Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest Blog: Life in Dubai

Many of us yearn, especially at this time of year when it is raining and seems to be permanently dusk, to be enjoying sunnier climes. Our thoughts turn to summer holidays and barbecues. But some people make their dream a permanent reality and move, lock stock and barrel to warmer climes. Mike and his family did this late last year and following is Mike's account of moving to Dubai. I'm sure he will do regular guest posts so that we can see how life develops for him, his wife and young son.

I moved to Dubai 5 months ago, and now I've settled into life as an expat, Gregg has asked me to write about my experiences living and working here in Dubai.

My wife and I first visited Dubai together in 2007. It was at the height of the boom here and it was definitely an impressive place to visit. Huge skyscrapers (though the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa wasn't open at the time), warm sunshine, balmy nights, fast cars, amazing shopping, hotels and wife fell in love with the place almost straight away and I wasn't far behind her. We visited at the end of October in 2007 and I remember vividly arriving back home to the North East of Scotland and seeing the first of the Winter snowfall, when just 24 hours before we had been lounging by the pool in 34C.

We had talked a lot on the plane coming home about the possibility of moving to the UAE and we both agreed that it would be something we would love to do. I'm quite lucky with my job that I can pretty much move anywhere in the world assuming there were vacancies and so once we'd settled back into our regular post-holiday life, I started the ball rolling. One of the things I learnt very early on about Dubai is that it really is the case of 'who you know, not necessarily what you know'. I had a good friend who had been working out here for 3 years at that point and he got me in touch with the relevant people and so the process began.

All that being said, it was still just over 2 years before the initial, concrete, job offer came in in January 2010. At that time I had been told that recruitment wasn't likely to start until early 2011 and so in the meantime I had applied for, been offered and accepted a job in London with the same company I was working for in Scotland. Because of this, I initially rejected the job offer from Dubai. However, 6 months later I still hadn't been released from my position in Scotland to move to London with no prospect of it happening any time soon and Dubai came calling again.

We accepted in a flash!

The 4 months between accepting the job and actually boarding the plane for the big move zoomed by! We had much to do! Getting the house valued and put on the market, getting the first of my paperwork moving, sorting out shipping and containers, making trips to say farewell to friends and family, not to mention the fact that my wife and I were still working full time!

Anyway, finally the big day came. We had already decided that I would fly first, get settled in, find a place for us and then a month later my wife and son would join me. Although being apart for a month was difficult, it was probably the right choice. When I first arrived I was put up in a hotel for the first month, and when I wasn't in work, I was out house hunting. Although it was a very nice hotel, my wife and son would have soon got stir crazy I feel!

One of the things I have had to get used to out here very quickly is the amount of bureaucracy. It really is phenomenal. I arrived with 40 passport photos of myself, my wife and son. Everything needs a photocopy as well, from passport to visa to birth certificates to marriage certificates to UK driving licence.......the list is truly endless! It even got to the stage one night after a particularly long day that I tried to give the bemused Filipino checkout girl a copy of my passport at the supermarket checkout with my credit card whilst trying to buy some groceries!

It was also in the first week that I learned about the phrase 'Inshallah'...........The best way I can compare it is with the Spanish 'manana'.............For example, after finding a house I liked and agreed a rental price on I arranged a day and time to go in to the lettings office to meet our new landlady and sign the contracts. I was told to be at the office at 9am and my new landlady should arrive at 9.15am Inshallah..........she arrived at 11.30am. It was similar when trying to get my car park pass for work and being told it was activated and should work within 24 hours.........Inshallah. Inshallah is very much a cultural thing here and it really does sum up the entire thought process of the Muslim people. If anything does or doesn't happen, it is the will of Allah, hence Inshallah. Religion is a complete way of life in Dubai and the local people are entrenched in their religion. It's actually very impressive seeing the devotion the people have to their religion. There are mosques on almost every street, and 5 times a day you hear the call to prayer on the mosque loudspeakers. Even when walking around the vast shopping malls the wailing of an imam will suddenly come over the mall speakers calling the faithful to prayer. That being said, even though the majority of people here are Muslim, it isn't in your face or attempted to be imposed on you. All that the local people ask is that you respect their customs and religion. This means things like being dressed modestly in public (ie not wearing bikinis or anything else similarly revealing in the malls if you're a woman or going bare chested as a man), acknowledging Ramadan and remembering not to eat or drink in public during Ramadan....basically doing the sorts of things that most people in Britain would expect of newcomers with regard to British customs and traditions.

As a westerner in Dubai, life is certainly not difficult, particularly as a British westerner. I earn a tax-free salary and take home double what I earnt in the UK. Rent and utilities are paid for by the company as a matter of course, there are plenty of things to do cheaply, with some amazing restaurants and cars and fuel are cheap. Dubai is literally in the middle of the world and so you can fly from here to every continent non-stop and relatively cheaply. The opportunities we have for travelling as a family from Dubai now are way beyond what we could have dreamt of had we stayed in the UK. However, that is only one side of the coin. The UAE has been built on immigration. Local Emirati, depending on which sourse of information you use, make up around just 18-20% of the total population. They are literally a minority in their own country. The majority of immigrants are from the sub-Continent-Pakistan, India and Bangladesh with a sizable number from the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Westerners make up the rest with around 100,000 Britons making Dubai their home. The rest of the Westerner expat population are generally made up from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the US & Canada. However, unlike in other countries, the Emirati embrace immigration. They acknowledge the expertise and labour that immigration bring to their country, which literally would not be what it is today without immigration. The Westerners bring the majority of expertise in things like finance, logistics, engineering, teaching and medicine whilst the majority of immigrants from Asia and the sub-Continent work in the service and labour sectors. However, this really is a place of extremes and the gap between the (relatively) wealthy Western expats and their counterparts from Asia are literally vast.

For example, the vast majority of villas and even apartments here come with a maid's room. These are generally tiny little box rooms, with a small ensuite and enough room for a 2/3rds size single bed and a small bedside table. The average cost of a maid for us if we chose would be just over a day's salary for me, each month and a paid trip home for them once every 2 years....For that the maid would be expected to do all the cleaning, washing and ironing, babysit 2 or 3 nights a week, and even if you wanted, drop off the kids at school or nursery every day and then pick them up again. For a little bit extra they'll even do all the shopping and cooking. It really is an eye-opener. It's not something that we would feel comfortable with, however, despite the arguments we sometimes hear from friends justifying their hire of a maid.

Possibly the least well looked after, however, are the labourers. Every morning at around 6am, you see fleets of old Tata coaches, transporting all the workers for their 12 hour shifts in the daytime sun. They are housed in pre-fab blocks of dormitories with very basic cooling systems and 1 bathroom between many. Apparently, a rule was passed that if the daytime temperature went above 50C, then workers have to down tools...........that means that legally these guys can work outside in soaring temperatures and as long as the thermometer that their employers have bought and placed on a wall remains below 50C, they can't stop........I'm sure you can guess what happens.

Driving in Dubai is an adventure to say the least. The locals even take 'Inshallah' into the car with them- what will be will be so it's not unusual to see people reversing up the hard shoulder of the motorway after missing their exit, or making a last minute swerve across 6 lanes of busy traffic in order to make the junction they're about to fire past. One of the most irritating traits of Dubai drivers, however, is their complete lack of patience. This manifests itself in many ways but the most common is a car in the fast lane of the motorway with another car (usually a large 4X4 or similar) literally inches from its bumper flashing its lights trying to force it out of the way. The concept of safe stopping distances hasn't reached Dubai yet. One of the scariest things I have seen, however, is a large car overtaking me on the motorway with a family in it. The parents were in the front, and their child is either running around the back seat of the car, or even worse just sitting in the lap of it's mother in the front with no safety belt. Although this doesn't happen regularly I would still bet (something that is illegal here incidentally) on seeing that at least 5times a week.

Despite the price of oil nowadays, fuel here is still very cheap compared to Britain at least, although the locals complain that the price has quadrupled in 2 years! It costs me around £21 to fill up my fuel tank which holds 80 litres.......

The hypocrisy here is astonishing as well. We are living in a supposedly strict Muslim country. Yet there are bars here where you can get legless, places where you can buy alcohol, casinos and most bars have prostitutes from Eastern Europe, the Far East and East Africa openly flaunting there bodies to men. And quite often you will see local men in these bars, drinking the alcohol and negotiating a price with the hookers.

All in all, we are so far very happy with our move to Dubai. We earn good money tax-free, almost guaranteed sunshine 365 days a year, it's an incredibly safe place to bring up our son with very little if any anti-social behaviour never mind any serious crime, and Britain is only a 7hour flight away. I'm not sure we could handle more than about 5 years out here but for now we're quite happy to call Dubai home..........


Jammy Joe said...

I'm quite envious, and glad to see that you are respecting local people and traditions.

Good luck with your new life and I hope we hear more from you as you settle in.

Niccola said...

Thank you so much. I found your life in Dubai very attractive and quite comforting. I have wanted to move to Dubai 14 years now. I, somewhat foolishly now, purchased 2 properties in Spain 2000 as it was more convenient and more accessible for my family and friends to visit. I have a new baby, a delightful son, unfortunately I been left holding the baby after just 3 months. He is now 8 months and I feel ready to start my new life in Dubai. My intention is to move for a complete new life. Very encouraging and I thank you so very much....wishing you and your family a very happy, rewarding beautiful life.

Gregg said...

I have asked him if he will do regular updates but he and his family are very happy there.

Good luck with whatever decision you make.

MikeP said...

No worries at all Niccola. Glad you found it interesting and if you would like any information at all I'd be happy to help :-)