GUIDE ABU DHAB I W WW.NOR DAN GLIA.COM /AB UDHABI
GUIDE ABU DHAB I
GUIDE ABU DHABI Essentials Guide Abu Dhabi 1st Edition Copyright ÂŠ Nord Anglia 2011 All Rights Reserved Chief Editor - Travis Murray Primary Design - Valle DMG Secondary Design - Travis Murray Primary Copywriting - Ilsa Mayweather Copyediting/Proofreading - Aelred Doyle While every possible effort has been taken to ensure that the facts contained within this guide are accurate, Nord Anglia cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions that this guide may contain. No part of this guide may be reproduced or distributed, by electronic means or any other, without the prior permission of Nord Anglia Ltd.
TABLE OF CONTENTS PREPARING TO GO Introduction p 8 History p 20
Money and Banking p 50 Getting Connected p 51 Health Care p 54
Culture p 22
Temporary Accommodation p 58
Demographics p 26
Finding Housing p 66
Cityscape p 26
Getting Settled p 68
Country Map p 26
Culture Shock p 70
Language p 28
Education p 72
Climate p 29 Regional Map p 30
Education Supplement p 80
Administrative Preparations p 32
LIVING IN ABU DHABI
Address, Phone and Finances p 33 Embassies p34 Books, Films and Music p 38
Health and Wellness p 114 Eating and Drinking p 116 Shopping p 122
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Neighbourhood Descriptions p 132
Landing p 44
Conclusion p 142
Getting Around p 46
helpi ng others thrive www.bisabudhabi.com
Education and learning have always been our focus and our area of expertise. Our people and the people we work with all have a good understanding of what this means to us. We aim to provide students with the opportunity to be the best they can be.
bu Dhabi is a conservative city with a gentle pace, traditional values and a strong sense of heritage, but in some senses the UAE’s capital is still in the process of forging its identity. It’s a place long-term residents say has changed beyond recognition over the past few decades, and by this they mean the fact that the ‘quiet’ capital is now home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, ultrafashionable bars and restaurants and regularly hosts international sporting events and concerts.
Somehow, the cityâ€™s residents manage to straddle both worlds with ease, taking news of each new glitzy launch, architectural development or extravagant event with cool insouciance. You can look forward to choosing which parts of Abu Dhabiâ€™s culture to immerse yourself in, or do as the locals do, and casually move between the old and new, local and foreign aspects of the capital with ease.
bu Dhabi is one of the most family-friendly cities in the Gulf, with relaxed souks, green parks and clean beaches that make for great weekend outings with the kids. Many expats here spend a lot of their spare time socialising through sports groups and outdoor activities during the cooler months of the year. There are certainly enough top-notch sports facilities, particularly for waterbased activities, to keep everyone entertained.
ealth is very important in Abu Dhabi and it’s commerce that brings the majority of expats to the city. Unsurprisingly, when Abu Dhabi’s residents aren’t busy making money, you’ll find them spending it just as fast in one of the capital’s air-conditioned malls, which are home to international, Western and Arabic brands.
You’ll find yourself doing business, making friends and sharing the city with people from across the Middle East, Asia and Europe, who bring the exotic blend of style, foods and language that you’d expect from such a cultural mix. Almost everyone speaks some English however, whether basic or fluent, so you’ll rarely have trouble making yourself understood even if you don’t speak Arabic – or Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog or any of the many other languages you’ll hear regularly throughout the city.
his Essentials Guide Abu Dhabi is designed to help you prepare for Abu Dhabi and settle in once you get there. The UAE does present some challenges, because the norms of dress, alcohol, religion and gender roles – and of course the intense heat – may be very different from what you’re used to. But for most people, the positives outweigh these difficulties, and you’ll find pleasant surprises, new routines and solid support networks which will help you adjust to your new lifestyle in the Middle East.
PREPARING TO GO
PREPARING TO GO
PREPARING TO GO INTRO
Preparing to go will be as much a mental journey as it will be a practical one. Understanding more about the culture you are about to encounter will help prepare you for the experience. You can read a book or watch a movie we recommend, or you can engage in your own research. Either way, the process will reward you. The practical aspects of preparation are, of course, vital to ensuring that your journey begins on a positive note. This section will help you prepare on both fronts.
History p 20 Culture p 22 Demographics p 26 Cityscape p 26 Country Map p 26 Language p 28 Climate p 29 Regional Map p 30 Administrative Preparations p 32 Address, Phone and Finances p 33 Embassies p 34
Books, Films and Music p 38
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In 50 years Abu Dhabi has risen from the desert to become a modern metropolis.
s little as half a century ago, there was nothing to Abu Dhabi except harsh desert landscapes where semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes lived, moving between small villages and fertile pockets of land. Just fifty years on Abu Dhabi is a modern, sophisticated city. Its international population enjoys world-class restaurants, hotels and bars, and due to its size and wealth the city has major influence across the Gulf. The reason for this astonishing development is of course the discovery of huge oil reserves in 1958. Before that, Abu Dhabi’s inhabitants depended on fishing and animal husbandry for their livelihood, and through the 19th century a roaring trade in pearl fishing developed, with a steady supply of pearls coming from Abu Dhabi’s waters. The Al Nahyan family (still the ruling family) relocated from their home in Liwa to the village of Abu Dhabi to take advantage of this. Over the next hundred years the village steadily developed, and the wider emirate of Abu Dhabi and the other emirates to the north accepted the protection of Britain. Collectively they became known as the Trucial States.
The ancient fort in Bithnah
The prosperous period was short-lived. The economic crisis of the 1930s coincided with the cultured pearl industry taking off in Japan, and Abu Dhabi quickly plunged into poverty. In 1939 Abu Dhabi’s ruler Sheikh
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Shakhbut bin Sultan granted concessions for a British company to search for oil in the region, in the hopes that this might change the emirate’s fortunes. Exports began four years after finding oil, putting the region firmly on its path of rapid development. Sheikh Shakhbut was a somewhat cautious leader who chose to save the money flooding in from the oil exports, rather than invest it in furthering development. With the help of the British, in 1966 he was swiftly replaced by his brother Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, who had the vision to pour the money into a modernising program of infrastructure and trade links. The British withdrew from the Gulf region in 1971, and at Sheikh Zayed’s urging the seven emirates united to provide security and strength, forming the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Zayed was elected by the rulers of the other emirates to be president of the UAE, and later Abu Dhabi was chosen to be its capital city. Sheikh Zayed’s 33-year rule saw change take place at an unprecedented pace, bringing international trade, technology and social services to the UAE. He passed away in 2004, leaving his son Sheikh Khalifa to rule, and in recent years the city has continued its expansion, from the construction of a hub of hotels and world-class sporting facilities on Yas Island to the residential developments stretching out to the north of the city. The expansion looks set to continue at this rate, if the recently launched 2030 Vision, an economic strategy that aims to put Abu Dhabi firmly on the world stage, is anything to go by.
The modern Abu Dhabi skyline
Sheikh Zayed’s 33-year rule saw change take place at an unprecedented pace, bringing international trade, technology and social services to the UAE.
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Abu Dhabi is a tolerant place which allows people of religions other than Islam to practise in peace, and accepts many un-Islamic aspects of the lifestyles of other cultures.
bu Dhabi’s culture is Islamic, and you’ll see evidence of this in every part of life, from the call to prayer ringing out across the city five times a day to the modest dress codes in malls. While Abu Dhabi is relatively conservative, compared to neighbouring Dubai for example, it’s still a tolerant place which allows people of religions other than Islam to practise in peace, and accepts many un-Islamic aspects of the lifestyles of other cultures, for example drinking alcohol or eating pork. See When You Arrive for information about appropriate dress, public displays of affection and alcohol consumption.
he long white robes you’ll see Emirati men wearing are called dishdasha, and these are traditionally paired with a red and white checked head dress called a gutra; or increasingly commonly among younger UAE nationals, a baseball cap. Women wear abayas in public, long black robes sometimes embroidered or adorned with beads. The sheyla is the black headscarf worn with an abaya. Underneath these robes, many women dress very expensively in the latest designer labels.
REALITY CHECK If you have preconceptions, leave them at home and let Abu Dhabi speak for itself – you will be pleasantly rewarded.
usiness culture in the UAE is quite different from what you might be used to in the West, so it’s important to have an understanding of what to expect and why. Business acquaintances are often considered more friends than associates, because business relationships in the UAE are frequently developed on a longstanding basis of trust. Therefore, it’s considered more impolite to ignore a call from someone than to briefly interrupt a meeting – meaning people take calls in the middle of meetings, or even leave while you’re speaking in order to attend to family matters or different business affairs. When this happens, you’ll just need to be patient – it’s not intended to be disrespectful. As for watching your own manners, there are a few basics to keep in mind. Offer a handshake only to someone of the same sex. Practices vary, and some Muslim men will shake hands with Western women, but it’s best not to offer in case you cause embarrassment. In terms of making your meetings go smoothly, you’ll be considered more sociable and polite if you take your time over the tea or Arabic coffee which is often offered, and make plenty of effort with the small talk. It’s all part of building trusting relationships.
he month of Ramadan is of particular significance for locals. It’s the holy month, when Muslims commemorate the revelation of the
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CULTURE Qur’an through fasting between dusk and dawn. As well as eating, the fast includes abstention from smoking, drinking and ‘unclean’ activities, including impure thoughts. The fast is broken at sunset each day, with a meal called Iftar. These meals are often major feasts, held in restaurants, at home or in special Ramadan tents across the city, and tend to include a lot more traditional dishes than you see during the rest of the year. Iftars go on for hours, and have a very welcoming atmosphere – people are happy for non-Muslims to join the meal. During Ramadan non-Muslims are not expected to fast, but eating and drinking in public is forbidden – even a sneaky swig of water or a piece of chewing gum can land you a fine if caught by the police, and in any case will cause offence to those observing the fast. Almost all restaurants and cafes are closed during the day, and live music and dancing aren’t allowed. Office hours are shortened, and since people fasting find work particularly taxing, you’ll be expected to accommodate a drop in productivity. Be particularly careful about what you wear during this month, as revealing clothing is more frowned upon than during the rest of the year.
During Ramadan non-Muslims are not expected to fast, but eating and drinking in public is forbidden – even a sneaky swig of water or a piece of chewing gum can land you a fine if caught by the police.
Left - Local men often wear dishdasha in public Next page - Abu Dhabi by air
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UAE nationals make up only 20 percent of the overall population of Abu Dhabi.
bu Dhabi is the most heavily populated of the Emirates, home to almost 1.5 million people. UAE nationals make up only 20 percent of the overall population – the rest of the city is a melting pot of Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Lebanese, British, Americans, Australians and more. The population is growing at a rate of 4.5 percent per year and, according to the emirate’s 2030 Vision, is expected to be 3 million 20 years from now. The ratio of males to females is 2.03 to 1.
Geography and cityscape
here are seven emirates in the UAE – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain – and the country borders Oman and Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate, making up approximately 80 percent of the country’s landmass. In fact a large part of the emirate is made up of desert, called the Empty Quarter, which stretches across Saudi Arabia and Oman and contains some of the biggest sand dunes in the world. By contrast, the urban areas are surprisingly lush, with plenty of parks, green recreational areas and treelined roads to be found in both the main city of Abu Dhabi, on a low-lying island, and the second city of Al Ain to the east. Abu Dhabi is of course the busier and more developed of the two and increasingly well connected – a brand new road linking Yas Island, downtown Abu Dhabi and Dubai has
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CITYSCAPE significantly cut down commuting time and more highways are under construction. Abu Dhabi City includes the Corniche, a long stretch of beachfront dotted with cafes and restaurants looking out over the Gulf, which is a popular recreational spot. The downtown area is further inland – Al Markaziyah is bustling all day long with shops, restaurants, high-rise apartment blocks and lots of traffic. There’s another much smaller leisure hub in the northern area of Bain Al Jessrain, centred on the Souk Qaryat Al Beri. This very modern complex of fashionable bars, restaurants and shops is between the Shangri-La and Fairmont Bab al Bahr hotels, both popular with the city’s diners as well as tourists because of their excellent restaurants. The rest of the city is made up of residential areas which sprawl out to the east, and increasingly north towards Dubai too.
Known as the Empty Quarter, the desert surrounding Abu Dhabi has some of the largest sand dunes in the world.
Almost 200 islands are also under the emirate’s jurisdiction. One of the most newly developed is Yas Island in the north-west. This is home to Yas Marina Circuit, where F1 races are held, as well as other leisure facilities such as Ferrari World theme park and Yas Arena. Saadiyat Island in the north-east is a natural island with mangrove forests, and soon to be home to Abu Dhabi’s own Guggenheim and Louvre. At present all this is under construction, but it looks set to become a busy residential and cultural hub in the near future.
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Because of the range of nationalities living in Abu Dhabi almost all signs are in English as well as Arabic, and you’ll find English used everywhere from menus to grocery labels and on a number of television and radio channels.
rabic is the official language of the United Arab Emirates, spoken by locals and used across the country for public signs, newspapers, television and formal documents. It’s spoken by almost 250 million people as a mother tongue and is the official language of 22 countries. However, because of the range of nationalities living in Abu Dhabi almost all signs are in English as well as Arabic, and you’ll find English used everywhere from menus to grocery labels and on a number of television and radio channels. Almost everyone speaks conversational-level English, and many are fluent – this includes locals as well as expats for whom English is not a first language. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the literary standard and based loosely on Classical Arabic. This is the original language of the Qur’an and dates back to the 4th century. Both Classical Arabic and MSA differ from colloquial Arabic. If you develop an interest in learning Arabic during your time in Abu Dhabi, you’ll notice many dialects of Arabic used, all distinct from the MSA you’ll learn in a classroom. Arabic spoken in Morocco is as different from Arabic spoken in Egypt and from Modern Standard as French is from Spanish. Arabs from different regions often improvise with Egyptian Arabic – familiar to many because of Egypt’s movie industry – mixed with MSA and their own dialects. For example, if you order a coffee in MSA you’ll sound bizarrely formal; but you’ll be understood, and the more you converse the more you’ll pick up natural phrases. Other than Arabic and English, you’ll hear Hindi and Urdu spoken widely among the Indian and Pakistani communities, and Tagalog by Filipinos. People also manage to communicate by mixing words from different languages – listen hard and you’ll notice Hindi sentences sprinkled with English words, or English sentences punctuated with common Arabic exclamations, such as Inshallah, meaning ‘God willing’. So where to begin learning the local lingo? If you’re on a budget, try one of the numerous web resources available, such as www.learnarabiconline. com. A great way to practise pronunciation is by joining the group Arabic Language Lovers UAE, which arranges meet-ups for Arabic speakers to chat over shisha, meals out and other events. This is also a great way to bridge the gap between native Arabs and expats; you can sign up for events at www. meetup.com. However, formal language courses will give you the most solid grounding in the language. The Mother Tongue Arabic Language Centre (639 3838, www.mothertongue.ae) in Khalidiyah comes highly recommended, with a range of reasonably priced courses. Bit-tawfiq! (Good luck)
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ssentially, Abu Dhabi’s weather varies from hot and dry to extremely hot and dry throughout the year. The sub-tropical, arid climate means there are clear blue skies almost all year round, with a very small amount of rainfall (12 cm per year) between November and March. When it does rain, showers tend to be relatively light and last just a few hours. During the winter months of January and February, temperatures are as low as 13C (50F) at night. Winter days are usually very bright and sunny, with fresh breezes making the temperature feel a little lower than it is. The summer months see temperatures reach sizzling highs, which have been known to hit 50C (122F) during the very hottest days. At this time of year, people usually avoid being outdoors altogether, sticking to air-conditioned malls, cars and homes until the temperature drops. The summer evenings are uncomfortably hot and sticky too – the temperature drops a little, but not enough for spending any amount of time outdoors to be a good idea. It’s much more humid during the summer, which can make it even more difficult to cope with the high temperatures.
The summer months see temperatures reach sizzling highs, which have been known to hit 50C (122F) during the very hottest days.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Millimetres of Precipitation
Average Daily High in ºCelsius
Sandstorms are a fairly rare occurrence in Abu Dhabi, but occasionally a strong dusty wind whips the sand from the desert and blows it into the city. It’s best to stay indoors when this happens – although the storms are relatively weak, visibility on the roads is impaired and sand can blow into your eyes if you’re outside. If you do go out, make sure you shut fast your doors and windows, otherwise you might find your floors covered with sand when you return.
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ADMINISTRATIVE PREPARATIONS Administrative preparations
Most people tend to pack much more than they need when relocating.
he process begins with the administrative matters. Do not put them off. In fact, this is the only part of the moving process you cannot put off, as the UAE is strict about its bureaucratic procedures and you don’t want your transition to be interrupted by a preventable hiccup. Visas and documents Before you arrive, it’s a good idea to prepare photocopies of your passport and up to twenty passport photos (you’ll be amazed at how many you’ll need for various applications and documents). You should also make sure you have, if applicable, copies of your marriage certificate, birth certificate, driving licence and National ID card. When you start work, ask for an NOC, a No Objection Certificate. You’ll often be asked to produce this when undertaking activities such as renting a flat, applying for an alcohol licence or opening a bank account. The certificate or letter should say that the company sponsoring your employment visa does not object to this, and should be stamped and signed by a representative of your company.
Sons can only be sponsored up to the age of 18, unless they’re enrolled in full-time education in the UAE; after that they must be transferred to an independent sponsor. However, daughters can be sponsored for longer.
Citizens of many countries, including the UK, the US and Australia, are granted a tourist visa on arrival. This is valid for 30 days, extendable once by another 30 days without leaving the country, if you get it stamped at the Immigration Department and pay a fee of Dhs500. The next step is to apply for employment and residence visas; these are almost always taken care of by the company (this is one occasion when those passport photos will come in handy). The Human Resources department should arrange the paperwork and application on your behalf, and your company is legally obliged to pay all the visa fees. If for whatever reason this isn’t the case, visit www.abudhabi.ae for detailed information about the visa application process and to download all the essential forms. Sponsoring your family may or may not be taken care of by your employer. To do so you need a minimum salary of Dhs4,000 a month. Sons can only be sponsored up to the age of 18, unless they’re enrolled in full-time education in the UAE; after that they must be transferred to an independent sponsor. However, daughters can be sponsored for longer. Your company is legally obliged to cover your health insurance, and once you’ve been set up on a scheme you’ll be given a medical card which you’ll need to bring with you on all trips to the hospital. (See Health Care). Once your medical card and visas are taken care of, your company will then apply for a Labour Card. You might not receive this for a few months after you begin working, but you have to have one or be in the process of applying for it in order to be legally employed in the UAE. It’s valid for up to three years.
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ADDRESS, PHONE AND FINANCES Address and phone
pon moving to Abu Dhabi, it’s important to alert all banks and bill issuers of your relocation – failing to do so could result in credit/ debit cards being blocked and the subsequent hassle of reactivating them. Since only PO box addresses are able to receive post in the UAE, it’s best to provide the address of any temporary accommodation you’ll be using in advance (a hotel or hotel apartment for example), before switching to a company/office address if and when possible. Avoid supplying a residential address, since any important correspondence simply won’t reach you. You should have no problems using your current mobile phone in the UAE, but you’ll find that the cost of calls makes bills incredibly high. Therefore, it’s best to pick up a local sim card as soon as possible – see Getting Connected for full details on the various options. Depending on the type of contract, you should be able to suspend your old mobile phone plan until you return, or at least reduce it to the cheapest available tariff.
eedless to say, taking care of your finances while abroad can be extremely tricky. However, thanks to the modern marvel of online banking you can make life much easier for yourself. Chances are your bank will have a system in place that allows you to perform at least the most basic banking procedures over the Internet, meaning setting up payments to credit card companies and other direct debits should be no problem. You should also make arrangements for any tax or pension plans you hold back home to be processed during your absence. Procedures for transferring money back home can vary, so it’s best to speak to your bank to find out what you need to do.
Be aware that business hours may be completely different in your home country so taking care of business by phone may be very inconvenient.
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EMBASSIES Embassy of the Republic of Argentina P.O. Box 3325 (443 6838, email@example.com)
Australian Embassy P.O. Box 32711 (401 7500, www.uae.embassy.gov.au, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Republic of Austria P.O. Box 35539 (676 6611, www.austrianembassy.ae, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain A lot of embassies hold cultural events or bazaars every year for the community, a good chance to meet other nationalities.
P.O. Box 3367 (665 7500, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of Bangladesh P.O. Box 2504 (446 5100, www.bdembassyuae.org, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium P.O. Box 3686 631 9449, www.diplomatie.be, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Brazil P.O. Box 3027 (632 0606, www.brazilembuae.ae, email@example.com)
British Embassy P.O. Box 248 (610 1100, www.ukinuae.fco.gov.uk, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of Canada P.O. Box 6970 (694 0300, www.abudhabi.gc.ca, email@example.com
Embassy of Chile P.O. Box 129949 (447 2022, www.chile-uae.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
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EMBASSIES Embassy of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China P.O. Box 2741 (443 4276, http://ae.chineseembassy.org, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt P.O. Box 4026 (444 5566, www.mfa.gov.eg, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of Finland P.O. Box 3634 (632 8927, www.finland.ae, email@example.com)
Embassy of France P.O. Box 4014 (443 5100, www.ambafrance-eau.org, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany P.O. Box 2591 (644 6693, www.abu-dhabi.diplo.de, email@example.com)
Most embassies have short opening hours and you often need to book an appointment; check with the embassy beforehand.
Embassy of the Republic of Greece P.O. Box 5483 (665 4847, www.mfa.gr, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of India P.O. Box 4090 (449 2700, www.indembassyuae.org, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia P.O. Box 7256 (445 4448, www.indoemb.org, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran P.O. Box 4080 (444 7618, www.abudhabi.mfa.gov.ir, email@example.com)
Embassy of Italy P.O. Box 46752 (443 5622, www.ambabudhabi.esteri.it, firstname.lastname@example.org)
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EMBASSIES Embassy of Japan P.O. Box 2430 (443 5696, www.uae.emb-japan.co.jp, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan P.O. Box 4024 (444 8588, www.mfa.gov.jo, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Republic of Korea P.O. Box 3270 (443 5337, http://are.mofat.go.kr, email@example.com)
Embassy of Malaysia P.O. Box 3887 (448 2775, www.kln.gov.my, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco P.O. Box 4066 (443 3963, www.moroccan-emb.ae)
Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands P.O. Box 46560 (632 1920, www.netherlands.ae, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan P.O. Box 846 (444 7800, www.pakistanembassy.ae, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Philippines P.O. Box 3215 (641 5922, www.philembassy.ae, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Republic of Poland P.O. Box 2334 (446 5200, www.abuzabi.polemb.net, firstname.lastname@example.org. pl)
Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia P.O. Box 4057 (444 5700, www.mofa.gov.sa, email@example.com)
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EMBASSIES Embassy of the Kingdom of Spain P.O. Box 46474 (626 9544, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the State of Qatar P.O. Box 3503 (449 3300, http://english.mofa.gov.qa, email@example.com)
Embassy of Romania P.O. Box 70416 (445 9919, www.mae.ro, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the Russian Federation P.O. Box 8211 (672 1797, www.uae.mid.ru, email@example.com)
Check with your embassy to see what networking events it holds.
Embassy of the Republic of South Africa P.O. Box 29446 (447 3446, www.southafrica.ae, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of Switzerland P.O. Box 46116 (627-4636, www.eda.admin.ch, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Syria P.O. Box 4011 (444 8768, www.syrianembassy.ae, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Royal Thailand Embassy P.O. Box 47466 (642 1772, www.thaiembassy.ae, email@example.com)
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey P.O. Box 3204 (665 5421, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Embassy of the United States P.O. Box 4009 (414 2200, http://abudhabi.usembassy.gov, email@example.com)
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BOOKS, FILMS AND MUSIC Books Seven Pillars of Wisdom T.E. Lawrence (1922) His own account of his wartime experiences during the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule during World War I, by the legendary soldier and writer who became known as Lawrence of Arabia. A spellbinding, highly personalised account of heroism and betrayal. Arabian Sands Wilfred Thesiger (1959) Getting informed before you leave will help you avoid culture shock and will greatly improve your enjoyment of your time in Abu Dhabi.
An all-time travel classic by an Old Etonian who travelled in Arabia’s Empty Quarter in the 1940s and wrote with respect and admiration of the Bedouin way of life, back when Abu Dhabi and Dubai were tiny and undeveloped. Indispensable for anyone serious about understanding the region. The Yacoubian Building Alaa-Al-Aswany (2002) This Egyptian novel was a massive bestseller, outselling every other book in the Arab world for two years. It tells the story of modern Egyptian history through the inhabitants of a real Cairo building, where the author once worked as a dentist. A wonderful read that has already been made into both a TV series and a film. Highly recommended. Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City Jim Krane (2009) An in-depth examination of the extraordinary rise of Dubai in the last 50 years – the men who made it happen, the glitz, the huge money and the labourers still building it – by an AP reporter immersed in the region. Ask Ali: A Guide to Abu Dhabi (2011) Ali Alsaloom (2010) An informal guide to the city by a young Emirati styling himself a “cultural ambassador”, with the aim of bringing people together and getting rid of misconceptions. Not for everyone, but there’s plenty of interesting and helpful stuff here.
Music: Umm Kulthum This legendary Egyptian singer and actress ruled the Arab musical world
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BOOKS, FILMS AND MUSIC for much of the 20th century. She had a remarkable voice and remains a household name. You’ll hear her songs, whether you know it or not. Ahlam A big star in Middle Eastern music and the Gulf ’s biggest female singer, Ahlam is Abu Dhabi-born and, adding to the glamour, married to a Qatari race car driver. It’s not groundbreaking but it fills the dancefloor.
Films: Lawrence of Arabia David Lean (1962) Shot in Jordan and Morocco, this is one of the most visually stunning films of all time, and Peter O’Toole’s most famous role as T.E. Lawrence, fighting along with Arabian tribes and driving his motorcycle recklessly. Heavily fictionalised (don’t use it as a history textbook) but magnificent from start to finish. Make sure you watch the 1989 extended version. City of Life Ali F. Mostafa (2009) Dubai inhabitants from different countries, each with their own story and reasons for being in the city, are thrown together. A multi-lingual, multi-ethnic film and one of the first to portray the modern reality of the UAE – let’s hope it’s a harbinger of interesting things to come.
The Arabian Peninsula has a rich cultural history and tradition. Delving into it through some of our suggestions will not be a waste of time.
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PREPARING WHEN YOU TO GO ARRIVE
WHEN YOU ARRIVE INTRO
When you arrive in Abu Dhabi, try to get your bearings. If you don’t already have one, purchase a map at the airport and follow your route to the hotel as you make your way there. At the hotel, ask the concierge to help you orient yourself in terms of the front entrance to the hotel – this way you’ll be able to go for a walk and more easily find your way home. You can also ask your concierge to help you mark on your map places that you’ll be visiting, such as your company, prospective schools and housing options. Quiz the concierge about traffic patterns and get their opinion on travel times between different areas of the city. When combined with the opinions of others like your relocation agent and colleagues, you’ll be better informed to decide where you’ll live and where your children will go to school.
Landing p 44 Getting Around p 46 Money and Banking p 50 Getting Connected p 51 Health Care p 54 Temporary Accommodation p 58 Finding Housing p 66 Getting Settled p 68 Culture Shock p 70 Education p 72 Education Supplement p 80
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PREPARING TO GO WHEN YOU ARRIVE
LANDING XXXXXXX First things first
Be careful, even when you’re in an expat bar or other places where the attitude is more liberal than elsewhere – plenty of expats over the years have got in serious legal trouble, including deportation for kissing in public.
hen most expats step off the plane into the UAE they have a head full of anxieties and misconceptions about the culture, lifestyle and laws here. But in most cases you’ll find Abu Dhabi is neither as strict nor as conservative as you may have been led to believe. You can put your mind at ease by visiting www.abudhabi.ae and your embassy for a full list of regulations, but here’s a quick summary of the most common concerns.
t’s a good idea to dress with respect for the local culture, which for women means covering shoulders and knees and avoiding transparent or low-cut clothing. The only time you need to wear an abaya or headscarf is when you’re visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (you’ll be provided with one on arrival). Paying attention to what you wear is particularly important in malls and restaurants, both of which are considered family places – you’ll see signs in most shopping malls asking you to dress appropriately. If you do go out in revealing clothes, you won’t get into trouble but you’ll probably attract some stares and may feel uncomfortable. However, there are exceptions to this rule – on the beach and by swimming pools you can wear your usual swimwear, although going topless is illegal. And if you’re out at a bar or a club it’s ok to wear a short skirt or dress.
Public displays of affection
olding hands is fine, and a peck on the cheek to say hello to a friend is tolerated. Anything more than that is not acceptable, so save kissing, cuddling and any other displays of physical affection for when you’re in private. Locals are genuinely offended by this and often won’t be inclined to turn a blind eye. Be careful, even when you’re in an expat bar or other places where the attitude is more liberal than elsewhere – plenty of expats over the years have got in serious legal trouble, including deportation for kissing in public.
R Regardless of what you’ve been told, it’s not hard to get a drink in Abu Dhabi, although it is a little expensive.
egardless of what you’ve been told, it’s not hard to get a drink in Abu Dhabi, although it is a little expensive. Hotels are the only places licenced to serve alcohol, and so almost all have pubs and bars on the premises. These aren’t your typical sterile hotel bars that you find in other places across the world, though – most have plenty of buzz and character as this is where all the drinking-related nightlife goes on. There are also one or two off-licences in the city. You officially need a licence to purchase alcohol here. These are relatively easy to obtain as long as you’re a nonMuslim with a residence permit. Try Spinney’s on Hamdan Street for a large selection at reasonable prices. But remember that although drinking is perfectly legal, you’re not allowed to take alcohol between different emirates and being drunk in public is frowned upon.
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The only time you need to wear an abaya or headscarf is when you’re visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
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GETTING XXXXXXXAROUND Taxis
The capital’s roads take some getting used to, with high speeds and aggressive driving more or less the norm.
axis in Abu Dhabi are plentiful and extremely cheap compared to most Western countries. Daytime fares (6am-10pm) start at Dhs3 and rise by Dhs1 per km. At night this goes up to Dhs3.60 and Dhs1.20. There are over 7,000 taxis operating in the city, run by seven reputable local companies and regulated by TransAD. These are silver with a yellow light on top, run on a metre and have drivers who are kept to strict regulations about speeding, courtesy and charges. Nonetheless, the roads take some getting used to, with high speeds and aggressive driving the norm. If you can avoid the old green and white taxis – do. They are unregulated and usually don’t have metres. There aren’t many left however, as they’re being quickly phased out. Most of the city’s taxi drivers are of Indian or Pakistani descent and speak adequate if not fluent English and Arabic. What might be a problem is explaining where you need to go. Abu Dhabi has a complicated address system and a whole network of backstreets without names, with certain roads referred to by both name and number. But don’t panic – it’s usual to describe where you’re going by landmarks and directions rather than a formal address, and all major buildings tend to be used as landmarks, so instructions to a taxi driver will be along the lines of “Behind El Dorado cinema on Electra Street” or “Opposite the Chevrolet garage on the Corniche”. The first time you go somewhere, it’s wise to bring the phone number of someone who can help with directions. Taxi drivers aren’t allowed to ask for a tip or keep the change, but bear in mind that they work very long hours for low pay. Most people round their fare up to the nearest Dhs5 at the least – often more if it’s a long journey.
Road sign on the way to Dubai
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GETTING XXXXXXX AROUND Taxis are extremely well regulated and safe, and it’s entirely appropriate for women to take them alone at any time of the day or night, but if for religious or personal reasons you don’t want a male taxi driver, there is a fleet of ‘Ladies Taxis’ operating in the city, emblazoned with designs of pink flowers along the sides and a neon pink light on top – unmissable! They cost the same as normal taxis and can be flagged down or booked in advance. The priority is for solo female passengers, but they can also be used by men as long as they are with their families.
riving in Abu Dhabi should be fairly straightforward – in keeping with most countries, driving is on the right and the roads are constructed on a simple grid system. Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi’s questionable driving standards and ongoing roadworks (especially on Salam Street), coupled with the fact that many streets have more than one name, can make driving a nightmare. Abu Dhabi Police have a useful website (www. adpolice.gov.ae) which gives advice on driving and traffic violations, and also provides useful road maps.
The taxis are extremely well regulated and safe, and it’s entirely appropriate for women to take them alone at any time of the day or night.
ost major car rental firms have outlets at the airport and many of the city’s hotels. You must be over 21 to hire a small car, or over 24 for larger vehicles (two litres and over). Prices vary, with the cheapest starting at around Dhs100 per day. To hire a vehicle, you’ll need your UAE driving licence (if you’re a resident; your licence from your country of origin if not), your passport, a passport photocopy and a credit card.
Swapping your licence
ntil you have your residency visa, you can drive on your licence from your country of origin, or an international licence from a country on the transfer list, which includes the UK, the US, Japan and Australia, as well as many European countries (contact the Traffic Police Licencing Department on 419 5555 for the full list). Once you have your full visa, you can apply for a UAE driving licence, and in fact it becomes illegal to continue driving without one. You’ll need to submit all the necessary documents to the Traffic Police Licensing Department. Abu Dhabi Police’s website and the government website (www.abudhabi.ae) have the full list of documents you’ll need to submit, as well as a list of prices. There’s also useful information on anything travel-related, from paying fines to registering a vehicle.
Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi’s questionable driving standards and ongoing roadworks, coupled with the fact that many streets have more than one name, can make driving a nightmare.
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