Hear the word Dubai and you probably think expensive.
And yes, with an economy built on the booming oil industry, the millionaires per square mile are higher than average.
But today, Dubai’s main revenue comes from tourism, aviation, real estate, and financial services. Famed for its skyscrapers, high-rise buildings and ambitious projects including man-made islands, hotels, and shopping malls it’s no wonder tourists are flocking to Dubai.
Local expert, Lady Anne shares her story moving to Dubai and what expat life is like in the ever changing city and the business and cultural hub of the Middle East…
Interview with Lady Anne
Why/how did you decide to move to Dubai?
I am an only child, well-loved and well-taken care of.
I began to seek for independence in my early-20s. I was timid and quite naive back then. I didn’t know how to cook, how to do the laundry. I didn’t know how to defend myself.
And worse, I didn’t even know what the real world is like!
I had to move out of my comfort zone in order to achieve personal growth.
So, when the opportunity of moving to Dubai came, I took it without second thoughts.
How did you research living in Dubai? Any specific websites or blogs that are good resources?
A month before I left the Philippines, I bought Time Out City Guide – Dubai book. With that, I arrived prepared; I knew the culture, the history and tradition.
In terms of lifestyle, I got a lot of help from my cousins who were already expatriates in Dubai. They introduced me to the expat life. Recently, I discovered expat-blog.com. It is a great site where expats around the world can share their experiences through forums and blogs.
What’s a typical day as an expat in Dubai?
It’s basically the eat-sleep-work routine on weekdays. I spend eight hours or more in the workplace and the remaining would be rest, house chores and family time.
Since expat life can be dreary and stressful, I often pull out the travel map and act as a tourist on weekends.
That is why I named my blog “Lady and her Sweet Escapes”. I write about my weekend jaunts, short trips and some sort of “escape” from the monotonous life.
What’s your memorable experience living in Dubai?
I had a great time when my loved ones came to Dubai.
In my second year as an expat, my boyfriend (now my husband) decided to live and work here as well.
Then months later, my parents came for a 20-day vacation. I was their tour guide. I got to show them my favorite spots and the amazing landmarks that they only used to see in magazines.
What advice can you give women about what to pack for their time in Dubai?
Make sure to pack some comfortable and light, but decent clothes. Sun protection like sunscreen, sunglasses and hats are also essential as the weather can be unbearably hot during the summer.
Did you face any language barriers? If so, how did you overcome them?
Language was never a problem. Arabic is the official language, yet English is widely used.
To show respect to the Islamic culture, I have learned Arabic greetings for the holy month of Ramadan like “Ramadan Kareem” and “Eid Mubarak”, and the word Shukran which means “Thank You”.
What are your favorite traditional meals? Please add details on what is in the meals.
It’s such a shame, but I have to admit that I haven’t paid much attention to the traditional cuisine mainly because authentic Emirati restaurants are very rare.
Since expatriates make up more than half of the total population, Dubai offers a vast variety of International cuisine.
Only recently, I dined at a local Emirati restaurant. I had Machboos Deyay; chicken cooked with rice and Arabic spices. I also had Luqaimat or sweet Arabic dumplings; fried dough balls that are crispy outside, soft inside and sweetened with warm date syrup.
I have yet to try more traditional dishes, but I can already say that Luqaimat is my favorite Emirati dish.
What three things would you recommend women travelers do in Dubai?
Though Dubai is cosmopolitan, travelers should still remember that it is a Muslim city.
Women must wear respectful clothing. No micro minis and belly baring tops when visiting mosques, souks and shopping malls.
Aside from the strict dress code, public display of affection must be avoided.
I would advise women travelers to know and follow the courtesy policy, and then they can enjoy all the great things that Dubai can offer; tax-free shopping, sight-seeing and desert adventures.
What is the most common misconception about Dubai?
Some people think that traveling to Dubai is expensive. Dubai isn’t only about luxurious hotels, gold shopping and fine dining. There are free world-class attractions like the Dubai Fountain and the Dubai Aquarium, and most heritage sites have less than $2 entrance fee.
What was your biggest culture shock in Dubai?
I had a difficult time during my first Ramadan in the country. The “no eating and drinking in public” rule during daytime was the hardest for me.
Ramadan is a holy month when non-Muslims must also follow strict regulations from dawn ‘til dusk; no eating, drinking, chewing, swearing, smoking and indecent gestures in public.
What was the greatest lesson you learned in Dubai?
I live in a fast growing city that changes every single day! There was once a signboard that says “Dubai is… a map that gets updated every day.”
In Dubai, I have learned that change is inevitable. It has taught me to accept and adapt the changes, not just in road maps but in real life.
What challenges did you face being a woman travelling in Dubai? Any tips to help future travelers avoid those challenges?
In a shopping mall, I have been approached because of wearing a dress that falls above my knees; what may be appropriate for some may not be modest enough for others.
I have also noticed how less safe it is to walk in the streets alone at night. To avoid unwanted attention or being disrespected, it is best to stay with a group.
It is also important to know the local emergency numbers to call when accidents and criminal activity or harassments are encountered.
What advice can you give women considering moving/traveling to Dubai?
It is very important to do some research before traveling or moving.
For travelers, read city guides, know the rules and make a flexible itinerary.
For those who are planning to move, familiarize yourself with the traditions and lifestyle before your flight to avoid culture shock. There are several guide books on the market; I found Time Out really helpful. Expat blogs and forums can also give you an overview of the expatriate life in Dubai.
How has your time in Dubai changed you?
I have been learning and embracing the changes since I moved in. Dubai strengthened me while keeping me whole. I can see myself like Dubai. It has undergone massive transformation. There are now mega-structures and man-made islands, yet it has kept its culture and tradition intact.
Any other thoughts or advice for our women readers?
Do not be afraid to live outside your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised to see what you can do and who you can be. Change for the better, chase your dreams, but never forget to enjoy life in between!
Thank you Lady Anne for participating in this interview. For more info on Lady Anne and her adventures, please visit ladyandhersweetescapes.com.