mind.

Given that my organization is still in its infancy, recreational activities are not really the priority now. I think Dubai, like most metros, lives up to the Guns N Roses song that went ‘If you got the money honey, we got your disease.’ I have yet to locate a shooting gallery, though karate dojos and guitar classes seem dime a dozen.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
Like most expats, I long to get my family here, but not from the colonization point of view. This place is my karmabhoomi, the Sanskrit term for ‘field of action,’ as different from maatrubhoomi or ‘motherland.’ I have too many business/travel fantasies to fulfill, but I’m firm on the fact that my motherland is where I want to breathe my last breath.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Freehold properties, or houses that can be owned by non-UAE nationals, are like antimatter. Everyone knows it exists, but no one knows the rules exactly. I therefore rent an apartment, for which I pay an emperor’s ransom. A 2 BHK apartment in el cheapo Ajman sets me back by AED 40K a year. A similar place in Dubai could cost AED 80K. That’s about US$ 22K for you Americanians. Two years’ rent can buy me a decent house in Mumbai. Real estate prices and extremely pro-national policies are the biggest problems in UAE. Prices escalate at 15-30% each year. Having worked in urban development and city planning in Mumbai, I think I’m not biased when I say that the prices are artificially hyped to bleed expats in the Robin Hood-ish attempt to provide for the locals.

-What is the cost of living in Dubai?
Being an investor, as opposed to an employee, I’d like to present a rather different view of the Cost of Living factor. Employed expats earn in Dirhams and spend in Dirhams. Investors, for the initial part, use their home currency earnings converted to Dirhams. Thus, until your business starts making money, things might seem expensive. What one dollar buys you in the US may require more than AED 3.667 here, or in my case INR 12.125 gets me farther in India than AED 1 does in Dubai.

However, on a general note, prices here are okay with respect to food and public transport. Real estate is a killer, as mentioned earlier. Books are terribly expensive for some unknown reason. Healthcare is terribly overpriced too, but that’s so that locals can get free healthcare, in the spirit of the above-mentioned Robin Hood-ism. Urban infrastructure is also expensive, I suspect Robin Hood is there too. Cars and petrol are a bit cheap yet and the absolute absence of taxes even out the things a bit. Apparently, there is good money to be made here. Ergo, it’s definitely on my list of recommended places.

-What do you think about the local population?
Haven’t made local friends yet. My little experience with the authorities leads me to believe that most locals are well-mannered, cultured, professional and warm people. Fact is, some of the senior, high and mighty people, who could be expected to behave rudely, are the most polite and down to earth people. Fed with urban lore that expats and especially Asian expats, more so that brown expats are not really considered in the same club as homo sapiens, I have been pleasantly embarrassed by locals who were kind to me.

The rules and the general feel in the air does lend credence to the theory that locals believe that expats make too much money off their country, but never have I been treated discourteously yet. Au contraire, I have found expats, some of them my compatriots, to be boors.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Dubai?
The UAE is a cultural smorgasbord. One can meet so many nationalities here, this place should be on the list for anyone who is interested in world culture.

Urban infrastructure is impressive. Town planning and governance especially in Dubai are case studies for many developing cities.

For a theocracy, it is wonderfully liberal. Life in the Middle East with trainer wheels. You get your feet wet here before you can go into the other radical theocratic states.

People, especially locals, are mostly warm and polite.

Procedures are simple and fast. No triplicate applications. Select service – Pay money – Get service. Utility bills can be paid at machines round the clock. Services can be requested/disabled from your phone. Very efficient.

The government is wonderful. I do not say this to curry favor with the ruling family. This point finds mention in the negatives too, for different reasons. The present President and the Vice President are amazing persons, from what I gather. Gifted with foresight, wise in thought and relentless in the pursuit of improvement, I envy the UAE for having such wonderful people in charge. Their success can be partly attributed to the fact that this is not a democracy where plans languish for decades in polemic debates at the taxpayers’ cost.

A tad racist attitude, where expats are overcharged for subsidizing locals, particularly with respect to healthcare that should be universal.

Terming of expats as residents v/s immigrants, thereby denying citizenship. This is amplified by the stark difference in living costs and rules for citizens and expats.

State-sponsored nepotism, which forces a company to employ nationals and pay them salaries that are obscenely high with reference to their education.

Arbitrary law making. The non-democratic method of bringing in a new law by one stroke of the pen can hurt at times, as in the case of the rule where companies of certain sizes being forced to retrench all expat HR personnel and replace them with locals. I hear of companies who hire local HR personnel to keep with the law and hire a professional expat with a non-HR designation to actually do the work, since the local isn’t skilled enough.

The favoritism for locals breeds many problems. For one, they tend to abuse resources like water, paper and plastic since it is almost free, creating an ecological disaster. Secondly, I feel the shielding from competition can hamper their professional growth.

Quality of newspapers is pathetic. Reportage is colored, censored and ineptly edited. Advertisements are dumbed down, for some unknown purpose.

Street numbers and names are as simple to decode as military cipher. No one refers to locations by dimensional addresses. It’s always ‘next to xyz, behind abc.’ Street names are used for the sole purpose of honoring the rulers. So do not get your brains toasted if you see the same street name classifying a dozen streets across the seven emirates.

Banking systems may have the latest technology, but the mindset is Stone Age. I always thought banks would chase corporate clients, as opposed to individuals since more money flows there and they are traceable. They never heard of that logic here.

Succession to rule by birth can have serious problems. Much as I admire the present President and Vice President, it is very possible that their successors can undo all their good work. Also, other members of the Supreme Council, rulers of other emirates are nowhere as dynamic as the two mentioned. Thus, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are modern wonders, while Sharjah, Ajman, UAQ, RAK and Fujairah are more like rural shanties.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Dubai?
Double-check all data with multiple sources, whether you’ve got a job here or are planning to set up a business.

Small entrepreneurs can benefit from having a Free Zone company in free zones like Ajman, where rents are comparatively low and isn’t too remote from the business capitals of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Read up on Islamic law. Though UAE doesn’t apply the Sharia penalties like stoning to death for adultery, laws and their interpretation can be pretty shifty. Knowledge of Islamic culture and law will help you get an idea of what could be termed blasphemous and thereby avoid trouble.

One may come across generalizations like all Asians are Filipinos/Filipinas, all brownies are Pakistani/Indian, all Indians are Keralites. If you are hurt when someone mistakes your nationality, stay home.

If you do get here, please understand that you represent your country. Please don’t tarnish your nation’s reputation by being a boor. Acknowledge that you are not exactly alpha citizen but a gamma expat and be good to the locals. They are good to you mostly and this is their country after all. Be kind to fellow expats too, they’re struggling as well and can do without your crabby behavior.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Dubai?
My own blog, foremost, since humility doesn’t come naturally to me: The Moving (Middle) Finger Writes. Words fail even me, in describing this work of art. (I’ll have you know that many people believe this, so what if they’re all imaginary.)

Tainted in UAE. Razor-sharp writing by a wonderful person.

The UAE Community blog. I know I’m cheating by mentioning this aggregator blog, but it has some great blogs like those of Grapeshisha, Secretdubai, An Emirati’s Thoughts, Bol Dubai by Woke, UAECreatives and the like. Sift the chaff from the grain though, for many blogs listed can be pathetic and they post to the community only to promote their blog or to grind their favorite axe.

The Doing Business in UAE site, by Morison Menon Associates. All the info you require if you want to work/invest here.

Obtaining job Dubai ??

scotty101142's picture

I am in early 60s and in good health. I have had extensive experience in commercial / property areas as a lawyer. I seek a job in Middle East where my skills can best be used. I have an excellent academic record - possessing an LLB and LLM and was holder of dealers security license.
Can you direct me to agency or best how to gude to obtain a job.
My wife is involved in the Hospitality industry and has excellent record and work history

Real Estate jobs

prometheus's picture

Hi Scotty,
Great to hear that you want to move to the Middle East and work. At 60, I must say it is admirable to want to and be able to work. Honestly, I don't know exactly how you can get a job but the real estate sector is the single biggest boom industry there. Big time real estate consultants are paid higher than IT wizards. You are qualified and experienced. I think you should have no problems getting a plum job. Same goes for your wife. Given that Dubai is a trade hub, the hospitality and events industry is huge. You can try UAE job sites. I hear that Nadia ( is the best UAE job site. Once you do some market research, you can try visiting Dubai on a transit (14 days) or a visit (1 month) visa and do a proper recce. With that done, there should be no problem 'beaming you up to Dubai, scotty'. Sorry, couldn't resist that one.

looking for work in the middle east

john barlow's picture

I am looking for a position in the middle east preferable dubai, i have oversees exp ( last job Belize 2 years ago ) and been linterested in dubai for some time, now is the right time for me, finished last contract some weeks ago, no ties or commitments bags packed ready to move as the saying goes, have suitcase will travel, i have been in construction 30 years as a tradesman, foreman, and site manager well qualified, HNC CIOB etc i have tried the webb no responce, what i realy need is a few contacts from the inside so to speake, where the work is who is hiring etc, i would appreciate any help from anyone, this is my first time writing on a webb site so i might have left some deatails out, thanks for taking the time to read this.
John Barlow

ps i live in Sheffield UK