One of the things that most of us probably didn’t think much about when we decided to move overseas was post – I mean, why would we? But – whilst we may have grown up taking the humble postal service of our home countries for granted, it’s one thing that you quickly learn does exist – but certainly not as we knew it!

So… post in the UAE… How is it different?!

Well, firstly, there’s no such thing here as a formal street address system in the UAE for post to be delivered to. Directions and addresses in the UAE are given using landmarks: “take a right at the roundabout with the big coffee pot on it, past the Co-op and you’ll find it near the new hospital” is an example of a pretty normal way to describe a location!


Image credit: Tiberiu Ana

We can of course receive post here, although it can be a bit hit and miss. If you need to receive post or packages you basically have two options:

  1.  Use a PO Box
    Either use your company one or register for a private one, but if you need to receive bills from home, or friends and family want to send you any cards or letters, a PO Box number is what you need.
    Things to know:
    PO Boxes are available at post offices or in specific locations around the city (though there is a new service called ‘My Home’ or ‘My Building’ where in some areas you can now have post delivered to your door or building). Each individual box is locked and is just really a central location for your own personal letterbox. Try to find one as close to your home and as easy to get to as possible to make life as easy as you can – no-one wants to be sitting in traffic for hours at a time just to collect their post! Delivery to a PO Box number tends to be slow, although it does vary and sometimes depends on the location the mail is coming from too. I’ve had birthday cards sent to me from the UK that have taken anywhere between a week and six weeks to arrive, and we’ve had cards we’ve been told were sent from Australia that have taken over two months, and some that we never ever received at all. Delivery to a company PO Box will usually get delivered right to you at your desk as there will be someone (usually from admin) in charge of collecting the post from the actual PO Box and then distributing to the relevant departments. Delivery to a personal PO Box will require you periodically popping along to the box location to collect your post. You can nominate a person to collect on your behalf so there is always the option if you have household help (as is common here) to delegate this task.
    If you want to order something sizeable from overseas, you can also send it to your PO Box although I believe that this depends on the service you subscribe to through the post office… If your package requires a signature, as far as I’m aware (though please do let me know if you have any other experience of this) it can’t be signed for via a PO Box address, so you’d need to use a courier instead.
  2. Use a courier
    If you want to receive packages that require a signature, you’ll probably need to have it couriered to you.
    Things to know:
    If you use a courier, the good news is that you can get your package sent directly to your front door, as you just have to provide your street address – complete with any extra location details as required so they can find it! Of course with a courier, you always provide your phone number too, so what usually happens is that the courier will contact you to confirm your delivery location and a suitable time when they can deliver. Easy! This is the best way if your package will need a signature, and it’s also much faster if you’re in a hurry to receive your package! If you’re ordering things online locally from sites within the UAE, the company will usually either have their own in-house delivery people to bring your parcels to your street address or will use a local courier company. If you’re ordering from overseas – do make sure before you order whether your package will come via ‘normal post’ or be couriered so you can be sure whether it’s best to give them your physical street address or your PO Box.
    I had an issue recently when ordering from a company in the UK – I thought they were sending my package by courier so gave them my physical street address. Two weeks later I called them to find out what had happened to my order and they told me my parcel had been dispatched by Royal Mail… At this point I realised there was no way for this package to reach me at my street address and I should have used the PO Box address instead! I called Empost and asked them what would happen in this instance and they explained that any packages received to the UAE without a PO Box number via normal post (Empost / Royal Mail etc) would be returned to sender immediately. Thankfully, the next day the company contacted me to say they’d received my package back and were proceeding to resend it to me – but this time, to my PO Box address!

If you want to know about posting mail out of the country, that’s pretty much the same as at home – except you’ll always have to go to the post office to do it. You can’t buy stamps anywhere except the post office and there are no post boxes around the city in any locations except at the post offices themselves – you’ll find that post offices are fewer and farther between than at home  as they aren’t on every high street or in any malls which can mean they’re quite a pain to get to and will always require a special trip out of your way.

If you frequently want to order things from back home or other overseas locations (perhaps because they’re not available here) you can sign up for a shop and ship account. This basically means that you can order from companies overseas that otherwise wouldn’t deliver to the UAE (and other locations too). It gives you the use of generic addresses globally to deliver to, then shop and ship deliver from those addresses directly to you in the UAE (or wherever). Use your physical street address for this as your stuff will come to you by courier.

So that’s it really. That’s pretty much what you need to know about post in the UAE! If anyone has any other tips or experiences with the post here – I’d love to hear about them in the comments!