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

5 Things you need to know about the work culture in Dubai

work culture

Working in Dubai can become quite an enjoyable and learning experience

The Burj Khalifa, Dubai Expo 2020, Burj Al Arab and many more things. This is what strikes our mind, as soon as we hear the name “Dubai”. A land full of exotic destinations and people from all the corners of the world- Dubai stands as one of the strongest alternatives to lead a healthy and wealthy professional life.

One of the most flourishing places in the world and the most populous emirate in the UAE, Dubai has enticed millions of expatriates from all over the world to settle and lead a peaceful life. Since the regime decided to shift from an oil reliant economy to one which is diversified and has a balanced approach towards the future, job opportunities in this Emirate have considerably increased.

But what about the work culture? Is it the same as everywhere? Are there any specific things you need to keep in mind about the work culture in Dubai?

The possible answers to these questions can be found in the points listed below.

1. Employment Contract

As soon as you secure a job offer in Dubai, this will be the most important thing to you. According to the UAE labor law, your employer has to provide you with the employment contract prior to your arrival in Dubai or once you get accepted for a job here. The contract includes every detail regarding your job profile, salary, allowances, perks etc.

2. Working hours

The UAE labor law states that a person in any occupation can work for up to 8 hours a day. Overtime remuneration has to be paid to the employee from the ninth hour. If the overtime falls between 9 pm to 4am then wages equal to the salary with an increase of at least 50 percent have to be paid to the employee. (Source 1, Source 2)

3. Work ethics

Work ethics are different from country to country. In Dubai they are quite different to those followed in any corner of the world. Right from the most conservative style of clothing to a specific polite way of greeting your co-workers, Dubai has the most different set of work etiquette. While working in Dubai you’ll also have to avoid scheduling any meeting or convention on Friday, which is generally referred as ‘Juma’ meaning the prayer day.

4. Salary

According to reputed websites the average salary for various professions per year in Dubai (as of 15th Nov 2014) are found as listed below.

  • Accountant : AED 72,175
  • Business development manager : AED 213,235
  • Civil Engineer : AED 107,706
  • Marketing Manager : AED 211,467
  • Mechanical Engineer : AED 102,592
  • Regional Sales Manager : AED 299,865
  • Software Engineer : AED 116,428

Remuneration in Dubai is found to be quite high as compared to any other city in the world. If you are a contract worker, you’ll also be awarded an indemnity which is nothing but the basic salary excluding the bonuses, at the end of your contract period multiplied by the number of years of service and other factors. If you manage to stick with a single organization for a considerable period of time, then you might be able to manage a nice financial cushion to live a comfortable life in Dubai or back in your home country (or at least until you find another job!).

5. Entitlements (Perks!)

As soon as you start working in Dubai you’ll find yourself to possess various entitlements. The foremost ones being, 22 days of paid vacation in a year, 15 days of paid vacation in case of medical illness followed by a half-paid vacation for the next 30 days and end of service gratuity which is up for a claim, as soon as you complete a year with the organization. In addition to this, according to the UAE labor law, you will also have the right to claim for transportation, accommodation and medical reimbursements.

Expats who have worked in Dubai have found it to be one of the most hospitable environments to live in. Good luck!

Job Seeker Alert: Important Things To Consider Before Applying for a Job in Dubai

job search

Just after I came back from vacation, I received a bunch of emails from readers of this blog asking how to go about finding/landing a job in Dubai so I thought I’d share some important things to consider before you hop on that plane!

Do share your job seeking tips in the comments.

Top photo credit

The UAE witnesses the arrival of thousands of expatriates every year. Most of these expats come searching for job opportunities in Dubai. However, before applying for a job an expat must acquaint himself with ways of this dynamic city. The following points will help all job seeking expats get familiar with the region and understand what it takes to apply for jobs in Dubai.

1. The time of the year

desert summer

Photo credit

Ideally, you should start exploring your options between the months of September and May (barring December). This is the best time for job hunting in Dubai. You must avoid carrying out your search in the months of December, June, July and August as the big bosses, who are also the key decision makers when it comes to recruitment, are usually on vacation.

Important days and events like Ramadan, Moharrum-ul-Haram should also be avoided for job search as most Mu’mineen businessmen would be travelling and will be unavailable to interview you.

2. Duration of your stay

Most expats come to Dubai on tourist visa, seeking to find a good job within a month. This doesn’t always help as one month is not adequate to find a relevant and well-paying job. You should try and visit Dubai on an extendable visa so that if required you can extend your stay (maximum of another 30 days + 10 days grace period before you should exit the country).

3. Medical Tests

In case you have been a patient of a serious infectious disease like tuberculosis, you could be disapproved for a work permit and residence visa. Despite receiving an employment visa, you will be asked to return home once your medical test results are out. The UAE government screen applicants for HIV (Aids), Hepatitis B and Tuberculosis. So, there is no point wasting time, money and energy when you know you will be denied the chance of living and working in Dubai.

4. It is not very easy to switch jobs

It may be easy for you to switch from a banking job in London to a banking job in Dubai. You may even manage to land yourself a better pay package. But switching jobs isn’t a walk in the park in Dubai. The same ease of transition may not be felt when you move from one job to another within Dubai. This happens due to the rules of sponsorship. So before you grab an opportunity provided to you, make sure you consider it for a long term (at least 2 years to be exact).

5. Working on your visit visa is illegal

office work

Photo credit

Do not try to work when you first arrive on a tourist or visit visa. You may find some traders asking you to work for them just to evaluate your performance. Do not fall for it as even though some of them may be genuine, others could be using you only as a temporary replacement. They will use your services for the time being and will leave you in the lurch as soon as their permanent employee comes back from vacation. You would be left jobless and wouldn’t have the time to find a new job either. To top that, it is illegal in work on a tourist visa.

6. Optimize the available resources

Professional networking sites like LinkedIn have always proved to be useful for job seekers. Use them wisely and you can get in touch with some significant people who may have good leads. There are also some effective job search portals that you can register on to find contextual openings. However, avoid recruitment agencies that demand payment for registration as they are likely to be scams.

7. Enhance your skills beforehand

Every job requires a certain set of skills. Today, the most basic skills for a job in a good company include proficiency in MS Office and email. Make sure you learn these before applying for a job. In case you are not well-versed with them, it would be cheaper to learn them in countries like India or Pakistan or Philippines, if you happen to hail from there. If you do, you can enrol in a proper course back home to brush up your skills. You can do the same to improve your English as that is the business language in Dubai.

8. Contact recruiters in advance

It is wiser to carry out research and activate your network of family, friends and acquaintances way before you arrive in Dubai. Pre-planning gives you an edge over other expats who are unaware and struggling. It will save you precious time and will let effectively search for work from day one. Most job seekers fall into the holiday mode and keep a relaxed approach when they arrive. Do not waste even a single day! Remember to focus on the job search as soon you reach. You don’t want to be making frantic calls a few days prior to your visa expiry.

9. The question regarding your expected salary

job interview

Photo credit

To answer this question, you ought to understand your skills and put a value to them. Most employees will ask you for a figure of expected salary. Do not demand a package on the basis of your need to lead a good life. You should base it on the actualities of the labor market in the country. So understand the job market and evaluate yourself. A very small figure can decrease your perceived worth to a potential recruiter, while if you quote a very large amount your resume won’t even be considered for the interview.

10. Attested certificates and documents

When you finally manage to get a job, your new company will require attested certificates and other documents to apply for a visa. The attestation process takes up to six weeks or even more. If you are confident that will land yourself a job in Dubai, then remember to keep your documents organized and attested.

Now I have this article to attach in the email for every “how do I go about looking for work in Dubai?” email that I get!

Between the grass and the clear blue skies

park at lunch break

Lately a work colleague and I have been spending my lunch break at a small park behind our office building. We only have 30 minutes of break – it used to be an hour but then it was shortened in exchange for off on Saturdays but I’ll take a short lunch break to be able to spend two consecutive days of weekend at home.

Dubai weather is great right now, with temperature that is warm enough to not wear a jacket outside (we do wear a jacket outside in the winter months, believe it or not!) and not hot. It’s the Goldilock’s weather we have here, just right. The sky is cloudless and blue.

looking at the sky

There is gentle wind and sound of chirping birds in the tree (bird, don’t poop on me!). I remember the laid back life while growing up in the Philippines. It’s the same weather, the same wind.

sky 2

I lied down, looking at sky. And I felt so good. So free, so liberated. Then I remember, I’ve been a big sky watcher before. Why did I stop looking up? It’s a very peaceful thing to do. I often lose myself looking at the seemingly endless sky. It feels very comforting and calming just looking up, forgetting the time.

You should do it, too. Sometimes.

My female work colleague told me not to lie down as not to draw attention to myself, our office being just a few meters away. And that “people are looking, they might think you’re a whack job lying down on the grass”.

sky gazing

But such vastness. Immense space. I could care less. Strange how everything below can have chaos and pain while above the sky is peace, sweet blue gentleness. What a therapeutic thing to do, I bet I can only do this a few weeks more before Dubai’s real deal summer starts.

And suddenly I feel the 30 minutes of break was long enough.

working on Christmas

Working on Christmas day?

working on Christmas

Sorry for the lack of updates. Everyday, I promised myself to write just after I finish this work load but the time I finish the work load is only a few minutes before 6 pm when I needed to leave and go home. A few minutes to write a blog post when you’re mind is already fogged and thinking of only the commute and walk home and dinner? Yeah, that sort gets you nothing.

The plan to blog after work is a bad idea after all.

So now I’m going to wake up earlier and blog first before I dive to the depths of my work desk. I will surface again at sundown.

The thing is, Christmas is coming. Right, the merriest of holidays. Truth is, I have been working every year on Christmas day (December 25th). It is not a holiday here in Dubai, it’s a Muslim country after all. Same case in non-Christian Japan where we previously lived before relocating here. Christmas in the Philippines (where I was born and grew up)? The word festive would be an understatement. We start our Christmas countdown in September (no kidding). We stay up late on Christmas eve and eat at midnight when the clock strikes 12 midnight and the date changes. We have fireworks outside. I was in for a shock on my first Christmas in Japan because, nothing happens outside on Christmas night in Japan.

Related post: Christmas in Dubai: What’s it like?

This year, my seventh Christmas in Dubai, I want to be home on the 25th so I have been working double time so I can make my boss say yes to a day off on Christmas day. Thus the lack of energy to post a blog at sundown.

Top photo credit by Huffington Post

What have you all been up to? Are you done with your Christmas shopping? Because I have not started at all – who wants to freak out with me?

Welcome, two-day weekend at last!


I have a personal win: starting next week, I will be having TWO days off every week! After almost seven years of having only Fridays as off from work, I am so happy with this news. This is definitely something I have been praying for, for a long time now!

Most of Dubai expats have Fridays and Saturdays off (even schools have these two days as weekend) but some unfortunate souls like myself only have one full day off, Friday.

It’s nice to have that one extra day, a sort of recovery day for when we go out and get tired on Fridays. As a mom working full time, I am just so thrilled to be able to spend one more extra day with my kids.

Thank God for answered prayers, even if it took seven years!


Speaking of win

The year 2013 is almost coming to an end. Can we just collectively scratch our heads and ask ourselves, “where did the time go?” I know, just when I perfected writing “2013” instead of “2012”, another new year begins. Time flies, it’s scary sometimes.

I had set up some goals at the start of the year: keeping fit (more on that in another post), spending time with my children and saving. We are a family who eat out about once a week and it’s good to know we can do that while still save money. How? By using The Entertainer vouchers! They’re fab 2 for 1 deals for restaurants we love and I highly recommend it for all, especially for families.

I’m happy to announce that two people will be saving more in 2014 – Congratulations to Mona and Insiya for winning the mobile version of The Entertainer 2014!

Thank you for everyone who joined the contest!

Top photo credit

Benjamin and me

Last working day before my vacation!

Today, I shut down my PC at work at 7:30 pm. I can’t believe I spent an hour and a half of overtime on my last day of work – before my vacation starts. If you’re new to this blog, you might want to know that we expat workers here in Dubai get 30 days annual leave with pay + return flights for “home”. It’s one of those wonderful things about living and working in the UAE.

We work long hours, at least most of us do. I only have whole day of Friday and afternoon of Saturday off. I work 47.5 hours a week. Some people work longer. (Others are lucky to have 2 whole days for their weekends…so when they come online on Twitter at the start of the week to whine their 2 days off weren’t enough, I really want to punch my computer screen)

I’ve waited for this for so long. We’ve not had a vacation since 2009. That’s FOUR long years. Some of my work colleagues are quick to point out, “but you had a 3 months break after you gave birth!” Dude, when you have a small baby, it’s not a vacation. At all. I wish you become a woman and give birth in your next life!

I need some air – a respite from the somewhat hamster-in-a-wheel day to day living.

Also – I’ve been struggling with my “other life” – the faithful blogger, the avid street/food/sky/whatever-strikes-my-fancy photographer, the Twitter addict, that friend who never fails to answer emails within 5 minutes from receiving it (unless I’m asleep!), the one who’s always online. The life I am happier with.

Work has been hectic lately and I feel I’m burned out to do anything else.

When I come home, I come home to a toddler running towards me, one hand already under my shirt once I scoop him up. Twenty months after delivery, I am still breastfeeding – I’m getting exhausted with that as well. But when you see this face? You will not have the nerve to not give him what he wants.

Benjamin and me

Don’t get me wrong, I love breastfeeding and won’t have it any other way but while it looks easy breezy, it’s not. You are not the owner of your body anymore. Be prepared to become a human pacifier!

Anyway, I am looking forward to our vacation although full of worries (in another blog post!). I’m trying to stay positive – after all, isn’t it a big deal to wake up in the morning not thinking about going to work for 30 days?

Expat life in Dubai

Being an expat in Dubai is an idea that keeps attracting countless people from all over the world and all walks of life. The reasons are fairly straightforward: with an economy that refuses to stop growing, tax-free income, a vibrant expat community (after all, some 80% of Dubai’s inhabitants are foreign-born), and one of the more liberal lifestyles in the Muslim world, there is little that keeps expats from relocating to Dubai once they have the opportunity.

And as long as they can handle the heat, that is. (It’s just in the summer!)

Getting a job in Dubai is more often than not a question of chance. Many expats in the emirate were sent here by their employers in their home country, frequently to assume temporary positions working in Dubai-based branches or subsidiaries. An equal number of expatriates simply made up their mind, packed their stuff and went looking for a job in Dubai ‘on location’. With some perseverance, you just might land the job of your dreams here – it has worked for a large number of people! There is also the possibility of hiring an employment agency, but beware: Many of these agencies aim to defraud hopeful expat newcomers.

If you do insist on making it on your own, keep in mind that you will need a sponsor – an individual or company  to provide you a work permit. Also, losing your job means having to leave Dubai. You cannot live here without being employed.

If you have had any contact with Muslim culture before, you are probably able to picture what life in Dubai is like to some degree. Islam is what the UAE in general is founded on culturally, and while the mind-boggling number of expats have certainly added a very special flavor to life in Dubai, keep in mind that you are still very much in a Muslim country and should adhere to the rules and customs of your hosts.

Two other aspects of living in Dubai might need some time to get used to. Firstly, with the well-paying jobs and the extreme focus on luxury and status symbols, you might find that you succumb to an extravagant lifestyle more quickly and effortlessly as you might have wanted. Living in luxury is not everyone’s goal, but it is easy to get sucked into it. Secondly, making close friends in Dubai often has the rather sad consequence that you will lose them sooner or later – the expat lifestyle simply is not a very steady one. You will have to say goodbye at some point.

With all this said, there is no doubt that being an expat in Dubai is a rewarding experience for anyone who is even a little bit internationally minded. And of course it will work wonders for your CV.

Tenancy contract required for visa

Another day, another new law in desert land, bluntly put: NO TENANCY CONTRACT, NO VISA.

As if that doesn’t explicitly explain the would be new situation for us here, it simply means, if you are not the leese (a person to whom a lease is granted) i.e., your name is not in the tenancy contract, you will face problems when you apply/renew your visa or sponsor your family member’s visa.

A residency official told Gulf News that the new decision is aimed at improving living conditions. The new law also requires the water and electricity bill be under one name (same as in the tenancy contract).

Currently, there are so many families who share the same housing unit with other families. It is not uncommon for 3-4 families (related or non-related) sharing a residence due to steep house rental fees.

But according to the residency official:

“Families will not be allowed to share housing (with other families).”

The message is clear: it is to improve the living conditions by allowing only one family per house/villa/ apartment but is it realistic as per the current rental fees with respect to the wages of medium-low income expatriates? The answer is a resounding NO because the current rents here will swallow 50-60% of an average worker’s salary! For sure, no one wants to live in cramped spaces sacrificing privacy but the reality here is that a large part of expatriate workers in the UAE live in sharing accommodations because they can’t afford having a flat on their own.

Asking people to get their own place by not issuing a visa unless they do so is NOT the solution. How about providing a low cost housing so individuals/ families do not have to share with others? How about increasing the wages by imposing a minimum salary on specified professions?

And it’s not only families who will be affected with this law. Single professionals will likely face a big headache too.

Get this picture: a cheap studio apartment in International City (a residential area) far from the city proper is about 2,000 dhs per month. Majority of Filipino secretaries, for example earn 2,000-3,000 dhs (average) per month, all inclusive – how can they pay the rent on their own? Where will they get the money for food, transportation and other basic needs!? Now, when this law is in full effect, where will these people go?

This is a big blow to the majority of the expatriates in the UAE (not many are driving around in Porsches here or lounging in their own swimming pool at the back of their villas!). Living conditions can be made better by lowering living cost and implementing first a minimum wage salary – is it that logic hard to understand?

No Residence visa renewal for those sharing accommodation – from Emirates 24/7

Your visa renewal questions answered – from The National

Tenancy contract and utility bill mandatory for visa – from Gulf News

Annual leave is great if it’s your own

One of the best things about working in Dubai, if you ask me is the annual leave (free trip home, baby!). Companies give employees 30 days of paid leave every year* + airplane tickets to their home country. Wonderful, isn’t it?

While an expat in Japan, I didn’t have that luxury (as expats in most countries). There are some days of paid vacation yes, but it’s so awkward to submit a leave application form like it’s a crime because every one is so work centered (almost robotic…). Needless to say, I only got 9 days of leave days for my wedding 9 years ago and that included Saturday and Sunday!

Oh well, my point is that, I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to my 30 days of bliss, no alarm clock days every year since I came to work in Dubai in 2007. I love “the annual leave culture” except when…

…a work colleague goes back to his home country for his own annual leave and leave his work load to me!

Oh well, every time I moan I feel the dagger looks around silently saying: “We covered for you for three months when you went and had a baby, remember?”

Oh hai, yes, you all did. And I bury myself in paperwork till the “annual leav-er” comes back!

* Most companies give annual leave every year, but some only every 18 months or 2 years but still with free return tickets to home country.

[Top Photo Credit]