We were an Expat in Dubai for 4 years before we finally decided to come home for good. So we want to share with you guys some tips on how to survive your first few months there especially if it’s your first time working abroad.
Kabayan!- This is how Filipino expats call each other in Dubai (maybe everywhere in the Middle East). It sounds funny at first but at the same time very patriotic. Of all the countries in the world, I must admit that I never dreamed of working in Dubai. Like most people me included, I dreamed of going to US, Europe, Canada, Australia or New Zealand- you know the usual.
Anyways, back in 2013 I had a quarter life crisis (yes it happened to me too!) and my gut was telling me that I need to go abroad for some reason. I was getting frustrated with my job and life in general, there was that feeling that I need to do more and explore. Before I knew it, I was already on a plane to Dubai. Everything happened so fast I just had to take it all in at once. I was lucky to have A and my sister with me in this journey, it would have been a different story if I was alone for sure.
With that being said, here are the six (6) things you can keep in mind when moving to Dubai for work:
Assuming that you already have your visa paid/ ready and all the legal formalities are done, you still need to set aside some moolah for your stay. We recommend to have atleast 3 months worth of money. This would just be my suggestion and keep in mind we have different spending habits but if I have to give it a figure, roughly AED 6,000 (more or less PHP 80K). Either you send the money to yourself or keep it since opening a bank account in UAE isn’t as easy as having one here in the Philippines. They require you to have a work visa, if I am not mistaken.
Two: A Place To Stay
If you know someone in Dubai, then you can definitely ask them first if their place has an available space suited with your budget of course. If not, then you can start checking out Dubizzle. This is a popular site where all expat in Dubai go to to look for bed-spaces, room for rent or house for rent may it be permanent or short term only (Of course there’s the usual real estate agents you can go to but that would cost more.) Photos of the place are usually posted (but don’t be fooled by it) so if you see something you like, you can have a chat with the landlord and set an appointment as to when you want to check out the space. You can also check postings at Filipino supermarkets like West Zone, Al Maya and Baqer Mohebi. Rent is around AED 700 (last time we checked) for a bed space usually with 8 persons in a room/partition with 4 bunk beds. You can also maybe get a whole flat for AED 4,000 a month but it would be somewhere in the boundary of Dubai and Sharjah.
Now, you have to keep in mind some very important stuff when checking for a place to stay:
Beware of the “Surot”, I never knew they actually existed until I saw one. Well, there’s a lot of expats in Dubai and tourists from different countries so just like in any other country that has a lot of people coming and going you would expect these kind of things. But don’t fret, not alot of place has it. That’s why it pays to check out the place first. If bed is already provided, it would be a good idea to request for a new matress or check out if its clean. If your stuff gets contaminated, I suggest just ditch it. The secret for having a bedbug-free space, keep it clean and well-lit.
Check how many people will you be sharing with, Dubai is very strict about accommodations, they have rules of only having a specific no. of people per flat, stuff like that, so keep that in mind.
Take in to consideration the rent add-ons: It wouldn’t hurt to ask roughly how much the monthly DEWA (water and electricity) bill especially during the summer. Also, if WiFi and gas is already included or you need to pay extra (some charge per gadget for the internet). We were blessed enough to find ourselves a spacious partition for only the 2 of us and sharing the house with a lovey family – our landlord his wife and their awesome genius kid (they have their own room, we share a common kitchen, living room and bathroom).
Three: Looking for a Job
You would expect to get a higher salary but NO, atleast not immediately. Why you say?- some employers would prefer those with UAE work experience and because the cost of living in Dubai is way higher. We have to pay for rent, electricity, WiFi, food and transportation. Best sites to look for a job are Naukrigulf, Gulfnews, Linkedin and Facebook groups. Beware of agencies or employers asking you to pay for getting an interview or some sort of training, usually they’re not a legit company. Salary wise, well it depends on the position you’re applying for and your profession. The truth is you need to know your worth but at the same time know that you can always work your way up. There’s lots of jobs available in Dubai and other Emirates but you need to be persistent.
Another tip is to make yourself familiar on the current Labor Law. It pays to know these things especially if you plan to work in a foreign land. Also, make sure you are physically and mentally fit to work even before going there. Your body will be adjusting to the weather and home sickness is very hard to overcome for the first 3 months, actually for the first year.
Four: Getting Around
Part of being an expat in Dubai is to know how to get around. Of course there are the usual taxis and they charge you exactly for the fare so usual car-hailing apps like Uber is not much of a big deal there. But the public transportation in Dubai is so awesome you rarely have to get a taxi. The Dubai Metro would most likely be your go-to transpo to get you around Dubai. There are buses that have specific time schedules and you can actually check the real -time update of their schedules on their App. You need to have a Nol card, these are top-up cards like the ones in LRT & MRT. You can actually have an option to just top it up monthly for unlimited access from a certain zone to another and it works for almost all Dubai public transportation. You can check out more here : RTA
Five: A place to Eat
As you all know, Dubai is a Muslim country so no pork. Mains that are usually cooked with pork are replaced with chicken, so imagine that. Luckily, lots of affordable buffet restaurants opened along Karama metro station (now called ADCB metro station) and Al Rigga metro station recently. To name a few you can check out Sweet Pepper, 365 Restaurant, Agemono, Little Manila and Hot Palayok. For only AED 25 you can already enjoy your favourite filipino dishes with dessert and unlimited drinks. We also enjoyed eating at Yakitate (Japanese bakery & restaurant), Bangkok Town ( Thai food) , Ikea Restaurant and The Cheesecake Factory. For a night out, we usually go to Hard Rock Cafe since it’s near our place. It’s kid-friendly and the band is awesome. Keep in mind, you can only drink is certain bars/ restaurants and you can’t drink in public. If you want to buy alcohol to consume at home , you need to have a license to be able to purchase or buy at Duty-free.
Of course, there’s a lot of great Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian and American Restaurants available so you won’t have any problem on deciding where to eat. Also certain restaurants (mostly, those inside hotels) serve pork. Usually pork is allowed as long as the place have a license for it and that they have a separate kitchen to cook pork dishes.
You can also just opt to cook your favorite dish at home where you stay like most expat in Dubai does. I’ve mentioned some Filipino Supermarkets above and they usually sell pork (Spinneys as well) and other filipino products like Kangkong, Kalamansi, Malunggay, Ampalaya etc. Some also sells prepacked filipino meals so don’t worry, we are sure you will find something to eat anywhere in Dubai.
Six: The People
There are a lot of expats in Dubai coming from different parts of the world aside for us. (India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Africa, South Africa, Russia, France, US, Canada, UK to name a few). And of course the locals – Emiratis.
So expect to have some confusion with the way they talk and the way they act or behave. You just have to keep an open mind that not everyone is raised the same way as you. What would be offending for you might not be offending for others or vice versa. What’s normal for you would not be normal for others like we Filipinos (most) tend to smile a lot even during meetings or stuff. We have encountered this a number of times and some think you might not be serious or not taking them seriously because you are simply smiling. So be more sensitive with others but still be yourself. One thing we can assure you is that there are a lot of kind, good and fun people in Dubai (UAE), even some strangers would get out of their way to help you. But just like in any other country, there will be people out there who wouldn’t be good to you (so base it on the person, not the nationality). Be open-minded to others but also be cautious, Dubai has a lot of great people 🙂
Well I sure hope these tips will be handy for those of you who wishes to try being an expat in Dubai. One thing is for sure, once you find a job and get your working visa, everything else will just fall in its place. We had a lot of great moments in Dubai and going home for good was a personal choice and one that we don’t regret doing. If you haven’t read it yet, read on our previous blog to know why we decided to go home.
Dubai will always be in our hearts for sure!
Co-edited by A.