Monica Dascal is a Romanian who was looking for a travelling career and ended up finding it in Abu Dhabi. She met her husband there after just three months of living in the emirate. Six years later, they are still enjoying what Abu Dhabi has to offer.
Q: Where are you originally from?
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Abu Dhabi, Centre City
Q: How long have you lived in Abu Dhabi?
A: Almost six years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: No, I moved to Abu Dhabi on my own, but met my husband after three months of living here.
Q: Why did you move to Abu Dhabi; what do you do?
A: I was looking for a travelling career, and found one. I’m a flight attendant.
About Abu Dhabi
Q: What do you enjoy most about the emirate, how’s the quality of life in Abu Dhabi?
A: Abu Dhabi has a high standard of living, good food and increasing fun having opportunities.
Q: Any negatives in Abu Dhabi? What do you miss most about home?
A: There is excessively expensive accommodation in Abu Dhabi. Some are lucky getting company provided accommodation, others are not and live up to ten in a room to cover rent.
I things I miss most are the refreshing weather and the forests.
Q: Is Abu Dhabi safe?
A: Abu Dhabi is the safest city I know, as committing any crime here can mean visa cancellation and being sent home, which is normally not a good option.
About living in Abu Dhabi
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Abu Dhabi as an expat?
A: For a family, the city can feel like a very busy place, but it also offers lots of parks and kids playing areas. But if you have a car, parking can be hectic, so suburbs like Khalifa City A and B, Al Reef or Al Raha Gardens might be more suitable places.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Abu Dhabi?
A: Quite good. The flats are usually quite large and tall, and usually fitted with furniture/washing and cooking machines by the landlord. The majority don’t have exterior windows in the kitchens, opening up to interior small balconies or just small windows. Floors are tiled and kitchens and bathrooms are tiled until the ceiling. All accommodation offers air-conditioning – no one could live here without it in the summer (at least not now - apparently in the 1960s the only air-con in Abu Dhabi was owned by the British Embassy).
Q: What’s the cost of living in Abu Dhabi compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Food costs – supermarket related are almost the same as home. Restaurants in Abu Dhabi are more expensive. I’ve already mentioned accommodation as very expensive.
There are lots of sales – at least every two months there is one. Also, at any time you can ask for an ad-hoc discount. You never know, you might be lucky.
Q: What are the Abu Dhabi locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Abu Dhabi locals are not necessarily unfriendly, but more withdrawn and private, especially the women.
Abu Dhabi is a traditionalist society in which woman usually meet more house related roles. Of course there are those who own their own businesses and have high positions in multinational corporations.
Though some of them work in the same offices with the expats, they usually stick together and it’s very difficult to get close to them.
Guys usually party and are very open to the Western style of life, until their thirties, and then they also become more serious and committed to family life.
The majority of them are very rich. They own companies and the have only mid to senior managerial roles.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Abu Dhabi?
A: The majority of my friends are from work, but it is quite easy to make friends, as social networking is quite important in Abu Dhabi. Everyone has a Facebook page and/or a BlackBerry and this is how people keep in touch and organise events.
Joining clubs and different classes (dancing, gym, aerobics, pottery, cooking, etc) is quite common and gives people something to do in the long and extremely hot summer days.
About working in Abu Dhabi
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for the UAE?
A: Visas are arranged usually by the employer before arriving in UAE. When transferring to another job it’s good to leave on good terms so the employer doesn’t block the visa (Meaning a restriction of sometimes 6-12 months of entering the UAE). There is also the possibility of living in the UAE on a spouse/father visa, meaning the family pays for the visa and medical insurance and all other medical expenses.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Abu Dhabi, is there plenty of work?
A: Lately it hasn’t been easy to find jobs in Abu Dhabi, but also it is far better than in other places. It usually depends where you come from and what your qualifications are. Anyone with English as a mother tongue has a clear advantage.
Q: How does the work culture in Abu Dhabi differ from home?
A: Not too much. It pays to be friendly and to know people who know people. Always having good connections will get you ahead.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, as I stay in company provided accommodation, and my company covered those costs when needed (I already moved four times). But there are plenty of relocation companies available. Alternatively, any good security guard of any accommodation would have connections that can provide a rental truck for an appropriate amount.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: He came before me and speaks both Arabic and English, so for him it was much easier than me.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Abu Dhabi?
A: Insurance usually covers a large range of medication (not vitamins prescribed without antibiotics!). Hospitals are very clean and nurses well qualified. It is very hard though to find good doctors who will not prescribe medication just to fill a quota, and who will really take good care of people. They are often described as uninterested and unreliable.
Some hospitals, like Al Noor Hospital or Sheik Khalifa Hospital, are regarded as trustworthy and safe, with excellent staff, very organised – the latter has their receiving nurses work on pads/tablets to diminish and speed up paperwork and also has translators for several languages.
Q: Is there any other advice you want to offer new expat arrivals in Abu Dhabi?
A: Do not get shocked when you see the traffic; it can be hectic sometimes, especially around 7am in the morning. New roads are opening literally every day and it gets easier and safer to drive around.
The majority of the taxi drivers have a minimal level of education usually, but are polite in general and easy to direct if you know where you’re going. If not, you just need to give them the building’s name (not number), sometimes there’s not even the need for a street name, they’ll manage. Their level of English is not very high, but some do speak other languages as well, such as Urdu or Hindi – the majority speak a broken and localised Arabic.
Something nice is that there are areas just for women – like specific bank branches – as well as lady taxis, which you can recognise by the pink flowers. They are driven by ladies, but they can take male passengers as well.
► Interviewed March 2012