The most common question expats get

home matsumoto

Another year is about to start so we get the most generic of questions from family and friends back home,

“You’re still there?”

We’re about to welcome another year in Dubai. Didn’t we come here and intend to stay for a few years? You know, just to test the waters? (As of this writing, it’s our 10th summer in Dubai).

All our furniture except for the white goods (fridge and washing machine) were all second-hand when we bought them seven years ago. We’ll only stay for a while so what’s the point of buying all new? But somewhere along the way, home had become the here and now, Dubai.

“How many more years?”

I thought to myself – after all these years and we still don’t have the answer.  A few more years.


Because the more time we spend here, the roots have gone deeper and it seems that moving back home is not as straightforward as it should be.

Japan. We’ve lived there before, how hard can it be? But we do know how hard it can be because the more adjusted an expat is outside of his country, the harder he falls once he repatriates. Once the excitement of homecoming recedes and the steady stream of well-wishers tapers off, reverse culture shock happens.

I should know, I’ve been there. Somewhat.

When I was 19 and studying abroad, I made some of the most significant friendships in my life. I met my husband and formed great friendships in school and later on, at work while there. After living in Japan for 10 years, going back to the Philippines even only for month-long vacations felt strange. It’s like I’ve known the place and the people all my life but then don’t know it at all. Somewhat disconnected with the used to be familiar things. New streets, new malls, that slower pace of life. Everything seems to be different. My former friends were busy with work, their own lives that it was very difficult to gather them all together, in one place. I was back home yet feeling strangely alien to the place. I get so excited when the plane lands but itching to leave only after a few days. (I don’t know if my other five expat siblings all feel the same)

I think when you’re a long term expat, it’s a constant tug of war. It’s like being stuck in limbo: neither here or there. You’ll miss your first home (or second) when you live overseas and then when you’re back home, you miss the exciting life abroad. And by ‘exciting’ – it’s expected anyone who has lived in Dubai will really miss it when they’re gone from here.

What to do in Dubai for a short trip

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What is a “short” trip, anyway? Well, it really depends on an individual’s perception of time. A few hours of layover time? 24 hours? A few days maybe?

I often get emails like,

“I’ll be in Dubai for a short layover what do you suggest I do? Where do I go? Must not miss places?”

“I don’t want to see malls and new glitzy buildings. I want something with culture and character – is there something like that there?”

So now, I’m going to list down things to do in Dubai so next time you find yourself having a few hours to spare in this metropolitan hub, you’ll be a little more informed and you wouldn’t waste precious time.

1. Go to the Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

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Even if visiting a retail shop on a short layover in the UAE is not your idea of fun, The Dubai Mall is still worth a visit. Not only it’s a haven for shoppers, there are several attractions within the area of Downtown Dubai so you can maximize your time to see attractions within the premises of the mall like, the world’s largest panel aquarium 

Dubai aquarium

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the wonderful show of water, light and music of the Dubai fountains if you’re arriving at towards evening time

Dubai fountain

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plus the shopping center is a doorstep in front of the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa.

Burj Khalifa

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The Dubai Mall can be accessible by taxi or by public transport via the Dubai Metro Red Line. Stop at Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station. The train station and the mall is conveniently connected by a covered and temperature controlled walkway. 

2. Be on top of the world

at the top

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While you’re at the Dubai Mall, you shouldn’t pass up the chance to see the world from the top. Access to the Burj Khalifa from the mall is at the lower ground floor.

TIP: Buying your At the Top ticket online will cost you much less than if you buy at the ticket office and you’ll also avoid long lines.

3. Take a peek at Dubai’s history at Bur Dubai

bastakiya wind towers

From Downtown Dubai (Dubai Mall) you can take either a cab or better and cheaper by Metro to the old part of Dubai – the Bastakiya District. The tiny Bastakiya quarter was established at the end of the 19th century by well-to-do textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran (thus the name Bastakiya). Its labyrinthine lanes are lined with restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. The Bastakiya is a picturesque step into Dubai’s past.

Textile souq is located just a few minutes stroll from Bastakiya and Dubai museum. You’ll see bright colored fabrics and local costumes however, you might be offered to buy a pashmina every step of the way. 

textile souk

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Dubai Museum takes tourists and residents a peek at Dubai’s beginnings. After Dubai museum, you can take a walk to the direction of the textile souq or if you have time to the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Culture and Understanding at the Heritage and Diving Village. Take the creek side to walk. It’s really a refreshing experience especially during cooler months in Dubai (late November to March).

stroll through heritage village

Now it’s time to go to the other side of the creek. Find the abra station. It’s right at the start of the textile souq, where a huge building of Bank of Baroda stands.

abra station 2

This area must be one of the remaining authentic parts of Dubai on the creek side where you can witness a different side of Dubai life.

The Bastakiya District, Dubai Museum and textile souq is accessible by taxi or public transport via the Dubai Metro. Get down at Al Fahidi Metro station on the Green Line and walk towards the direction of the creek.

4. Cross the creek


Dubai is divided into two areas by a natural water inlet called The Dubai Creek: Deira (old Dubai) and Bur Dubai side (new Dubai). From either side of the creek, you can get on a motorized wooden boat called “abra”, the traditional mode of transportation since before the bridges were built. Crossing the Dubai creek in the primitive way is not only fun, it’s cheap! It only costs AED1 per person one way!

dubai creek

Riding an abra while in Dubai is not to be missed – it’s a great break from all that huge commercial malls and other touristy stuff. Plus it’s a good chance to take beautiful photos of life on the creek, as it happens.

Abra station, Bur Dubai side:

5. Smell and see the old world cham of the spice souq and gold souq

spice souq

The Spice Souk is known as the biggest spice market in Dubai with a wide range of spices, herbs, incense and traditional medicinal products. The spice stands are interesting – providing smells and sights you don’t often encounter.

A little warning though: some merchants can be really annoying. Yes, you will be asked to buy cashmere and fake watches but don’t let that bother you.

The neighboring gold souq is where you can find gold jewelry in every type, size and design.

Gold Souq

My honest opinion as someone who has been here for almost 10 years and taking friends who visit Dubai: If you’ve never experienced a souk before, then you might find this area interesting. I sure was impressed the first time I saw all the glittering gold pieces way back in 2006. But if you’ve visited souks in other countries such as Istanbul, where the spice souk is so much more impressive, then I would suggest spending your time elsewhere.

I would still strongly suggest to take the boat ride across the creek though, that is an adventure in itself.

So there, I think these are the top 5 “staples” when visiting Dubai but if you have more time…

6. Dip your feet in the sand.

Black Palace Beach
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Dubai is blessed to have powder soft white sand and crystal clear waters in our beaches. There are plenty of public beaches too that are free to enter. My personal favorite Dubai beaches are Kite Beach, Black Palace Beach and Jumeirah Open Beach.

7. Be amazed at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

madinat jumeirah

I didn’t include Madinat Jumeirah in the top five not because it’s not worth visiting but because when you’re in Dubai for a really short trip, it would not fit into the bill of places to visit when you’re in a rush. You need to spend time here. I love, love this place! A great place to unwind have lunch, shop and take many amazing pictures.

Apart from the maze-like souk, the outside area is like a little Venice. Madinat Jumeirah translates into the ‘City of Jumeirah’, so named because of the sheer variety of this magnificent resort, located in the heart of fashionable Jumeirah. The concept is one of ‘old Arabia’ in a totally luxurious context.

Madinat Jumeirah

8. Take the monorail to Atlantis, The Palm

The Palm Monorail is a good vantage point to see the Palm Jumeirah. From the elevated platform you can have an excellent view of the biggest man-made island in the world, the Palm Jumeirah. Round trip ticket price of the monorail is not cheap at 25 dirhams but the view and visit to Atlantis Hotel is still worth it.

At this moment, the monorail station is not connected with Dubai metro or the Dubai tram. However, access has been easier if you take the tram and get down at Palm Jumeirah station – the monorail station is a short walk away.

9. Get on a Desert Safari adventure

desert safari

If you happen to be in Dubai during winter time, consider the desert safari for sure, it is a nice experience. Mostly done int he afternoon, you will be collected from your hotel (or you go at a designated meeting place) and driven out to the desert. The driver lets a little air out of the tires and he drives all over the huge sand dunes. After spending a great time over the sand dunes you then are taken to an outdoor area filled with tables and huge cushions and surrounded by stalls where you are given a buffet dinner and treated to belly dancing and other shows.

Read my previous post: Dubai desert safari

TIPS: (1) Don’t try this if you get even mild travel / motion sickness! (2) Find the right vendor as there are many offering cheap desert tour with mediocre service.

10. Feel the metropolitan x beach vibe at The Walk, JBR

the walk

The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is Dubai’s first outdoor shopping and fine dining promenade where you can explore stylish boutiques, restaurants, shopping spots. This attractive outdoor shopping and dining promenade was an immediate hit when it opened in 2008.

The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence can be accessed by public transport via the Dubai Metro Red Line. Get down at Dubai Marina station and change to the Dubai tram stopping at Jumeirah Beach Residence 1.

Don’t want your adventure to stop at Dubai? Make Dubai your starting point for an adventure!

Word just came through that Royal Caribbean’s newest addition, Ovation of the Seas will depart on a series of 3, 5 and 7 day cruises around Europe before heading to Dubai and from here, on a 52 day Global Odyssey tour to the East.

To help promote the routes and destinations Ovation of the Seas is taking in Europe before heading to Asia, they are mapping her journey on Royal Caribbean’s Instagram. In 27 posts, Royal Caribbean’s Instagram account will show Ovation of the Seas as she travels to different destinations, creating one final image which features a Bird’s Eye view of the ship with the European stops on each side.


I have not been on a cruise and I dream of being in one someday! I know there are so many myths about going on a cruise like you’ll get bored because of the long journey, for example but scratch that, this ship offers so much entertainment on board including (gasp) floating on air inside an iFly tube and surfing simulation!

Royal Caribbean International launches Quantum of the Seas, the newest ship in the fleet, in November 2014. View across the pool deck at sunset

Royal Caribbean International launches Quantum of the Seas, the newest ship in the fleet, in November 2014.
View across the pool deck at sunset

An exciting feature of the Ovation of the Seas ship (and could easily become my favorite) is the North Star, a jewel-shaped capsule that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering breath-taking 360° views of the sea and the ship’s destinations. Ah, I am sure the views would be unbeatable.

Before I swoon too much about this new ship, I am proud to announce that I am one of the contributors to the Royal Caribbean’s Instagram project and my photos (set of photos presented as a gif) will be used to represent one of their destinations (Dubai) in the full mosaic. Watch out for the project hashtag #ExtraordinaryOvation and hashtag for the ship is #OvationoftheSeas.

So, looking at the above list, what would you do if you have a day in Dubai? And have you been on a cruise?

Start of my life as an expat


It’s Thursday again! I was drafting a little personal #ThrowbackThursday story that was meant to be published in my blog’s Facebook page but then it got longer and longer that I thought, what the heck, I’ll make this into a blog post instead!

As you may have noticed in my previous posts and in my social media channels, especially in my Instagram, I’ve been in the Philippines for vacation, staying at my parent’s house. One of the things I love and I always do when I am there? Look at old photographs! I never get tired of going through the old, dusty albums back home. I found some precious pics that could provide me throwback status posts for the rest of the year.

I shared my expat story before, but I think I’ve never wrote about how it started.

When do you start to become an “expat”? Does my time as a student qualify me to be called an expat? If being an “expat”, defined in Wikipedia as,  a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship, I’ve been an expat since I was 19. Hmmm, thinking about it now, that sounds overwhelming.

But if being an expat means one should be holding a job, i.e., earning, then my expat life started after I graduated from school. My expat life started a few days after this below photo was taken.

Grace in Nagano

My first job after graduation in the year 2001 was in Nagano Prefecture (Japan), some 200 kilometers away from my school in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture. From that comfort zone that was the school dormitory where I spent four and a half years, I was thrown into a totally different setting: living alone in a small apartment of my own in a small town where trains only come a couple of times in an hour and very cold winters that could freeze a huge lake.

The city where I lived in Nagano is about 800 meters above sea level and the winters are unforgiving. It may not snow much but the chill factor was something so different from the past winters I had in Kanagawa. In Nagano, you miss one train and  you wait for more than 30 minutes out in the cold – I learned this the hard way.

Frozen Suwa Lake

Anyway, I looked at these photos and thought, wow, I never really knew at this point when the picture was taken what the future holds. I only heard about the tough life of being Japan’s salaryman – Japan’s colloquial term for office worker, considered by many to be the backbone of Japan’s economy. These employees are expected to always put the company first and known for working long hours, as much as 60 hours per week.

I’ve had difficult time at first adjusting to the whole new system. My work life had its ups and downs but hands down the most wide-opening and reflective experience I could ever have. I got sick and realized wow, life in Japan, living alone, unmarried and without any relatives is only as good till you get sick. I got back up and continued on my salaryman everyday grind for 3 years before getting married and having a child. 

Fast forward 14 years after these photos were taken, I am still an expat. However, in a different land and my story continues. Related read: Our Dubai story

How to transfer UAE visa sponsorship for children

benjamin-visa 2

Like hundreds of thousands of expatriates in Dubai, we all require a visa to work and live here. Mine and my husband’s employment visas are sponsored by our respective employers. Either of us but usually the husband (“head of the family”) can then sponsor our children and our house help.

When we first came to Dubai in 2007 because of my work, I sponsored my husband and our daughter because my husband did not have any work that time. Sponsoring husband and children in the UAE is allowed but can sometimes become a tedious job that requires extra paper work. Not all women are allowed to become family sponsors due to the fact that this is a Muslim country and the immigration department insists that the child’s sponsor be the father in all circumstances. However, in case the husband (Father) has lost job and got his visa cancelled, it will be necessary for wife (mother) to sponsor the visa, if the mother works in UAE. 

Our son, Benjamin is under his father’s sponsorship but due to changes in his employment situation, we needed to transfer the visa under my sponsorship. Pristine had been under my sponsorship since 2007.

I receive a lot of inquiries via my private email regarding this so this blog post. Hope this helps.

* Please note that when the wife becomes the sponsor, the immigration officers deal with this in a case to case basis so additional documents may be needed other than the ones listed below.

1. Original passport of child/children to be sponsored

2. Original passport of sponsor

3. No objection letter (should be typewritten as handwritten is not accepted). It should state that the current sponsor (in our case, my husband) has no objection/accepts that the visa sponsorship is transferred to the new sponsor (in our case, mine). In some cases, the immigration officer might ask for this letter in Arabic so better prepare both in English and Arabic. We were lucky they accepted ours in English.

4. Labor contract of new sponsor – The sponsor’s monthly salary shall be Dhs3,000 + accommodation or a total of Dhs4,000 as per the employment contract approved by the Ministry of Labour. The Contract to be attested from Immigration Department on payment of Dhs120.

5. Proof that husband cannot sponsor – we presented the end of contract letter from his company.

6. Birth certificate of child

7. Marriage certificate

8. Tenancy contract (accommodation rental agreement). It has to be attested through Ejari online system of Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA).  The Tenancy contract should be under the sponsor’s name. Our tenancy contract is under my husband’s name so we attached his passport copy and explained that we are living together.

9. Electricity bill (I think this is used as proof of address)

10. 1 photograph of the child in white background

1. Go to the immigration office (the main is in Jaffliya but you can also apply at the municipality office, we went to the one in Al Twar near where we live).

2. With all the required documents, approach an authorized typing center (there is a typing center in all immigration branches). Tell them whether the child is in the country or outside the country. You pay the visa fees at the typing center.

3. Once  the typing is done for the new Entry permit, approach the immigration department and present your application.

4. This is where you will be asked to see the supervisor who will assess this as a “humanitarian case”, check all your documents and HOPEFULLY sign the entry permit form. You may be asked questions as to why there is a need to transfer the visa (where is the father? What is his visa status?)

5. Once you receive the Entry Permit, if the child is inside UAE, you need to get the status changed by again approaching typing center and typing the form.

6. When that is done, approach the immigration desk again to stamp the visa.

*Medical is not required for children below the age of 18 years.

We paid Dhs 830 at the typing center. This includes Residence visa fee, transfer fee and Emirates ID.


Main Branch
Bur Dubai, Karama, Opposite Jafiliya Metro Station
Working Time: 7:30am – 8pm (Sun-Thu)
Immigration Call Centre 800 5111

Dubai International Airport (Terminal 3)
Gate No.2, Departures area
Phone: 04-707 5388
Timing: Around the clock, seven days a week (including holidays)
Services: All visa related services (including e-gate card)
NOTE: Urgent service only for new visa stamping and renewal (Courier service not available)

DNATA Emirates Building
Near Clock Tower, Deira
Phone: 04-707 5946
(Dh25 extra service charge for each transaction)
Timing: 7:30 to 2:30pm

A’amal Center – Hyatt Regency
Hyatt Regency Hotel-Deira
Business Centre, First Floor
Phone: 04-707 5922
(Dh30 extra service charge for each transaction)
Timing: 8am to 2:30pm

Municipality Service Centre
Al Towar, Qusais, Opposite Al Towar Mall
Phone: 04-707 5162
Timing: 7:30 to 8pm

Bin Souqat Centre
Al Rashidiya
Phone: 04-707 5939
Timing: 7:30 to 8pm

Arabian Centre
Mirdif / Al Mizhar
Phone: 04-707 5181
Timing: 7:30am – 8pm

Dubai creek

Our Dubai story

Dubai creek

When the name Mark Fonseca Rendeiro popped up in my inbox the other day, I was like, “hey, I have heard of this name somewhere!”. A few Google search moments later, I found out that the guy who just sent me an email asking if he can interview me about my “Dubai life” was indeed the citizen reporter and journalist who publishes articles and podcasts at Citizen Reporter. I’ve read about his new project, The Dubai Taxi Driver – crowd-funded via Kickstarter.

From the 7 Days Abu Dhabi article,

Donations have poured in through the Kickstarter website so that Mark Fonseca Rendeiro can listen to the life stories of the city’s taxi drivers and upload their tales to an online podcast.

Kickstarter is a ‘crowd-funding’ initiative that enables people to raise money from the public online. People donate according to how good they believe the project to be.

I thought that was cool.

I’ve been here for 7 years and one of the habits I’ve picked up had been making conversations with taxi drivers. Some of them have been living and working in Dubai for decades and they have so many interesting personal stories to tell. Some were also pretty new (I always get the “Sorry madam, I just started yesterday…”) and it’s also interesting to listen to them tell stories full of hope and how they have come here to help their families back home (while I help navigate which road to turn!).

Mark wanted to hear my story of why and how we came to Dubai from Japan, what we love about living here, why I started blogging, what do I write and things like that. What was planned to be a 30 minute conversation turned into almost 3 hours!

I realized, I love retelling our Dubai story.

I’ve wrote about why we took the plunge to relocate here in 2007. Fast forward more than six years later, I wrote my expat story last year. But what I am about to write now is the most exhaustive version of our Dubai story. So here goes.

I started this blog in 2007 to document our new adventure – we’re a young family, me and my husband in our late 20’s with a 3 year old daughter. We just bought a house in Japan in the summer of 2005 when I got a job offer in summer of 2006 – from a company in Dubai!

And I don’t even know where “Dubai” was!

They said they’ll be coming to Tokyo to interview me, I said yes but then it got postponed and postponed until September 2006 when they emailed: “How would you like to come to Dubai for an interview? We’ll take care of the plane ticket and hotel reservations.”

In my mind that time, it was nothing but a free trip. I had a job in Japan and we just bought a house. While I was looking to relocate our family to an English speaking country, never in my wildest dream did I think of living in the Middle East! So I took it lightly and boarded the plane to my free trip. I arrived on October and it was so humid and so hot. Autumn was just starting in Japan and the difference between cool, crisp autumn air to the killer humidity and desert heat was unbelievable. I thought I couldn’t breathe!

I went through the interview anyway and called my husband. The people seemed to be happier here despite the heat, the sun is always shining (reputedly, 330 days a year) and the “winters” are glorious, as is the beach. “You will love it here.” I was assured by my then future boss who’s been living in Dubai with his family for more than 15 years.

“If we are to go in an adventure, we better do it while we’re young. Now. Japan will always be there and our house is just bricks and mortar we can always go back to, if we want to. Let’s do this.”

…was our decision.

We packed our clothes and sold our things, posted our house for rent and landed in Dubai on January 13, 2007. Sure enough, everyone was right about the weather – it was glorious. We loved how it wasn’t hot and not too cold as well. There was no snow to deal with. No heaters to turn on, no heavy winter comforters and we can sleep comfortably in t-shirt!

The below photo was taken the day after we landed and this is the guest house (a line of apartments)..we only had a room though.

second day in dubai

The beach was…something, straight out of a sun worshipper’s wild dreams. We bought a city guide book and map and went to the beach on our first weekend.

Maki and Pristine in Mamzar

We got hooked to the beach and started going almost every single week while our friends back home in Japan looked at our photos and wish they were here and not clutching on to their warm, down jackets.

Pristine in Jumeirah Beach Park

Jumeirah open beach

Jumeirah beach

But that time, Dubai was in crazy construction boom: the Metro was under construction with so many roads closed (we vowed not to leave Dubai until the Metro is finished so we can enjoy the fruit of our sacrifice…sort of!), traffic was severe, buses were old and very crowded, taxis were scarce.

Dubai marina buildings

Unlike some expats who came here with the full expat package, we didn’t have a car, or a villa and was staying temporarily in the company guest house without a kitchen (only because it’s a walking distance to my work place). The guest house in Deira was on the flight path to Dubai International Airport so when we open the room window and reach out just a little, we can touch the belly of the plane trying to land!

The noise was insane with planes coming in every 5 minutes or less. They say it just takes a little getting used to but I never got used to it. I was sleep deprived for three months, the whole duration of our stay in that guest house. We were staying in the guest house because the apartment in Al Qusais that my company has provided for us was not finished yet.

When we finally moved, the very small flat had nothing on it, as in nothing. Bare as bare can be. We came to Dubai with only 3 suitcases, all with our clothes only, and my favorite kitchen knife I had for years (I’m a weirdo like that). Since we were really not sure how many years we’ll stay, we opted to buy pre-loved furniture sold online, from Dubai expats who’s going back to their home countries or moving elsewhere. (Dubai is a very transient place with people sometimes moving out within the first year of relocating here)

empty apartment

(We picked up furniture from different parts of Dubai with the help of a Pakistani driver Mr. Aslam who had a truck for hire – he was one of our first friends in Dubai and he has been living here for more than 25 years. He had lots of stories to tell!)

The new home is no longer walking distance to my office and I had to take the bus. This was 2007 and public transport services in Dubai leave even the most optimistic resident in despair. I used to wait for at least an hour for the bus to come, only to fight to get in, elbows, body odor and all.

It’s those moments you start to question,

“What am I doing here?”

“Is this worth it?”

But then, sometimes there are moments when we felt it’s worth it.

That time when we moved here, I was the one offered a job and my husband was the trailing spouse. We’re the opposite of the typical Dubai expats – where the wife and children follow the husband as he settles in the posh villa, arranges for kids’ schools and readies the Pajero. My husband was a stay at home dad for almost 5 months until my mother came to help us around so he can look for a job. My workaholic Japanese husband, at home for 5 months – this was by far the biggest transition in our lives (and living on a single income). But it was actually one of the best times in our marriage and as a family – he was free from work pressure and he was able to tie up the loose ends of his straining relationship with our 3 year old toddler (and our marriage). In Japan, he was all work and barely have time to bond with his daughter or with us.

In 5 months they were together at home, they got close and our daughter realized that she has two parents. Hah! Pristine is very close to her father now and I think we owe it to the time they were together on our early days here.

That was actually a bonus and an unexpected thing to happen. Our main goal of relocation was Pristine to learn English while she is small and Dubai was our answer for that, that time.

Some highlights in 2007 was the construction of the Metro train system.

Metro construction

The world’s tallest building was only half of what it is now.

Burj Khalifa in 2007

A 20 minute rain will flood the roads…and create heavier traffic.


You can see the Metro Green Line under construction here in I think 2008?


Road diversions due to floods and Metro construction.


Meanwhile, Pristine was used to be around kids since she was in the daycare center for the whole day, 5 days a week in Japan. It was difficult to entertain her at home for the whole day and given we don’t have any ‘kiddie’ stuff except for that one Little Mermaid DVD we brought. Her father used to take her around the neighborhood as they look for parks but there’s one thing strange her: most municipal parks are for ladies and children only on weekdays! Only the big parks are open to all (Safa Park, Zabeel). That was a challenge because Pristine wanted to go inside the park but her dad is not allowed entry!

We found a school after spending time looking around. She wasn’t happy at first and crying on the bus every single morning. Pristine only spoke Japanese when we came here so that must have been very stressful for her! Thankfully, when she came back around noon time, she was all smiles.

Pristine first school in Dubai

Pristine and her dad would meet up with me at 1:00 pm near where I work and we would have lunch together. Then they go home and have a nap.

I continued writing my blog but didn’t just diary our personal moments. Readers found me on the internet and they were interested in reading about Dubai – the Dubai that is beyond what is written in the glossy travel books. The Dubai that’s not all about glitz and glamour or shopping. And that not all are well off here. Not all expats came here to seek greener pastures. Some like us are not generally richer or poorer here, just the same but the quality of life is better for us. For my family, our pastures is not greener, just sandier.

This blog is meant to show that normal people like us exist here, the ones that struggled with the public transport, to tell a story of a working mom juggling career and family. Sure there are times when I started to miss our former home in the mountains of Nagano, Japan and battled questions that start with what if.

But seven years later, we are still here, enjoying the convenience of the very improved transport system – I was particularly very happy with the opening of the Green Line which shortened my commute to work big time, and among other things to be happy about!

Home… has been the here and now, Dubai.

Despite some discomforts, especially during the early years, we can still find reasons to stay (most important being, we seem to be healthier here, especially the husband and the kids – stable-ish weather that’s not too cold in the winter, temperature controlled house). And I’ve stopped thinking if we’d be happier there (or somewhere else) than here because a country alone cannot make you happy.

5 Reasons why we hired a house help

kitchen sink

We have a live-in house help.

I am not afraid or ashamed to admit this because I am not a supermom who can do everything and keep my sanity: work, kids and a less-cluttered house.  She takes care of my son when I am out working. She helps me run the house so everyone is well fed and happy.

We are happy. Actually happier here than we were in Japan!

She is not related to us by blood but our children loves her and we treat her like family. My son is very attached to her (since she started working for us when he was only 2 months old, he is turned 2 years a few days ago) making me feel very secure I am leaving him in safe, loving hands while I work 6 days a week.

Being able to hire a live-in house help (I don’t like the term “maid”) is one of the reasons we prefer to live in the UAE.

Of course, if you’re an expat and doing very well without a house help, then great. No need to judge. We do what works for each of us. You have your reasons and here’s our reasons why we hired a live-in house help.

1. Less exhausted moms make better mothers.

I remember when we were living in Japan. We were working parents juggling career and taking care of a small child. Sure Japan offers probably one of the best daycare services to working parents but at the end of the day, I was coming home alone with my daughter, tired from my full day at work and having to face the dilemma of the mess we left in the morning, what to cook for dinner, the laundry and the other sights I did not want to see.

Japan is a work-centered society. I guess no one have thought of that when they tell me, “why did you leave? Japan is a great place!”

It’s a beautiful place, yes but a work-centered society focuses on, what else but work. Company workers ( “salaryman“) work long hours. I was part of that society before I got out and accepted a contract job after having my daughter. The contract job still demanded I sit on my desk until 6 pm. My husband is worse, he is not home until 10 or 11 pm.

To cut the story short, I did almost everything alone simply because my husband worked long hours. I was constantly tired and wasn’t able to bask in that glow moms have when they’re with their children. I felt robotic – I am able to feed, bathe, take care of my child but I wasn’t really enjoying being a mom to the fullest because I am tired and the next day’s schedule of cooking, cleaning, etc constantly looms at the back of my head.

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We were not really thriving well, just ‘getting by’, one day at a time.

Here in Dubai, I feel very fulfilled I am able to spend time with my children more because someone is there to take care of the other chores. Finally I am able to enjoy this thing called motherhood all over again (my son is very lucky to have a mom who can give her full attention to him when I get home from work), catching up on time lost with my daughter.

My children runs to meet me at the door when I come home and I hug them back without thinking about anything else but them. No doubt, I am a better mother now.

2. Tired wives make crappy partners.

I’ll tell you how our life was when we were in Japan. I finish work at 6 pm, drive to pickup Pristine from daycare, sometimes make a trip to the grocery store, come home and cook dinner with her at my hips, feed and bath her and read books in bed by 8:30 pm.

There is no resident elf or any magical creature to do the laundry, the mess we left in the morning or the dirty plates piling in the sink. No cat to lick the used frying pan clean, either.

Most of the time, I doze off while making my daughter sleep until I hear my husband come through the door at about 10-11 pm. I crawl out of bed (literally as we are sleeping on the tatami floor!) to the kitchen. We look at each other and begin to pick up the dishes, clean the floor, put the laundry in the machine, iron clothes, prepare our little girl’s things for the next day.

The husband sits down to eat his dinner then we’ll both sit down to watch the news while folding laundry. It’s silent except for the TV. There are plenty of times when we were too tired to even initiate a discussion.

More like: tired wives become angry tigers?

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You know what happens when you’re both tired? Little things make you snap like it’s PMS every single day. I mentioned about us both working, juggling career and taking care of a young child. But not just that, our relationship was up in the air as well.

Now, I am more relaxed, less anxious about the small stuff. I can enjoy longer and slower dinners with my spouse and listen to his talks fully because I’m less tired. Our relationship is better now.

3. It creates jobs.

Our house help is a single mom, who raised two (now grownup) kids but still has to provide them for their emergency needs, wish to give something nice for their birthdays and Christmas and more importantly, save for her old age. Job is scarce in the Philippines (her home country) and you’ll see women leaving their children and families to work abroad.

Benjamin and his nanny

These ladies need jobs to sustain them and in Dubai, there is that demand. I think so many children have gotten through college through their moms who work as house helps or nannies here.

4. Having someone as backup.

According to this article, Why do so many  of the UAE’s expat families rely on live-in help? by long time Dubai expat Annabel Kantaria,

Having a live-in helper isn’t just about having your ironing done or your floors polished and your children looked after while you loll about in the spa. It’s about having a backup.

My husband works shorter hours here in Dubai compared to when were in Japan but he works odd hours. He has night shifts that end at midnight and he mostly works on Fridays when I am off leaving me becoming like a single parent most of the time.

I need a hand on situations like when I need to attend school events for my older child and it’s difficult to take an overactive toddler, attend an event myself, occasional dinner dates with my spouse (we never had this in Japan!) or simply I need someone to take care of the baby and run the house when I fall sick.

mom sick

* In Japan, if you’re child has even the slightest fever, you will be called to pick him/her up immediately. They won’t watch your sick child for you until you finish your work timing.

5. It’s nice to come home to a clean house.

Try to go home to a filthy house after a long, tiring day from work (and there’s no dinner). Cluttered home = cluttered mind. Enough said.

Though because our house help’s main responsibility is our little boy, we do not expect her to clean the house perfectly. Just to keep it less cluttered, throw the garbage and keep the kitchen clean, most of all.

So those are our reasons. Hire a help, don’t hire a help – we all have different circumstances, find the balance of what makes you happy and go for it.

If it’s logistically possible in the country you live and you are comfortable with someone non-family living in with you (or coming in to clean or help out a few times per week), willing to pay the minimum wage or more and treat your house help with respect and dignity then I’d say why  not – outsource the household chores and spend more time with your children or your spouse.

For me, there is no need to feel guilty about hiring a house help if it helps you keep your sanity and be a better parent to your children because since when did asking for a better quality life a bad thing?

Next up: How to legally hire a maid (this is the proper term used here) in Dubai

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Would you give up your citizenship?

Before relocating to Dubai, I’ve lived in Japan for a good 10 years plus a couple of months. Initially, I never thought of staying there for long but so much can happen in ten years – I graduated from a Japanese university, met my lifetime partner, landed my first job, had a baby, etc. I came to love the place and decided I take the next big step: living there permanently with minimum hassle, if possible.

You can apply for permanent residence in Japan if you have lived there for 10 years consecutively, or 5 years with a work permit. You can also qualify for permanent resident status if you’ve been married to a Japanese national for 3+ years.

Reference: Guidelines for Permanent Residency in Japan ; How to Get Permanent Residence in Japan

I had a student visa for 4.5 years, 3 years work permit and decided to apply for naturalization instead of permanent residence. Permanent resident status would require renewals every 1-3 years, it has perks close to being a Japanese citizen without becoming a Japanese citizen.

A “PR” holder will retain his/her original citizenship and passport. Naturalization means you obtain Japanese citizenship and passport.

The difference between permanent residence and naturalization can be summed up like this:

Permanent residency and other visas give you permission to be in Japan. Being a Japanese national gives you the right to be in Japan.

In Japan, dual citizenship is not allowed so I need to give up my original citizenship. But it wasn’t a difficult decision: it was the best for my family in terms of travel convenience, for example. Japan passport holders get entry to most countries without a obtaining a visa.

Our children would get instant citizenship because one of their parents is a native Japanese. Japan only honors Jus sanguinis – the right to a nationality or citizenship given because one has an ancestor (e.g. a parent) who has the nationality or citizenship of the state in question. Spouses of Japanese nationals can not adapt citizenship through marriage, contrary to what others assume. Spouses will only get PR but retain their original birth country passport.

That meant if all my family members have Japan passports and I don’t, we face the difficulty of applying for visas whenever we need to travel together (and we intend to do a lot of traveling in the near future). And I know how tough it is for a Philippine passport holder to apply for visas. I’ve been denied tourist visa to the US, twice before.

I readily signed the forms and submitted. The process for naturalization is tedious. I received my notice of approval (1.5 years after submitting my application) one spring day in 2004. I know I should feel lonely or something but I also know that naturalization only requires me to give up my previous (original) nationality. It does not ask me to give up my ethnicity or my culture or my heritage or my identity.

So I wonder, are any of my expat readers given up their citizenship for a new one? How did you feel about it?

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Getting our UAE visas in 2007

Sponsoring husband and children in the UAE

The usual expat family scenario is this: the husband gets a job assignment in Dubai and the wife (“trailing spouse”) and children join the husband to start their new life in Dubai. The husband’s visa will be sponsored by his employer and in turn, he will sponsor the visa of his family members.

However, some cases are different – like ours.

We came here because of the job offer I received. In some expat families, the spouse with the employment permit arrives in Dubai first and make the necessary arrangements to settle (find a house, car, school etc) before calling in the other family members.

I didn’t want to come here alone. (More like, I couldn’t sleep at night knowing my small child is miles and miles away)

My husband and then 3-year old daughter came together with me as tourists. I had an employment permit. I worked, my husband was the “trailing spouse” who stayed at home to reconnect with his daughter and made lovely bentos for me everyday.

Getting our UAE visas in 2007

This was taken in 2007, right after we got our UAE visas 

In cases like this, the husband could look for a job immediately before his tourist visa expires 30 days after arrival and extendable for another 30 days but it wasn’t an option for us that time: we have yet to find a school for our daughter as well as someone to take care of her after school hours. He can’t go around looking for a job with a three year old child in tow. We didn’t have much time so I had to sponsor him first (and our daughter).

I get asked for questions like this: How do you go about sponsoring your husband in the UAE?

The thing is – being a Muslim country where it’s regarded that the men should be the ‘head of the family’, not the women, not all women can stand as a sponsor for their family members, the Dubai General Department for Residency and Foreigners Affairs requires that “the wife shall be an engineer, or doctor or a teacher”.  If the woman works in other than the above listed professions, she needs to make a petition to the department to be exempted from this requirement, and the immigration department will decide on this request and pass its resolution of acceptance or rejection. In case of acceptance, the basic salary in this case shall be Dhs 10,000 or Dhs 9,000 plus accommodation. (Reference)

We got our UAE visas – mine first at the end of February 2007. Though I had an employment permit, I need to undergo medical tests (as all workers here do) before my passport gets stamped with residence (not to be confused with permanent residence visas in other countries as “Residence” status in the UAE is tied with your job. You lose your job and you only have 30 days either to find another or exit the country.). I needed to get my residence status first before I can sponsor family members.

Time was running out of their tourist visa.

I was so scared they’d have to fly out of the country and come back again with a new tourist visa (Japan passport holders get automatic tourist visas on arrival). That time, my husband knows very little English and Pristine (then 3) wasn’t very comfortable without me.

Luckily, we got their visas at the nick of time.

*The husband got his ‘wife’s visa’ replaced with his own residence (employment) visa after my mom came to stay with us and he finally went out and got a job, 4 months after we arrived.

Do you have any UAE visa questions? I’ll do my best to answer them, shoot me a comment below if you have.

Where is home?


We’ve been asked,

Where is home for you?

6 years ago today, we locked our house front door in Japan and boarded the bus to Nagoya. Less than 24 hours later, we boarded the plane bound for Dubai.

We came here to ‘test’ our life in the desert, with no immediate decision how long we’ll stay. We didn’t know anyone except for some people in my company whom I met for my interview only once.

It’s strange how places feel like home, even if they aren’t your ‘home country‘. Especially after six years. For me, home is where my loved ones are. Home is my happy place and that for me, right now, is here in our apartment in Dubai.

We have a house in Japan where we only lived for a year before we left it to tenants. I wasn’t even finished picking the right things for it to make me feel it’s mine (ours). There were no curtains on the empty room window upstairs. It’s been rented out so we can’t stay there whenever we’re there (and the last time we all were in Japan was four long years ago!). We stay at my in-laws in rural Japan but I don’t feel it’s ‘home’ for us because we never stay there more than a week at a time. And by some sort of cosmic joke, one of us gets sick when we’re there.

As an expat parent, I was curious and asked my child where home is for her.

Her answer came fast and was simple, “Here“.

She was born in Japan but we left when she was three. Now nine years old, she has spent more time here than there. And I doubt if she has that much recollection of life and way of living in Japan except that you have to use the Japanese language wherever you go and whatever you do. Oh and that glorious Japanese hot baths (I miss that too), she remembers them well.

Pristine has only been to the Philippines (the country where I grew up) three times – first time when she was 16 months old, again when she was 3 and the last time was four years ago. She barely remembers the place and I doubt she considers my parent’s home as ‘home’ for her.

(Baby Ben on the other hand has not been to other places than Dubai, where he was born on October 2011. He has not been to any of his parent’s ‘home countries’ yet. )

So our answer to the above question is the same as our daughter, “here”. This quote is so true:

“Your true home is in the here and the now.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Are you an expat? Where do you call ‘home’?

5 Reasons to Work in Dubai and 5 Reasons Not To


After working in Dubai for almost five years now, I thought I’d come up with Five Reasons to Work in Dubai for the curious and Five Reasons Not To for the skeptical.

1. Financial – If you work in Dubai or anywhere in the United Arab Emirates for that matter, you enjoy an income tax free salary that will enable you to save up until you get tired of desert life and pack up your bags to jump into a plane to your next destination.

2. Multi-culture experience – In my current work, I am able to mingle with people from different nationalities learning about their language, culture and religion. Personally, I have learned to look beyond what is negatively portrayed in the media regarding Muslims (majority of my work colleagues are Muslims).

~ me (right most) with my work colleagues ~

3. Adventure – Now that I’ve mentioned the financial part (must be the most important aspect of any relocation), we can discuss about what’s in store after work or during your holidays. Dubai is a perfect starting point to exotic destinations you can think of: the neighboring Middle Eastern countries like Jordan, Syria or Egypt. Europe is not that far with London only a 7 hour flight as going to Bangkok and Singapore. Maldives is nearer too.

4. Free trip home – Expat packages include 30 days of paid vacation every 12-18 months (depending on your company/employer) including round trip ticket to home country. I never got this while I was an expat in Japan!

5. That resume appeal – Including a “difficult region” (Middle East) in places you’ve worked will definitely make your curriculum vitae pop out from the bunch.

…and five reasons NOT to.

1. Heat – This one is the most obvious. If you despise the heat, forget about moving to Dubai. It is hot 8 months of the year with humidity soaring up to more than 90% at the peak of summer. It would be difficult to walk to work even if you live nearby.

BUT – though many people criticize the heat here and think that we expats living here are living loony masochists happily suffering in the heat, I have to point out a word called “acclimatization”. The first summer is worse but after that, you won’t believe you’d be able to say that 30C is quite “cool”. Also, since all of the buildings including residences have centralized air conditioning system, I can vouch that it is far easier spending the summer here in Dubai than in Japan or the Philippines, two places I previously lived.

2. Multi-cultural experience – While this can be a good thing for others, I know people who do not like to work with other nationalities but their own. And I fully understand! There are cultures and working styles to adjust.

3.  Driving – It is said that there are 200 different nationalities living in Dubai. That means, people put various meanings and practice to what is called “safety driving”. To be blunt, there are idiots on the road and you’ve got to practice defensive driving! As a personal experience, I’ve been driving in Japan for 7 years before coming here.

The difference is like heaven and hell – there are almost no courtesy in the roads, some drivers are rogue and never give way. It’s been better now than we first arrived in 2007 because the Roads and Transport Authority have tightened their rules in the driving schools.

4. Noise – Dubai is a city that’s not finished yet. It’s a work in progress everyday with construction going on left and right – contrary to what you’ve read in the tabloids that bash Dubai like it’s a new Olympic sport, it’s not a ghost town around here.

So if you live or work in a construction area, expect noise pollution. Or when you reside near a mosque, be prepared to be startled by the call to prayer five times a day starting before 6am! * The mosque is what we look out for when looking for a place to live here. We prefer away from it.

5. Second class citizen – You are in another country not your own so that categorizes you as a guest and in some cases, second class citizens, always next to locals or the white people (if you are Asian). You’ll be treated with good hospitality, yes but always be aware of your boundaries – and memorize the line: “This is their country, not mine.”

Whatever the reason or wherever you choose to go to live or work I guess there’s always two sides of the coin. I am sure there are other reasons to work here and not to, depending on the expat you ask but this is my list and things might be added when I have that random light bulb moment.