The expat diaries: from Surrey Hills to Dubai Hills
I’m all for being in the moment and taking in your real life surroundings, particularly when you are in a new environment and somewhere as exciting as Dubai. However, it has to be said that apps are excellent for giving you a helping hand, saving you time and effort and providing entertainment and information. The UAE in particular has a huge range of ways to make your life easier / more luxurious / more lazy whilst you’re here, and many of these friendly helping hands come in the form of apps.
So, which ones are at the top of my list for optimising your experience in Dubai?
This app can be useful for expats and tourists alike. The app comes from Visit Dubai and features a calendar of events coming up in the emirate. This includes business events, foodie festivals, concerts, sporting events, fun activities and more. It can help you to make the most of your time here and see Dubai in a new way.
I’m really glad this was recommended to me by friends in Dubai when I moved over and I’ve already got so much use out of it. The app provides 2 for 1 offers and other discounts for lots of different establishments in Dubai and the surrounding areas. This includes salon treatments, coffees, hotel stays, food, brunches, theme parks and more. You will pay a yearly subscription fee to use the app, but you’ll soon earn your money back from it. When you’re out you often hear people saying “Is this on the Entertainer?” Answer: it probably is. You can even send unused offers to others who have the app. It’s especially useful if you use it with friends or for when people come to visit!
This is actually one I was familiar with back home in the UK, but I was very excited to learn that it is available in Dubai too! Classpass lets you try lots of different gyms and fitness classes at a variety of establishments, by purchasing credits that you can use across its partner gyms and venues. You don’t have to sign up for a membership and pay monthly to one particular venue, but you can choose how many credits you purchase and how many of the credits you choose to spend and at which establishments. This is great for those who don’t like to stick to a set routine or schedule, for those who travel around the city a lot, or for anybody who likes to try lots of different activities. It’s particularly ideal for those with a short attention span who like to switch up their sessions on a regular basis. Dubai is a really hot location for new fitness solutions so there is always something new to check out.
For getting around…
Careem is my taxi app of choice, simply because it is the cheapest way to book a taxi via an app and because it is so easy to pop in your destination location and have the car come to pick you up rather than having to keep an eye out for directions and know where you’re going. Also, I love that you can link your card up to the app and jump out of the taxi after your ride. It is also available in Abu Dhabi. The app often provides you with discount codes, you can bulk buy credits at a reduced rate if you’re a regular taxi user and many events and venues will team up with the app to give you discounts on your rides. Careem even has another app called Careem Now for food delivery services.
This app comes from Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and is a journey planner app that promises to help you get around Dubai in the quickest and easiest way. This user friendly app helps you to book a taxi or luxury vehicle, use smart rental vehicles, book ride-hailing vehicles, plan inter-city bus journeys, manage your NOL accounts (your card to use public transport) and access other information about public transport. You can use it to check your metro stops and departure times and find out how to connect between different methods of transport, even including ferries. It doesn’t just stop at public transport either, as you can pay your Salik road tolls on the app, too.
The world’s largest mall has its own iPhone app. If you haven’t been yet, this may seem a little excessive. However, I can promise that you will absolutely 100% get lost in this mall at some point unless you have this app. You can actually get directions to guide you to your destination, as the app uses wifi to find your location within the mall. This is extra handy when you are trying to find a specific store or a specific person! You can use the app to track your receipts and earn Skywards Miles for Emirates flights which is another great draw. It also provides you information about special offers, events, and discounts happening in the mall and can help you find where you have parked your car by saving your parking location! When you’re there, you’ll understand how necessary this is.
I’d never heard of this one before moving here, but I now know that it is actually used around the world. Waze is a community-powered app for driving. In the UK, people mostly use Google Maps, but Waze seems to be better suited to the roads in Dubai and is better at predicting traffic and journey times. It also provides real-time traffic and accident updates through reports from users and includes speed camera notifications, making it ideal for drivers in the UAE. Fun tip: if you set the voice to British/US boy band, the app will sing to you when there is a traffic camera reported ahead.
You can get petrol delivered to your car! The epitome of Dubai’s infamous luxurious/lazy lifestyle. No longer will you have to leave your house earlier than necessary to stop for petrol on your way to work. Gone are the days of diverting your route on the way home, or worrying whether you’ll make it to the next petrol garage. You can leave your car pretty much anywhere and petrol will come to you. When you hear that you can get anything delivered to you in Dubai, that really does mean anything.
Another fantastic app to make you feel extra special / lazy. Keno is the number 1 car wash app in the UAE. You register with your car registration and card details, then the app uses GPS to know where you are so that at the touch of a button, you’ll have somebody on their way to come and clean your car wherever it is parked. Ideal for when you’ve been caught in a sandstorm and don’t want to take a detour.
This app is authorised by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to help its users by providing a driver to drive you safely to your destination in your own car. It’s ideal for those who like to have a drink when they go out, and it’s fun to sit in the back seat and be driven home in your own car like a taxi passenger. It’s a great initiative to help solve the problem of alcohol related car accidents and it is also useful for those times when you are just way too tired or simply don’t fancy driving yourself but would rather not leave your car parked away from home.
For those who are drivers, but don’t own or rent a car in the UAE. ekar is a car sharing solution, where you can pay by the minute to rent a car for up to five hours. Once you have registered, the app helps you to locate the closest available ekar and you can book it for when you’ll need it. The app even unlocks the car door for you and provides a personalized pin code for you to remove the keys from the key holder inside the glove box. Then when you’re finished, just lock your key back up in the glove box and leave the ekar parked up for the next user to pick up once they’ve booked it. Very futuristic, environmentally friendly and useful.
For shopping and other services…
Noon is essentially like the UAE’s version of Amazon. Amazon does have a UAE page, which still works the same way and has prime delivery, but the items that are available differ slightly, so Noon is a great alternative that offers fashion, electronics, beauty, baby and home products with quick delivery times.
NAMSHI is a UAE based online department store where you can purchase shoes, clothes, bags and more for men women and children. The delivery times are short and the range of brands available is huge, so there are many different options to suit all budgets as well as frequent discounts and sales so keep an eye out for the special offers. They also offer delivery within 24 hours.
Dubizzle is the number 1 online classifieds website here and is the UAE’s answer to the UK’s Gumtree. The website has millions of users and you can use it to buy and sell anything. Popular categories are cars, furniture, and electronics. Dubizzle can be used by job seekers too as lots of roles are advertised and you can upload your CV to apply. Freelancers also advertise their products and services. Here is my tip for new ex-pats: Dubai has a high turnover of residents who are coming and going all the time which presents a particularly good opportunity to pick up some great deals on items from people who quickly need to get rid due to being relocated for work or moving back to their home country. If you’ve recently moved here like I did with just 1 suitcase and are without a decent mirror, tv, or cabinet then Dubizzle can help you get set up quickly with decent items that aren’t too expensive.
Urban Clap is a mobile marketplace for local services. You can use the app to quickly book services at your home, such as cleaners or at home salon services. You can also use the app to call a plumber, electrician, carpenter, pest control, repairs and more. You could even call a yoga instructor or guitar teacher to deliver a session to you in your living room if you like! All of these services are available via the app making it really useful when you aren’t exactly sure where to find a reliable person to trust with these services. You can check out their individual profiles and ratings from other clients before booking.
For useful information…
This is a really basic suggestion, I know. But what you might not know is how helpful some of the Facebook groups can be to new expats! Before I moved to Dubai, I was advised to join the ‘Brits in Dubai’ group to keep up to date with information, job opportunities, travel advice and lifestyle features posted by other members of the group. It’s been enormously valuable to me and even helped me to find my first job in Dubai. I would advise it to any British people who have moved to or are thinking of moving to Dubai. For those who are not from the UK, you can absolutely find helpful Facebook groups that are relevant to where you’re from, your job industry, sports you’re into and even the community you’re moving to.
One of the most popular apps for learning languages – and now it features Arabic too! If you want to pick up some phrases in as little as five minutes a day, it’s perfect. You will learn through a mix of visual, audio and speech (it uses speech recognition on your microphone – although you can choose to turn this feature off if you prefer) and it also uses gamification to keep you keen. It’s completely free and a fun and productive way to spend your metro journeys to and from work!
This helpful app tracks your bills and helps you manage your spending. You can track and pay your bills for DEWA, traffic fines, and Salik charges and you can top up your NOL card for public transport. There is also information on the app about police stations, doctors, clinics and pharmacies. You can also reserve your trade name and obtain your trade license through it. There is a rent increase calculator, residency visa tracker, and information about schools. You can even check prayer times and where mosques are too. It’s a great app to keep all of this important information in one place that you can access anywhere, any time.
What do you think of my suggestions? If you have any other tips or ideas for apps that you find really helpful in the UAE, please feel free to share your advice!
This article is part of the expat diaries series. Click here to view the rest of the series.
Crystal Vera McClelland
Social Media & Marketing Executive