You asked for it and I finally got round to writing it. Here is my FAQ post about life in Dubai. Now I don't consider myself Queen of Expats - I have only lived abroad for 5 years or so - but I often get emails and messages that explore themes regarding life in the UAE and so it made sense to create a repository of responses that will, finger crossed, be helpful for some of you. So here we go…
Moving - motivations, job seeking and house hunting
The response to this question will be different for everyone. I myself had been to the UAE on holiday several times and I had also worked on a project for a media company in Abu Dhabi over a number of months so I had prior experience of the country - and I liked it. I have also always wanted to live abroad and the combination of sunshine, tax free salaries and a safe environment lured me in.
How did you get a job/how can I get a job?
I think this answer would apply anywhere - it's all about contacts. My first contract was through a company that I had initially used as a supplier on that aforementioned Abu Dhabi project. Through that you make connections and so on. If you are starting to look for work here my advice is:
a) LinkedIn - this will be your best friend as there are always recruiters patrolling LinkedIn.
b) Get recruited from abroad at first - generally speaking your package (salary, housing allowance etc) will be higher if you get recruited from your home country and it can often be hard to find a decent role once you are here.
c) Get experience first - a lot of the messages that I get are from those of you who are still studying at university/college and concern getting a graduate job in the UAE. It's absolutely possible but you will find it much easier to get a (good) job if you have 1-2 years experience (minimum) in your home country. It will give you stronger bargaining power and is very much connected to the above point regarding package.
Do you get healthcare with your job?
Yes - but sometimes no. It depends where your company is registered because in some of the "Free Zones" the obligation to provide healthcare does not exist.
How do you chose a place to live?
There are certain areas that are expat strongholds. Marina, JBR, JLT, Downtown, TECOM, the Greens - these are all typical "first ports" for new arrivals.
If you can my advice would be to arrange a short term lease for your first 1-2 months in the city. Most real estate agents will have options - try Betterhomes. I lived in company accommodation for a month and then rented a place in Marina for 1 month. That gave me time to get a feel for different areas and we ended up deciding on JBR and lived there for a few years.
What I would tell you upfront though is:
a) Rent can be VERY expensive. It's comparable to the good parts of London in many instances. Housing allowance helps soften the blow but many companies stopped giving that out a few years ago and it's now not always the norm to get this in addition to your monthly salary.
b) You pay by backdated cheques - in a good economic climate you have to pay your annual rent upfront. In one cheque. This may make you cry. You may also need assistance in understanding how to write a cheque in the first place.
Living - cost of living, cultural differences and way of life
What's it like living in Dubai?
A busy, cosmopolitan, clean, safe city. Yes it's in the Middle East but don't let Western media lead you to believe that it's an extreme place to live because its absolutely not. Like any society there are rules to follow and you should make yourself aware of them but when you visit here you will find it a supremely easy place to be.
At the same time I write this from a perspective of a Western expat. The experience is not equal for everyone and if you don't realise that well then, you're an idiot.
Is it expensive?
Yes! It's tax free but that does not equate to "cheap". Food, electricity/air conditioning, rent…these are all substantial costs. The only things that are actually cheap when compared to home are taxis and diamonds. True story.
How do you find working in the UAE as a Western female?
I had this question a couple of times and I've had it asked in the past several times before that. To me it's quite revealing because although the UAE is a very advanced country there is a still a perception of it being a difficult to place to live and work for a woman. I can tell you that I have never felt prejudice as a Western woman. I work with other expats (Western and Arab) but also local (Emirati) clients and there isn't any difference - if anything I get more respect from the latter!
Now there was a dodgy moment in Qatar where I was refused entry to a meeting because my calves were on show but in general I would say that intelligence is respected and it does not matter what gender that comes from.
How are expats perceived by Emiratis?
This question came up a few times and the key thing to note is that 90-odd per cent of the country is expatriate. The national strategy is focused on welcoming incoming visitors so I would say that it is an extremely tolerant place to visit and live.
Do you have to learn Arabic?
Business is conducted in English so the answer to that is no. I have worked with government organisations and not speaking Arabic can be a barrier but otherwise there is no impact. Having said that I really should learn. Throwing around some wallahs and yallas does not count as language skills.
Is it safe?
Safety is one of the main reasons why I would continue living here. I could trot out at any time, day or night, and would feel safe. It's very much a bubble in that respect and you only realise it when you travel out of the country. I remember landing in Seattle and seeing beggars on the streets and I got a sudden jolt of reality. Princess-y much?
Of course this isn't an unusual sight anywhere else - I lived in central London for years and saw all sorts - but you get so disconnected from that reality here and I can't say that in this respect I mind that much.
Are things censored?
Well 50 Shades of Grey was banned. Whether this was because of supposed gratuitous s*x scenes or Jamie Dornan's appalling accent we do not know.
So yes, films are cut and websites are often blocked. It was a big moment when Flickr was finally accessible.
Fun fact: when I worked at Yahoo! an immigration officer at Dubai Airport asked me to try and get the ban on Flickr lifted so he could share his photos with the world :)
What's the dating culture like?
As an old married lady I have no idea. Tinder exists though - I know this because I have had many a fun evening playing with that app on a friends phone :)
Is it easy to make friends?
As a blogger I think I am at an advantage. I go to events and meet people with similar interests and this naturally builds up a network. Pursuing hobbies and meeting people at work are going to be your main "recruitment grounds".
I think as you get older it's trickier to meet people though - am I right that this is the case everywhere?
Are people fake?
Like anywhere, yes, sometimes they are and you soon learn to roll your eyes and move on.
How do you cope with the heat?
Honestly, half the year I live indoors. From April/May until October, I go from air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned office and minimise sweat time by avoiding The Outside. It's fine - I'm used to it. I feel more sorry for my dogs who have to enjoy 6am/12am walkies because any other time would be miserably hot for them.
How does your life change during Ramadan?
No drinking, eating or chewing in public during day light hours and avoiding the roads or trying to get taxis at the time when fasting ends each day. Cafes and restaurants are of course closed - or blackout curtains are up to hide consumption from view - but its actually quite a nice time. The malls are open late and work is quiet because a lot of people go on an extended holiday and those who stay behind adopt Ramadan hours which means an early finish.
Have you had to adjust your wardrobe to fit in with the culture?
I think I dress the way I would dress back home. I have never been one to get my arse/boobs out.
I would say however that I am more conscious of what I wear here and specifically whether or not it is "appropriate" for the location. For example, after a brunch when I am in a dress and my husband decides to go and buy 12 candles in Bath and Body Works because he gets FOMO when they have an offer on, I will opt to stay in the car. Short dresses and malls make me feel uncomfortable. Why risk offending someone or attracting unnecessary attention?
Understanding the dress code here can be confusing but it's all determined by where you are. In a tourist area/hotel? Wear what you want. In a mall? Don't dress in a way that's too revealing. That means that the girl I saw in Mall of the Emirates the other month in bootie shorts and a booby tank top was totally inappropriate. Girlfriend should have stayed at the beach.
A good analogy that I use is: would you wear this on the tube late at night? If the answer is no, put more clothes on :)
Do you have ups and downs?
Oh yes. I am sure everyone who has lived away from home can say the same. I think this is normal.
The best piece of advice I received was actually left by someone who commented on my YouTube channel once upon a time. She said that in order to make somewhere feel like home you need to establish a routine - certain coffee shops, supermarkets, cafes etc…and make those "yours". This along with the rules of "saying yes to everything when you first arrive" will help you meet people and feel at home.
Planning - missing home and staying or going?
What do you miss from home?
I miss family, friends, high street shopping, seasonal weather, cosy clothes, good TV, the latest make up releases, wine aisles in supermarkets, walking, visiting M&S, Pret a Manger or Eat for weekday lunches and decent TV advertising.
Are you planning to stay?
This is a hot topic whenever I get together with friends - the "how long will you stay" question. I am in no rush to return to the UK and would be open to moving to another country after this one. I can't put a time limit on anything because circumstances change, often without warning, and you cannot prepare for that. Let's wait and see but right now I am enjoying life just fine over here :)
Thank you to everyone who left a question on my Facebook page. I know I haven't answered all of them and if there is anything you desperately want to know, leave a comment below!