Working abroad doesn’t really feel ‘foreign’ to me. It’s been almost 14 years since I first decided to move abroad and I’ve never looked back. The reality is, I have lived most of my adult life abroad and have had my biggest career successes whilst living abroad.
Having lived in Egypt, Qatar, and most recently Dubai, I have just returned to the UK for a couple of weeks, before heading out to discover the rest of the world. Living in the Middle East for such a long time has provided me with many opportunities to travel, and I have been extremely blessed to visit India, Sri Lanka, Bali, and Cape Town to name a few.
I know that a lot of people wonder what it’s like to live an expat life, and especially in the Middle East where women are seemingly oppressed and men walk around wielding AK47’s. I would like to shed some light on the reality of life in the Middle East and hopefully provide some useful insights for anyone wanting to live and work in Dubai.
1. Find a job in Dubai
This might seem like an obvious place to start, but securing a job may not be as easy as people might first think.
I was able to move to Dubai because a new job opportunity opened up within the company. Although part of the same company, I still had to ensure that my CV was up to date, apply through the official company channels, and complete a series of interviews.
Getting a job in Dubai is not as easy as you might think, but not impossible either. Companies invest a substantial amount of money in the hiring process, which includes visa costs, flights, medical insurance, and housing benefits.
Before applying for a job in Dubai, make sure that you are prepared for the recruitment process and make sure that you really want to relocate there. Also, it’s really important to make sure that you have all of your college/university documents attested as these are normally required for visa processing for certain level jobs, and have enough money to survive until you get your first pay-check.
2. Learn some Arabic words
This is more for politeness than an actual need to learn Arabic as the most widely spoken language is English. Most people that you will encounter in Dubai will be from around the world, including India, the Philippines, and Europe, however, you will meet other Arabic nationals from Lebanon, Egypt & Syria, and having a few Arabic words handy will go a long way.
Words such as ‘thank you’ ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are always going to be useful in any language.
3. Dress appropriately
This might seem like an obvious one, but one that many people actually overlook.
Whenever I went to the mall for a bit of shopping, I would always ensure that my shoulders were covered. It is not absolutely necessary as Dubai is such a multi-cultural city nowadays, however, I always felt that covering my shoulders when in public places was always the appropriate way to dress.
If you are visiting any of the public beaches, then of course swimwear is absolutely fine, but I would always advise slightly more modest clothing when exploring other parts of Dubai. Dubai has a zero-tolerance for topless and nude sunbathing.
There is a common misconception that alcohol is forbidden in Dubai.
This is simply not true. If you are moving to Dubai, then consider getting an alcohol license. An alcohol license will allow you to purchase alcohol from any of the alcohol shops around the city.
However, I didn’t have an alcohol license the entire time that I was living in Dubai, as alcohol is available in most hotels, bars, lounges, and clubs. The reality is, there is a big drinking culture in Dubai, with boozy Friday brunches, ladies nights, and happy hours being offered by almost every hotel in the city.
I have 2 pieces of advice concerning alcohol: Firstly, do not take alcohol out in public. For example, if you are planning a day on the beach or a picnic in the park, don’t be tempted to take any booze with you. If you are caught in public with alcohol you will face some pretty serious repercussions.
Secondly, if you have been at a boozy brunch or heading home after a big night out, always try to keep your composure in public, and try to seem as sober as possible (btw, being alcohol-free will dramatically change the way you travel). Dubai authorities have very little tolerance for drunk behavior.
Otherwise, go out and enjoy all the fun spots that Dubai has to offer.
5. Culture & religion
Emirati people are very proud. Proud of their culture, proud of their city and proud of their leaders, and rightfully so, as any nationals are of their homeland.
Be respectful. Respect religious and cultural differences, take the opportunity to learn and understand and make some time to talk to the local people. Religious occasions such as Ramadan and Eid are extremely important in the Islamic calendar. Anyone thinking of moving to Dubai should be encouraged to take part, enjoy an Iftar (meal taken when breaking the fast) or two, and enjoy the feasting and celebrations that take place around these occasions.
Another important day is UAE National Day, celebrated every year on 2nd December, and around this time there will be a number of celebrations happening throughout the city. Take part and join in.
For me, a big part of finding out what was happening in Dubai was through social media. There is literally always something happening in Dubai – no matter the season – and I was lucky enough to see Ed Sheehan, Guns n Roses and Coldplay (in Abu Dhabi). A few handy apps and accounts to consider:
• Dubai Calendar app – you can download this app from the app store and it will give you up to date information on the upcoming events happening in Dubai, from concerts to comedy, opera, and theatre, and you can also purchase tickets via the app
• @lovindubai – this is a great account to follow on Instagram as they are a great source of news, information, and happenings with a bit of fun and Dubai humor thrown in
• #MyDubai – this hashtag/account has given me endless inspiration on places to visit in Dubai from the iconic to the unknown. If you are looking for that perfect Instagram shot, take a look at this hashtag and get inspired
• Visit Dubai – Follow @visitdubai on Instagram for updates on what’s happening across the city. From the food and shopping festivals that happen throughout the year to a countrywide fitness challenge, this account will give you all the local intel
• Other great accounts to follow are @dubaiopera (not just an opera house, they also have theatre productions, concerts, and ballets), @d3dubai (a new local design hub for all things artsy in Dubai), and @lamerdubai (my latest favorite beach development with walls and walls of cool graffiti art)
7. Join local gyms & sports groups
I wasn’t massively into sports or gym, but through a good friend of mine, I was introduced to a gym called BARE, and a local spinning studio. Through my friend and his persistent nagging for me to go with him to a class or two, I went. Spinning nearly killed me and BARE ensured that I couldn’t walk for a week, but, I made new friends and ended up going back.
This would be one of the best pieces of advice I could give anyone. Get out there, sign up, and make friends.
8. Just enjoy living and working in Dubai
Dubai has an interesting nightlife scene with everything from grungy live music style bars, to some of the finest restaurants and chefs from around the world.
Dubai also has a budding cultural and arts scene, with little hubs popping up, giving Dubai an authentic side that it was perhaps lacking until recently.
There is also the ‘older’ side of Dubai that is also worth exploring. A visit to Satwa, Al Bastikiya, and Al Fahidi are great places for a day out. And of course, the desert. Everyone who visits Dubai or decides to move there should experience the desert at least once.
If you make the most of your time living and working in Dubai and get out & about, you will soon find that you have friends from all over the world and many incredible stories to share.
I loved living in Dubai, and would have no hesitation in moving back there should the right opportunity present itself. There will always be bumps and challenges, but the opportunity to experience incredible sunsets, make friends from around the world, and be welcomed into the homes of Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast will be just a few of the lasting memories that you will cherish forever.
Ignore the stereotypes and media hype about life in the Middle East and go with an open heart. Dubai is ready to be discovered.