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Interview with Marike – a South African expat living in Abu Dhabi

Updated 12 Sep 2019

Marike left South Africa in 2012. She has lived in Switzerland, Belgium, China and the UAE. She moved to the UAE three years ago and started working in Dubai. She then moved to Abu Dhabi. Currently, she is a kindergarten teacher working at a charter school. Follow her on Instagram to keep updated on her adventures.

Read more about expat life in the United Arab Emirates in our Expat Arrivals UAE country guide

About MarikeMarike_Roberts_Au_Dhabi_0.jpg

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from South Africa.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: I am currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Q: When did you move here?
A: I moved to the UAE in 2016.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No. My first taste of the unknown started back in 2012 when I boarded a plane to Switzerland to become an au pair.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I came to the UAE by myself.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to the UAE to work as a kindergarten teacher. 

Living in Abu Dhabi

Q: What do you enjoy most about Abu Dhabi? How would you rate the quality of life compared to South Africa?
A: The thing I like most about Abu Dhabi is that it is a very safe city. There is so much to do in the UAE and I get to meet people from all over the world. That's something I would never have been able to experience in South Africa.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: So far, I have had my ups and downs, but that happens everywhere. You just have to learn to roll with the punches. The things I miss most about home are my family and of course the food. Luckily for us, there are so many South Africans here that you are never too far away from someone speaking Afrikaans, offering you a piece of biltong or inviting you for a braai.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I had to learn to fend for myself. I had to learn to speak up and make sure that I was heard. The first time that I was in an accident, I realised that I couldn’t call my dad to sort it out, it was my job now.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Abu Dhabi?
A: I earn in dirhams, so the cost of living is not that high for me. The trouble comes once you start converting. But on a teacher’s salary, you can live quite a luxurious life if you are able to manage your finances.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in your city?
A: Abu Dhabi has buses that will take you almost anywhere. On the other hand, renting a car is very affordable, and the petrol is extremely cheap. So, most people end up renting or buying a car.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals?
A: The UAE, according to me, has an excellent healthcare system. I’m lucky that I don’t get sick a lot, but the few times I’ve had to go to a doctor, I was quite impressed with the service and quality.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Abu Dhabi or the UAE? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Living in the UAE, there are thousands of expats and everyone is here for one purpose – work. That being said, everyone is friendly and helpful, they understand that we are all far away from home, so if you’re ever in a situation where you need help someone will come to your rescue.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Abu Dhabi? What different options are available for expats?
A: There are many different housing options available depending on your budget. You can rent anything from a room in a Villa to your own villa – it all depends on what you want to spend.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: In Abu Dhabi, it depends on your budget. I am currently staying in Al Raha, close to Yas Island, and I love it. I’m close to the beach, restaurants and other expat communities.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Abu Dhabi?
A: Not at all. The locals are very welcoming towards foreigners.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes. I made a lot of friends at the school that I was working at when I first got here. From there, you meet new people through your school friends. There are many meet-up groups set up to meet other expats around Abu Dhabi.

Working in Abu Dhabi

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: As long as you have the correct qualifications, getting a work permit in the UAE is fairly easy. The school’s HR took care of the whole process for us. The only thing you will have to do is pass your medical test.

Q: What is the economic climate in the city like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The easiest way to find a job is through an agent. They will guide you through the whole process from A to Z.

Q: How does the work culture differ from South Africa? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the city or country? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to the local business culture?
A: In the UAE, it is all about performance. The workday is long and the pressure is high, but it is definitely worth it. Working in the UAE is hard work, I won’t lie.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Abu Dhabi or the UAE?
A: My advice to anyone looking to work in the UAE – come!! It is an amazing experience and very rewarding. It takes time to adjust, of course, but you are never alone. There is always someone who is willing to help you and show you the ropes.

► Interviewed September 2019

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