From Asia to the Middle East: Expat Grace in Dubai, UAE

Filipino-born Grace spent a decade in Japan with her family before moving to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates; they've been living there for almost two years now. Here she describes how she came to find a job in Dubai, her observations about the cost of living and housing, and the local attractions. Grace also warns those planning to move to Dubai to keep in mind that despite its cosmopolitan, modern, and international atmosphere, there are still rules and customs that need to be observed in Dubai.


-Where were you born?

I was born in The Philippines.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates. But my "expat life" started at age 19 when I moved to Japan to study.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

With my husband, daughter and my mother.

-How long have you been living in Dubai?

2 years in January 2009.

-What is your age?


-When did you come up with the idea of living in Dubai?

I was living peacefully in Japan, having moved from the Philippines when I was given a scholarship to study there at age 19. I loved Japan so much I changed my citizenship to Japanese after graduating from university. I thought I'd be living in Japan permanently, and after ten years there, a call from Dubai came. My husband and I never thought of coming all the way to the Middle East - a place so stereotyped and subjected to bad publicity by the media. Up until that phone call 2 years ago, I never knew about Dubai nor dreamt of living here.

I was invited for a job interview, free air tickets, free hotel - something that is so hard to pass up, right? I thought, well, even if I don't get that job, at least I have seen that corner of the world, so my husband played Mr. Mommy so I can go and hop on the plane. I was surprised when I landed 24 hours later (including stopovers). The city could never be characterized as an "Arab" city on first impression. There were lots and lots of foreigners from all countries imaginable.

At first, I was never serious about relocating and working in Dubai but while on visit, I read the newspapers, strolled around and observed. It is not a bad place to raise a child (children). There are good schools and I loved the relaxed environment. We always wanted our daughter to learn English while young and she could never have that if we stayed in Japan. Her education was the motivating drive of our relocation, next was we decided that if we are seeking adventure, the best time to do that is while we are still young...

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

No, because the company did everything for me. I entered with an employment permit. Everything was smooth.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

There is NO social security system in Dubai, along with no personal taxes. As an expatriate here, we don't pay monthly premiums for medical insurance. My company runs a private clinic and I can avail myself of consultation and medication for free.

-How do you make your living in Dubai? Do you have any type of income generated?

I work for one of the companies here. How did I get it? I was not looking for this job. It practically landed in my lap while I was in Japan. Actually, I had been thinking of getting a job in the US or in Canada (somewhere where my daughter could get good English education) so I posted my resumé at and totally forgot about it. I only had few minutes in one day to go online so my job search didn't really take off.

Then suddenly, I got a call from someone in Dubai asking me if I would be interested in working here.

-Do you speak Arabic and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.

No, I don't speak Arabic. Believe it or not, Dubai or the UAE for that matter, must be one of the few countries in the world where speaking the local language is not required to live normally. 80% of Dubai's population are expatriates from more than 200 countries around the world, so English is widely used.

As for the local customs, it is easy to perceive that because I am living in the Middle East that I have to cover myself from head to toe. The truth is, you will be amazed to see scantily clad ladies on the beach every single weekend and they get to keep their necks! There's a dress code here but basically, I can wear all the clothes that I used to wear when I was in Japan.

Dubai is very relaxed (especially if compared to other Arab countries in the Gulf region), if not too liberal but don't get me wrong, a couple is on trial right now for acts of indecency on the beach and could face six years in prison!

I think as an expatriate, it is important to respect the culture of the country you are living in. Everyone should live by the saying when in Rome, do what the Romans do. While living in a foreign country is exciting and fun, it does not come without responsibilities and risks.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

Sometimes, yes, especially during Christmas. I practically grew up in Japan having been there since I was 19 (to study) and I miss that place but during Christmas, I miss my birth place that is the Philippines - where the Christmas season is the happiest season. My father and 4 of my siblings (we are six) still live there so I miss them. My mother lives with me right now.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Hop to another country!! The rate the traffic and housing situation becomes worse and worse in Dubai makes me want to live somewhere where there is a proper system. Until then, we plan to travel around the area, see Petra in Jordan, the Dead Sea, the Pyramids - these are practically in our backyard!

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

My company provided a two-bedroom flat for my family and thank God I included it in my package before relocating. Housing is the number one headache here in Dubai. Landlords have taken advantage of the big Gulf rush, the big construction boom, and are raising the rents whenever they want. My two-bedroom flat, located a few kilometers from the city center costs USD1500/month. That's what my company paid last year and this year? A flat of the same area, in the same building is advertised for USD3500/month. That's more than double!! A single detached house with two bedrooms and a backyard in a posh expat community would cost USD5000-6000/month. You can faint now.

-What is the cost of living in Dubai?

For food, we pay only half of what we would in Japan. Gasoline is ultra cheap.

The cost of living is climbing year after year but so far, still sustainable for my family because both of us are working.

-What do you think about the locals?

The locals and the expatriates live harmoniously here. They have their own groups, we have ours but we do see a lot of them in the malls and in other public places.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Dubai?

Positive aspects: year-round sunshine, no/rare overtime regarding work, beautiful beaches, child-friendly environment, the city being under construction makes it a little bit exciting - we are always presented with another great mall, recreation/leisure stuff.

Negative aspects: the very hot and humid summer. Think 50C and almost 100% humidity. Yeah, free sauna, you can say that. TRAFFIC. Buildings (residential) are sprouting here and there but the roads are the same or the government delays adding roads resulting in gridlocks and lots of accidents due to errant drivers.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Dubai?

If you are planning to relocate here alone or with your family, always settle the housing issue. Check if you have a housing allowance. Before accepting any job assignment, come for a visit and see if you can sustain the sometimes chaotic rush in the mornings!

I think Dubai is a place worth visiting once in your lifetime. There are lots of things to enjoy. This city is trying to build the biggest, tallest and the best in the world and for me, that is history in the making and worth checking out.

The pristine beaches alone are enough to make you come here and forget about your worries. Next, although I write a lot of rant in my blog, I still maintain the attitude that no matter how difficult or unbearable it seems to be, life is what you make it. A place alone could not make you happy.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Dubai?

My blog (! I keep a blog about my expat life and the goings on in Dubai. - lots of great information, very helpful for visitors and residents as well.

I want to live in Dubai?

Dana's picture

I am a Canadian Citizen, and I would like to live and work in Dubai.I want to know how much is to rent a bachelor and I will be able to find a job?
In Canada I am working as a Program assistant in a Governamental agency, I am also doing social work as well, but I don'tknow if I will be able to find job over there , can you help me?
Thank you,