Luxury hotels, rich people, latest technology, modern architecture, no taxes are just a few things that come to peoples’ minds when thinking of Dubai. But is that really all there is?
I have asked Sarah from A German in Dubai to tell us more about her expat life in Dubai including challenges, language, and cultural barriers, local dishes, costs of living, and much more.
Hi Sarah, tell us about yourself…
I am Sarah, a 30-something German living in the United Arab Emirates since 2010. I am married to a Syrian, living my German-Arabic life.
I work in an inbound tourism company and usually, we travel a lot. This summer I have launched my blog, A German in Dubai, which is about my life, Arabic recipes, insider tipps for UAE-holidays and other trips, interesting stories about the local life and much more.
What was the main reason for moving to Dubai?
I don’t actually live directly in Dubai. I live in the neighboring Emirate called Sharjah. It is attached to Dubai and only a 20 minutes drive away from my home to the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa.
There is not THE main reason for moving here. When I came as a tourist for the first time in 2009 I loved the internationality of this country, the safety and that within one small country we have beaches, city life with malls, deserts and mountains. Everything within a maximum of 2 hours of driving time.
I also felt that career options here are better than back home so that’s why I decided to move to the UAE.
Is it easy to connect with locals or are there any barriers?
Honestly, the expats live mostly apart from the locals. Not that it is a language barrier, everyone here speaks English. But usually, we are not so much mixing up.
How about the cost of living?
It really depends on what we talk about. Our rent is similar to any big city like Berlin in Germany, but we live in Sharjah.
If you live in Dubai itself you most likely pay double of what we pay. Of course, depending also if you live a bit outside the city or on the famous Palm Jumeirah or near to Burj Khalifa. In that case, rents would be horrendous, maybe even five times as high as what we pay.
Fruit and vegetables as well as European products are all more expensive than back home. In Germany, of course, we love our drug stores like Rossmann to buy cosmetics. Those are also much more expensive here.
On the other hand, petrol is so cheap here. It is actually cheaper than water. Water costs around 1Euro the liter and petrol is around 50cent maybe. Public transportation here is also super cheap compared to Germany.
What is your favourite and least favorite part about living in Dubai?
Definitely the weather is a plus as well as the diversity as I said before – beach, city, desert etc. Oh, and SAFETY is probably THE best part. It’s safe wherever you go. You never have to be afraid. Being far away from family on the other hand is not so good.
What was the biggest culture shock for you?
Mmh…nothing?! I am not shocked by the differences. They rather make me curious to know more.
What is your favorite local food?
I would say the really local Emirati food is not so famous but the Levantine cuisine from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan is very delicious and available here at every corner.
I love ‘Manakish” which I always describe as “Arabian pizza” and my Syrian husband hates me for that. Well, it’s a kind of dough with cheese or spices, zataar, olives, meat, and whatever you like on it. It is then backed in a stone oven. It’s so yummy! Traditionally it’s eaten for breakfast but I can eat it at any time of the day.
Can you share any funny/typical traditions from Dubai?
I would say that it looks kind of funny how the local men greet each other with a “nose kiss/rub”. Obviously, before the pandemic but yeah, it’s like what we are doing with kids in Europe but here grown-up men say hi to each other that way.
What is a stereotype about Dubai that you found out not to be true?
Definitely that women do have any disadvantages here, or that women have to wear a headscarf. That’s nonsense. My life here is much better than in Germany I would say.
Did you know that the UAE has implemented a law of gender-equal salaries this summer? A man and a woman having the same position and education must be paid the same salary. I love that!
Check out my post about Myth discovered: All moslem have multiple wives.
What is your favorite thing to do in Dubai that people should do if they visit?
I think it’s really the mix. Tourists should definitely not only do a city tour with photo-stops at Burj Al Arab or visit Burj Khalifa and do a Desert Safari.
I recommend everyone to dive deeper into the culture and food by booking a tour that covers the local traditions, religions, culture, cuisine, etc.
What was the biggest challenge for you once you moved to Dubai?
Probably to get somehow used to living in 50 degrees Celsius and very high humidity during summer.
What is a fun fact about Dubai most people don’t know about?
Did you know that there are only around 15% of locals living in the UAE? Around 85% of the people are coming from abroad.
What would be your top advice for people who are thinking to move to Dubai?
Believe in your dreams. You can do everything but don’t think life is easy here or you can make a million easily. You have to work hard for it.
What is the biggest difference between your home country Germany and Dubai?
There are so many differences. Germany is a European, mainly Christian, country and the UAE is an Arabic Islamic country. It’s not like you are moving from Germany to the USA or to Spain.
We don’t hear church bells, we hear the call for prayer from mosques 5 times a day. During the Islamic fasting months, even non-Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink in public. It’s kind of a different world here.
What do you miss most from home?
Apart from my family, I miss Rossmann & DM most, haha! I think all Germans living abroad know what I mean. We could also add Aldi and Lidl to that list.
If you wanna know more about Sarah’s life in the UAE, local food, interesting stories, and helpful tips for your next holiday in Dubai, visit her blog, A German in Dubai, or connect on Instagram.
You can find more expat stories on my blog.