Life of an Expat - Part II

A couple months ago, I posted a write-up from a family friend on her experiences as an expatriate in Dubai. Here is her update.

September 2008, Dubai
A young boy performs his Eid prayers in Dubai*

September 1st marked the first day of Ramadan, where for one month, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset and break their fast with iftar, an evening meal, often a massive feast in Dubai. Most restaurants feature huge all-you-can-eat buffets and all sorts of dinner deals even at fast food places (waistlines beware!). During Ramadan, it is actually a criminal offense in Dubai to eat, drink, chew gum or smoke in public. Fortunately, Ramadan also means that we work two less hours a day as mandated by labour law - so we get off at 3:30pm or 4pm. Hurrah! Of course, as lawyers, this only sometimes applies, given the enslavement nature of our profession, but we get to leave early at least half of the time.

Real Estate Woes
Some of you may have heard about the ridiculous nature of rent and housing here in Dubai. Prices have been steadily escalating. Some reports indicate a 27% appreciation in the past year, although it is predicted that this will slow down next year - perhaps sooner with the Wall Street meltdown. From our searches, we've seen properties going up in value every few weeks. Until recently, there was no such thing as rent regulation. Even with it, rent prices are sky high. We had to dish out CDN$3600 (Gulp! My heart still aches) per month to rent a one bedroom, one bath apartment, and had to pay six months in advance as most landlords ask for a six or twelve month advance payment! This is why employers provide a housing advance allowance and why a lot of people live in the neighbouring emirate Sharjah and do the 1.5 hour commute or share rooms in villas.

Even with the crazy rents which are further exacerbated by the realtor fee paid by tenants at 5% of the yearly rent and the municipality tax of 5% of the monthly rent (one of the few taxes here, although there is a VAT proposed for the near future), rental apartments in the Marina area are so popular they are rented within a couple days of being listed.
Dubai Marina

Will our property ever close?
We are STILL in the process of closing the purchase of our apartment which is excruciatingly painful with the 3495824905683492634689656809 documents to complete and execute and then re-complete due to the realtor's 492853490268 mistakes. We have to constantly follow up and remind the realtor to do his job. It is the most brutally awful, tedious and arduous process. We also have to agree to the most unconscionable terms in the loan agreement (akin to signing the rights away for your first born). They include writing undated cheques to the bank for over a million dollars in the event we default on our mortgage (writing NSF cheques is a criminal offence here so having three bounced cheques permits them to charge us if we default). We are constantly arguing fervently with people to ensure they do their jobs so we don't lose our 10% deposit. Physical attendance at the land registration department is mandatory; as is the hand delivery of documents. This is all combined with new real estate laws and procedures that spring up all the time. We desperately hope that all our pain and suffering in undertaking this gargantuan task will someday pay off.

Losing the Beer Belly
Incidentally, in spite of eating a lot of food and the fact that many people gain weight in Dubai, my husband has lost 25 pounds in our first three months. This is even before we started working out regularly. He attributes this to NOT drinking beer. (He was accustomed to drinking some almost every night back home). Only restaurants in hotels can serve alcohol (there is a law about having rooms available when serving alcohol which is why bars, clubs and fine dining tend to be attached to hotels). So we generally can't have liquor when casually dining.
Chameleon Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel

In addition, licenses are required in order to purchase alcohol or to even possess alcohol in one's own residence. We also just realized that we can't get a license until my husband has a job, since married women are supposed to rely on their husbands to buy alcohol. Since he doesn't have one yet, he can't apply for a license. We can get around this somehow, but the thought of going through another application process which will require my employer issuing and signing a No Objection Certificate - is disincentive enough. Perhaps we will wait until Ramadan is over and do the one hour booze run to the "hole in the wall" in another emirate call Ajman where they don't have the 30% liquor tax Dubai imposes.

We are heading to Cyprus at the end of September for six days! Hurrah! We have two days off for Eid al-Fitr which celebrates the end of Ramadan and I'm taking a couple additional days. We chose Cyprus as it is less than a four hour flight and we wanted to avoid a Muslim country which would be busy during the religious holidays. Plus Cyprus has mountains, milder temperatures and greenery - which we miss.

*The image of the boy saying his Eid prayers was taken from news.bbc.co.uk.

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