Sergey is a Russian expat living in Dubai. In search of an opportunity to live and work in a different culture, he moved to the Emirates in 2011 to take up a position at an international marketing company. Despite the challenges of the extreme heat, Sergey, his wife and young son have made the most of life in this multicultural and exciting emirate.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Novosibirsk, Russia
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Dubai, UAE
Q: When did you move to Dubai?
A: August 2011
Q: Did you move to Dubai alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Yes, I moved with my wife and son.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I am working in an international market research company. I wanted to get the international experience, which would be very useful for my future career. The position and salary offered were quite nice. Besides, I simply wanted to live and work in a different culture.
Living in Dubai
Q: What do you enjoy most about Dubai? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Russia?
A: Dubai is definitely a very comfortable city to live in. Unlike Moscow (where we lived for the last seven years), it practically does not have traffic jams, there is no winter as such, and the beach is just five minutes away from our house.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Summer in Dubai is extremely hot, with an average temperature close to 50°C. That is probably the only negative thing we experienced here.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Dubai? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I did not experience a culture shock, but of course, some adjustments had to be made. It took me some time to get used to the fact that one rarely can walk here. Dubai is more similar to an American city than a European one, so wherever you go, you need to go by car.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Dubai compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living is pretty comparable to Moscow. Rental costs are very similar, but in Dubai, you get much better and bigger apartments with all the facilities (swimming pool, gym, sauna, etc.) for the same price. Cars and petrol are much cheaper. Actually the majority of expats buy those cars that they could not afford to buy in their home countries. Restaurant prices are also comparable (but unlike Moscow, Dubai has such a wonderful thing as Friday brunch, where you can get unlimited delicacies and beverages for a very reasonable price). What is really expensive compared to Russia is the school fees.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Dubai? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Dubai has recently got an absolutely perfect metro. It is the biggest fully automated metro in the world. It is super clean and very comfortable. Taxis are everywhere; they are also very comfortable and quite reasonably priced. So, actually if you want to spend all your time in Dubai, owning a car is not 100 percent necessary. However, most of the people do buy a car. Owning a car affords one the luxury of spending just 10–15 minutes to get to work (I am driving 35km every day to get to the office, and it takes me 25 minutes max). Besides, owning a car gives you an opportunity to see the country (and the neighbouring Oman and Qatar).
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: The healthcare system is very advanced. Medical facilities are modern and well-equipped (we usually go to the Saudi-German hospital). They have doctors from all around the world, and usually, expats here prefer going to doctors who are from their countries of origin.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Dubai? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: None. Dubai is considered (and this is actually true) one of the safest cities in the world.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Dubai? What different options are available for expats?
A: Housing is indeed expensive, but its quality is high. Western expats (or Westerners as they are called in the UAE) usually live either in the ‘towers’ (30-100 story apartment houses) or in villas.
Q: Any areas/suburbs in Dubai you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: There are several areas in Dubai that are considered particularly ‘Western’, for example, Dubai Marina, Springs or Arabian ranchos. However, it is quite typical for Western expats to live in other areas too. There is no segregation. Expats are living everywhere.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women, etc.?
A: To begin with, local Emiratis constitute about 5 percent of Dubai residents. Dubai is a truly ‘expat city’ where 200 nationalities are living next to each other. There is no open discrimination, but historically in this city, local Arabs and Westerners have a higher social status (business owners, top and mid-level managers) compared to the expats from South Asia (labourers)
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Dubai? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It is quite easy. There are hundreds of places, such as restaurants, nightclubs and beaches, where expats socialise and make friends.
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? Are there any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: I would love to make friends with locals, but it is quite difficult to find them in Dubai. So, most of my new friends are expats themselves, coming from different countries (We have 28 nationalities in our office). There are quite a lot of expat communities in Dubai that often organise various social events for their compatriots (for example, the October Fest organised by the German community). Also there are a number of groups of people who share the same interests (for example, Dubai off-road club).
Working in Dubai
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Dubai? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: No, I did not. Everything was handled by my company.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Dubai? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Dubai’s economy is growing; there are plenty of job opportunities, but there are also lots of candidates looking for these opportunities. Generally, the Dubai job market is very competitive.
Q: How does the work culture in Dubai differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Dubai?
A: The work culture is quite ‘tough’, I would say. Those people who come here are inclined to make a career by all means. Working long hours and always trying very hard is considered to be normal. At the same time, the work culture and business ethics very much depend on whom you are dealing with – each nationality has its own features.
Family and children
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: She has adjusted very quickly. In the beginning, she was fascinated by the city and the country. Now it is getting a little bit boring as we have already explored most of the local attractions. Still, it is a very comfortable and relaxed life, resembling life in the resort.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: Dubai is a family-friendly city. There are lots of different activities for the kids. The biggest challenge for my son was language – he had to learn English. But once he had learnt it, he adjusted very well.
Q: What are the schools like? Do you have any particular suggestions?
A: There are many good international schools in Dubai, but since the number of expats is constantly growing, getting a place in a school can be a challenge. My son is attending the British school. His class consists of 20 students representing 15 or 16 nationalities.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Do not come to Dubai in the summer; it may spoil your first impression of the city.
~ Interviewed October 2013