Arab Homes

What you should expect

Arab Homes

The indigenous and expatriate populations tend not to live together. The Arab culture of extended families calls for large houses, and affluent families usually own detached villas.

With up to three generations to accommodate, groups of two or more villas are common. The less well-off still prefer houses to apartments. The indigenous population in Dubai is well provided with housing. Young newly-married couples are given low-cost loans and in some states these turn out to be gifts if the loans aren’t repaid within a particular time limit.

Foreign workers tend to live in either compounds or apartments. The rapid development of the economy and the sudden influx of foreign workers meant that accommodation had to be constructed quickly, which meant that apartment blocks rather than individual houses were built. The term ‘compound’ refers to a group of houses or small, usually low-level, apartment blocks within a walled enclosure, rather like a private estate.

Some compounds are huge, and accommodation is usually available because of the continual movement of expatriates. Different compounds have different combinations of nationalities. Some have a cosmopolitan mix, others contain people from one nation only or perhaps from one social group or caste.

Depending on the size of the compound, the facilities may include a communal swimming pool, a restaurant and shop, tennis and squash courts and a gymnasium. Children might be catered for with a play area and there might be a form of community hall known as a majlis – the traditional Arab meeting area for visitors. Many compound houses are built in majlis style, with an area opening immediately from the front door where the men meet visitors and sit with them. The rest of the accommodation is to the sides or rear. (In Arab houses, women aren’t seen unless the visitors are close relatives.)

In Dubai, there are some compounds (mainly occupied by westerners) where the majority of accommodation consists of low-level apartment blocks.

Separate apartment blocks, which tend to be higher than those within compounds, usually contain a high proportion of expatriates. A disadvantage of these is that they generally lack the extensive facilities found in most compounds and there may be fewer English-speaking people to ‘show you the ropes’ than in a compound. On the other hand, compounds can be rather ghetto-like, with a claustrophobic ‘clubbiness’, isolation from the local community and a lack of privacy.

The exterior and interior quality of buildings is high throughout the region, and improving as prospective landlords vie with each other to have the most attractive buildings. The average property is also more spacious than its equivalent in Europe or the USA. Rooms are generally large in all types of accommodation. Villas normally have generous patios and/or gardens, while apartment blocks have a swimming pool and gymnasium. Homes normally also have a better level and quality of maintenance than in western countries, due to the wide availability of low-paid labour.

A garage or covered carport for your vehicle is vital. With temperatures rising to 50ºC (122ºF) in the summer, a car left outside quickly becomes unbearably hot and the bodywork deteriorates if exposed to the sun for too long. Most new apartment blocks have underground car parking facilities and allocated spaces. Villas tend to have an attached or separate garage, or at least a carport.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Gulf States & Saudi Arabia. Click here to get a copy now .

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: