Many Australians are venturing to Dubai to travel and work, reports Gayathri Samarakoon . . .

Dubai is becoming a commonly discussed destination among Australians who thought of it once as far-flung place nestled in the Middle East.

Then came the trade agreements between Australia and Middle East, making way for flocks of sheep to sail from Australian shores to the Arabian Gulf for barbecue purposes while also giving Dubai a commercial-orientated value.

Today, though, Dubai takes on a more fun and frolicking slant, with some Australians making it a holiday destination and many others calling it home.

The unofficial count of Australians living in Dubai totals up to 15,000.

The embassy, in talking about the Australians living in Dubai, stated that they are not aware of how many are living in Dubai.

However, if the travellers were to register on the web site then they would be able to disclose the exact figures.

In the meantime the figure quoted by business clubs is 15,000 Aussies living and working in Dubai.

Well, with so many living here, it makes sense to find out ‘what life in Dubai is really like’.

Thus in this series we will speak to a few Aussies living life here, local Emiratis,  and with a bit of luck the elusive Bedouin clans. 

About Dubai
Dubai at a glance would be tall buildings, the latest car models on the smooth highway and diverse people milling about in shopping areas and eateries.

At a glance at its layout Dubai is no different to that of any other Western city with a glitzy façade.

However, upon closer inspection, the fascinating differences come to the fore, with multitudes of people that throng to the gulf for tax-free salaries, its diverse cultures, the royalty in robes, oil-money, the latest Lamborghini and perhaps a bit of the overt racial nose-twitching that is going on by the colonial-minded towards the lesser mortals… and much, much more.  

Geographically Dubai lies in the United Arab of Emirates and is the second most popular city in the emirates after Abudhabi.

And it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is the more modern and well-known city state out of all seven emirates.

It has 1,469,330 people living in a space of 1000 square miles (1600 square kilometres).

The most fascinating aspect of Dubai, however, could lie in the fact that 80 per cent of the population is made up of foreign nationals coming into the country to work. Only 20 per cent is made up of local  Emiratis; a situation causing such alarm that last month the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community development hosted a ‘national identity crisis’ conference at the Emirates Palace to discuss the invisibility of Emiratis in the growing tidal wave of foreign workers.

It was stated that expats from 150 countries live in a country that was once dominated by 80 per cent locals.

It was voiced that the Arabic language was going out of fashion among young people, who were more adamant to become English speakers to blend in with the modern society.

And was revealed that 90 per cent of the workforce was from outside.

When the delegates, dressed in black and white traditional dress, called for tighter immigration polices, the Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah said: “We have to stick to our national identity and background while at the same time maintaining an  open and tolerant society (Dubai Xpress).”    

Airport and visa

Stepping in to the country for the first time could be a revelation, depending on the gender and at which airport you arrive.

The international airport is a more savvy affair, with males and females milling about freely, sorting things out.

However, the domestic airport is slightly different, with men folk tending to gaze at the female form for longer than necessary if that person is even slightly exposed; as in attired in short-sleeved shirt.

It’s all harmless though, and nothing untoward will happen as women are protected by strict laws.

Anyhow, once we get passed that, the rest is plane sailing.

The deal with visas is that citizens of Arab Gulf Council Cooperation (AGCC) do not need visas; citizens of Western Europe and the Pacific rim will get one-visit entry visa on arrival for free; travelers from other countries will have to be generally sponsored by a UAE resident, company or hotel which has a valid licence to operate in the country. Check the official website for more information.

Housing and Residency
Real estate in Dubai is interesting, to say the least.

Dubai is an apartment world. Everywhere you look there are apartment buildings where working people live busy-bee lives.

It could be called a ‘job-city’ where people come with the sole aim of getting a job to earn and save.

This is changing though and the government is doing its utmost to promote it as a ‘lifestyle city’ as opposed to ‘Do-Bye’, as in Do your business and say good Bye (a phrase coined by yours truly, no less).

In a new move the government issues Permanent Residency status to people who purchase an apartment or villa, beckoning in turn an affluent class, particularly from the West, and dissuading the throngs of labourers who enter the country for menial work to stay long-term.

Lodging is the most expensive commodity in Dubai and most of the employment packages offer accommodation as part of the deal.

Depending on the job this could be a big room with six people in it; it could be a single apartment in a luxury building; or at a hotel if it’s in the hospitality industry.

Rental rates in Dubai are quite temperamental — like Melbourne’s weather, fluctuating, with only the demand and hype driving it.

An example is that a professional could be paying AED 60,000  for a one-bedroom apartment in a centrally-located building with facilities such as  the pool and the gym.

Now, another tenant could be paying 50 per cent more for the same deal at the same place.

A bed-space for a single sharing with five others could be 600 Dirham a month.

And a villa with five bedrooms in the outskirts could be up to AED 300,000 a year.

One night’s hotel accommodation at the Ramada, which is 3-star, is about USD217 a night.

  • Guide to Australia
    By Gayathri Samarakoon
    Available at
    This is a practical information guide for people coming in to Australia for migration and studies. This guide explains essential aspects such as food, lodging, transport, part-time jobs etc from a migrant‘s perspective. Recommended by Migration Education Centre, Clayton 2008.