Monday, 26 June 2017

Dubai: Catch-up / FAQ

I've been meaning to write this for a while as I never really talked about moving to Dubai on my blog before I moved and then I got here and wanted to wait awhile before I did. I've had a few questions as I never did a "moving away" type blog post or announcement. I didn't even tell most non-internet friends until about two months before I moved.

Hopefully this answers some questions or is just interesting! If there's anything else then just ask in the comments or send me a tweet and I'll do my best to answer.

Why move to Dubai?

I had too many summer clothes that I wasn't wearing enough for my liking...? My main motivation for moving here was work - I was feeling pretty uninspired with my job in London and all the things I loved about London life (parties, pub on a school night, 2am, an early twenties social life) were gradually fizzling away. I first visited Dubai in 2008, when the implications of the financial crisis had not quite sunk in and when it felt like a city filled with crazy optimism and where literally anything was possible (the air conditioned beach never did get built - sad!). My twenty-one year-old self, in the way that you can at that age thought "cool, maybe I'll live here one day!" because when you're 21 it feels like life milestones will just happen and you'll wake-up at 25 with a house and a husband and ooh, maybe you'll live abroad? Anyway, once Brexit happened and my 30th birthday started looming large without marriage/babies/joining Guardian Soulmates sounding appealing I started looking for jobs and updating my CV and doing some research etc. and then the planets aligned and I had a job offer a few months later.

What do you do?

I work as a corporate lawyer for a British law firm's Dubai office. I've never really talked about what I "do" do on this blog but maybe I will another day.

But, are women allowed to work in the Middle East?

Oh, wait, sorry, I've actually been on holiday for the last few months while my imaginary husband brings home the (turkey) bacon... The UAE (of which Dubai is a part of) kindly allows women to work, drive cars and fly fighter jets... Working for a British firm out here my day-to-day working experience is not affected at all by being a woman at all. I mean, no more than it was in London - there's obviously still a way to go before certain careers become gender-equal but, again, maybe one for another day.

What is the working culture like?

General working hours here are 9am - 6pm so the working day is slightly longer than in London although working as a lawyer generally entails leaving the office later than 6pm the world over. The working week is Sunday - Thursday with Friday and Saturday as the weekend, it takes some getting used to. Most of my colleagues are ex-pats, it helps to break the ice as everyone has had the same trials of settling in to new country. Lawyers are generally introverts and senior male colleagues don't care about my love of shoe shopping but we can all joke about the crazy weather or complain about the traffic. It's definitely been an easier ride bonding with junior colleagues here than if I'd moved to an American or European city in which others had grown-up in - I'm actually yet to meet anyone who is Dubai born and bred.

Where do you live?

I live in "Downtown Dubai" as I wanted a short commute to work (a thirty minute walk or 5-10 minute taxi ride compared with my five-minute walk in London). Ex-pats don't live in gated communities here or anything like that - there are a few popular neighborhoods but it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle, if you're happy to buy a car then you have a lot more choice as to where to live but you'll have to contend with traffic, road tolls and a slightly different driving style to the UK. Dubai isn't a cheap city to live in but, IMO, you get a nicer apartment for your money then I could have dreamed of in London.

What did you do to prepare?

I'd already visited Dubai on holiday four of five times so I had a good idea of what the city was like. My father grew up in Iran so while I've only ever lived in the UK I do feel like that having the cultural understanding was a huge benefit, both in making my decision and settling in to life here. That said, a lot of people move here without ever visiting and having no connection to the region. I would recommend that you visit somewhere at least once before uprooting your life. I read blogs like Laura's while worrying about where on earth I would get my haircut and Expat Woman is more useful than the girly pink site design suggests.

In terms of practical preparation, the visa process was dealt with my employer (I think this is usually the case) and I was able to ship some possessions over. Most of the practical things have to wait until you arrive - until your visa and Emirates ID card are issued you can't open a bank account or rent an apartment. My employer provided me with temporary accommodation for the first month and that gave me plenty of time to find somewhere to live.

Do you have to dress in a certain way?

Not really. Five days a week I'm in the office so my usual dress, cardi (for the aircon) and heels uniform works just as well as it did in London. If you are visiting a court here (in a professional capacity only I would hope) then there is a stricter dress code, as there is for courts in the UK (cue a panic-stricken trip to New Look for a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved blouse). If you're visiting as a tourist you can wear what you like in hotels and on beaches but hot pants and cropped tops are not appropriate for a trip to the mall (that doesn't mean that I don't frequently see these eye-roll inducing outfits - ultimately Dubai is a conservative country so just exercise some common sense and you'll be fine).

Can you drink alcohol?

Yes! No this wasn't my most-asked question and I'm not reading into it in any way.

Is there any culture? Isn't it all just huge shopping malls?

Shopping is quite a big activity here but no complaints from me there. There are miles of beaches, a huge dessert, an old town and a fledgling gallery district. Cafe culture is huge and I enjoy eating avocado on toast in places that would fit right in in East London but here there's me with my bashed Kindle and on the next table its traditionally dressed locals Instastorying their avo toast with a gold-plated iPhone. People stay up late with or without alcohol, the warm evenings are lush and the best thing about living here as everything is open late. My list of things to do is still huge (theme parks, museums, hotels hidden in the dessert dunes - done!). Sometimes I feel like I could be anywhere in the world but Dubai definitely has it's own culture and personality. The city is clean and safe and I never have to tip-toe around puke or pretend I can't hear drunken men shouting at me.

Any tips?

Not Dubai specific but for moving anyway I'd say don't stress too much about packing - one suitcase was all I had for my first 6 weeks but 8-10 work outfits, 3-4 weekend outfits and workout clothes is more than enough. Once all my other stuff turned up I felt a bit blah about it. Take each day as it comes as you'll go crazy thinking about all the things you need to do and buy and sort out at once. Ask lots of questions but don't take everyone's answers as gospel - figure things out for yourself too and don't mix up someone's opinion with fact (someone told me that you couldn't buy tampons here and, er, you can so use your suitcase space for something else). They'll be ups and downs and times when you question your decision but highs and lows and "what ifs" featured in my London life, too.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad about wanting to make your own adventure - we don't get another chance to do this all again. I used to feel envious of friends who were living abroad until I realised that there was nothing stopping me besides my own feelings of "I can't do that". You can.


  1. Such an insightful post! I've been itching to move somewhere new lately - I just love the idea of a fresh new start in a new, exciting city! x

  2. This was a really interesting read! It's so awesome you moved to another country to work - I'd love to do something like that as well.

  3. !! Really really enjoyed reading about this, I have a few friends who's also in Dubai / who have been and are all lawyers hahaha. I've been to Dubai once for a stopover and I think I would also quite like the idea of moving to another place for a couple of years... I think you should / could do more dubai-themed posts???

    Also I studied law and now looking to go back (? not really, I went into law in the first place) into it so I am hoping you do a post on your actual job job! ;-)

    Cherie ✿ sinonym

  4. Really interesting post, Lily. I think you're so brave for uprooting your life like this, and I'm so pleased it's paying off.

  5. Love this, thanks for writing it! I love hearing about your adventures in Dubai and, as I've said, admire you so much for making such a big change. I'd love to be able to something like this. I hope if I did ever get the opportunity to work abroad I'd take it, even if it meant being further from home and my family.

  6. This is so interesting. I have a bit of a bad impression of Dubai I think- everyone I know who has been on holiday there has loved it, but they do things I don't like (eg spend the day in a water park or a shopping mall). I had also seen things about unmarried people not being able to stay in the same hotel room (which is me), so that worried me too. It maybe sounds stupid but I never considered there would be museums or anything like that. Warm evenings are the best- it's so nice when things are open late.

  7. I was so excited for you when you said that you were living in Dubai. It has such a nice vibe and well done you for making your own adventure.


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