British Expat Living in United Arab Emirates - Interview with Ruth

Published: 2 Nov at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,United Arab Emirates
Ruth started her married life as a British expat in Australia so when an opportunity arose for another overseas adventure she and her husband, Tim jumped at the chance. Ruth originally trained as a drama teacher and enjoyed a successful career in secondary and further education before retraining as a journalist. For a number of years she worked as a food, features writer and editor for a regional newspaper group in the north of England. She is now a freelance writer and runs her own PR consultancy from home - wherever that may be! Ruth documents her current expat experiences on her blog, Dubai Diaries where she focuses on culture, travel and food. Ruth's expat blog is called Ruth Badley (see listing here)

The only way is up – the record breaking Burj Khalifa, standing tall at 830m.
The only way is up – the record breaking Burj Khalifa, standing tall at 830m.

Here's the interview with Ruth...

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in London but made my home in Harrogate, North Yorkshire over 20 years ago.

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

How long have you lived in United Arab Emirates and how long are you planning to stay?
I moved to Dubai in February 2015 with my husband and we plan to stay for two to three years.

Why did you move to United Arab Emirates and what do you do?
We have both amassed years of experience in our chosen fields and still have the energy and enthusiasm to embrace a new challenge. Most of our contemporaries in the UK were planning to retire but we felt we weren't quite ready to give up work. The move to Dubai came about through my husband's employment but it had to feel right for both of us. Whilst Tim relished the prospect of developing new business within the UAE, the move would give me the opportunity to combine my existing work with some personal development and the time to pursue the leisure and learning activities that interested me.

Thanks to modern communications I knew I would still be able to continue working with clients based in the UK and Europe in much the same way as before and be able to stay in regular touch with family and friends back home. The ease of travel back to the UK, plus the relatively small time difference between locations, were further plus points. Funnily enough, at the time we were preparing for the move a TV advertising campaign on Dubai was running in the UK. Seeing images of this vibrant city and its stunning modern buildings just added to the excitement and anticipation I felt about moving here.

Ravi's inexpensive and tasty curries always hit the spot for expats that love authentic Pakistani food
Ravi's inexpensive and tasty curries always hit the spot for expats that love authentic Pakistani food
Did you bring family with you?
We have two adult sons, one based in France and the other in London. We talked the opportunity over with both of them and their encouragement made us feel very confident that we were making the right decision. We have given our wider family and friends a very good reason to add Dubai to the holiday destination list for the next couple of years and we hope they will take the chance to visit us whilst we are here. Ours sons have both been over to see us since we moved and we have also enjoyed a holiday together in Venice. It is very exciting for all of us to be thinking about the next time we can meet up and where that might be.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
There is an initial pain barrier to go through to obtain official residency when all the processes and documentation seem to dominate every aspect of your life. Being a guest in a country that is not your own is probably character-building but it didn't feel that way at the time! From opening a bank account to finding out where you can buy coat hooks, it's all new. The learning curve is enormous. Luckily, most expats have been there before so asking around and studying useful information, shared through various online expat forums is a helpful way for new arrivals to get quick and accurate answers. In the early days everyone you meet is a source of useful information. Organisations and systems do operate differently here and too much comparison with home can lead to frustrations. There some aspects of life that you just have to accept are different. For example, purchasing alcohol for home consumption from some outlets requires a special licence and patience is required because it takes several weeks to obtain one. On the other hand, other aspects of everyday living are much more convenient in Dubai than in the UK and for the majority of expats, the financial rewards are much greater here than in their home country.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
As soon as we moved into an apartment I made socialising my mission because I knew I would miss my friends in the UK. I enjoy working from home but it is very isolating and I was conscious that without workplace colleagues I had to get myself involved in leisure activities I enjoy doing and then friendships would develop. All my friends are expats but they are not all British. Dubai is home to people from all over the world and they are all thrown together in this unique Dubai bubble! The expat community outnumbers the local Emirati population by one in nine according to a recent report. There is consequently a diverse social scene but like everywhere else you have to make an effort to meet, get to know people and find a circle of friends that you click with. If you haven’t had to go out of your way to make friends for a long time it can feel a little daunting at first but it is pretty likely everyone you meet is more or less in the same situation.

Iftar events offer visitors and expats an insight into Emirati culture during the holy month of Ramadan
Iftar events offer visitors and expats an insight into Emirati culture during the holy month of Ramadan
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
A trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, has to be on everyone’s list. There are two observation decks, on the 124th and 148th floors and on a clear day the views across Downtown, and from above Dubai’s dancing fountains, are spectacular.

Explore the waterfront around the Creek for a flavour of Old Dubai where traditional wooden dhows are loaded and unloaded. Take an abra (water taxi) across and take in the Arabian atmosphere around the Gold and Spice Souk.

Beg, borrow or save up, but make a booking for Friday brunch or afternoon tea at Al Muntaha, the top floor restaurant at the iconic Burj Al Arab. Nothing symbolises Dubai’s capacity for conspicuous opulence quite like the interior of the world’s most luxurious hotel. From here you can see The Palm, Dubai’s artificial island development and its Disney-like Atlantis hotel resort.

For a down to earth and more authentic Dubai experience Deira Fish Market is an eye opener and for delicious, affordable Pakistani food, Ravi is a firm favourite with curry loving expats.

Experience the desert. Head out of the city to the Liwa Oasis in the so called Empty Quarter. Camel rides, dune racing, date plantations, as well as an insight into the traditional Bedouin way of life is available just three and half hours’ drive from cosmopolitan Dubai.

What do you enjoy most about living in United Arab Emirates?
The view from our balcony! We look out to the Burj Khalifa, a majestic structure that dominates the skyline in Downtown Dubai. I never tire of looking at it and I love where I live. We have an apartment in a low-rise heritage development in the best location for eating out, shopping and socialising. I can walk to everything I need and taxis are plentiful and inexpensive for longer journeys.
Crime is virtually unknown here and I feel very safe as a woman to walk around on my own. The culture of honesty here is heart-warming. My husband recently lost his wallet. It was handed in to the police with all the cash and credit cards untouched and this is very much the norm. This is also a very polite and respectful culture and it is simply not appropriate to ‘lose it’ in public. Altercations and drunken behaviour are not tolerated here and consequently don’t occur.
Living in Dubai allows me to get to know interesting people from all over the world, from all backgrounds and all ages. I also love the ease of travel from Dubai to places that I would never have considered visiting from the UK. So far we have enjoyed mini-breaks in Oman, Lebanon and Jordan and we hope to visit northern India in the coming months.
The opportunities for arts education and participation here are much more than I could have anticipated. In the first few months I have completed a screenwriting course, started writing a screenplay, (that may yet turn into a novel) and performed in new work by local playwrights. I am currently participating in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Globe Theatre, London and hope to be involved in a performance project taking place in Dubai during 2016.
Coming from the UK, I appreciate being warm! After winters (and frankly many summers) in North Yorkshire, Dubai's consistently high temperatures are still a novelty. Yes, there are two or three months when heat and humidity are a challenge but still preferable to the rain, sleet, snow and ice of a typical Yorkshire winter.

How does the cost of living in United Arab Emirates compare to home?
With a few notable exceptions, such as petrol and domestic cleaning services most things are about 10-15% more expensive here than at home. In the first few weeks I wondered how we would afford to eat as the supermarket prices were such a shock. So much has to be imported and to buy a small, ethically reared chicken is easily double the UK price. I try to buy locally produced eggs, fruit and vegetables when possible because I prefer to support local farmers and businesses.
New arrivals will also be shocked at the rental prices and the advance payments required here to secure an apartment for a year's tenancy. Even if an employer pays an accommodation allowanc the amounts are eye-watering when they have to be handed over in one or two payments.
Most expats make a beeline to Ikea for affordable homewares and furniture to get life started and once you start to explore and ask around there are ‘deals’ and voucher systems in place at many restaurants. Shops, away from the glitzy malls, offer more realistic prices.

You don’t have to stay at one of Dubai’s smart hotels to enjoy the treat for the senses available in every lobby
You don’t have to stay at one of Dubai’s smart hotels to enjoy the treat for the senses available in every lobby
What negatives, if any, are there to living in United Arab Emirates?
No postal delivery to your home address. I do miss the UK post office and the daily postal service.
I don't particularly like giving my mobile phone number in so many commercial transactions but that's how they do it here. Unwanted phone calls are usually the result.
Friendships don’t get the chance to develop over time as they have for me in the UK because Dubai’s expat population is very transient. Many people travel widely and frequently with their jobs so making arrangements to meet up with the same group of people on a regular basis is practically impossible. It’s something you have to get used to. There always seems to be someone leaving for good so you find you are saying goodbye to people just as you are starting to get to know them. I am conscious that I won’t be here for that long either and consequently am much less reserved than I would be in the UK!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to United Arab Emirates, what would it be?
Don’t expect everything to be like home. Embrace the differences and look for the positives.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Getting the one phone call that all expats dread - the one that indicates a close relative is dangerously ill. My mother suffered a stroke just three months after we moved here. I will be forever grateful that I was able to get back to the UK before she died. She was very supportive of our move here and we used to share our news every week via Skype. I am very sad that I can no longer share my expat experience with her.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Going back will be strange. I remember coming back to the UK from Australia. When I was there I was homesick for the UK but when I returned I missed OZ. An expat experience changes you as a person and I feel sure after a couple of years here it will be a huge adjustment. I have started to think about it though, and how I can avoid winter in the UK!

Time for tea – a selection of indulgent afternoon treats. Who could resist?
Time for tea – a selection of indulgent afternoon treats. Who could resist?
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Do some research on life in Dubai. Expat websites have a wealth of useful information and the answers to most of your questions will be online.
  2. Come for a visit first to see which area you would prefer to live in – there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to all of them and you need to make the right choice to get your expat life off to the best start.
  3. Whatever your interests, age and outlook, you will find a group of like-minded people in Dubai. It may take a little digging, but they are here, so don’t give up!
  4. Dubai is a major travel hub and a great place to begin or extend your exploration of the rest of the world. Indulge your wanderlust and get to those places you always wanted to see, whilst you are here.
  5. Enrich your experience of Emirati culture by attending events organised by the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started my Dubai Diaries blog as a way to keep friends and family informed and up to date on the aspects of our adventure that I thought they would find interesting and hopefully entertaining. I mostly write about arts, travel, entertainment and food, plus my own somewhat quirky observations on our new lifestyle. Now I have been doing it for a while I can see it has become a really good way to document aspects of our experience that other people embarking on a similar journey could find useful.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Visit my blog as you can send me an email from there, leave a comment or ask me a question. I always reply! You can also connect with me on Twitter.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingRuth is a British expat living in United Arab Emirates. Blog description: Dubai Diaries - a blog to record and share my expat experiences in Dubai. I write about lifestyle, culture,food, entertainment and the places I visit.
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