30 apps to make life in the UAE easy – whether you're new to the country or not
From grocery to food to petrol delivery, deals and discounts, and the best way to get some home help, we've got you covered
The UAE has positioned itself as a country of the future, so it goes without saying that there are plenty of technology-based tools available to make our lives here that much easier. From apps to help you get around to some that offer fantastic deals and discounts on food and fitness, and even one that will deliver you petrol – here are the smartphone apps that will save you time and money, whether you've been here for five years or five minutes.
Check out our gallery above for a snapshot of the UAE's best apps, and find more information about each below:
You'll never need to prepare a meal again. While there are a few meal delivery apps to choose from in the UAE (Deliveroo, Talabat, CareemNow are all popular) Zomato is our tried-and-tested favourite. One bonus is that it uses GPS rather than asking for location every time, and offers instant confirmation that the restaurant has received the order and can deliver it. Once accepted, you get a fairly accurate estimate of the delivery time, and real-time updates on the status of your order. If there are any issues with processing or delivery, a Zomato operator is on standby to quickly intervene on your behalf and will call to let you know what is happening. Careful though, Zomato addiction is a real thing here.
2. Helpling ME
Sometimes things get away from you, and all of a sudden you realise you need a cleaner straight away. Helpling ME promises to “book a cleaner in Dubai in just 60 seconds”.
The service is offered for Dh35 per hour, with a three-hour minimum, and charges for extras such as ironing or cleaning out the stove or refrigerator. You can even pay for the staff extra to bring their own cleaning materials, and it is easy to order cleaners on a one-time or recurring basis, either weekly or every other week.
The app was once only available in Dubai, but luckily for residents in the capital, it's since come to Abu Dhabi.
This two-for-one app just keeps getting better and better. In your first few weeks in the UAE, you're probably like to hear the phrase, "Is it on the Entertainer?" a fair few times, and because its sole purpose is to save you money, it's a good one to acquaint yourself with fairly quickly.
There are dining deals, as well as ones for fitness and activities (the theme park ones are great), and there are even ways to send unused offers to other people, too. Prices start from Dh495 for the basic package.
4. Careem (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) / Uber (Dubai)
While grabbing a taxi is arguably easier in the UAE than it is in many other places in the world, many prefer sticking with these ride-hailing apps. However, there are a few ins and outs to know before you try. Firstly, Uber isn't available in Abu Dhabi anymore – but confusingly, UberEATS is. In Abu Dhabi, you'll need to use Careem, while in Dubai, you have your pick between the two.
But within Uber, you have a choice of several different options – use UberX for a cheaper service, UberONE for "premium" electric cars, or Uber Chopper if you're really keen to part with some cash and make an entrance on your weekly supermarket shop.
Both Uber and Careem are good choices for getting from A to B without having to wade out into oncoming traffic to flag a taxi down or having to worry about how much cash you are carrying (or having the correct change).
Fancy taking advantage of the plethora of luxurious pools and beach clubs, or even gyms, housed in the city's best hotels? Well, no longer do you have to pay for a staycation, just use Privelee.
After paying the membership fee, this app offers unlimited access to over 49 pools and beach clubs across the UAE, over 56 five-star gyms and discounts at hundreds of affiliated restaurants. It now includes over 1000 free fitness classes, and access to sporting activities such as tennis and squash, and huge discounts on watersports and golf. Membership packages start at Dh529 per month.
Been here for two years but the only Arabic you know is "khalas" or "falafel"? Here's how to change that. Arabic has just become available on Duolingo, and to many, that news was well received.
A slow-and-steady approach to learning, the app promises to teach you Arabic in a little as five minutes a day, teaching scholars to recognise letters and sounds, then build words and sentences. The app is not scared to send you a notification to get you to practice daily, if you fail to log in for a few days, you can expect them to get quite passive-aggressive. The best part? It's free.
Washmen is a really cool app for people, like us, too bone idle to do their own laundry. A few simple taps will bring the friendly Washman driver to your home to collect your laundry (in one of their own bags). You also specify when you want your laundry returned. When it is, it is beautifully pressed and cleaned and packaged.
Washmen also encourage social-media participation – and you get rewarded for recommending their service to friends and family.
8. Insta Shop
We know, we know – something of a theme is emerging here: whereby we are giving you the tools to basically never leave your sofa again. But, providing you're a functioning human and will use this gained time to your advantage, there are many pros to getting someone else to do your supermarket shopping for you. Shop for the items you need on Insta Shop and it will be delivered to your door in around an hour – it's particularly handy if you're in the middle of a dinner party and can't leave the house, or you're mid-way through cooking and have forgotten a key ingredient. There are options to use credit card, or pay cash on delivery.
9. Smart Drive (Dubai)
There are three great things about the Smart Drive app by Dubai’s Road Transport Authority (RTA).
First, it is intuitive and easy to use, and there is much more detail than Google Maps. You search for your location, it maps a choice of routes, you pick the one you like and a voice – a woman with impeccable and un-annoying English – tells you exactly where to go (even which lane to be in). If you miss a turning, you are automatically rerouted.
Second, as long as you set your location while you have a Wi-Fi connection, you don’t need Wi-Fi to use it during the journey – it uses your phone’s GPS to guide you your end point.
Third, it is regularly updated so it is better than a Sat Nav and, if you wish, it can also take you to “Facebook places nearby” or “Foursquare venues nearby”.
Whether you are the sender or the recipient, Fetchr is a speedy and convenient courier service for deliveries within the UAE. Drivers will pick up a document or package and deliver it, using your phone’s GPS to determine your location.
You can select the time-slot for the pickup and delivery, and track the journey of your package. It is a useful delivery tool for start-up brands and businesses – and for up-and-coming companies who sell goods through social media, Sellr by Fetchr allows for cash-on-delivery payment methods.
And if you're really in a hurry, Fetchr Now (currently only available in Dubai) promises to send a driver to collect and immediately deliver a package within 45 minutes of booking the service.
11. Muslim Pro
While in some neighbourhoods, there are mosques on every corner that broadcast the call to prayer loud and clear, some areas, especially within high-rise offices, are oblivious to the sound.
For those who try to pray five times a day, Muslim Pro is a useful app that lists the prayer times and sounds the prayer calls on your smartphone, wherever you are. It is especially useful as an alarm for the early sunrise prayer, which some people struggle to wake up for. If you would prefer a more discreet reminder, you can opt for a silent notification.
The app is also helpful while travelling, since in addition to the Quran, it features a compass to give you the prayer direction and timings no matter where you are in the world.
Deliveroo is another meal-ordering app that offers a vast selection of restaurants to order food deliveries from, which can be filtered by things like cuisine type or promotion.
Some restaurants on the app also have a “top rated” category which can be helpful when trying out a new place or whenever you are unsure of what to eat. The app also has the option to pay with cash or credit.
Once an order has been placed, you'll be notified to say the order it was received from the restaurant, when the order has left the restaurant, and when your meal is close to arriving. There's also an option to schedule an order for later.
13. Ministry of Interior (Abu Dhabi)
None of us are proud of getting speeding tickets but inevitably, despite our best efforts, it can still happen. Keep your mind at ease by checking in here every couple of months or so (you can search by licence-plate number) just to make sure you have not accrued any and missed a text message.
The apps also have a wealth of other information – find updates on your criminal status, long and short-term visas and information about other road-related services.
14. Dubai Now
Dubai Now is invaluable for anyone who lives in Dubai. It enables users to pay pretty much everything that can, in theory, be annoying with the minimum of fuss: including Salik and Nol top-ups, police fines, utility payments, charitable contributions and on-street parking. Eleven topic headings cover everything important in life, such as public transport, education, security and justice, health, driving, business, residency, Islam and housing.
Trans AD’s Darb app is most helpful to find bus information, from which lines are closest to your current location, to timings and routes. Simply click on the app and hit the side tab for the bus icon. There you will find all the bus markers within 1.5 kilometres of your location.
The bus timings are pretty accurate, depending on the popularity of the line, but what is really good about the app is that you can check the map while on the bus and see upcoming stops for potential transfers.
But it's not just for bus lines, Darb can also help you get from A to B by foot too, with accurate pedestrian maps. There is also a feature that allows people to order taxis, but its ease of use is questionable.
Waze is a must-have for anyone who drives in the UAE. The community-based traffic and navigation app offers real-time road and traffic information, and is a lifesaver if you're a driver.
Aside from showing drivers where to go, the interactivity of this app allows other drivers to log incidents that may affect other people’s road journeys. Users can log congestion and alert other motorists to accidents that may hold them up.
All you have to do is launch it, punch in your destination – an address or landmark – and it will calculate the distance and the time it will take, offering a number of routes. If you need a petrol station or car park, you can search for those too.
It’s reliable and accurate and the maps are updated regularly.
17. Cinema UAE
There are several cinema chains in the UAE and not all of their websites are as user-friendly as they could be. Cinema UAE is a simple but effective little app that displays a list of all films showing that day in every emirate (except Umm Al Quwain), where and when. You can also see what’s showing for the next two days to help you plan ahead, and follow links to trailers and additional info about the films.
For some cinema chains, you can click on a showtime and be taken straight to the cinema’s online-booking site. For the others, you will still need to go to the chain’s own website to book.
18. CityGuard (Abu Dhabi)
This app allows you to report almost any public problem you might come across in the capital, from potholes or lights that might be out in the park, to rubbish pile ups, broken benches, hedges along walkways that need trimming, ongoing night noise, and much more.
Use the app to submit a photo of the problem, map its location and provide a short explanation. From experience, problems have been solved in anywhere from one day to two months.
Consider this the 21st century method of making friends. Meetup describes itself as a global platform for "finding and building local communities", but it's also simply just a great way to meet people. Particularly in the UAE where you might find it harder to find like-minded people to socialise with, Meetup is a fantastic and efficient way to connect with people you might not otherwise cross paths with.
If you're not exactly in the market for a wealth of new people to hang out with, it's great for hobby groups (hiking, crafts and outdoors groups) and networking (career groups and professional mentoring help) too.
It's not solely available in the UAE, but this Jordanian e-commerce company is beginning to make its mark here. Use this app to find discount luxury goods available in the region – from Gucci to Louis Vuitton to Tag Heuer. It pays to be vigilant on here though, as there are plenty of flash sales which last only about three hours.
21. Abu Dhabi Taxi (Abu Dhabi) / Smart Taxi (Dubai)
Unwilling to stand on the side of the road, not knowing if you will be there for 25 seconds or 25 minutes, before the flapping of your outstretched arm catches the attention of a taxi driver? These apps are here to help. The idea is simple: they are ride-hailing apps for taxis.
While the two are not quite as extensive as Uber or Careem, they do allow you to book a taxi to your location, allow passengers to rate drivers and log your last 10 bookings. There is a small booking fee, which makes it slightly more expensive than flagging down a cab in the street, but there is also the security of knowing there is definitely one on its way if you are in an obscure part of town.
22. TuneIn Radio
If you have data to burn, then TuneIn Radio can provide a slice of home for expatriates on the morning commute. If you miss getting your fill of Britain's BBC Radio 5 Live, India's Radio City, Manila's WinRadio or Radio New Zealand, this might lessen the yearning for home-grown radio from whichever corner of the world you originally belong to.
Search the app for the international radio station you need back in your life and tune in – just like that. You can save multiple stations, too, which will allow you to flick between Monaco and Montreal within seconds. It even has a library of podcasts that you won't find on UAE app stores.
A similar idea to the Entertainer app, but completely free, Groupon offers a changing array of discounts and two-for-one deals at a huge range of retailers, restaurants and more. From pool days to spa treatments to cleaning deals, you'll never need to pay full price (if you're flexible on retailers) again.
24. Noon / Namshi / Asos / Nisnass / Cult Beauty
Solid favourites of the UAE's online shopping crowd – these are the tried and tested apps that tend to come in most useful day-to-day. Noon offers everyday items at good prices, and often a tight delivery turnaround. Use it for everything from homewares to tech goods, to beauty products. Asos, Namshi and Nisnass all focus primarily on clothes, footwear and some beauty products, and the latter two can sometimes get your order to you that day, or the next day. Cult Beauty is a worldwide phenomenon, sure, but you can get an extra 20 per cent off if you live in the UAE due to UK taxes. The only thing to be wary of is delivery times – these can vary wildly.
25. Cafu (Dubai)
Forget the age-old debacle in the UAE of waiting in lines to refuel your tank as you sit idle at a petrol station, taking precious time out of your day – why not have someone come to your house to do it for you? Cafu's on-demand fuel delivery service will come to you to fill up your car with fuel, whether you're at home, work or basically anywhere. Right now, it's only available in Dubai, but they've promised to extend their reach to the other emirates soon.
A lot of podcasts aren't on the UAE iTunes / Podcast list, so this is the best way to find them. Use this app to find podcasts from around the world.
27. Ekar / Udrive
Newly arrived and haven't gotten around to buying, or renting a car, yet? Only need a car for an hour? What about 15 minutes? Ekar and Udrive bridge the gap between somebody else taking the wheel for you and driving yourself.
The basic equation is pretty simple: choose your app, download it, register, then find a car to rent via a GPS-enabled in-app map, where the cars you can use are simply parked on the side of the road. Once you have instantly reserved your vehicle, on arrival you unlock it using the app, then punch in a pre-designated PIN to a keypad in the glovebox, which releases the ignition key. Ekar is available only in Dubai and costs 50 fils per minute, including VAT, while there are also daily rates for various specified cars; Udrive, which is available in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, is 50 fils per minute, excluding VAT. Udrive also has daily rates, which vary per city, as do certain excess mileage charges.
You won't be in the UAE long before you hear of a person who "swears by Kibson's", and there's good reason for that. This delivery service is a rare find – where we can vouch for its nutritional integrity alongside its ability to make us all a little lazier. Kibson's is a fresh food and produce delivery service (they also now stock meat!), offering good quality fruit and vegetables, as well as other edible goods, for fair prices.
It calls itself the "future of retail", and who's to argue with them? Beam was ApplePay before ApplePay, offering an in-phone payment system that will really come in handy if you realise you've forgotten your wallet at the cash register. Accepted at around 3,000 venues in the UAE, the Beam wallet deems cash and credit cards irrelevant, and even offers reward points on your spending.
30. The National
We know, we know – this is a shameless plug in an otherwise completely unbiased article, but our app is a pretty great place to stay up-to-date with the latest happenings in the UAE and further afield. Download it on iPhone and Android, and be the first to know as news breaks relevant to the Middle East.
Updated: September 9, 2019 05:01 PM