A UK expat in Abu Dhabi: “The United Arab Emirates is quite a forward thinking nation”

interview with Amy in Abu Dhabi

Amy comes from the UK. She moved to Abu Dhabi nine months ago after her husband was offered a job there. In this Interview, she shares her views about life in the United Arab Emirates.


Where are you from, Amy, and what are you doing nowadays?

I’m a British born expat currently living in Abu Dhabi. I’m a full-time mum to two beautiful girls aged 7 and 5, photographer and blogger. Before the move to the United Arab Emirates, I worked for the UK Government full-time, so life was very busy and hectic!


Why did you choose to expatriate to the United Arab Emirates?

My husband, Leon, was offered a job here in the medical sector and it all kind of snowballed from there! We decided our quality of life and family time would be better in the United Arab Emirates because I could give up my job and be a full-time mum and wife. In the UK, life was becoming unmanageable as we both tried to juggle careers and the welfare of our children. Something had to change and this seemed like the ideal opportunity.


As a British expat, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?

It all happened really quickly. Leon was offered the job in August last year and had moved out to the UAE in November. Most of the process was sorted out by his company. I needed to serve a notice period, so couldn’t move out until the end of January, which gave plenty of time for our visas to be sorted out. It was mostly a lot of last minute scanning of documents and e-mailing them to Leon and packing up our house.


How long have you been in the country?

I have been in Abu Dhabi since the end of January, so 10 months now. It has flown by. We spent 3 weeks in the UK over the summer and when we came back it felt like we’d never been away!


What has attracted you to Abu Dhabi?

I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t so much the place but the lifestyle change. As I’ve said before, our lives had to change for the sake of our children. It just so happened that Abu Dhabi gave us that opportunity. It could have been anywhere else in the world if the job was right.


What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

The sheer scale of things here. Malls are massive, the roads are huge, the size of the cars… Everything is just so much bigger! Also the driving: I’ve been told its better than it used to be, but as an expat I was terrified to go anywhere at first. For me, people drive too fast, don’t indicate, have no lane discipline and don’t have an awareness of what is going on around them, in particular blind spots!


Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?

There is a wide choice of accommodation here, from apartments and villas all over Abu Dhabi, both in the city and further out in the suburbs. Accommodation is easy to come by and as long as you have a good real estate agent, they will find you something in your budget and sort out everything else. The better ones do tend to have a slightly higher commission but we found it is definitely worth it in the long run. We live in a villa with a garden out in the suburbs of Abu Dhabi. We thought it was the right decision for us a family to have a slower pace of life!


How do you find the Emirati lifestyle?

The United Arab Emirates is quite a forward thinking nation. As a relatively young country, I think it has done quite well. Life here has two speeds, either slow and steady or a million miles an hour! Mostly, you can choose the speeds, but sometimes some things are out of your control, especially when it comes to dealing with the Government departments. There are still things here I can’t get used to, like the men who pack your grocery bags and not filling up your own car with fuel. There are also still occasions where I go to hold my husband’s hand in a public place and then remember that’s not the thing to do!


Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

I have learnt to just go with the flow. As an expat here, it would be very easy to get stressed and frustrated with things (I’ve been there). You have to learn to just deal with things as they occur. I have also learnt a smile goes a long way and I treat everyone from the workers in shops to important people with the dignity and respect I would wish to be treated with myself.


What about your children (language barrier, schooling, socialization…)?

My daughters attend a British Curriculum school here, so when we do return to the UK they will be at the same level. They have Arabic and cultural lessons every week, so are learning to fit in and get along with life. They have friends from all over the world here. I’ve found that they just get along with it and make friends. They don’t consider any of the stuff that adults may consider when talking to people and making friends!


What does your everyday life in Abu Dhabi look like?

I wake up at 5.45 am and prepare my children for school. School starts early here at 7.30 am. I drive them to school and am normally back by 8 am. I then either try to get to the gym, meet with friends for a coffee or do grocery shopping. I try and plan some blog posts and write around this and do some photography work. I pick the girls up at 2 pm and then begins the evening tasks of making dinner, homework and preparing for the next day!


Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of my favourite places. From a personal and a photographer’s point of view, it is quite simply one of the most beautiful man made places I have visited. Everyone who has visited has gasped in shock at how beautiful it is in real life. The perfect time for me to go is just before sunset. You get the perfect time to take pictures of the sunset and then when the lights come on it’s breathtaking. It is also really good to see some of the culture of the UAE.

There is also the Al Ain National Museum in Al Ain for some history of the whole of the UAE. They have various archaeological artefacts there and it’s really interesting!


What is your opinion on the cost of living in Abu Dhabi?

It’s really not as cheap as people think. But having said that, it’s all relative. The wages are higher here, which means it doesn’t feel as bad. Food, especially healthy food can be expensive and you will pay a premium for buying British brands. If you are savvy, you can get things cheaper it just takes time and Google in the supermarket!


Is it easy for an expat to live there?

How do you spend your leisure time?

As an expat with children, having a pool where we live was an essential requirement. My husband works shifts, so when he works weekends, it means I can entertain the girls without having to go too far from home. It also means if I get some free time, I can just have an hour swimming and chill out on my own!

Other places we go are Yas Waterworld, a huge waterpark near the Formula One Grand Prix circuit and the Corniche in the cooler months for a walk and the girls can splash in the sea and have fun!

I can’t not mention Brunch! On weekends here, most hotels provide Brunch which is a set fee for all you can eat and drink (either soft or alcoholic). There are varying prices and quality of brunches, but they are a fab way to unwind after a week at work.


Your favorite local dishes?

I have found a new love for all types of cuisine here. There is such a variety of food from all over the world. I love a Lebanese Mixed Grill, BBQ meats with hummus and Arabic flat breads. Indian cuisine is also amazing here, the curries taste incredible and like nothing you would get in the UK.

Luqaimat is a traditional sweet dessert made of dough balls (a little bit like donut batter) with date molasses drizzled over. They are divine and very moreish! I have found a love for dates here, there is such a variety. I love going to the date markets and tasting and buying the best ones!


What do you like the most about the UAE?

There is so much to do here. If I wanted, I could never be at home and still not manage to do everything. There is a large emphasis on family time here in Abu Dhabi and a lot of places do events specifically for children. Most of all, we have so much more family time here.


What do you miss the most about your home country?

The supermarkets, and the cheapness of good quality healthy food! We miss our families too, but they can come and visit for a holiday. We have the weather here for people to make it a holiday. I’ve tried to just adapt to life here so we don’t miss things, we just look forward to having them when we go back, or family bringing things for us like teabags! Clothes! I miss brands like Fat Face and Boden and being able to order online with ease!


What has motivated you to write your blog “New Hopes, New Dreams”? How does it help?

I was getting loads of e-mails and messages from friends and family about what we were doing and how we were getting on, so I decided to set it up for that reason and also for any people in the same situation we were in. I had an e-mail recently from a lovely lady who said my blog had helped her family make the decision to move here because they were in the same situation as us. My blog is honest, I will never say I like something that I don’t and it’s just about life in general no airs and no graces!


Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in the UAE?

Do your research properly! Try and embrace life here and don’t look back comparing everything to your home country, things will be different and at times things will be difficult, which is why you need to get out there and make friends! I made my best friend here purely by accident and we have been rocks for each other when things have got a little too much to handle. Most of all live, within your means, money is very easy to come by here but what if it all goes wrong? Stick to your budget and plan for the future.


What are your plans for the future?

At the moment, I think we will be here for the next 2 years and then head back to the UK, but who knows! I will, of course, keep on blogging and taking photographs. Photography started out as a hobby and is now a passion. I’m not perfect and probably never will be, but I’m learning and every time I take my camera out I keep on learning.


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