First-time Expat: My realizations while living in Dubai

It took us months to get all the required documents collected and authenticated. So I was surprised when our papers were approved after just a month. Everything moved so fast as soon as my entry permit to Dubai was finally issued. I was given a two month pass to enter the UAE, which was enough time to process my papers -- with that being said, getting the actual residency visa stamped on my passport, and passing my medical exam. I wasn't prepared to leave. But after much debate with my husband about my departure date, I left the Philippines half-anxious and half-excited. I just had to remind myself that “this was it!” My husband and I were one step closer to bridging the LDR gap. 

I had mixed emotions. I was excited to see my husband again, and was excited to spend a whole month in the 'City of Gold'. But I was also anxious to leave Manila, that I had a hard time sleeping and eating during my red eye flight to Dubai. It also didn't help that my Pinay seatmate was selfish, as she continuously hoarded what little elbow and legroom I had (I was seated in the middle). I appreciated my other seatmate more (an older, big, male Caucasian), who despite wreaked of body odor, was conscious of the space between us. He was more considerate and nicer to me compared to the other passenger.

My anxiety attacks didn't let me sleep. I felt like vomiting at every bite of what seemed like a really good meal. All I had taken in throughout my 9-hour flight were small bites from my fruit cup, and a few gulps of chilled apple juice. And to make matters worse, my left eye started to throb and hurt, which would soon turn into a nasty sty 24 hours later. It was so gross and was completely expensive to medicate. Then again, that's a different story to tell.

Anyway, I probably wouldn't have gotten through that long haul flight if it weren't for the impressive entertainment system that Emirates offered on board (I got to finish watching Lala Land and the Fantastic Beasts and where to find them). I was also pleased to have been seated just three rows away from Business class, which gave me easy access to a bathroom (and also to the nearest exit).


I had this image of Dubai as a safe and affordable city to reside in. Yes, it was safe. But it was expensive to live in. It was hard to look for a place that we could afford, even for just a month. We could've saved on rent money if I was just permitted to stay at my husband's shared, company-provided accommodation. But even that wasn't allowed. So we had to look for a cheaper housing alternative where I could stay for the meantime –- one that we could actually pay for. It wasn’t easy talking to my husband about living separately despite being married. But we had no other choice but to grab what was available.

If you must know, rooms in Dubai are crazy expensive. Imagine paying a month’s rent worth 3,000-4,000 Dirhams for a studio apartment (a non-shared accommodation), exclusive of all basic necessities. So I had no other choice but to stay in a shared flat that housed 12 people (the most decent and spacious out of all the ones that my husband checked), where only a bunk bed separated me from the rest. The red blanket that you can see hanging on the photo is mine, and it provided me some form of comfort and privacy throughout my stay.

The first week was hard, but I got used to it after some time. My roommates, who were all female and Filipino, were nice enough. We were all civil. But they weren’t always the considerate bunch when it came to keeping the place orderly, as the noise they created morning and night was annoying! I surprisingly found myself being able to catch sleep on most nights despite hearing their loud chatter and laughs. 

It was hard living with so many people under one roof, and with only two bathrooms to share (only one bathroom was clean and maintained). Even the use of the bathrooms needed lining up for; and I’m surprised that I got to use the cleaner one, given the proper scheduling: 5 AM (when everyone is still sleeping), 8 AM (when everyone is out for work), or 6 PM (when everyone hasn’t arrived from work yet). 

I learned that life in Dubai wasn't all glitz and glamour for everybody. I realized that there were a lot of people there who were living a hard life. Despite my flatmates lack of courtesy, I tried not to feed my annoyances when it came to them because I grew a sympathetic ear to what they were going through. It's never easy being away from home. It's also hard to set aside what little money they've earned, so that they can continue to send money for their families in the Philippines. I tell you, it's quite a struggle. 

But on the bright side, I was allowed to spend time at my husband’s flat until late in the evening. When he's off duty, I would come over to his place and we would prepare home cooked meals. I also got to do my laundry without bother, and got to nap without being awakened by the loud chatter from my flatmates. At his apartment, I felt at peace.

I also learned to love the community where I was temporarily based. Al Quoz didn’t look that fancy compared to the flats and villas that we would see in the city (design-wise). But it was good enough for me. I liked that it had a certain calm to it. I was able to live there knowing that I could safely walk its streets, without worrying if I was being followed or watched. I also didn’t feel that homesick because I would always see a fellow Filipino at every glance. 

I learned that living in a foreign country, particularly as an expat in Dubai, wasn’t all fun and games. The cost of living was definitely higher compared to the Philippines. Everything was so expensive, that I would always have a hard time choosing where to eat, where to go or what to buy because of the prices. Then again, I'm glad that I was exposed to this type of reality, even for just a while. And with that, I'll know how to better handle things when I finally relocate.

I also learned to appreciate my husband more, as I saw him go through shift after shift, dead tired and sleep-deprived, but still appreciative of his job -- a steady income that helps put food on the table. Overseas Filipino Workers are heroes in their own right, and my husband is one of them. Despite being away from me, his family and friends, he continues to persevere and do better at work. And just like him, I am bent on living through my new life in Dubai with a more determined spirit. 

“You just have to stop worrying, wondering, and doubting, and just have faith that things will work out.”

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  1. Loved this article! Your blog is really cool! I am french, part time living in dubai, and I love to read and hear stories from expats in dubai, especially about the unfair work conditions that some nationalities have to deal with... it is intersting to know more about other People expériences in this crazy city. Wish you success with your projets!

    1. Hi, Ms. Elissa! I might be late in replying, but know that I really appreciate your kinds words. Are you still based in Dubai?


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