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Interview with Ann – a Canadian expat living in Abu Dhabi

Updated 16 Feb 2010

Ann is a Canadian journalist working in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She moved there two years ago to help set up a new English newspaper. Before that, she worked in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, as a columnist and blogger for Sun Media. Her blog 'A Canadian in Abu Dhabi' documents her adventures.

About Ann

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Ontario, Canada

Q: Where are you living now? 
A: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (on the island)

Q: How long have you lived in Abu Dhabi? 
A: Almost two years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children? 
A: No, I was single.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do? 
A: I moved to help start up a new newspaper; I am a journalist.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? How’s the quality of life as a Canadian in Abu Dhabi? 
A: I enjoy the multicultural nature and the exposure to people from all over the world. The weather is pretty great – except in the summer when it is unbearable. And no taxes works too!

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home? 
A: I think I already mentioned the summer heat. It’s a Muslim country and certainly not a democracy, so you have to be mindful and a little bit worried – on your best behaviour. I miss the quiet of home – here, EVERYONE honks. I also miss winter; I can’t believe it. The freedom. And of course my family and friends.

Q: Is the city safe? 
A: Abu Dhabi is very, very safe. I have never felt threatened and have even developed some bad habits, such as not watching my purse closely enough. I have lost my wallet twice, and it’s been returned both times.

About living in Abu Dhabi

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat? 
A: I would say the Tourist Club area, but only when all the roadworks are complete! Anywhere off the Corniche, they have done great things down there, and I wish I were closer to the water so I could pop down there for a run or a coffee. I have friends who live out by the Shangri-la Hotel and Grand Mosque, just off the island, and it’s a great, much quieter place to live.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Abu Dhabi? 
A: Very average for a lot of money.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Abu Dhabi compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular? 
A: The cost of living is more than double what it was in Ottawa, Canada’s capital back home. I pay a lot for my one-bedroom apartment. On the flip side, a housing allowance IS built into your salary. It just seems like a rip-off. Dubai is much cheaper now. And in Abu Dhabi, forget the idea of a villa with a pool. It’s just out of reach for most of us.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other Canadian expats? 
A: I do mix mainly with other Western expats, and I wish that were different. Emiratis are notoriously private. There are so few of them, and it’s rare to be such close friends that you are invited into their home.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? 
A: It was very easy. I made loads of friends at work, but even if I hadn’t, there are groups and clubs and fitness programmes galore. Everyone is in the same boat here, and people are much more open about hanging out with others right away – no one is standoffish as they are at home.

About working in Abu Dhabi

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit? 
A: No, my company arranged it.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Abu Dhabi? Is there plenty of work? 
A: There does seem to be a lot of work; Abu Dhabi is a city under construction and in the middle of tremendous growth. The number of hotels going up alone is mind-boggling!

Q: How does the work culture differ from home? 
A: Well, you work with a mix of other nationalities, which means big differences in how things are done. British and Canadian journalists, for example, differ on many things to do with the profession, right down to what you call certain things. And you have Muslim colleagues, and you want to be respectful of their religion, as with everyone else.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move? 
A: There was a bit of a snafu with that. I ended up living in a hotel for 10 months due to apartment shortages, and by then, I just didn’t bother shipping more than a couple of boxes.

Family and children

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi? 
A: Hit and miss. If you find a good doctor, great. But often, you are expected to get your own medical information – i.e. test results – and the layers are a little hard to decipher. Many blood tests are still sent to the UK to be examined, so it can take up to a month to get results. It is still a developing country, and although the healthcare is great, I would want to go back to Canada if there was something seriously wrong.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals? 
A: Relax and just open yourself up to the experience: it’s all about the new normal. You will grow in ways you didn’t think possible, too. And make sure to take advantage of the travel! The world is at your doorstep.

~Interviewed February 2010

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