Married Life in Abu Dhabi - A Nurse Educator's Story

Going on a married-status contract to Abu Dhabi? We talked* to a married Nurse Educator to learn about her experiences.

Tell us a bit about yourself: What do you do, how did you come to Abu Dhabi/the UAE, how long have you been in Abu Dhabi/the UAE?

I am a Clinical Nurse Educator with the majority of my experience being in the Emergency Department. I am originally from Vancouver, Canada, but have been living and working in the Middle East for the last 10 years with my husband and children. I have been living in Abu Dhabi for the last eight years.

What does your husband do?

My husband is a Medical Laboratory Scientist who is in charge of Lab Quality and the Blood Bank. (We do not work at the same hospital.)

You mentioned you have children. Are they school-aged? If so, where do your children go to school?

My husband's contract covers the children. We have two children; we have a boy who is six years old and a girl who is four years old. They will both be going to the Canadian International School in Khalifa City A (a suburb of Abu Dhabi) this year. [See our summary: International Schools in Abu Dhabi.]

How do you find working in Abu Dhabi/the UAE?

I enjoy working in Abu Dhabi, but as with any place there are positives and negatives. Some of the positives include a high salary, longer vacation periods, and many opportunities to start new projects. Some of the negatives include trying to adapt to the Eastern philosophies of doing business (e.g., a loose interpretation of time), a tendency for a lot of hierarchical infrastructures and red tape, and knee-jerk reactions to problems/issues. 

Do you live in hospital-provided housing? Where do you live and in what type of residence (apartment, villa, etc.)?

My husband and I have a housing allowance; we do not live in employer-provided housing. I have just moved from a three-bedroom townhouse-style apartment in the middle of Abu Dhabi city to a five-bedroom villa in Khalifa City A (on the mainland) to be nearer the children’s school.

How do you find the availability, cost and quality of housing in Abu Dhabi?

There has been a real shortage of affordable housing in Abu Dhabi in recent years. However, developers have been building apartment towers downtown and villa complexes off-island, so the availability and cost of housing is becoming better. I have just moved to a five-bedroom villa with facilities (pool and gym), located 20 minutes from downtown, for which I pay around US$46,000 per year to rent. Our housing allowance covers all but US$7,000, which I pay out of my pocket.

The building standards are not very good here, so you do tend to have leaky pipes and poor seals around windows and doors etc., but the apartments and villas tend to be very large.

Can you find all of your favourite grocery items, toiletries, music, etc. in the UAE?

Most items are available here, or you can usually order on-line with many companies offering free delivery. All the grocery stores tend to cater to expat tastes but you will have to pay a bit more for anything that is brought in from abroad.

What is the non-rental cost of living like in Abu Dhabi (e.g., school fees for children, food, personal care products, utilities, furniture)?

If you have a family, one of the biggest expenses in Abu Dhabi is the school fees. The public schools do not have a good reputation, so most parents send their children to a private school. School fees for a private school range from around US$11,000 per child per year to US$22,000 per child per year, plus books, uniforms, bus, etc. Normally your employer will provide only a small educational allowance, and this usually is not enough to cover the fees for one child.

Locally grown food is inexpensive, but you will pay top dollar for Western products. For example a Lean Cuisine brand frozen dinner is around US$5-6.

Personal items that are produced in the area are fairly inexpensive, but if you want a product that needs to be shipped in this will cost more. For example, professional shampoo from the salon costs around US$35-40 per bottle. If you like to use specific brands for personal items, I find that strawberryNET carries most brands of personal products and offers free worldwide delivery.

If you want an electronic item that is not available here (almost everything is available in the local electronic shops), many companies in China will ship for free, for example, ships many items for free.

There is nothing I really want or need that I cannot get in a store here. Items such as books, movies, DVDs, etc., are widely available in Virgin Megastore, Kinokuniya bookstore, Magrudy’s bookstore, etc. Anything not in stock can be ordered at the store and brought in for free; the store will call you to collect the item when it arrives.

Regarding furnishings and utilities, when we first moved here, we were provided company housing which was furnished (very basic, and uncomfortable couch and bed etc.), but nowadays it is becoming more popular for companies to give a one-time furniture allowance even if you live in company-provided housing.

When we moved out to our own accommodation and took the housing allowance, we were given a one-time furniture allowance. (Usually, if you stay for between one to three years, you do not have to pay this back, but each company is different regarding pay-back terms.)

The rent does not cover utilities; you will normally pay around US$30/month in an apartment, but a villa will be much more expensive and depends on your usage as well as the quality of the air conditioning units, weather seals, etc. In villas, in the summer, it ranges from around US$275-$550/month or more.

Do you feel safe in Abu Dhabi?

I feel that Abu Dhabi is one of the safest places in the world to live. There is crime here, but it is much less than in even a small town in North America.

How do you get around, and if you drive, is it hard driving in Abu Dhabi?

I drive most of the time, but if I am going to a place in the downtown core, I will usually take a taxi. The parking is pretty bad in the downtown area, and there are lots of taxis, so it is easier to just grab a cab (most trips within the city cost less than $5). Driving is getting better here, as they have installed cameras everywhere, but it is more aggressive and faster than most people are used to from Western countries. A lot of people own SUVs, as you tend to get cut off less often in a bigger vehicle, plus gas is cheap, and you have a better chance of surviving an accident (there are a lot of road traffic accidents).

What did you and your husband do in your spare time before coming to Abu Dhabi?

Before coming to Abu Dhabi we used to do a lot of outdoor activities (camping, hiking, bike riding, skiing, etc.).

What sorts of things do you do now?

From around November to May we go camping, dune bashing, and scuba diving, but biking is a bit dangerous and the hiking is not so great. When it is hot, we tend to spend more time in the malls, water parks, and pools, and we try to go away on vacation. The malls here have a lot of activities to keep people entertained during the hot season with indoor amusement parks, kids' play areas, aquariums, ice rinks, movie theaters, restaurants, etc.

What have you found to be most challenging about living in Abu Dhabi?

The most challenging aspect of living in Abu Dhabi is the transient nature of the work force. Many of your colleagues and friends will only be here for two to three years, so it is difficult to keep trying to make friends. The red tape and, dare I say, “lack of common sense” from a Western perspective can be frustrating.

What have you found to be the most rewarding?

I have enjoyed the ability to travel easily to many other countries and to experience a wide variety of cultures in Abu Dhabi itself. You tend to get very spoiled here with every convenience readily available, including a nanny and/or driver. I haven’t made a bed or done housework for the last eight years!

Do you miss anything from home?

Of course the biggest thing I miss most is my family and the friends I grew up with, but as far as conveniences go there is more here.

What advice would you give a married couple thinking about relocating to Abu Dhabi?

For anyone thinking of coming to Abu Dhabi, I would say:
* Make sure you come with the idea of giving yourself at least six months to adjust.
* Try to get in touch with the embassy when you arrive, so you can meet other newcomers. Take advantage of work and school connections to make friends.
* Make sure you have authenticated copies of all your paperwork, including your marriage license, school certificates for you and your children (going back as far as high school for adults and needs to be stamped), employee references, etc.
* If you have school age children, you need to apply well in advance to your school of choice (most of the Western private schools are good, but expensive and places are limited). If you want a villa Khalifa City A is cheaper and all the big private schools have a campus in Khalifa City A (approximately a 20-30 minute commute to downtown).


*NOTE: Interview conducted in 2012.

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