Originally from South Africa, Schalk moved to Bahrain in 2011 and then to Dubai in 2015. He shares some of his views on the great quality of life, excellent entertainment, superb healthcare and ample opportunities for adventure in the emirate, and why he and his wife are so happy to call Dubai home. Follow him on Instagram.
Read more about expat life in Dubai in our guide to Dubai.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Johannesburg, South Africa
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Q: When did you move here?
A: We moved to Dubai in 2015.
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, we’ve been expats for nine years; prior to Dubai, we lived in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: With my wife.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I was young and ambitious and up for an adventure. I planned a holiday to Bahrain to visit my wife’s (then girlfriend’s) family and just never went home… Nine years later, we are still in the Middle East and loving it. I currently work as a business development manager.
Living in Dubai
Q: What do you enjoy most about Dubai? How would you rate the quality of life compared to South Africa?
A: Safety, security, efficiency, everything just works… I love the advanced technology, the desert, the entertainment, the world-class sporting facilities and the fact that it’s clean and most certainly a leading first-world country. Dubai is an expensive city, but it offers a quality of life that very few countries in the world do.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: I think the only negative aspect of being an expat in Dubai is that it will never be home. Eventually you will have to leave, whether it’s 10 or 20 years down the line. Citizenship is not available even if you’ve been living in Dubai for 25 years. The only thing I miss about my home country is my family, Cape Town’s beautiful scenery, and winter!
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: Not really. I think it’s important to understand the local culture. If you respect the local culture, respect the authorities and abide by the laws of Dubai, you will never get into trouble, and you will love not only Dubai but also the UAE.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Dubai?
A: Dubai is undeniably expensive. However, salaries do compensate for the cost of living. Housing and the general cost of living are particularly expensive compared to South Africa. A one-bedroom apartment in a central area can range anywhere between ZAR 300,000 and 600,000 (USD 17,300–35,000) per year (that excludes furniture, water and electricity, AC charges, etc.).
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Dubai?
A: The public transport here is excellent. You can even get yourself an Uber helicopter! The metro is clean, affordable and cost-effective; the trams operate between areas such as JBR and The Palm Jumeirah. There’s three main taxi services, RTA, Hala and Careem.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Dubai? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Dubai has world-class healthcare. There’s also an area called Dubai Healthcare City, which caters to any and all healthcare needs an expat might have, with high-tech hospitals, medical teaching centres and pharmacies galore. Medi Clinic, Med Care and hundreds of reputable internationally recognised healthcare facilities and hospitals are located in Dubai.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Dubai? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I have never experienced any safety issues; this is one of the main reasons we love Dubai. My wife accidentally left her phone in a public taxi on three different occasions. The phone was delivered to our doorstep all three times.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Dubai? What different options are available for expats?
A: Dubai offers a variety of housing options for different incomes. I would however mention that the more affordable housing options are further from the central areas, such as Dubai Marina, JBR, Downtown, etc.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: If you’re single or a couple with no children, I would recommend Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) or Downtown. My wife and I have been living in JBR for five years, and we love it. The beach is on your doorstep, you have ample restaurant choices, and you are surrounded by excellent five-star hotels which boast beach bars, nightlife and great spa facilities. Marina Mall is within walking distance, and public transportation is unlimited with options such as electric bikes, electric scooters, the tram, the Metro and RTA taxis.
If you have a family and prefer to have a home with a garden where the kids can play outdoors, I would recommend Umm Suqeim, Jumeirah, Arabian Ranches, The Lakes or the Meadows.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Dubai?
A: Dubai is a multicultural city, with more than 200 nationalities living in the UAE. In 2019, we celebrated the Year of Tolerance. As Sheikh Mohammed said: “Tolerance is the cornerstone of advanced societies, intellectually and humanely, and one of the tools of empowering civilisations and ensuring stability and flourishing of nations”. I believe Dubai is a city that strives to be tolerant and accepting of different nationalities, cultures and even religions.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: As a South African, I found it incredibly easy to make friends. The large majority of South Africans in Dubai are awesome people. I would recommend anyone moving to Dubai to join the South Africans in Dubai Facebook page. With over 20,000 people, you will certainly be invited to a social or a braai day. The other option is to join the all-too-popular Friday Brunch scene.
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 with the locals?
A: We are fortunate to have many local friends; we also have friends of different nationalities. South Africans generally tend to stick together; however, that’s by choice. Buy yourself an off-road motorbike or 4x4, and you will certainly become friends with a local. They love the desert!
Working in Dubai
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: One thing that you need to be aware of is that you cannot live in the UAE without a valid work visa. Once you are employed, it is the employer’s responsibility to submit and arrange your legal status within the UAE and to provide you with medical insurance.
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: With Covid-19 and the economic strain it caused around the world, I would probably say it’s a tough time to get into the market. However, in normal circumstances, it’s best to contact reputable recruitment companies and search for positions on LinkedIn. Never ever pay any fees when applying for a job in Dubai; it’s against the law, as all fees should be covered by the employer. If you receive a request to pay for any fees, it is 100% a scam.
Family and children
Q: How has your wife adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Fortunately, my wife had lived in the Middle East prior to our move. She loves it!
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Dubai?
A: Join the South Africans in Dubai Facebook Page. Get involved with sports, whether it’s cycling, off-roading, hiking, off-road motorbiking or kitesurfing. You will instantly join a community of like-minded people. People in Dubai are social!
►Interviewed July 2020