Mark Peters is an American expat who moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates at the end of 2014. He shares his thoughts on his first experiences in a new country as he waits for his family to join him.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Born in Chicago, but have lived in Miami and New York City
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Q: When did you move here?
A: September 2014
Q: Did you move here alone or with family?
A: Alone initially, with my family joining me.
Living in the UAE
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Abu Dhabi?
A: Excellent quality of life and business opportunity. I like the diverse culture and winter weather too.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The USA has more institutional efficiencies, but it’s only a mild negative for me here.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in the UAE? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: As a first-time expat who relocated without his family, I experienced a whole range of emotions in addition to adjusting to the local culture of a Muslim country.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home?
A: Labour, food, and transportation are cheap. Rent is still cheaper than New York City.
Q: How would you rate the public transport?
A: I take taxis everywhere and haven’t needed buses or a personal car.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi?
A: I have had excellent personal healthcare but have heard of others who have had issues.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Abu Dhabi?
A: Absolutely the safest place I have ever lived.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?
A: There is a wide variety of housing options. It only depends on your budget.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I have friends from work who live in a variety of neighbourhoods but no specific referrals. I’m still exploring. Saadiyat Island will be my home when my family arrives in the summer of 2015.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: In the UAE, the population is 80%+ expats, so there is a diverse community and broad acceptance by local Emiratis.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: I have done a bit of networking but found new colleagues at work very welcoming. There are meet-ups and numerous opportunities if you are looking for an active social life.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I have locals from work who I’m friendly with but I have not socialised to a great extent since I have only been in Abu Dhabi for a short while. I have joined LinkedIn groups, AmCham, and local blogs. There are literally a plethora of ways to meet others.
Working in Abu Dhabi
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit?
A: Visas are very highly regulated and the process is laborious. This area is especially difficult for non-Westerners. This is highly bureaucratic.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Abu Dhabi?
A: The region is growing solidly and constantly needs talented professionals.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Things move more slowly and your reputation takes time to build. You need to commit to spending time to be trusted by a broad audience.
Family and children of expats in UAE
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My wife and children have visited but have not joined me. Their experience was terrific!
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Good schools are very difficult to gain entry to and you need to work hard and be persistent. I spent a lot of time on this and feel like I have a lot I could share with others here.
Some advice for newcomers in UAE
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: You will love Abu Dhabi if you are accepting of the culture and slower pace. The mood is one of optimism and opportunity. People are happy to be here and to better their families. Crime is non-existent because of the opportunity for the people who have come here and the risk they would assume if they committed a crime and had to leave.