You have had enough of the cold unpredictable weather, wouldn’t life be so much easier if you could live in the hot climates and head to the beach every weekend to top up on your tans?
Well that was my initial thoughts anyway.
I wanted to give you guys that are currently considering or are in the process of moving abroad, particularly to the Middle East, my personal advice.
Lets be honest we have all seen the insta pics of friends; or friend of friends (if you love a good stalk) on their hols in front of the Burj Al Arab or posing by the Zero Gravity pool and you think that could be me (I’d need to drop about 40lbs and understand the point of accessorizing in a swimming pool) …… it could be BUT first you need to understand what to expect when you make the move!
Here is my Top Ten Tips/ Advice for becoming an expat!
1. Travel to the country 🛩
This should actually be titled “Know where the country is prior to accepting the job” but I doubt many people are as silly as me. I had been offered a job and accepted it, called G to tell him the good news!
“We are moving to Dubai… well near Dubai”
1) Kuwait is not Qatar
2) Qatar is not just down the road from Dubai. Clearly a lot of research had been done prior to this point.
Ok! so that was a crazy error on my part but to be offered an amazing job and to move to the desert was still a massive plus. Expectations vs Reality are very different things and I urge you to take a trip to the country prior to any move. I loved Kuwait and I love Dubai however living in a new country vs holidays in a new country are very different experiences.
2. Have Patience…. A Lot of it☮️
A resounding phrase you will hear in any part of the Middle East is “Inshalla” translated to English means “God Willing” or “In Gods Will”, if anyone says this to you understand
1. the more realistic option-It’s never gonna happen!
2. 3 weeks on Tuesday you will still be chasing them!
Recall all those frustrating phone-calls with Vodafone or arguments with any customer service representative, they were nothing compared to what you will endure in the desert. You may not notice at home now but our customer service teams will always do something to try and resolve your problem. Here, you remember the Little Britain sketch with David Walliams and “Computer says NO”,he got that idea from a holiday to Dubai (that is not a fact, FYI), if the answer is not on their screen then tough! Rarely does anyone go out of their way to assist you whether you have been here 5 minutes or 5 years. Leading me onto…
3. Join expat groups👯👯
Miss unsociable here doesn’t enjoy the prospect of having to introduce myself to new people all the time and ask for help but it is a must as an expat. I was fortunate enough that my company provided me with contacts in the business around my age who were living in Kuwait to help prepare me for the move and you could initially tag along with on your first few days of work while finding your feet.
One thing I will say for Kuwait specifically and the big reason Kuwait still holds a massive piece of my heart is because of the group of friends I made there. I will go more in-depth in a separate blog post about the difference between Kuwait & Dubai. In Kuwait you need to put yourself out there more and you build friendships and trust a lot faster as you rely on each other and become like family very quickly. Some of the people I now class as best friends are people who in day to day circumstance back home our paths may never have crossed. I love that they have!
If you don’t put yourself out there and join expat groups/ forums you will miss out on a lot of great parties, experiences and honestly amazing friendships!
I cannot express this enough and anyone who currently lives in the Middle East will tell you hit up Primark hard before you head. Shopping here is pricey and that’s coming from someone who even gets good discounts as a Buyer. Load up on vest tops, underwear, socks- yes you need trainer socks and fluffy socks for the tile floors and AC in your apartment.. Trust me!
Most things are more expensive here, but then salaries are better and they are TAX FREE! Take the good with the bad because the good outweighs the bad! The excitement of going home includes those bulk buys to Primark. Don’t despair though ladies Asos and co all deliver to here, also we have Sephora and other amazing American stores that the UK doesn’t have. Just be prepared to pay more for that top than your friend did back home, I struggle with that!
5.You will get home sick🏠
You are a strong independant female who don’t take no sh*t from no one… right?! Well that doesn’t matter when you move abroad. Be prepared to miss everything that made you move away in the first place and your loved ones.
I have the worlds best mum and an amazing family back home in Scotland, moving away from them was the most difficult decision I ever had to make. I also had family who were ill and elderly when I moved out to Kuwait, right up until I boarded that Emirates flight I was undecided if I would leave, SERIOUSLY! I literally had to take the final week of my life back in Glasgow hour by hour to determine if I would get on that plane and leave.
I was also bored of the cold damp weather, the same old scenery and boring work places, surely moving to the sun, sand & sea would be exactly what I needed. It was, it has made me completely change my perspective on my homeplace. The greenery, the hills, the cold weather and most importantly the people, I have a whole new outlook on Scotland and so much appreciation but it makes me miss it more and more.
Don’t get me wrong, the rain I will never really miss and I still love being an expat so that won’t change for a while but you have to be prepared. You also importantly have to be prepared to miss out on special occasions, you can’t attend all parties, weddings etc. You may also have to endure as I did, the loss of a loved one and not being able to say goodbye, doesn’t matter how much you think you’ll cope, it is the worst pain to feel and I don’t think I will ever stop regretting not being there but life has these struggles and this is all part of the experience.
Being an expat is amazing and comes with so much excitement, your family and friends coming to visit, weekends at the beach and there is no buzz quite like travelling home for the holidays but do question, can you live without seeing your loved ones every day? I am a Mama’s girl,she is my best friend so it is a struggle for me but Skype, Facetime and Whatsapp are absolute heroes!
6. Get Saving 💵
You are moving for the cash right? You want Tax Free money and a better salary compared to back home, that’s the reason most people are out here, the beaches and weather is an added bonus.
That is all true, you can earn some serious bucks out here but you Must have some savings behind you to get started.
I was fortunate enough that prior to moving I didn’t have a lot of outgoings, honestly over half my monthly salary was spent purely on clothing! It is an addiction, I am working on it. I was also a really good saver, I was organised and had direct debits set up each month so we had a good bit of saving behind us for the move. Be prepared for that all to disappear in the first 6 months.
Rent in the Middle East is normally 1 Years rent upfront or in 2 payments. (FYI, Rent is expensive). You also either have to rent a car/ buy a car (Dubai) or your are not permitted to drive (Kuwait- Lots of rules) therefore you rely purely on taxi’s, for everything! Also you will have your Electrics, Water, AC and mobile phone, internet charges each month, (excluding Kuwait where you do not pay for electrics, water, ac…..bonus!). You will soon find out DEWA , DU & Etisalat are not your friends and are not the most straight forward things to pay for.
On the plus side, you will be earning a larger salary which you can save and long term you will be better off, it is just the initial impact you need to have the cash for.
7. Sunscreen will not save you🌞
Controversial statement which is infact untrue- as Baz Lureman says ” wear sunscreen”. However in the desert heat you will not be able to endure much pool time or beach time. Kuwait, 2016 in the latter months of summer peaked at 61℃, you run from shade to shade or AC to AC. Heading out to work in the morning in this heat, you question what is worse rain or sun. Although in Kuwait it is a very dry heat with little humidity, Dubai you step out of your door and within a millisecond you feel as if you are in the shower. Although the temperature is significantly lower the ability to take a deep breath also drops in the summer months. Which is the lesser of two evils I am not sure.
It always poses a challenge during the month of Ramadan.
One full month where you cannot eat or drink in public during sunlight hours, people are sleep deprived and hungry. Not a good combination to be around, especially while working and in the horrendous heat. Depending upon where you live the rules and restrictions to Non- Muslims will vary as will peoples attitudes.
Basically nothing should pass your lips AT ALL in public while the hours of fasting are taking place. Everything pretty much shuts down in Kuwait, except you do have to work. Offices try to accommodate by providing a secluded area that people can go to drink water and have some food. Malls will be closed during daytime hours and open later at night. Bonus is working hours are reduced in most places quite significantly.
Dubai,I believe it is a lot more liberal, a lot of places are still open and cater to internationals who are not fasting by shielding any windows or openings to restaurants but still serving food, as it is a prime holiday destination. Although I do think alcohol is restricted or not available at all. Again while in work you will be restricted to a specific spot in the office to eat or drink out of sight and it is norm that you are not permitted to eat any food with strong scents out of respect.
As for the law during this time, if you are in the public eye at all and are seen to be eating or drinking- say you are stuck in a traffic jam, roasting hot day and you feel dehydrated you cannot sip that bottle of water unless you are pregnant or are a child. Chewing gum is also not permitted- seems obvious but you would be surprised. As far as I am aware there will be jail time for anyone breaking these rules- in Kuwait anyone caught would be jailed for the entire Ramadan period (there was also a rumor you would have your head shaved as punishment, not sure if that is true).
What I will say for all the restrictions it imposes during daytime, Iftar (breaking of fast) is amazing to experience, you will see there are a lot of events on and evening parties, you may even be invited to join a family or friends for Iftar. It is such a special social occasion and great to experience… soo much amazing food! For all the restrictions you get a month of shorter working hours and then you have Eid- Al Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan and is a public holiday ( a bit like Christmas, if you celebrate that), where there are more events on and celebrations and most people take the time to travel, it varies on the amount of days you will get off from work but last year it was 4 working days off! Bonus!!!
As you may or may not know you require a visa to enter into the Middle East, your visa requirements vary dependent upon the country you originate from (country your passport is issued). If you are from the UK we are fortunate enough that we get a visa upon arrival known as a Visit Visa, this is required if you are coming on holiday,again the amount of days varies on the country you visit normally 30 to 90 days.
If you have a job prior to the move the company normally assist with the full process- it will cost money which some of this is reimbursed by the company. If you arrive in the region without a job then beware as this is when it can become very difficult. The rules change what feels like every day and there is no announcements or notifications, just ensure you know how long your visit visa is for to ensure you avoid any fines. I believe it is now a requirement to provide proof of an exit flight at Check In when you are flying to Dubai, so ensure you have that booked (you can normally amend the ticket date for a small fee). This is to prevent people working in the countries illegally and doing a “Visa Run” every month. If you don’t know what a visa run is-Best to Google it.
When you do need assistance with your visa- you must attend one of the immigration offices, I feel I am a regular here and an expert. They can be super helpful but they can also be super unhelpful. It comes part in parcel being in the region and there being no customer service skills. You will be given a ticket and sit in a chair for hours waiting for your turn, where you normally get into trouble and then pointed to another person where the process begins all over again.
My advice- have a job prior to moving. If not possible definitely have interviews lined up. Ensure the companies have PRO– public relationship officers (sort out all the visas in the workplace). Keep up to date with all the rules for your countries regulations. It is difficult as they change so often but you will hear about a friend of a friend who has endured the recent rule changes. And refer to point number 2.
It may come across that there are a lot of negatives about moving abroad, it is not the case I promise. I just want to prepare any of you planning the move to understand that the grass is not always greener, it just has different flowers growing in it. (lame metaphor I know).
The amazing things about living in the Middle East are that you are basically at the centrepoint for travel, the region itself is beautiful but you are also able to travel to Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and the list goes on! Everywhere seems a max of 8 hours away to me ( I am crap at geography as you already now know).
Spending your weekends by the beach or pool make it feel like mini holidays and when your loved ones come to visit it is a serious joy to see them wind down and relax by the sea or pool.
We are all really just a flight away, most of us can be home in the same day if needed.
Meeting and working with people from different countries and cultures is an experience I appreciate everyday. I love working with such a diverse group of people with completely different backgrounds. Like I already mentioned I have made some amazing friendships here with people whose paths would never have crossed under any other circumstances.
If you get the opportunity to work abroad or you plan on becoming an expat, I encourage you to do so. It is an amazing experience that brings with it a lot of challenges, what makes it harder is the lack of family support you have around you but what it does, it makes you stronger! It puts you in positions where you didn’t know you would react that way or be able to make that decision, you become smarter, braver and stronger, it also gives you a fresh perspective on life.
If I can give you one piece of advice, just go for it. What is the worst that can happen? Even if you stay 1 week or 10 years it will always be worth it for the experience!
Are you an expat? What are your tips? Are you moving to Dubai or Kuwait,would you like any recommendations?
If you are planning a move or thinking about it and have any questions please let me know, I’d love to help.