What is your name?
What country were you born in?
What job did you have in your home country?
University/ College lecturer in Public Relations, Media Studies and Communication Science
How long have you been living in your new country for?
Three amazing years Alhamdulillah!
Did you immigrate alone or with your family and kids?
It’s not possible to immigrate to the UAE in the true sense of the word. It’s only very recently that a new law was passed whereby residents who have been here for a very long time and who meet certain additional requirements, have been granted citizenship. This is incredibly rare though. Instead, for the rest of us who move here, you have what is called residency. Residency is given once you have received, and accepted, an employment offer from a UAE-based company. There are then certain additional criteria to be met to be able to sponsor residency for your spouse, children or other dependents.
In our case, my husband was offered employment by a company based in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE and the largest of the 7 Emirates. Once he accepted, he moved over first and started work here. For the next four months he set up a life for us here: securing accommodation, checking out schools, buying a car and so forth. During these four months he commuted back and forth between the UAE and SA to spend time with us and for us to jointly complete all the admin of relocation. I also made one trip to the UAE, on my own, to view accommodation, furnish the apartment we secured and to check out schools. This worked incredibly well for us, as it meant that by the time we made the final move, with kids and all, we arrived to a fully set-up home Alhamdulillah and the ease of my husband being very familiar with where to go and what to do. It was especially important to us that our children, aged 12, 10 and 6 at the time, arrived to a new home with all the comforts and many familiar and loved objects that my husband had continuously brought along during those months of commuting. Furthermore, when we first arrived, we spent a few days just relaxing in a hotel and taking a little holiday of sorts. It helped to relax all of us. After that, then only did we head to our new home. All of these steps ensured a smooth and happy transition for our kids Alhamdulilah. They were very excited and already feeling settled in their new home.
How are the schools in the new country?
Like any country, there are a variety of different types of schools available. One major point is that school here is in an incredibly enriching experience because your child is exposed to such a variety of cultures and people. All schools, however, have top-class infrastructure and facilities, whether private or public. Similarly, all schools here are expensive, schooling will be one of your biggest expenses living here. Fortunately, many employment offers include subsidies for schooling, housing or both. Do remember though that this is not the norm though. Schools here are mainly based on the British, American, and Indian curriculums, or hybrids of these. It is up to you the individual to choose based on your needs as a family and as per your budget. These curriculums have both similarities and differences to the South African school system, including other small things such as a Sunday to Thursday school week and a September to July school year.
My children attend a school that is a hybrid of these curriculums mentioned above. It is mainly an American-based curriculum but they also do subjects that are particular to the UAE such as Arabic Language Studies, Arabic Social Studies, Islamic Education, Moral Education and Quran Studies. They have adapted marvellously Alhamdulilah, with all three of them consistently on the school’s Honor Roll, since their first year. One other thing to note though, my youngest child started Grade 1 here, having done Grade R in South Africa. It took her a bit longer to adapt as Grade R in South Africa is more play-based learning compared to the more academic-focused learning of Kindergarten here.
What is your job in your new country?
I am a stay-at-home mom now and I am deeply grateful that I am, because it simply added to the overall smooth transition of relocating. It meant that as a family, there was one parent whose sole focus upon arrival was settling everyone into this new home.
What do you enjoy about your new country?
Everything Alhamdulilah! The safety is unparalleled, Abu Dhabi has consistently been named as one of the safest cities in the world in various academic and social studies. Coming from South Africa, a beautiful country that is unfortunately plagued by a very high crime rate, this is a very big thing for us. The fact that I can enjoy a run alone at night or early morning, without any fear or anxiety of being harassed or a victim of crime, will never cease to amaze me.
I also enjoy the fact that Abu Dhabi is very family-orientated, so there are always wonderful activities on offer, places to see, and things to experience that are fun and appropriate for the entire family. That includes the living spaces as well, there’s always a children’s park close to where you live!
It goes without saying that the fact that this is a Muslim country endears it to me even more. A mosque within a 5km radius no matter where I am, prayer and ablution facilities anywhere and everywhere Alhamdulilah. And just having religious customs and celebrations as part of your daily mainstream life!
What do you miss the most about your home country?
The friends I have there (I must add that we have made incredible friendships here as well)
The crisp mountain and sea air that is part of the natural, rugged beauty of South Africa.
A South African winter with cold temperatures, rain, wind, hail and storms! I miss winter weather so much! The UAE climate is an endless summer and the cooler months of December to February are more like a balmy Autumn than an actual Winter!
What advice would you give someone that is contemplating to immigrate to the country you have immigrated to?
Do all your research beforehand, especially your financial research, to ensure that you can move here and comfortably support yourself/ your family. Ensure you have a back-up plan/ support system back home in South Africa too, as moving to any country in the Middle East is a temporary thing and does not have permanence because you have residency, not citizenship, so it cannot be a forever plan.
What challenges, if any, would you advise them to anticipate based on your experiences when you first moved to your new country?
It depends on you and what you would consider a challenge. Moving to another country you should already be aware that you will experience a difference in language, culture and society. For example, if you are a non-Muslim you’ll certainly have challenges moving to a Muslim country where things like alcohol, pork and so forth is not always readily available everywhere. It is available yes, but just don’t expect to have it near to you all the time. But for many expats this is hardly a challenge at all, so again, it all depends on what you perceive as challenging. Alhamdulilah, we did not have any challenges in our opinion, although I must admit I still don’t drive here (different side of the road and all that!).
How was the visa process for immigrating to your new country?
As I mentioned previously, it’s residency here not immigration. That said, it was a smooth process for us, as our Visa process was facilitated by the company that employs my husband. Any Visa process though, is a lot of paperwork and administration, especially for an entire family. So you need patience, a thorough understanding of it all and several copies of every piece of paper that is needed!
How is the cost of living in the new country compared to your home country?
I find it relative, based on income and the strength of the currency here and the weakness of the currency back home. Schooling and housing is considered expensive here, but if you’re subsidised it makes it easier. Petrol and gas is far cheaper here than back home, as well as some luxury or designer brand items whether its food products, clothing products or homeware. There are also constant amazing sales and deals here, so it’s very easy to bag incredible bargains.
Anything else you would like to add, or any advice you would like to give to anyone that is contemplating moving to your new country?
Don’t be afraid to do it; if done with enough research and consideration, it will be a wonderful life-changing opportunity for yourself/ your family. I never considered it, but my husband was always open to the idea. Even when he received the offer, I was still scared and hesitant. However, my husband’s words of “I don’t want to reach 50 and think we could have done this or that and regret not taking the opportunity” really resonated with me and spurred me into embracing this adventure whole-heartedly. Relocating to another country as a family will draw you even closer than ever before, you will find strength, fortitude and patience you never knew you had. You’ll also forever have your mind, perception and opinion broadened considerably and your understanding of people and knowledge of cultures will only serve to make you a better person Insha-Allah.
A messsage from Yumna:
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