Irish emigrants in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have advised women who move there against getting a taxi alone. One Irish woman living there says it is ânot as safe as it seemsâ, and another recounted being locked in a taxi during the day, as the driver wanted her number.
The warning comes in a report from Crosscare Migrant Project, as part of its research into life in the UAE for new Irish emigrants. In the qualitative research, other women said they often caught taxis there, including while intoxicated, and that their experience had been âoverwhelmingly positiveâ.
The report is based on Crosscare Migrant Projectâs research last November into the experiences of Irish people living in Abu Dhabi, about their lives since they emigrated.
Using a small sample, the group discussion – facilitated by Sarah Owen, Crosscareâs Irish Abroad networking officer and Louise Wilson, second secretary at the Irish embassy in Abu Dhabi – explored challenges and benefits for Irish people there, as well as practical advice for those considering a move.
One third of an estimated 10,000 Irish people in the UAE are teachers.
Of the nine participants, six women and three men, four were teachers, two work in corporate relocation, one was a secondary school psychologist, one worked for Irish consular services, and one was giving up HR to stay at home with her children and work as a part-time entertainer. Five of them had been in the UAE for two years or less.
All the teachers in the group had taught before emigrating to the UAE, and they say demand for teachers is still high, with schools seeking people with teaching experience (rather than raw graduates).
Irish teachers do have the best reputation
One participant noted that âIrish teachers do have the best reputationâ. One teacher had worked for 10 years before deciding to move to the UAE, mainly because of high rents in Dublin, as well as to save and experience a different culture and climate.
Some participants found a disconnect between advance information and what life is actually like in the UAE. One commented âDonât believe what you readâ. Another expected the lifestyle to be âstrict and very conservativeâ but found this not to be the case, while another comment was that although things are relaxed, it is not advisable to break the rules, and emigrants should âstay under the radarâ.
Participants noted that while bending the rules is not unusual in the UAE, getting caught breaking the law can have serious consequences. Living together without being married, or being intoxicated, can result in difficulties. Another said in their experience, there is a presumption of guilt rather than innocence, unless a UAE citizen can vouch for a personâs good character.
An emigrant working in corporate relocation pointed out UAE residents need an alcohol licence to drink, and a person hosting a party is liable if party-goers are drunk.
None of the emigrants surveyed spoke Arabic, but got by with English. Although language was generally not a barrier, one person talked about the risk of isolation when working with non-English speakers, especially without access to a personal support network.
The high cost of living is a challenge for emigrants, particularly families, who have to pay school fees (possibly âŹ9,500 to âŹ12,000 per child), while single people remarked social life is expensive.
Several said it was easy to fall into debt in the UAE, with credit card limits and interest rates much higher than in Ireland (âat home we would have an APR of 18 per cent. Here itâs 18 per cent a month!â) They spoke about getting into difficulty with debt, and a lack of awareness that âif youâve a loan or if youâve any debts here you cannot leave until theyâre paid offâ.
Things are changing in the UAE, those surveyed observed. One noted, ânow youâre told what we were told eight years ago when we left Ireland – youâre lucky to have a jobâ.
Two people were âtrailing spousesâ, moving to the UAE when their partner was offered a job, and in both cases it took three to five months to find work.
Other challenges were noted: patience was required working with non-Irish co-workers; thereâs a risk of isolation working with non-English speakers, especially without a personal support network; taking a labour case against an employer is expensive and lengthy.
Salaries are high but parents mentioned long working hours came at a high cost to family life, risking children will âgrow up with a nannyâ unless one parent isnât working full-time.
Isolation and depression were mentioned as key challenges, with teachers acknowledging they have networks when they relocate, unlike others. Two participants represent Darkness into Light Abu Dhabi and said the criminalisation of suicide in the UAE is a barrier to support. âYou hear stories of people getting caught and stuff like that. It makes it very, very difficult for people to even say âoh can I ask somebody for help?â”.
Some emigrants âleft home because of some sort of baggageâ, and the stress of emigration âcan exacerbate the conditionâ, with no accessible, affordable support.
If medication and mental health care are accessed through health insurance, employers are made aware of it.
You can start with nothing and build your way up
The new Irish emigrants said the main benefit of living in the UAE is the lack of taxation, allowing them to save. Thereâs also opportunity and life experience; one participant compared it to the âoriginal definition of the American dreamââ where âyou can start with nothing and build your way upâ.
Others spoke about the good social life and benefits for children growing up, because of the standard of education and exposure to sport and arts.
The group offered practical advice to intending emigrants to UAE.
1. Download Skype before moving as you canât make video calls or Whatsapp, Skype or Facetime calls using a UAE sim card or VPN.
2. Get involved with a group (GAA, Darkness into Light, Abu Dhabi Mums
group, Irish Business Network were suggested) to build a support network. One woman said âgirls whoâve never played football in their life will play just to meet peopleâ.
3. Unless you have a job lined up, donât move to the UAE, to avoid delays in finding work, complications with visas and the high cost of living. Others advised a reputable recruitment agency, and to be open to changing sector.
4. Donât get into debt the minute you get there. Banks offer loans and credit cards quickly and âpeople donât read the fine printâ.
Crosscare Migrant Project (migrantproject.ie) is a Dublin based non-profit funded by the Emigrant Support Programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide information and advocacy to intending and returning Irish emigrants.