British Expat in United Arab Emirates - Interviewing Helen

Published: 10 Feb at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,United Arab Emirates
Helen has been to 48 countries in four decades in search of the answer to the question: "Why do people live where they do?" She hasn't found the answer yet but has had fun trying. A journalist and freelance communications consultant, she created to document her travels when she moved aboard to live. She is known for being sport mad (all sports), running or cycling long distances (just mad) and being competitive (in everything). Helen's expat blog is called Expat Explorers (see listing here)

Meet Helen - British expat in UAE
Meet Helen - British expat in UAE

Here's the interview with Helen...

Where are you originally from?
UK. Born in Cardiff, brought up in Kent, house in Surrey. I'm pretty sure I got the taste for travel as I was dragged to the top of mount Snowdon as a ten week old baby (admittedly carried by my father.)

In which country and city are you living now?
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been here for 15 months. We'll stay here as long as life is still exciting, or until work takes us to somewhere new.

Why did you move and what do you do?
We moved here with my husband's work. I work as a freelance writer/ marketing consultant so I can be flexible looking after young children and can take my work with me when I move. I've also been studying interior design for years so gather inspiration from my travels.

Dubai sunset
Dubai sunset
Did you bring family with you?
Yes, we have two young daughters. Madeleine is five and Tilda is three.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Both my husband and I lived abroad as children so we've always been pretty open minded to the proposition of being expats in adulthood. He lived in France and I lived in Kuwait. It has certainly made us more accepting of other cultures so we're keen our children have similar experiences. We moved from our home country to Chicago three years ago and then to Dubai, so we've been pretty busy moving around. In fact we've had eight homes in eight years.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Each country is different because the cultures are different. In Chicago we lived in the suburbs were people were very settled and we were infiltrating their close-knit community. The fact that we were obviously transient meant that we had to make more of an effort to meet people and socialise, but we made some great friends. It wasn't an expat community so there were no common or shared experiences. Dubai is completely different. 90% of people here are expats, so there is a great support network. You make friends every fast and people move in and move out regularly. It means that firm friendships are made much quicker.

Camel sign
Camel sign
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
I love exploring the surrounding area. It very easy to stay in Dubai and ignore the fact that there are other parts of the country to visit. Not only will you be able to put your expat experience into context, but you'll get a enhanced understanding of Emirati life if you visit the surrounding mountains, coastal areas and towns. This could mean adventures walking, camping or visiting forts.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The winter weather. The summer is humid and reaches 50C. For a good four months it's very difficult to be outside at all. But the winter months from November to March especially are perfect. In the UK it is practically impossible to organise a picnic or an outside event without having a wet weather plan. And of course the Brits like to talk about the weather.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The UK is an expensive place to live, but I was surprised how expensive Dubai is when you compare like for like. For example a UK clothes shop operating here would be more expensive like for like than in the UK. Food is also expensive as everything is flown in. However, petrol is a tenth of the price. There are people here from all walks of life, so whether you shop at Prada or the local market you'll find something to suit you.

Madeleine & Tilda riding a camel
Madeleine & Tilda riding a camel
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The intense heat and humidity in the summer takes a little time to adapt to especially if you have children to entertain. The bureaucracy also takes some getting used to, so the first six months setting up your house can be stressful, but there is plenty of support out there in the form of other expats. Also if you want to save the planet, you also need to understand that the UAE is a little behind the western world. Again with so many cultures in this melting pot, there are different approaches and understanding. Things are changing but slowly.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Try not to get hot under the collar when it comes to bureaucracy. Just remember it will get sorted and it will get better. And then you can enjoy the beautiful sunsets with a glass of something cold (as long as you have an alcohol license!).

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I thought the most difficult element was going to be settling the children into a new way of life, moving from the frozen plains of the US Mid West to the frying pan of the Middle East. But they have generally taken it in their stride. The most difficult part of expat life is being away from family and friends.

Camping in the Ras al Khaimah mountains
Camping in the Ras al Khaimah mountains
When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
This is an issue that does bother me. We still have a house in the UK and plan to move back at some stage before the children reach secondary education. We also understand that we can't just slot back in as other people's lives have moved into. The hole we may have left when we moved won't necessarily be the same shape when we move back. That said, we've worked hard to stay in contact with people, which is much easier to do with today's technology.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Take everything in your stride.
  2. Keep a diary of your experiences, especially if you have young children who may not remember it.
  3. Don't stay indoors. If you're the homemaker, you'll need to make an effort to meet people. Join a club, meet your neighbours or volunteer for something.
  4. Find a forum - a little bit of internet research will enable you to find a local outlet for all the questions you may have.
  5. Have, or find, a sense of humour. Getting a parking ticket on your first day of driving in a new country is a funny story further down the track not a disaster.

Tallest building in the World, Burj Khalifa, and dancing fountains
Tallest building in the World, Burj Khalifa, and dancing fountains
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
expatexplorers offers a lighthearted insight into travel from the perspective of a young family. It's observational approach offers readers a colourful dimension unavailable in guidebooks. It's about giving a flavour for a destination to whet the whistle. is a home for my ramblings and photos, an archive for my memories, an outlet for my observations, and finally a gift for my children who have been dragged around the World for most of their lives. I want them to have an insight into how the World ticks, and their place in it, when they are old enough to read it.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Contact me through my website, Twitter (@helenmcclure)

Helen blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Expat Explorers has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Helen, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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