If you speak to many Western expats about life in Dubai you may hear about tax-free earnings and a life of luxury in the desert. But be careful of this blinkered view – it is much more nuanced than that. Let’s take a look at the real pros and cons of the most popular expat destination in the Middle East.

Con: strict laws

Dubai is a strict Muslim state. Non-Muslim expats should therefore be respectful of the country’s religious ways – especially during Ramadan.

For example, ‘modest attire’ is recommended and public displays of affection can cause offence and lead to arrest, even between married couples. Taking photos without permission, eating or drinking in public, or using bad language could all land you in trouble.

However, there is an underlying pragmatism in the way Dubai deals with those from non-Muslim cultures – a kind of unofficial tolerance that has made it an easier place to live than the more conservative neighbouring Emirates.  Homosexuality is officially illegal, although a discreet LGBT scene is alive and well. The also state officially disapproves of the consumption of alcohol – especially by Muslims, and especially during the month of Ramadan – and visitors technically require a liquor licence before they can buy alcohol.

However, the truth is that the luxury hotels, bars and restaurants make a good living from expat spending – and bring in significant tax revenue.

Pro: high wages, low taxes

While Dubai does levy tax on alcohol, (as well as a rental tax on accommodation and VAT on most standard goods) it has famously avoided the traditional way of replenishing state coffers: ie income tax. This has made it a magnet for expats who enjoy a higher income here and get to keep all of it – provided they are tax-resident in the UAE.

Con: the heat

40º in the shade is too much for many people, which is why expats should be prepared to spend much of their time in Dubai within air-conditioned interiors.

There is quite a lot of seasonal variation: the winter months, from October to April bring pleasantly warm weather, but the summer can be intolerably hot – see some tips for surviving the heat here. Also bear in mind that Dubai can be quite windy, with dust storms being not uncommon.

Pro: improve your career prospects; enrich your soul

In summary, Dubai is currently one of the world’s leading expat destinations with good reason. Virtually every global corporation is represented here and there are opportunities for expats of all origins who are willing to work hard and embrace the culture. If you can stand the heat – both meteorologically and commercially – Dubai is a place where you can develop your career prospects, make lifelong friends, and broaden your mind to a different kind of society.