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Interview with an American expat living in Abu Dhabi

Updated 12 May 2011

This anonymous American expat living in Abu Dhabi found the city easy enough to settle into and foreign friends even easier to come by. She’s now an active member of the American Women’s Network, an organisation that aids new expats in dealing with the challenges that come with adaptation.

Read more about Abu Dhabi in the Expat Arrivals Abu Dhabi country guide.

About our anonymous interviewee

Q: Where are you originally from?

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Abu Dhabi

Q: How long have you lived here?
A: 2 years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: Yes, both

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband took a job in Abu Dhabi, and our family moved with him.

About Abu Dhabi

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? How’s the quality of life in Abu Dhabi?
A: It’s very easy for an expat to adjust to the culture and make other expat friends in Abu Dhabi; overall, it’s a very easy city to live in. Americans afraid of the Middle East should have no fears about living here.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Haphazard parking, strange laws, difficulty in socialising with locals, bureaucratic systems, widespread use of pidgin English. I don’t miss anything about home because I go back twice a year and know we will return home within the next three years.

Q: Is Abu Dhabi safe?
A: I feel absolutely safe here.

About living in Abu Dhabi

Q: What are the best places/suburbs in Abu Dhabi as an expat?
A: On-island is more convenient but more expensive than off-island. I feel there are no ‘bad’ places to live.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Abu Dhabi?
A: Very good; however, many expats live in apartments.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Abu Dhabi compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Housing in Abu Dhabi is very expensive, although gradually decreasing in cost. Make sure you have a generous housing allowance or an increase in salary to cover high housing costs.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Locals are very gracious and thoughtful, although they become monsters behind a steering wheel. Although they consider themselves to be very hospitable, it is not in the Western sense. Having tried very hard the first year I was here, I have now given up on meeting locals and mix mainly with expats.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes.

About working in Abu Dhabi

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: My husband did not. Take maximum advantage of services offered by your employer because the bureaucracy is sometimes overwhelming.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city? Is there plenty of work?
A: It is probably better than the US right now but is slowing in some fields, such as design and construction, because major construction projects have been put on hold.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My husband did not enjoy being here alone for the first four months. We have both adjusted very well since the whole family has been reunited.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: My daughter hated the idea of moving here before her junior year of high school, but she loves it now and is sad to leave for college back in the US.

Q: What are the schools in Abu Dhabi like? Do you have any particular suggestions?
A: All expats attend private schools. Private schools equal to Western standards are rather expensive, but the tuition should be included in a good expat package. The selection of American schools is rather slim, so admission is competitive. My daughter’s school (the American school with the strongest reputation) is good, not excellent. However, the cultural value of relocating here has exceeded the slight decline in the quality of her schooling.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi?
A: If you are healthy, it is great. The medical staff is very good with customer service and the alleviation of symptoms. Medical staff here is much more patient-oriented and accessible than in the US. However, I would not have a major procedure done here. From anecdotal experience, I would observe that the doctors are not very good diagnosticians.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Turn down your inner speedometer. Truly accept the culture, even that which you disagree with. You aren’t going to change anything, so live with it and find a way to enjoy it.

► Interviewed May 2011

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