Aerial view of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

United Arab Emirates

Dubai calling

When one imagines the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the mind typically conjures towering skyscrapers dwarfing man-made islands, opulent hotels with seven-star luxuries, or camels pacing languidly across golden dunes. At first glance, this Middle Eastern marvel may seem an odd choice for a digital nomad, a breed typically associated with Bali beach huts and Chiang Mai coffee shops. However, there’s more to the UAE than glinting towers and petrol pump attendants who look like they’ve stepped out of a fashion magazine.

Nestled between Oman and Saudi Arabia, the UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own distinct charm and Wi-Fi strength. It’s a bit like gathering seven distinct personalities in a room — some want to show off their shiny toys, while others prefer a more humble approach, contentedly sipping tea by the corner.

Take Dubai, for example, the glittering crown jewel of the region. In its relentless pursuit of the ‘biggest’ and ‘best’, it’s not just skyscrapers that touch the heavens but internet speeds too. As a digital nomad, the sheer delight of a seamless Zoom call without the dreaded “Can you hear me?” debacle can’t be understated. And once the day’s work is done, there’s no shortage of opulent malls, traditional souks, or dune-bashing adventures to explore.

Yet, it’s not all about Dubai. A quick jaunt to Sharjah and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another era — a city where Islamic architecture, art, and traditions reign supreme, with the digital world intertwined seamlessly. The public squares teem with the soft hum of conversations, the scent of shawarma, and the ever-present glow of laptop screens beneath the shadows of date palm trees.

And for those who enjoy a touch of whimsy and unexpected delights, there’s the garden city of Al Ain, where one might find themselves pondering over emails next to a tranquil oasis, the sound of chirping birds in the background providing the perfect ambient noise.

So, for the digital nomad considering their next grand adventure, the UAE beckons with its curious blend of the ancient and futuristic. It’s a place where you can upload a document at lightning speed in the shadow of a centuries-old fort. A land of contrasts, indeed, and a surprisingly delightful one for the wandering worker.

I. The basics

Cost of living

The cost of living in the UAE, particularly in urban hubs like Dubai, leans towards the higher end, mirroring its reputation as a nexus of luxury and modernity. While the Emirates offers pockets of affordability, overall expenses can be steep, especially in housing, dining, and entertainment sectors. As such, the UAE is often viewed as a premium destination, with a lifestyle to match its upscale and cosmopolitan vibe.


Dubai: In the city center, a one-bedroom apartment’s rent can span AED 3,500 ($945) to AED 7,000 ($1,890) per month. In the outskirts, prices might be around AED 2,500 ($675) to AED 5,000 ($1,350).

Other Emirates: Generally more affordable than Dubai, though specifics can vary with location and amenities.


  • For an 85m^2 apartment, monthly utilities, covering electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage, are in the ballpark of AED 500 ($135) to AED 1,000 ($270).


  • A modest meal is approximately AED 25 ($6.75) to AED 50 ($13.50). A fancier three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant falls between AED 100 ($27) and AED 250 ($67.50).
  • Monthly groceries for an individual might range from AED 1,200 ($324) to AED 2,500 ($675).


  • A public transportation monthly pass hovers around AED 250 ($67.50) to AED 350 ($94.50).
  • Petrol enthusiasts will find prices at about AED 2 ($0.54) to AED 2.50 ($0.675) per liter.
  • Taxis usually start with a basic tariff of AED 12 ($3.24) and then AED 2 ($0.54) for each additional kilometer.

Leisure and Entertainment:

  • Film aficionados can expect tickets to be AED 35 ($9.45) to AED 50 ($13.50).
  • Fitness enthusiasts looking for a monthly club membership will see rates from AED 200 ($54) to AED 500 ($135).

Connectivity and infrastructure

The United Arab Emirates boasts a robust digital and physical infrastructure that few can rival. For the always-online generation, the internet here is not just fast—it’s reliably so. Monthly broadband packages will typically cost you between AED 250 ($67.50) to AED 600 ($162).

However, there’s a small caveat. Some online platforms and services, including popular VoIP services like Skype and WhatsApp calls, face restrictions in the UAE. Therefore, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) become the go-to solution for many to bypass these restrictions. While these networks provide a window to unrestricted internet, they sometimes come at the cost of reduced connection speeds or occasional connectivity hiccups.

Beyond the digital sphere, the UAE’s physical infrastructure stands as a testament to meticulous planning and execution. Whether it’s the silken highways, the punctual metro systems of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, or the national inter-emirate bus services, mobility within the UAE is both a breeze and a pleasure.


When it comes to healthcare, the UAE doesn’t just aim to meet international standards—it often sets them. Hospitals, both public and private, are equipped with cutting-edge technology and are staffed by medical professionals from all over the world. It’s a melting pot of medical expertise, ensuring that residents and visitors have access to diverse and comprehensive healthcare.

The government places a high emphasis on healthcare, with public hospitals offering high-quality services, often free or at a very low cost for Emirati nationals. Expatriates and tourists, meanwhile, typically rely on private healthcare providers. It’s worth noting that health insurance is mandatory in the UAE, ensuring that everyone has access to medical care without the worry of exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses. These insurance packages vary in breadth, starting from basic coverage at AED 600 ($162) annually, and can go up to premium packages at AED 5,000+ ($1,350+), covering a wide array of medical services and even international coverage.

Pharmaceuticals are readily available, and many medicines that require prescriptions in other countries are available over the counter, although it’s always prudent to consult with a medical professional. It’s also essential to be aware that certain medications, especially some painkillers and antidepressants, are prohibited in the UAE, so travelers should check before bringing medications into the country.


The UAE’s reputation as one of the safest countries globally isn’t just a public relations statement—it’s a lived experience for the millions residing in and touring the nation. Strict law enforcement, advanced surveillance systems, and a general culture of respect contribute to low crime rates.

However, with safety also comes a set of rules and regulations that uphold the country’s cultural and moral values. Visitors are always encouraged to familiarize themselves with these to ensure a trouble-free stay. Actions that may seem benign in Western countries, like public displays of affection or wearing revealing clothing in public places, might be frowned upon or even penalized in the UAE. Alcohol consumption is permitted only in licensed venues, usually associated with hotels.

Moreover, emergency services in the UAE are incredibly efficient. The police, ambulance, and fire services are well-equipped and respond promptly, ensuring that in the rare event of an emergency, help is swift.

II. Living in United Arab Emirates as a digital nomad


Set within the expanse of the Arabian desert, the UAE’s climate predominantly swings between two poles: hot and hotter. The scorching summer months from May to September often witness temperatures soaring beyond 40°C (104°F), sometimes even touching the high 40s. The oppressive heat is further intensified by high humidity levels, particularly near coastal areas. However, a respite comes in the form of the winter months, from November to March. During this period, the UAE enjoys a relatively balmy climate, with temperatures hovering around 20°C to 28°C (68°F to 82°F). Rain, while a rare occurrence, tends to sporadically grace the landscape during these cooler months.


While the vast, undulating sand dunes of the desert might be the first image that springs to mind when one thinks of the UAE, its natural tapestry is woven with a richer variety than many realize. The imposing Hajar Mountains, which border the eastern flank of the country, are a haven for adventurers and nature lovers. These mountains, with their rugged terrains, deep wadis (valleys), and hidden oases, are a testament to nature’s artistry.

The UAE’s coastline is another story altogether. Expansive sandy beaches give way to mangrove forests, particularly in areas surrounding Abu Dhabi. These mangroves are more than just scenic spots; they’re vital ecosystems that support a plethora of marine life.

Then there are the country’s natural reserves and sanctuaries, like the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai. This particular reserve transforms into a canvas of pink during certain times of the year when flocks of flamingos descend upon its waters. From the elusive Arabian Oryx in desert conservation reserves to marine turtles nesting on protected beaches, the UAE is a treasure trove of biodiversity—often where you least expect it.


The UAE is where the ancient whispers of Bedouin tales meet the hum of modern life. Skyscrapers, some among the tallest in the world, punctuate the skyline, casting shadows over traditional wind-tower houses and historic forts.

Cuisine in the UAE is a delightful dance of flavors. While the staples of Emirati cuisine—such as Al Harees, tender meat dishes, and flavorful rice preparations—tell tales of the nation’s Bedouin past, the country’s status as a global crossroads means that one can savor flavors from every corner of the world. From tantalizing Thai to savory South American, the UAE’s culinary scene is a gastronomic journey in itself.

As for nightlife, cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi shimmer as the sun sets. A plethora of upscale clubs, elegant lounges, and vibrant bars (primarily within hotels due to local regulations) offer experiences that range from serene to electric. It’s a nightlife scene that rivals global capitals, but it’s essential to tread with respect for local customs, especially when it comes to alcohol consumption and behavior.


The culture of the UAE is deeply rooted in its Arabian heritage, informed by centuries of Bedouin traditions, maritime trade, and pearl diving. The Bedouin lifestyle, centered around nomadic desert life, has imprinted values such as hospitality, honor, and close family ties, which are still held dearly in Emirati society.

Historically, the region that now comprises the UAE was known for its strategic trade routes, bridging East and West. Its ports teemed with dhows setting sail for distant shores, exchanging goods and bringing back tales of far-off lands. In the more recent past, before the oil boom, the emirates were renowned for their pearl diving, an industry that thrived in the azure waters of the Persian Gulf.

The UAE is sprinkled with a multitude of attractions that reflect its rich past. The Al Fahidi Historic District in Dubai offers a glimpse into the 19th-century life of the emirate. The numerous forts and castles, like the Al-Jahili Fort in Al Ain, stand as silent witnesses to the region’s storied past. The grand Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi isn’t just an architectural marvel but is a testament to the UAE’s commitment to preserving its Islamic heritage amidst rapid modernization.


Arabic is the official language of the UAE, deeply intertwined with the country’s identity and traditions. Emirati Arabic, the local dialect, is widely spoken among natives. Arabic’s poetic cadences are evident in local music, literature, and everyday conversation.

However, due to the UAE’s position as a global hub and its expatriate-dominated population, English has become a de facto lingua franca, especially in business settings and urban centers. Road signs, restaurant menus, and official documents are usually available in both Arabic and English.

The multicultural makeup of the UAE also means that many other languages—such as Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, and Russian—are frequently spoken. For travelers and new residents, communication is rarely a challenge in the Emirates. Whether you’re haggling in a traditional souk or attending a business conference, the confluence of languages and cultures ensures that you’ll rarely feel lost in translation.

III. Cities to consider


Aerial view of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by David Rodrigo

The poster child for modernity, Dubai effortlessly fuses its Bedouin past with an ambitious future. It’s not just about the iconic Burj Khalifa or the Palm Jumeirah; this city constantly reinvents itself. Digital nomads will find coworking spaces nestled amidst ancient souks and alongside ultra-modern malls. The dynamic neighborhoods, from the artsy Al Quoz to the bustling Marina, offer a spectrum of experiences. Cultural events, international cuisine, and networking opportunities abound, catering to both the work and leisure needs of the modern traveler.

Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Photo by Katerina Kerdi

More than just the political capital, Abu Dhabi seamlessly integrates tradition with contemporary life. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque stands as a testament to the UAE’s rich heritage, while Yas Island offers thrilling experiences with its race circuits and theme parks. The city’s numerous parks and beaches provide serene retreats, and its focus on sustainable initiatives like Masdar City makes it an intriguing base for eco-conscious nomads.


Sunset view of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Ahmed Aldaie

A treasure trove of Emirati culture, Sharjah prides itself on its array of museums and galleries. The Al Noor Island, with its butterfly house and art installations, showcases the emirate’s commitment to merging nature with creativity. Though more conservative, its blend of history, art, and affordable living options provide a contrasting experience to its glitzier neighbors.

Ras Al Khaimah

View from Jabel Al Jais Road(New), Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Klickors Moe

This emirate beckons with its rugged Hajar Mountains and pristine beaches. The Jebel Jais, UAE’s highest peak, offers activities like zip-lining and mountain trekking. For those seeking a blend of adventure and tranquillity, Ras Al Khaimah offers a refreshing escape from the digital world, while still providing the amenities for a connected work environment.


Aerial view of Alman in the United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Anton Zelenov

Beyond its tranquil coastline, Ajman’s charm lies in its simplicity. The Ajman Museum, set in an 18th-century fort, provides insights into the region’s history. While it may not boast the grandeur of Dubai or Abu Dhabi, its serene environment, combined with easy access to urban hubs, makes it an enticing choice for nomads seeking balance.


View of Fujairah Holiday Resort.
Photo by JSPhotography

Distinctive for its scenic beauty, Fujairah is a haven for diving enthusiasts, with its coral reefs and marine life. The historic Fujairah Fort and the Al Badiyah Mosque, the oldest in the UAE, speak of a time long past. With its port and increasing investments in infrastructure, it’s poised to become a notable destination for business-minded travelers.

Umm Al Quwain

View of the sea and mangroves at Umm Al Quwain, the United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Majid Sarmast

A realm of serenity, this emirate is perfect for those looking to truly disconnect. From kayaking in its mangrove forests to bird-watching in the marine sanctuary of Al Sinniyah Island, Umm Al Quwain offers a slower pace, allowing nomads to immerse themselves in nature and local culture.

Each emirate, distinct in its persona, offers a myriad of experiences. For the digital nomad, the UAE is not just a workplace but a playground of cultures, landscapes, and histories waiting to be explored.

IV. Off the beaten track

The allure of the UAE often revolves around its emblematic cities, their towering skyscrapers, and opulent malls. However, nestled within its vast deserts, rugged mountains, and tranquil coastlines are gems that remain relatively uncharted by the typical visitor.

Al Dhafra Region

Liwa Oasis Fort in the United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Riaksharma

West of Abu Dhabi city, Al Dhafra stretches over two-thirds of the Abu Dhabi emirate. Here, the vast Empty Quarter desert offers a sea of dunes, some rising impressively high. The Liwa Oasis, with its date farms and ancient forts, stands as a testament to the Bedouin way of life.


View of Hatta Dam in the United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Carlvic Lim

A mountainous exclave of Dubai, Hatta is a world away from the city’s urban buzz. It’s an ideal location for mountain biking, hiking, or simply relaxing by the Hatta Dam’s turquoise waters. The Hatta Heritage Village provides a glimpse into the UAE’s mountain-dwelling past.

Sir Bani Yas Island

View overlooking Sir Bani Yas Island, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Ismail Alghussein

Located off the southwestern coast of Abu Dhabi, this island is a remarkable fusion of history and conservation efforts. With its wildlife reserve, home to free-roaming animals like cheetahs and giraffes, and ancient Christian monastery ruins, it’s a slice of nature and history combined.

Al Bidya Mosque

Entrance to Al Badiyah Mosque, in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri

In Fujairah, this 15th-century mosque, believed to be the oldest in the UAE, stands surrounded by date palms and mountains. Its mud-and-brick construction and central pillar make it a unique architectural piece.

Wadi Al Helo

Aerial view of farm house ruins in Wadi Help, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Alexander Mcnabb

Known as the “Sweet Valley,” this place in Sharjah is both a natural beauty and an archaeological wonder. Canyons and date palm groves harmonize with ancient settlements, petroglyphs, and forts.

For the discerning digital nomad or the adventurous traveler, the UAE’s less-trodden paths offer experiences that are genuine, enriching, and beautifully untamed. These spots provide a tranquil contrast to the digital buzz, ensuring the UAE is not just a place to work, but a land to discover in its raw and unembellished glory.

Navigating the visa and legal requirements is crucial for digital nomads contemplating a stint in the UAE. Fortunately, recognizing the potential of remote workers, the UAE has made considerable strides in formulating visa options to cater to this growing community.

Types of visas available for remote workers

1. Tourist/Visit Visa

This is the most basic form of visa and typically lasts for 30 to 90 days. While it’s not explicitly designed for work, many digital nomads initially enter the UAE on this visa to gauge the environment before considering longer-term options.

2. Remote Work Visa

In response to the growing demand from the global remote working community, the UAE introduced a Remote Work Visa. This allows digital nomads and remote workers to live in the UAE while serving their employers or clients abroad. The visa is valid for a year and offers the benefit of a residency permit, which means you can open a local bank account, get a local phone number, etc.

3. Freelancer License

For those wanting to work independently within the UAE, certain free zones offer a freelancer license. This permits the individual to operate as a sole practitioner and offer their services. Popular free zones include Dubai Media City, Dubai Knowledge Park, and Abu Dhabi’s twofour54.

4. Long-Term Residency Visas

The UAE has introduced various long-term residency visas, including the 5-year and 10-year visas. These are typically for investors, entrepreneurs, or individuals with exceptional talents, but if a digital nomad fits the criteria, it’s an option to consider.

Application process and necessary documentation

For the Remote Work Visa:

  • Application Form: Accessed via the official immigration or tourism websites.
  • Passport: Must be valid for at least another six months.
  • Proof of Employment or Business Ownership: A contract or evidence indicating work with a company outside the UAE or ownership of a company.
  • Proof of Income: A minimum monthly salary of $5,000 is required, supported by the previous month’s bank statement.
  • Health Insurance: Valid for at least one year and covering the UAE.
  • Processing Fee: Subject to change but currently set at around AED 1,100 (approximately $300).

For other visas, requirements may vary based on the type of visa, the emirate’s specific regulations, and your country of origin. It’s always recommended to consult the official websites or contact local UAE embassies for the most up-to-date and accurate information.

Overall, while the UAE’s visa landscape can seem complex, its continued efforts to facilitate easy access for remote workers make it a viable and increasingly popular destination for digital nomads.

VI. Tips for a smooth landing in United Arab Emirates 

Finding accommodation

When you first touch down in the UAE, the sparkling skyline might hint at the opulence within its residential quarters. And true to that hint, the nation offers everything from the ultra-luxurious to the warmly modest. Newcomers often start with serviced apartments or hotel residences. These accommodations, while being a tad pricier, alleviate the immediate stress of setting up utilities and internet. They come equipped with amenities, and for a digital nomad, that’s a welcome convenience.

However, if you’re leaning towards planting roots for a more extended period, the UAE’s real estate market is diverse. Websites like Bayut and Dubizzle become invaluable tools, listing properties from all seven emirates. Remember, while searching, the rental landscape here is a tad different. Leases often require an annual commitment, and rents are traditionally paid with a few post-dated checks. It might feel daunting, but with a bit of research and perhaps a local guide, it can be navigated smoothly.

Setting up local bank accounts and financial considerations

Money matters, especially when you’re away from home. The UAE’s banking system is robust, catering to its vast expatriate population. Once armed with a residency visa, the doors to most local banks swing open with ease. A passport, a copy of your visa, the coveted Emirates ID, and occasionally an employer’s letter, are the usual gateways to get your account up and running.

But a word to the wise—while the UAE tantalizes with tax-free salaries, the banking system comes with its quirks. Be wary of minimum balance requirements and associated fees. The allure of credit cards here is strong, with banks often offering enticing benefits. However, interest rates can be high, so tread cautiously.

On the move in the UAE is a blend of sleek efficiency and adrenaline. Dubai’s gleaming metro system, a testament to modern engineering, ferries residents and tourists alike. Buses, too, crisscross the emirates, making even the remotest corners accessible. Taxis are everywhere, metered and fair. And if you’re more app-inclined, Careem and Uber are at your service.

However, if the open road beckons and you fancy yourself behind the wheel, the UAE’s highways are a treat—broad, well-maintained, and scenic. Just brace yourself; the local driving style is, let’s say, spirited. An international license or a transfer of your home license, and you’re good to go.

Adapting to local customs and cultural nuances

Peeling back the UAE’s ultra-modern veneer reveals a heart that beats in traditional rhythms. It’s this juxtaposition that makes the UAE so fascinating. The dress code, though liberal by regional standards, leans towards the modest. The golden rule? Cover the shoulders and knees. Beaches and poolsides are, of course, exceptions.

Then there’s Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. The country adopts a more leisurely pace. Days begin late, and nights stretch into the wee hours. Eating or drinking in public during the day is a no-go, but come sunset, the festivities begin.

In matters of behavior, the UAE is conservative. Public displays of affection are best kept minimal. And while Arabic is the lingua franca, English is widely spoken. However, peppering your conversations with a sprinkle of Arabic—just the basics, a ‘Shukran’ (Thank you) here, a ‘Sabah al Khair’ (Good Morning) there—goes a long way.

To sum it up, life in the UAE for a digital nomad, or anyone for that matter, is about balance. It’s about marrying the modern with the traditional, the fast-paced with the laid-back. It’s about respecting customs while enjoying the plethora of experiences on offer. And most of all, it’s about carving out your niche in this vast, golden sandbox.

VII. In summary


  1. Infrastructure: Cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi have top-notch infrastructure, ideal for digital nomads.
  2. Connectivity: Exceptional internet speeds and numerous co-working spaces meet the needs of remote workers.
  3. Safety: The UAE stands out as one of the world’s safest countries, boasting low crime rates.
  4. Cultural experience: Experience an intricate mix of deep-rooted Arab traditions and a modern cosmopolitan vibe.
  5. Opportunities: As a global business hub, the UAE offers vast networking and business expansion prospects.
  6. Weather: The sun graces the country almost throughout the year, appealing to those escaping colder regions.
  7. English proficiency: English is extensively spoken, particularly in business settings, making it easy for many nomads.
  8. Diverse accommodation options: Whether it’s lavish condos or modest housing, there’s something for every pocket.
  9. Accessibility: Major airports facilitate easy international travel.
  10. No income tax: Personal income remains untaxed, though one should stay informed about other potential fees.


  1. Cost of living: Cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi can pinch the pocket, especially concerning housing, dining, and entertainment.
  2. Cultural sensitivities: Adhering to local customs, especially during Ramadan and in terms of attire, is crucial.
  3. Censorship: Some digital platforms are off-limits and necessitate VPNs for access.
  4. Weather extremes: The sweltering heat during summer months can deter outdoor pursuits.
  5. Visa regulations: Navigating the visa process can be intricate, even though there are options tailored for digital nomads.
  6. Driving: The fervor of local driving can be a tad overwhelming for newcomers.
  7. Transient nature: Given that a large chunk of residents are expats, the social scene is in perpetual flux.
  8. Language barrier: While English is prevalent, governmental dealings often lean towards Arabic.

There are few transformation tales as staggering as that of the UAE. A mere few decades back, where today gleaming skyscrapers touch the heavens, existed tranquil fishing villages. These hamlets, shaped by the ebb and flow of tides and the whisper of desert winds, provided a simpler backdrop, worlds away from the digital age.

Yet, driven by visionaries who saw the finite nature of oil wealth, these emirates embarked on a quest of reinvention. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, like mirages turned to reality, erupted from the desert in a flurry of architectural audacity and strategic ambition. But beyond these physical metamorphoses, lies the heartbeat of a nation reborn — the human experience.

For the modern digital nomad, the UAE offers more than just superlative infrastructure and connectivity. Here, in bustling souks or serene deserts, one encounters a confluence of cultures, traditions, and stories. Every cafe corner, beachside lounge, or co-working space is ripe with people from all corners of the globe, each bringing tales from distant lands. This cultural tapestry isn’t merely background noise; it becomes a wellspring of inspiration, fostering creativity and broadening horizons.

The digital wanderer, then, doesn’t merely ‘work’ in the UAE. They immerse themselves in an environment that juxtaposes the ancient with the ultra-modern. It’s an experience where every day can feel like traversing through centuries, marveling at the pace of change and the resilience of spirit. In the heart of the desert, where once stood a fisherman’s humble abode, today’s nomads can tap into a global network, all the while savoring the legacy of a storied past.

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