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Interview with Cristy – an American expat living in Abu Dhabi

Updated 4 Jan 2012

Cristy is an American wife and mother from Virginia. She's been married to her husband for 16+ years and has two awesome teenagers. In December 2010, she quit her job of almost 10 years in the mortgage industry and packed up the kids and pets to follow her husband's career halfway around the world to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Her blog Yabba Dhabi Dooooo! is all about how her family has handled being plucked out of suburbia America and dropped into the Middle East.

Read more about Abu Dhabi in the Expat Arrivals Abu Dhabi guide, or read more expat experiences in Abu Dhabi.

About Cristy

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Chesapeake, Virginia USA

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Q: How long have you lived in Abu Dhabi?
A: 1 year

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: I’m married with two teenagers (a boy and a girl). We also have a lovable Labrador retriever and a psycho cat that made the move with us.

Q: Why did you move to Abu Dhabi; what do you do?
A: I was in mortgage banking for 16 years prior to our move, but I quit my job of 10 years and followed my husband and his career to Abu Dhabi. Now, I’m an expat wife and mother.

About life in Abu Dhabi

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? How’s the quality of life in Abu Dhabi?
A: Abu Dhabi is an amazing city. There is always something to do here. People here are also very nice and over-accommodating. Most of the time, I get treated like I’m visiting royalty or someone famous here.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: It can get unimaginably hot here in the summer. Certain foods and products that I loved in America can be a little hard to find. I get so excited when I see a new product or store from America here. I love America, so I miss everything about it except the current financial crisis. People losing their jobs, homes, and life savings can be rather depressing.

Q: Is the city safe?
A: Abu Dhabi is EXTREMELY safe. There is very little crime here. This is one of the things I love most about Abu Dhabi. My kids can do so much more here without me worrying about what will happen to them. It isn’t uncommon for them to taxi safely to and from places if I can’t give them a ride.

Q: Describe an ideal way to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi?
A: There’s always something going on here, so you could do something new every weekend. Living here can be like being on a permanent vacation. I personally like to spend Thursday nights (the start of our weekend) at a little outdoor café called Le Boulanger. Don’t let the name fool you; they actually serve a variety of Lebanese and Arabic dishes. At Le Boulanger, you can sit by the water on a comfy couch with stunning views of the city while you eat, smoke shisha, and chat with friends.

About living in Abu Dhabi

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Abu Dhabi as an expat?
A: This can be a matter of personal preference, but Abu Dhabi gives you options. If you want a large villa with a pool and a yard, then the neighbourhoods of Khalifa A, Khalifa B, and Mohammed Bin Zayed off the island are excellent choices. If you are looking for an apartment any place on the island is nice, with the nicest being the closer you get to the Corniche.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: The quality of construction may not be as good as what one would expect in other countries, but the villas here can be quite stunning, with touches like marble floors and staircases.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Housing can be expensive here, but most expats get a housing allowance with their employment contract. Any foods that have been exported, especially from the US, can be pricey. Gas, on the other hand, is mega cheap here compared to the rest of the world.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: My husband and I mix mostly with other expats. Our landlord, who is also our neighbour, is our closest local friend. He attended college in the US, so he understands how Abu Dhabi is different for us. He loves explaining Arabic culture and history to me, and he’s always more than happy to answer any of my questions. I also play bunco with a group of American women who are married to locals, and it has been very interesting to see how their families are not much different than mine.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes, most people here are miles away from their home country too, and they are looking for people to connect with.

Family and children

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: My kids (both teenagers) love Abu Dhabi, and they had no problem settling in here. They both have lots of friends here, including many locals.

Q: What are the schools like? Do you have any particular suggestions?
A: I did a ton of research on schools and curriculums prior to moving here, and we chose Raha International School. Raha’s all-IB curriculum fits well with my kids, and they have excelled in all their subjects since starting last January. Just be warned that some schools can look really nice online but not so nice in person. I’ve also learned that some curriculums here can be watered down, so look for schools with high standards and an entrance exam.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: There are some very good doctors here, but the nurses and other support staff don’t seem as knowledgeable as what I’m used to in the US. Overall, the healthcare isn’t bad, but I would go back to the US for any major treatments or surgeries. Green Crescent and I think most other insurances here provide international coverage. A warning would be that there are a lot of common medications that are banned here, so I would check the banned list prior to bringing any medications into the country.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Don’t expect Abu Dhabi to be like the place you are coming from; be willing to accept some change and embrace it if you can.

► Interviewed January 2012

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