Eddie is an American expat who moved to the United Arab Emirates when his wife was offered a job there. In August 2016, they packed up their life in Texas, and along with their three children, headed to Abu Dhabi to start their new expat life. They have not looked back, and so far are enjoying their adventures in the Middle East.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Texas, USA
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Q: When did you move to Abu Dhabi?
A: August 2016
Q: Did you move alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Family. Wife and three kids - 11 year old boy, seven year old girl and two year old boy
Q: Why did you move to Abu Dhabi; what do you do?
A: My wife got a job as an academic vice principal here.
Living in Abu Dhabi
Q: What do you enjoy most about Abu Dhabi? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the US?
A: We love Abu Dhabi. It is so safe here and very kid friendly. There are so many activities and events that we enjoy and a lot of time, are at little or no cost to the public. We have much more free time to spend with the family than we did in the US.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: So far we love everything about being here. We do miss the food from the US and will always be on the hunt for the foods we like or are missing. We also miss friends and family of course.
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: We adjusted quite quickly and well since we arrived. We did not experience any culture shock from being here and became acclimated quite seamlessly. We actually have a blog post about it.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Abu Dhabi compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Housing and rent appear to be much higher than what we were used to. We are lucky we get a housing allowance. High-end restaurants and brunches can also be pricey as well as nice clothing compared to home. It seems like a lot of the material items and electronics are well priced and not overly marked up.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Abu Dhabi? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: We have not used public transit (bus) aside from taxis. Taxis are readily available and are very cheap. They are very convenient if you want to go out in the town and don’t want to drive. We do own a car and are in the process of getting a second one.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: We have only had minor visits so far but all have been great experiences. The wait time was very short and medical costs here are minimal, especially if you compare it to the US. The Cleveland Clinic and Burjeel Hospital are a couple of the big name facilities here in Abu Dhabi.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Abu Dhabi? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Abu Dhabi is the safest city in the world and the UAE as a whole is in the top five. There is no concern for safety here. You can leave a Louis Vuitton purse laying out without fear. You can forget your wallet somewhere with cash in it and will get it returned back to you intact.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Abu Dhabi? What different options are available for expats?
A: We live in a high-end expat apartment building and the housing is very nice. The amenities are also superb. There is a wide array of housing here from the lower priced studio apartments to the multimillion dollar penthouses or villas.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Al Reem Island is considered expat island and houses numerous apartment buildings. A lot of expats also live in Khalifa City and Al Reef, both of which contain more villa style housing.
Meeting people and making friends in Abu Dhabi
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: The locals here are very friendly and willing to help. This country is very open minded and are accepting of all religion and cultures. The local women uphold their cultural beliefs and standards by covering up as they prefer. They do insist that women of other cultures, out of respect, cover themselves as much as possible but nothing is enforced.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Abu Dhabi? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I have met a lot of friends through sports as well as Facebook groups. My wife has made friends through the expat teacher community. As long as you’re willing to engage, making friends should be no problem.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: My wife has made friends with locals at her school as there is a mix of teachers there. Her principal is also a local and they have become close. I have met a few locals from sports as well.
There are many sports and meetup groups that you can join to help meet people. Joining Facebook groups to meet friends is also a great idea.
Working in Abu Dhabi
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for the UAE? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: My wife’s work visa was done through her work. As for the sponsorship of the resident visas, we did that process on our own. It was quite arduous but manageable.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Abu Dhabi? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: It seems like the oil industry is steady but not booming like in recent years. Lots of job loss is occurring in that market.
My wife is in the education side and they are looking for education reform, hence, hiring a lot of outside teachers to help develop their educational system. It appears that there will always be a need for teachers.
As for other jobs like retail, food, service and labour, they tend to source those jobs towards people in the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Q: How does the work culture in Abu Dhabi differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the UAE?
A: I haven’t worked in an office or business setting to know what the day to day work culture is like. I’m sure there is a learning curve and communication barriers as you are dealing with people from all across the globe.
As for business owners, if I’m not mistaken, if you wanted to open your own business here, you will need to partner with a local to be able to do so. We aren’t well versed in the business side of this country as of yet.
Family and children in Abu Dhabi
Q: Did your wife have problems adjusting to her new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: I’m the spouse and again, we had no problem adjusting. If anything we all thrived since we got here.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: Our children also adapted fairly quickly. We got them involved in sports as fast as we could to give them some normalcy. We also decided against homeschooling them and putting them into private school, which they have enjoyed immensely. They probably would have been miserable if they were required to be homeschooled.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are a wide variety of private schools here, from American, British or IB curriculum to the demographic makeup of the school to the size of the schools to the prices. There is far too much information here to expand on.
Our kids go to a brand new American curriculum school and have loved it. Their teachers are great and they are involved in so many activities and sports with the team that we couldn’t be happier.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Abu Dhabi?
A: Just be open minded and willing to adapt. If you expect things to be like how they were at home, you will go crazy when things don’t go the way you had hoped. There’s no sense in stressing over the little things. Just be able to let things go and you will find your experience to be much more enjoyable.
~Interviewed May 2017