Life in Dubai: Expat Gail Livingstone

by Travelbag on 11 March 2015, 16:03PM

Gail Livingstone is COO of ME Digital Group company www.ExpatWoman.com the Middle East’s number 1 website for expats. We sat down with her to discuss life in Dubai and how it compares to home. 

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Where is home for you originally? 

I am originally from Blackburn in Lancashire. I moved to Birmingham, Norwich, London, Kuwait and then Dubai over a 23-year period!

How long have you lived in the UAE and what initially drew you to life in Dubai? 

I have lived in the UAE for 13 years and have seen everything change over that time. I requested a transfer to Dubai from Kuwait after I’d done 5 years there as life was pretty tough for a single woman in Kuwait at that time. I’d visited Dubai a lot as part of my job role and really wanted to live there - it was that or I was going to move back to the UK. 13 years later I’m still here!

What do you enjoy most about living in Dubai?

I really enjoy the pace of life, the career opportunities I have had, the diversity of cultures and seeing how a multi- cultural society can live and work together in peace. It’s also extremely safe over here, so I never have any worries about things like that. I enjoy the opportunity I have had to travel to other places as Dubai is a very central hub to the rest of the world - I’ve been to Asia, America, Australia and all over the Middle East since living here. Oh, and it’s sunny every day!

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How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country? Did it take you long to settle into the new life and culture?

The transition to life in Kuwait was extremely hard for me. Everything was alien and different and I was very young. I cried for the first week! No drinking, no bacon, driving was scary, I missed my family and I had to dress very modestly and even then suffered a fair bit of harassment. I had to learn not just about the Kuwaiti culture but also the culture of a host of different nationalities that I was working with. Indian, Filipino, Egyptian etc. and that was an invaluable experience for me.

Moving to Dubai was in comparison very easy, although I did find it hard to make friends at first. Kuwait was a very friendly place with lots of house parties and get-togethers and everyone welcome kind of attitude. Dubai life was more fast- paced, like London, but after a couple of months I started to build a strong social life.

Did you find it important to learn the language or have you got by without needing to learn Arabic?

To my shame I have a smattering of Arabic words after 18 years in the Middle East. I did try at first and was learning off the staff I worked with but without being able to read the alphabet I found it too difficult. I understand more spoken Arabic then I can speak and have somehow always managed to get by. English is very widely spoken and signage is in dual language so it has never really been an issue. I know all the key polite phrases and greetings and do use these. I have found you also need some Hindi, Russian and Tagalog to help you get by! My school girl French came in handy on trips to Lebanon and my German has helped a few tourists along the way!

Is there anything you didn’t prepare for when you first relocated?

Apart from culture shock and home sickness which can affect people in different ways, I would say that having a stash of money is so important. I kind of winged it when I arrived and struggled. So try and have at least one month’s salary available to you for unexpected expenses.

Also make sure you’ve sorted out all your finances in your home country before you move and find out if you need any certificates attesting.

I also arrived with one suitcase and 5 small boxes of belongings shipped over from the UK after a month- that wasn’t the best either!

Is there anything you wish you knew about Dubai before you moved?

For me personally, no- as it was different moving here from Kuwait and not directly from the UK. The move for me was smooth and culture shock was minimal as I’d already done 5 years in the Middle East. When I was Editor at ExpatWoman.com though, I wrote many articles about this topic to help newbies as there are some quirks and peculiarities that people need to be aware of. I think the number one thing people need to know is that rent has to normally be paid up front in one cheque payment. A lot of people don’t know this and it can really catch people out. Some companies do pay rent as part of the package although this is becoming rarer, some companies will pay your rent for you and deduct from your salary, some people take a loan from the bank. Although salaries here are higher and “tax free” there are all sorts of other costs and also it’s all relative as consumer goods, groceries etc. can be more expensive, as is rent. Number two is you need a visa to be here- a residency visa comes with a job. You can’t do many things here until you have this visa. To make things easier try and come here on a job offer, if not be aware that it may take you 3 months to find a job in country and you may have to exit the UAE every 30 days if you’re on a visit visa on arrival.

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Is there anything from home that you can't get in Dubai?

In the “old days” there used to be so much you couldn’t get and people going back to the UK would be bringing back all sorts of food stuffs - PG Tips teabags, Bisto gravy granules, pies, Warburton’s bread, Walkers crisps! Goodness knows what customs must have thought! Nowadays you can more or less get anything here- supermarkets stock Tesco products, there’s Waitrose here as well as other supermarket chains with large British and American food sections. It’s also much easier to shop online these days and if companies don’t deliver here people use forwarding courier companies to get what they want here. (We still can’t get proper British bread though!)

What are your favourite things to do in Dubai? Do you have any hidden gems for our readers?

Funnily enough when I was Editor of ExpatWoman.com I wrote a whole article about this. You can find the top 10 hidden gems of Dubai here.

From a personal point of view I love exploring the whole of the Emirates, driving around off the beaten track places. I also am an avid crafter so like to visit the newly sprung up craft fairs and markets around town. 

A visit to Dubai Mall on a Friday morning is also lovely- it’s really quiet at that time and you can sit and enjoy the peace whilst gazing upon the Burj Khalifa.

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What tips would you give to Brits looking to make the move?

The number 1 tip is do your research! Don’t do what I did - hop on a plane with a suitcase for what I thought was a year’s secondment! Mind you my move was before the days of the internet being widely accessible and I had to write off to the Kuwait Embassy for a book about Kuwait!

There is so much information now available about making any move as an expat. Read it all, join forums, join Facebook groups and ask all those questions. Expats are usually really happy to share their experiences as they like to make it easier for others treading the same path.

Click here to read more about Dubai or call our travel experts on 0871 811 1597 to organise a dream Dubai holiday.


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