Living in Dubai

The globally connected city of Dubai is rapidly becoming established as an international education hub, providing students from across the globe with the opportunity to pursue their university studies.

Thanks to constant developments, Dubai is an outstanding place to study providing a truly unique experience. The modern lifestyle compliments the proud heritage in creating one of the most diverse cities in the world.

Numerous modern buildings are found near the Dubai Creek and beside Maktoum Bridge, among which are the blue glass-faced Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the eye-catching Etisalat Tower.

Below are some further details regarding Dubai, however you can download an entire country profile for the United Arab Emirates.

Download Country Profile 

For the most up to date information, please check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website.

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Arts and Entertainment

Dubai has a lively nightlife. Hotel bars range from sophisticated cocktail lounges to typically informal British and Irish pubs and Western-style lounges.

Most of them serve food and many feature nightly musical entertainment in the form of pianists, guitarists, and bands.

After-dinner revellers can enjoy the latest sounds in a number of hotel nightclubs.

The Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre (DUCTAC) puts on performances, from dance to music and theatre productions, in its 543-seat theatre, as well as hosting a number of 'creative courses' in pottery, creative writing, drawing and painting, film-making, photography, and many more.

The other major performance space in the city is the Madinat Theatre. The Laughter Factory organises monthly comedy events, featuring comedians from around the world.

There are several publications providing comprehensive information on every aspect of recreation, including What's On, the monthly Time out Dubai, and The Dubai Explorer.

Shopping

For many, the word 'Dubai' is synonymous with 'shopping' and in a fast-moving city of superlatives, focused on having the latest, biggest, best, most extravagant version of everything, this one-time fishing village has become a world-famous shopping destination.

In this region, going to the mall is considered a family activity, so malls tend to be popular gathering-places (especially on Friday and Saturday evenings) with restaurants and entertainment venues as well as retailers.

The opulent Mall of the Emirates contains 560 international brands, including a large Carrefour and the somewhat unexpected but exceedingly popular Ski Dubai snowpark.

The Dubai Mall, next to the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), is the largest shopping mall in the world, claiming to be 'home to just about every major fashion brand in the world - as well as upmarket British supermarket Waitrose.

The mall is a tourist destination in its own right with a reported 75 million visitors in 2013.

Visually imposing and impossible to navigate without a map, it also has a range of attractions inside, including the Dubai Fountain, a waterfall, an ice rink and the Dubai Aquarium, with the world's largest viewing panel.

If this weren't enough, the 'Mall of the World' project has been announced, an ambitious, climate-controlled leisure district with hotels, shops, entertainment and healthcare, which will beat Dubai's own record for the world's largest mall, although there's no opening date given yet.

Dubai has many malls but some others of note include the consistently popular Deira City Centre, the world's largest themed shopping mall Ibn Battuta Mall, with shopping 'courts' celebrating the travels of the famous Arabic Explorer Ibn Battuta, Al Bustan CentreAl Ghurair CityBurJuman CentreDubai Marina MallFestival City MallMercato MallMirdif City Centre, and Wafi City Mall.Jumeirah Plaza, built in 1994, and Lamcy Plaza, dating back to 1997, are smaller shopping centres, targeting mainly a 'budget' customer base, although they were the first of their kind in Dubai.

Today many locals prefer to shop at these smaller malls as they are often less crowded and more easily traversed.

For those looking for a more traditional experience, there are a number of traditional souks in the city, including the Gold Souk in Deira and the Souk Madinat in Jumeirah.

Both Spinney's and Waitrose stock a wide range of imported groceries, including a dedicated area for pork products.

Other popular supermarkets in Dubai include Choithrams - which also sells pork - and Géant Hypermarket.

Alcoholic drinks can be bought from African & Eastern (A&E) and MMI Dubai.The Dubai Shopping Festival is an annual shopping event in Dubai, running from mid-January to mid-February, with over 2 300 participating retail outlets. 

Laws and customs

UAE laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK. You are strongly advised to familiarise yourself with, and respect local laws and customs (gov.uk, September 2017).

To find out more about UAE laws and customs please visit the gov.uk website.

Stonewall Global Workplace Briefing, United Arab Emirates also provides some guidance on LGBT matters in the United Arab Emirates.

Equality and Diversity

Students studying in Dubai do need to be aware that equality law in the UAE is significantly different to the UK, and that the University can only pursue fair treatment within the boundaries of its operation. The Federal Decree Law No. 2 of 2015 on Combating Discrimination and Hatred covers all forms of discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour, or ethnic origin only. The UAE Constitution states that all persons are equal before the law without discrimination between the citizens in regard to race, nationality, religious belief or social status. (UAE Constitution, Article 25).

Key points that individuals should be aware of in Dubai in relation to equality and diversity are:

  • Sex outside of heterosexual marriage is illegal. The implications of this include:
    • Pregnant women accessing medical treatment may be asked for evidence that they are married. Treatment can be refused and/or the individual reported to the authorities if they are unmarried.
  • Displays of public affection between either same sex or opposite sex couples can be can be frowned upon and result in prosecution for gay or unmarried couples.
  • Victims of sexual assault may risk being treated as law breakers.
  • Same sex couple partnerships or marriages are not recognised in law. Spousal and civil partner rights and adoptive parental rights may be challenged.
  • Trans rights are not clear and could be deemed as an act of cross-dressing which is illegal and could result in a legal prosecution.
  • Freedom of practising non-Islamic religions is respected, but preaching publicly or trying to persuade Muslims to convert  may result in prosecution and deportation.
  • Expression of support for LGBT rights would likely be deemed a violation of public morality and decency. 

These examples are not intended to be exhaustive. There are many international organisations and agencies, such as The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), providing different angles on equality and diversity issues in an international context. Students are encouraged to make use of available resources and their own research to learn more about living, studying, and working in Dubai. Of course, in practice, many thousands of diverse individuals live, work, and holiday in Dubai without any issues arising. It is for people to make a balanced judgement of any risks that they feel they may face when considering studying in Dubai.

Life at Dubai International Academic City, DIAC

The Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) is the collective grouping of tertiary Higher Education Institutions with an international reputation and bases worldwide. There are a range of shared facilities and amenities which all fall under the jurisdiction of DIAC. This means that activities and behaviour within these facilities cannot be considered as within the University’s influence, and will be open to scrutiny.

Having said that, it is important to note that there are thousands of students, staff, and visitors who belong to the DIAC academic community and that many individuals have a problem-free experience during their time in Dubai. However, a robust sense of self-awareness, vigilance with regards to one’s own activities, and respect for the customs and norms of (the UAE, and by extension) Dubai, must be maintained.

Students can find all sorts of information on student experience through the University of Birmingham Dubai website as well as the DIAC website including information on the Student Hub and a cost of living calculator, Lifestyle and Retail and more. It is also very useful read more about the Shared Facilities Policy Statement on Student Discipline for more information on responsibilities and repercussions.