1) Go with the flow — things get done here but in their own serpentine way. The delivery drivers may be out of touch for 24 hours, but they’ll show up at the door with your couch on the afternoon they said they’d be there.
2) Get a cell phone as soon as possible: Go to any mobile store and buy a phone with a pre-paid plan for less than 150 dirhams. You can also just buy a new SIM card for your existing phone for about 60 dirhams. You’ll need to show them your passport and entry visa. Getting a phone is essential as you stock your apartment with furniture deliveries.
3) Collect the numbers of cab drivers: Many taxi drivers will be happy to give you their cell phone numbers. I sometimes call them if I think I may have trouble flagging a cab.
4) Abu Dhabi is inexpensive — if you shop at the right places. Explore your neighborhood. Go where locals buy their goods — as opposed to the malls — and you can live quite cheaply. I get my bread and sweets at a local bakery and buy my vegetables from one of the many corner stores. While my dry cleaner’s place looks like a dump, he does great work at a ridiculously low price (2 dirhams for a pair of pants.) Oh, and I get an old-fashioned, straight-razor shave every 3 or 4 days because it only costs 10 dirhams. (One dirham = 27 cents.)
5) Buy used: I found a few used furniture stores and bought most of my stuff there. On average, I paid between 1/3 to 1/2 of what it would cost new. Nothing I bought looks very used at all — lots of ex-pats come for a year or two and then sell all their stuff.
6) Don’t believe what you’re told till you hear it from three different people. Rules in Abu Dhabi appear quite mercurial. Two examples: 1) I was told the letter from my university to the bank (HSBC) was too generic to allow them to open the account. I thought I’d have to go back to HR and get a new letter drafted (yes, you have to get letters from your employer to do many things here.) However, my colleague had the same letter and opened an account at the same time I was at the bank. When I went back and told my representative this, he checked with a colleague and quickly reversed course. 2) After ordering cable television (you must have a residence visa first), an Etisalat representative told me that I couldn’t change my package level for three months. I balked, but she insisted it was a iron-clad rule. I called back a few days later to complain, but the new rep didn’t mention the 3-month wait and easily upgraded my package. Nothing in the UAE appears set in stone.
I’ll update this more as I think of additional tips. Please feel free to email yours: mattjduffy – at – gmail.com.