Two years ago, when we announced to family and friends that we would be moving to Dubai, the reaction was pretty standard. Family members in Asia and Europe extolled the virtues of being geographically closer to us and friends talked about the luxury lifestyle, the cheap cars and gas, and of course the “no taxes” selling point. As one of my friends put it succinctly:
“You’ve finally hit the expat jackpot!”
Hearing these words, definitely made me pause to reflect. I was in large part hesitant and totally unenthusiastic about our impending move to Dubai – I loved life in tropical Singapore and couldn’t imagine living in the desert, or in an air conditioned bubble, which seemed sterile, devoid of any history or culture where people seemed obsessed with the size of your 4×4 or which designer bag dangled off your arm. Dubai sounded fake, materialistic and superficial to me and I remember being puzzled when my friend declared we had hit the expat jackpot.
After two years of living in the desert, I finally agree with what my friend meant.
I do feel like we’ve hit the expat jackpot in Dubai – but probably not for the luxury reasons my friend was mentioning. In fact, once I started thinking about what it really meant to hit the “expat jackpot”, I realized the reason I was happy to live in Dubai, were deeper more meaningful reasons.
Here are some of the main reasons our expat stint in Dubai has been a success so far:
1. We gave a place a chance and found that we liked it:
Possibly the biggest obstacle has been to get rid of my prejudiced and biased views of the place and to give Dubai a chance. To go beyond the 7 star properties, the man-made islands, the tallest building in the world, the underwater hotels, the malls with ski-slopes and the glitzy skyline, and to actually spend an evening learning about Emirati culture at the SMCCU (Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding), or soaking in the souks, mosques, forts and bazaars in Old Dubai. There is such a rich local history of culture and traditions in the UAE and spending an evening at the Arabic Coffee Museum in Bastakiya or discovering the beauty in calligraphy and local art work have helped me to see this. One of my most favorite experiences has been to travel to the city of Al Ain to experience an actual oasis in the desert and to witness the desert in all its glory. These experiences have helped shape my view of what life in the Middle East is truly like and I feel I can finally appreciate this place for all it has to offer.
2. We have met incredible people along our journey and made some lovely friends:
As a long term expat for 15 years, 7 countries and 3 continents, I know the key to the success of any expat experience is meeting the right people and making friends. We have been so incredibly lucky and blessed to have met such amazing, diverse and cosmopolitan people in Dubai which has led to some lovely friendships and communities. Friends, neighbours, teachers, mom and baby support groups, locals, and expat groups such as ExpatConnect – have made a big difference and made us feel connected and welcomed. The people you meet, is definitely an important factor in shaping your expat adventure and we have hit the jackpot in the friendship department. What we’ve enjoyed in particular is that mixed, multicultural families like ours are such a norm in Dubai with several languages and cultures to boast, where everyone is international, holds different perspectives and exhibits a high sense of tolerance.
3. We have felt safe and secure:
The streets are safe to walk, it’s safe to take a taxi at 11 pm by yourself, and as a woman with 2 kids and a husband who travels frequently for work – I feel very safe and secure in spending a week solo. Safety and security usually top my list of requirements in any expat location, and so far Dubai has not disappointed. I personally know a lot of expats from South Africa, who have moved to Dubai precisely for the safety factor and I think this figures high up on the list for most expats here.
4. We have stumbled upon one of the most kid-friendly places to live and raise young children:
Dubai is a great place to bring up a family and I find it one of the most baby and child friendly places to live. Baby friendly amenities like nursing rooms and diaper changing areas are available in all the malls you go and most restaurants will bring out a high chair for your baby and colouring options for your toddler as soon as you sit down at a table.
In addition to all the amenities and entertainment options, what I’ve found most refreshing is the local Arab culture and how welcoming and tolerant it is towards children. My little son has been given a lollipop in an elevator by a kind Arab man to stop him from crying (and yes, that did the trick!), and my 4 year old daughter who has been super curious as to why “Arab men wear white dresses” and has tried (rather unsuccessfully thankfully!) to lift up one unsuspecting gentleman’s robe to see what he had on under there, was met with smiles, funny faces and an acknowledgment of childish curiosity, much to my embarrassment and relief as a parent of course!
5. We have loved traveling and exploring this region of the world:
One of the greatest parts about living this expat life is all the travel opportunities to explore and discover a new region of the world. Living in Dubai means we have been able to use it as a base to explore the rest of the Middle East as well. In recent months, we have visited Oman and Qatar and look forward to visiting Jordan later this year too. We have also done several ‘staycations’ in Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Al Ain and come to appreciate the diversity and beauty of the United Arab Emirates and enjoy all this country and this region has to offer.
In the end, Dubai has probably taught me my biggest expat lesson so far: there is no perfect country to live in. There will always be pros and cons no matter where you live in the world. What matters, is what you make out of this adventure– it’s the friendships you foster, the new experiences you say “yes” to, and the hearts and minds that you open to soak in your new surroundings – that truly counts. If you can do this, then you’ve definitely hit the expat jackpot big time.
What are some of the reasons you feel you’ve hit the expat jackpot in Dubai? I would love to hear experiences of other Dubai Expats as well!
About the Author:
Mariam is an eternal expat who 15 years, 7 countries and 3 continents later, is embarrassingly a seasoned expert at getting lost in every new city she calls home, and butchering words in every new foreign language she picks up along the way. She writes mostly about life as an expat, trying to raise her multilingual and multicultural children in her East-meets-West marriage and of course traveling the world.