Lindsey Parry is no stranger to travelling. Born in Scotland, she has lived in London, Dubai and Australia, before making Abu Dhabi her home in 2013. She shares her experiences of life in Abu Dhabi, and offers insightful information about how to make the most of living there. Her blog, Arabian Notes, is an incredibly useful resource for anyone moving to Abu Dhabi, and make sure to follow her on Twitter too.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in the UK, in Scotland, but I spent most time growing up in England.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I now live in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Q: When did you move to Abu Dhabi?
A: I moved to Abu Dhabi in January 2013, although we had previously lived in the UAE, in Dubai since 2006.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I first moved to the UAE alone back in 2006. This time, I relocated with my husband to Abu Dhabi from Australia.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: Originally I moved out here for a job opportunity. I've always worked in media and back in 2006 I was offered a position with a publishing company in Dubai, so I made the move from London life to Dubai. The second time we moved was for my husband's job.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Abu Dhabi? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I love that it's always sunny and that tends to make people much more smiley than I was used to back home. The quality of life is far better here than I could ever imagine at home. It's a completely different way of life in so many ways - it's just much easier here and there are many more opportunities for every aspect of life.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: There are always some negatives, but the main thing is how you accept and deal with them. The bureaucracy can be frustrating as can the level of customer service at times - living in a country with so many nationalities and different cultures and 'normals' there's bound to be some room for confusion or misunderstanding at times! Aside from that, the hardest thing about being away from home is being away from family and friends, but on the bright side, they get plenty of opportunities to come and visit for sunny holidays!
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Abu Dhabi? Did you experience any culture shock?
A: I don't think there's really any culture shock when you come to the UAE, particularly as everyone speaks English on a daily basis and there are lots of familiar sights of home, and the 'comforts' or luxuries we can enjoy here certainly help! The biggest adjustment is probably really just realising that despite the lack of culture shock, this is a Muslim country and there is a code of conduct to follow in dress codes (not showing shoulders in public or wearing clothes that are too short etc) and it's important to show respectful behaviour.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Some things are cheaper here and some things are more expensive. Rent tends to be expensive here in Abu Dhabi as demand outstrips supply, but there are some relative bargains to be had in Dubai still where the reverse is true. I often hear people complain about how expensive it is here but it really depends on what sort of lifestyle you choose to lead here, it is possible to live very cheaply if you're not interested in all the luxury lifestyle trappings. People often say that even supermarket shopping is expensive, but again, it really depends what you buy, I think the key is to embrace your new lifestyle. If you buy exactly the same things you would at home then yes, your supermarket bill will be very expensive, but if you look for local alternatives and try new things then again, you can actually spend very little.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Abu Dhabi? Do you need to own a car?
A: Owning a car certainly makes life much easier here, and that's one thing that's much cheaper than at home on the whole. There is a good bus system and a park and ride route within the city although not all buses are air conditioned and there can be long waits with the volume of traffic.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi?
A: The healthcare here is very good, although again, with medical staff from all backgrounds from all over the world expectations and standards can be very different at times. I've not really had any bad experiences but I would say that it pays to know what and where your health insurance will cover, as in the event of an emergency you don't want to be stuck somewhere that won't cover you and need to be moved. It just pays to know you can go straight to somewhere you can be comfortable and confident in.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Abu Dhabi? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Not really, it's very safe here on the whole and the crime rate is very low in comparison to other world cities. It is easy to become very relaxed here but I'd say it's still wise to not become too complacent, whilst it is usually safe to walk alone even at night in most places, there's no point in asking for trouble.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Abu Dhabi? What different options are available for expats?
A: The standard of housing is very high, but choices can be limited because demand tends to outstrip supply and the best places go very quickly. There is a mixture of older and newly built properties in the city, but all have central air conditioning and tend to be pretty spacious. I've found that even most apartments have much larger rooms and living areas than I'd ever been used to in London.
Q: Any areas or suburbs in Abu Dhabi you’d recommend to expats?
A: It really depends what you're looking for, popular areas on Abu Dhabi island itself are Khalidiya which is right in the heart of the old city, Reem Island is all newly built and is close to the city but rents are reflected in this proximity to the city. Other popular areas off-island are Khalifa City, Al Muneera and Al Zeina which all have their own communities and facilities and are close to lots of schools and all the activities Yas Island has to offer. Saadiyat Island is also popular as all the properties are newly built and has beautiful beaches - there aren't a huge amount of facilities that have been built there yet, it's still a work in progress but it is probably one of the most expensive places to live because of the access to beach (arguably the best beach in Abu Dhabi) and ocean.
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: Locals and expats live and work side by side here therefore I wouldn’t say there are many problems. There are churches here for all kinds of different religions too, tolerance is a big part of the understanding the UAE has been built on and this remains true as long as expats remain respectful to the culture of the country.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Abu Dhabi? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It's pretty easy to make friends here as everyone is ether in the same boat, or has been so people tend to be very understanding and very ready to welcome people. There are loads of groups you can join to make friends too according to your specific interests - Abu Dhabi Mums, sports clubs, business and networking groups like the British Business Group, American Women's Business Group and so on (these groups exist for most nationalities) and meetup.com is great for finding active social groups of just about any type you can imagine! I wrote a post on the blog on this subject a while back that might be useful.
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: We know a few locals through work but tend to mix mainly with expats (from all over the world). The expat population here makes up for the majority so there are a lot of us around! As for social groups, see my previous answer.
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: If you come here to start a job the company will take care of the visa and paperwork for you, and if you come here without a job, once you secure one again, the company will usually process the visa for you. For men on a family contract, the company will usually process the visas for your wife and kids too. It can be more complicated for a woman to sponsor her husband and kids, whether it is allowed or not usually depends on income and the specific job title they hold.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Generally speaking offers tend to be better when you are recruited from overseas although lots of people do come here looking for a job and are successful. LinkedIn is used a lot to advertise jobs here and other well-known sites are gulftalent.com and bayt.com. As is the case elsewhere, the best jobs are often not advertised and finding them will come down to luck and your connections in the market. The UAE is a market where relationships and connections are very important.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Abu Dhabi?
A: The work culture is similar yet different, it's hard to explain until you work here! There can be a bit of a learning curve at first as you will be working with people from different cultures from all over the world which can take a bit of getting used to, different ways of doing things and so on. It's also wise to do some reading on the local customs and business etiquette to avoid any awkward situations.
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: One of the hardest things for trailing spouses is often the challenge of finding work. Part time work opportunities are very rare here so for women with a family, it's mostly all or nothing, it's hard to find a flexible solution.
Q: What are the schools like?
A: We're not at that stage yet but popular schools for expats are the British School Al Khubeirat, Cranleigh, Brighton College, Al Yasmina, GEMS schools to name just a few. See this page for a comprehensive listing of international schools in Abu Dhabi. Whichschooladvisor.com also has great info on everything you might want to know about schools here.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Don't be scared, we are very lucky to have an amazing lifestyle here. Just come, get stuck into getting settled in and make sure you get out and meet people and everything else will fall into place. Whilst we have a lot of luxuries here and the same home comforts, things are different to home so don't come expecting them to be the same. Be flexible, keep an open mind and you'll be fine. This is a Muslim country but it's very liberal and tolerant and as long as you remember to respect the culture you won't have any problems.
~ Interviewed October 2015