Cheryl Esteban is a Filipina living and working in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Needing a change of scenery and seeking to escape the boring routine of life, she decided to find a job abroad. It has now been seven years since she moved to the UAE.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Manila in the Philippines.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I am currently living in the Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Q: How long have you lived here?
A: This coming August will be my seventh year living in Abu Dhabi.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Nope, I am single.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I decided to find a job overseas because back then I felt that my life had become one boring routine. I needed a change of environment and thought that if I got a job abroad, not only would I get a considerable increase in salary, I would also have the opportunity to travel, meet new people, experience new things and live independently. I am currently working as a bank customer service associate.
About Abu Dhabi
Q: What do you enjoy most about Abu Dhabi, how’s the quality of life?
A: What I like about living in Abu Dhabi is that there are a lot of things to do whether you have a lot of cash to spend or not. There are various malls and hotels that offer a lot of options for dining, shopping and recreation. There is also no shortage of licensed hotel bars that offer alcoholic beverages.
Beaches and parks are easily accessible and are open to the public with minimal or no cost at all. There are various social and civic organisations of different interest in Abu Dhabi that one can join. There are also a lot of places of interest (touristy spots if you will) to visit like the Grand Mosque, Heritage Village, Ferrari World and Emirates Palace. There are a variety of recreational and fitness classes being offered, and Abu Dhabi is also host to various concerts and sporting events. I used to think that this is a boring place, that ‘having a life’ out of work can be expensive, but I found out that you just have to be resourceful; there are a lot of free magazines and websites which list upcoming events. From my point of view and experience, life can be/is good in Abu Dhabi
Q: Any negatives of living in Abu Dhabi? What do you miss most about home?
A: The only negative thing is that, being Filipino, people tend to discriminate and stereotype us. I have always thought that the biggest challenge for a Filipino expat is to rise above and change people’s negative perception about us. Family is what I miss most about home.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Abu Dhabi is generally safe; I have never experienced or heard first hand from anybody I know about any incidents of violence.
About living in Abu Dhabi
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Abu Dhabi as an expat?
A: There are several options to choose from. For a single expat I think it is better to live on the island at the city centre because everything is accessible – malls, parks, banks, groceries, restaurants, offices, parks and beaches can be within walking distance or a few minutes bus or taxi ride. You can also easily go places even if you don’t have a car. There is a choice of accommodation available, depending on your budget and lifestyle. You can rent a flat or villa, and sometimes even share a partitioned room, though you have to be cautious with this arrangement because it is considered illegal. For families there is an option to live off island where rent is much cheaper
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Abu Dhabi?
A: The standard of accommodation is generally satisfactory, but of course comfort largely depends on budget.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Abu Dhabi compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Compared to back home, the cost of living in Abu Dhabi can be cheap, depending on one’s lifestyle. If you know how to handle your finances wisely you can even occasionally splurge on dining out, luxury items and travelling. Rent will take the biggest chunk out of an expat’s salary – almost half at times. Local food items are affordable and transportation can be cheap if you have the patience to take the bus as taxis can be a bit costly for daily commutes. Electronics are generally cheaper in Abu Dhabi than back home, but books are more expensive.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Most of the locals are friendly and I am quite happy that they acknowledge Filipino employees to be loyal and hardworking. I interact mostly with fellow Filipino expats but also have a circle of friends of various nationalities.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Abu Dhabi?
A: It was easy for me to meet new people and make friends because of work through trainings and seminars. Outside of work I met new people by joining clubs and participating in social and civic events.
About working in Abu Dhabi
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Unlike a number of people who take a chance of finding a job here with a tourist visa I was lucky to get a job offer via an agency in the Philippines so I didn’t have any problems getting the work permit.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Abu Dhabi, is there plenty of work?
A: With the current economic situation there are some companies that are laying people off or doing without hiring new staff. While there are available jobs I would not say there are plenty.
Q: How does the work culture in Abu Dhabi differ from home?
A: I would have to say that the work culture here is not as stern as back home – here we can call our bosses by their first name and assert our opinion (sometimes even aggressively) without them taking it as an insult or it being disrespectful and at the end of the day share a smile and be back to a cheerful atmosphere.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: I did all the arrangements of relocation myself, though to ease the transition our company provided me with 15 days hotel accommodation upon arriving in the UAE. In the following years, whenever I moved apartments I would just hire moving vans and do the packing myself.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Aside from making sure that they are not being shortchanged in terms of their total compensation package, I would advise them to just enjoy all that their host country can offer; explore it and get to know it. Make living abroad an adventure!
~ interviewed March 2012