Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 06/10/19

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, we have lived in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan before this and have bounced around for TDYs before.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

There is a direct flight to Frankfurt, which takes about 6-6.5 hours. The non-stop flight to Amsterdam and Paris is 7 hrs long, non-stop to London takes 7 hrs 40min. ?From there, you can fly pretty much anywhere in the world. All major airlines fly out of here and Dubai, plus there are a few budget airlines. The airports in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both very nice and easy to get around.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost a year.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Department of State, but there are tons of different government/military agencies represented here.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We are a family of three and live in a high-rise with new and modern apartments, pool, gym and all. We have four bedrooms. Size of the apartment is great: not too big and not too small.

There is housing near the Corniche (mostly apartments and a few older villas), there is compound housing near the embassy and I think there are also high-rise apartments buildings in that area, and then there is housing further away. I honestly find it difficult to figure out where everybody lives because housing is so spread here. People seem to generally be happy with their housing.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We don't eat out too often, but we cook a lot. We are a family of three and we have talked to a few friends with similar family sizes, and we all seem to spend around $200 on groceries per week. Things are not cheap here, probably comparable to DC prices. On the bright side, you can find almost anything here. I really love the grocery stores here and I’m sure that we will not have such amazing groceries stores and produce availability at most posts. Because the UAE consists of about 87% of expats from around the world, you can get all kinds of ingredients for cooking international foods (Thai, Arabic, Indian, French, you name it). I rarely can’t find what I need for my extensive cooking.

Some grocery stores even have pork rooms where you can buy all kinds of pork products. Alcohol is also available for purchase.

There is even an IKEA here - woo-hoo!

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Mostly things that are related to baking like bread flour, specialty whole grain flours and extracts (vanilla, orange, hazelnuts, etc). They have extracts here, but they taste different and seem to be of low quality. I’ve had difficulties ordering these items online.

Anything else, you can order online. Chocolate chips or normal baking chocolate are quite pricey. I would bring them to post. Same with nice candles. They can melt during transport, so it’s best to put them in your suitcases.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are lots of hotels with great dining and buffet options. Eating out is not cheap here (but lower than DC prices) and I find the quality of food slightly better in Dubai, but you can find lots of American chains here like the Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, PF Chang’s, Black Tap, Krispy Kreme, and many more. You can also order most foods to your home. Zomato seems like a popular app, but we’ve personally never ordered any takeout food. You will not go hungry here!

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We’ve had a few harmless tiny cockroaches, but that’s about it. They spray a lot here to keep things contained. I could imagine that villas can have a few ant problems, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have APO and DPO at the embassy. You can ship almost anything to post.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We don’t have any household, but I think it ranges around $800-1300 per month. You can do live-in or live-out, with live-out costing about $300 more a month, from what I’ve heard. Most house help comes from the Philippines, Africa or India. I think most families are content with their nannies, but I haven’t heard anybody rave about house help yet. You will have to sponsor them and sharing nannies does not seem to be a thing here because of the sponsorship program.

We have an occasional Filipina babysitter for 35 AED an hour (around $9.50).

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Many new apartment high-rises have their own gym and/or pool. There are gyms throughout the city, but I have no idea how much they cost. I’m sure you can find it all online.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We rarely ever use cash here, but you can find ATMs everywhere. Using your credit card is safe here.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

The UAE is a very tolerant country, so most religions have at least a small group here. I’ve seen Catholic and Protestant churches, African Christian churches, Indian churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not sure what else is out there.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

The UAE consists of 87% expats from around the world, you absolutely need no Arabic here. Everybody speaks English here and everything is also written in English, but of course, it can never hurt to learn the basics. ?

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Probably, as not every sidewalk is wheelchair friendly, but I can see that this post would be much easier to do than most posts in this region. I think the major buildings like malls and tourist sites are wheelchair friendly, but not all little stores in the city have a ramp.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There are local buses, but we rarely ever take them. I would say you should probably have a car at post. This is actually our first post where we have two cars, but I know of a few families that only have one car and then the spouse takes taxis around. Taxis are not ridiculously expensive like in Europe, but they are also not cheap.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You can drive here any car really. The roads are all very good, better than in the US. People have small cars, huge cars, old cars, new cars, cheap cars, very expensive cars. You’ll find anything here.
Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia seem to be the most popular brands.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, high-speed home internet is available. I think we pay around $100 per month for a basic plan. You have to be there in person to buy your plan, so your social sponsor can’t set it up for you, but you can pay an extra fee to have it set up within a day or two. SIM cards are readily available. Most popular providers are Etisalat, Du and Virgin. ?

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I have a pre-paid 1-year contract with Virgin that gives me 2MB per month (it was some kind of special to get a 1 MB bonus), which is plenty for me. We pay around $20-25/month.
Etisalat will be more expensive.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Some spouses work at the embassy. Most job openings that I have seen so far are full-time. Spouses can work outside of the embassy, too, if I’m not mistaken.
There are lots of expat teachers. Special needs teachers and speech/occupational therapists are always in great demand.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are plenty of volunteering opportunities related to protecting the environment (beach clean-ups, protecting sea turtles). Races to raise awareness, volunteering at the schools, etc.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Typical work dress code at the embassy, some men wear a full suit, some just a shirt and tie, depending on which section you work for. You can wear pretty much anything in public. Abu Dhabi is slightly more conservative than Dubai, but I’ve seen tourists wear everything here, too. I think, like in many countries around the world, it is more respectful to at least wear knee-length shorts and skirts and not to show too much cleavage.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No, not really. This is a very safe country. No problems going out at night alone as a woman.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The air quality can get really bad, especially during the hotter months (AQI between 150-220 are very frequent then). It’s mostly due to the sand/dust in the air and then some typical city air pollution. But during those days, we just stay inside. We have not been affected by the air quality (yet). I’m not in the health field and can’t compare medical services and quality to US standards, but it seems that medical care is pretty good here. We have had several women have their babies here, who have all been very happy with the care.

For those who have kids with special needs, there are speech and occupational therapy options here, but most places seem to be almost booked out and they won’t be super flexible with scheduling. We love our speech therapist Jessica Fuller, who works independently.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

During the “colder months” (October-April) the air quality is okay, but like mentioned above, during the summer, the air quality can be bad. It's so hot then, that people don't do much outside anyway. Many families (or rather the non-working spouse and kids) choose to escape the heat and spend the worst summer months back at home.

So, I would say moderate air quality. It's not as good as in Switzerland, but also not as bad as in India or China.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I can see that if you already have respiratory problems, this would probably not be the best post to clear it up. There will always be sand and dust in the air and, of course, some pollution from the cars and factories like in any other big city.

Having food allergies shouldn't be a problem. Labels are in English and are easy to read. The schools are all nut-free, but Arabs cook and bake a lot with nuts. Restaurant staff might not always be aware of what's exactly in the food, but as long as you are cautious, you should be okay here. You can be on a gluten-free diet here, too. Grocery stores have a little gluten-free section and all of the major hotels will offer gluten-free foods at their buffets and restaurants.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not that I’ve heard of. Abu Dhabi doesn’t get real winters, so it’s always nice and sunny here, but Med Unit will know more about the mental health issues that crop up here than me. I would just contact them if you have any concerns.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The colder months between October and the end of April are very, very nice and pleasant. This is the perfect time to come here. Between May and September, it can get really hot, with July/August being the hottest months. It can get humid here, too, but not as humid as I expected a city at a sea to be. It doesn’t rain very often, but we’ve had an unusual rainy spring this year with around 10x times or so raining.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a few good international schools here. Most embassy seem to go to the American Community School or GEMS. There is also the Raha international school, Repton School, Cranleigh, Al Muna Academy, the British School - Al Khubairat, which all have a great reputation. It is extremely important to apply for schools as soon as you get your assignment. Applications start very early here (November, I think) and are very thorough. Seats at these schools fill up quickly.

Schools will even organize "play dates" for the younger kids to see if your child will fit in. There is also a German school and a French school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Unfortunately, most schools lack much special needs support. From what I’ve heard, there are only three schools in town that have a good program. One of them is Repton, the other one is GEMS, but I unfortunately can’t remember the third one. I’ve heard mixed opinions about sending your special need kid to ACS. Some have been happy, some say it is almost none-existent.

However, there are off-site developmental therapy services in English available in Abu Dhabi.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Lots of English-speaking preschools/nurseries in town. A quick Google search and you are overwhelmed with lots of great options. The best way to decide on one is just to tour them all. We absolutely love our boy’s nursery (Little Haven Nursery) and highly recommend it. They take babies starting at 4 months and kids until 4 years (FS1) and class sizes are very good.

You can drop them off as early as 7am and pick them up as late as 6pm, which is great for working parents. Of course, you pay according to how many hours your child stays there and how many days a week. All meals are included in their fee, which is awesome. No need to pack any snacks. They also offer spring, summer, winter camps, which again is great for working parents.
A school year (5 days/week, 8am-2pm) costs around $10,000. (8am-6pm) costs around $11,400, or less $ for fewer hours and/or days.

They have been really great with our special needs boy, too, and can provide an excellent IEP.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Most schools and even some nurseries will offer afternoon classes. There are also several outside clubs, but I have no idea how much they cost.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge expat community (87% of this country). You can find friends from all over the world. Morale seems to be pretty good from what I can tell. The UAE feels like a very westernized country.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are lots of different kinds of groups you can join, the American Women’s Network (AWN) which is a great place to meet other women, Abu Dhabi choral group for people who love music, people have each other over, go out to eat, hang out at Yas Waterworld (many families will buy annual passes).It’s just like in the US. You can do as much as you want with others, but you can also do your own thing.

Since housing is so spread, I would say though, that feeling connected to the embassy community and making friends might take a little longer here than at smaller posts.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think this city is great for everybody. Dubai might be slightly nicer for singles, but I think Abu Dhabi is still a great place for everybody.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I don’t think you are allowed to show your affection publicly (gay or not), but I’m sure there are all types of groups here, but people can't be as open here as, for example, in Europe or in the US.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I would think so. We haven’t really met many true Emirates, but the ones we have met, have all been very open and friendly and inviting. Like in many Middle Eastern countries, since most workers/nannies come from the Philippines or from Africa, there might be some prejudice, but I haven’t talked to anybody from these places about it yet. I don’t think they would feel it in every day living, though, since this country is such a melting pot and Emirates are much more tolerant towards people than people from other Middle Eastern countries.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Of course, like in many countries, women fulfill still more the role of a homemaker and gender equality might be lacking in some areas just like even in other developed countries, but I have never felt treated unequally as a woman here.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

There are sooo many luxury resorts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai that oftentimes offer great deals during low tourist season or for UAE residents. Resorts are absolutely beautiful and the service is here some of the best in the world. So, lots of great choices for weekend getaways. Luxuryescapes.com occasionally has great deals for hotels in the UAE.

Our absolute favorite resort is Jumeirah Madinat with an excellent beach, great pools, a waterpark that’s included in the stay, amazing buffets and restaurants, gorgeous landscaping. ?We haven’t felt the need yet to travel outside the country because there are so many fun things to do here. Dubai is only a 1.5 hour drive away from Abu Dhabi and there is endless entertainment. ?We’ve done some beach glamping and there are also lots of desert glamping offers.

Many people drive to Oman (about 5 hrs away), which we haven’t done yet.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Visiting the Grand Mosque and taking a tour is very interesting. The presidential palace is great, Al Hosn, going to Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World, Warner Brothers Studio Park, Yas Mall, enjoying the beautiful beaches. Going on a desert safari tour with sand dune bashing, glamping in the desert, and so on. Lots of things to do here.

And then there are, of course, lots and lots of fun things to do in Dubai. Entrance fees can be high, but looking for deals on the Entertainer App, Groupon, Isme (for Jumeirah-related restaurants, spas) can lower costs. There are also many great deals during Ramadan for daily or yearly passes to parks.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

We are not much into buying souvenirs, but many people will buy carpets here. I don't think you get amazing deals here, though, like in other cheaper carpet producing countries.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

There are so many fun things to do. And you can do as many things with others as you want or do your own thing. I absolutely love the grocery stores here that I’m sure I will miss one day when we’re at a different post. For a big city, driving is pretty easy here and there is rarely any bad traffic, which I find very surprising for a capital.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Emirates are very forward thinking, very modern, very open and tolerant. Having lived in their neighboring country Saudi Arabia, I didn’t expect things to be so easy and nice and modern here.
Making friends can take a little longer here, too, because the embassy is so big and housing is so spread that it’s more difficult to figure out who's here. Once you reach out, it’s easy to make good friends here.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, definitely. We have been very happy here. Life is pretty good here, and it's a nice bonus to get 10% differentials (you earn them though with the summer heat, air pollution and other restrictions).

We don’t think we’ll ever live at a post like this every again (that’s not in Europe) that can offer all the things the UAE offers, while still getting differentials.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Great savings ambitions: money doesn’t go far here and there are lots of fun things to spend it on

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4. But don't forget your:

50 SPF sunscreen.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

I just watched a bunch of youtube videos about the UAE. Khalid Al Ameri is a famous Emirati YouTube, who gives a great insight into life and culture in the UAE.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 09/12/17

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I've also lived in Conakry, Guinea; Lome, Togo; Muscat, Oman and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

U.S. is home. If you take the direct flight from Chicago or DC it takes 16 hours, longer if you go through Europe.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Relatively large houses considering you are in a city. Some are in compounds, some are in neighborhoods. There are also high-rise apartments for singles/couples and families. Closer to the downtown area the houses are older and some of the apartment buildings are older but they are building new high-rises all the time. As you move away from the city, housing is more updated.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Comparable to U.S. prices.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can get everything here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything is here from all over the world. If you look you can find it and just about everything can be delivered. There are apps for restaurant delivery.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Bugs come inside when it gets to hot and dry outside -ants mostly but some roaches as well.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use DPO and pouch. Others use Aramax, FedEx, UPS and DHL. It seems fairly easy to receive international mail here.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Nannies, cooks, and housekeepers are all available from many countries. It can be challenging to find one person to do everything well. Costs from $700 - $1200 USD per month for a nanny/housekeeper. Cooks are more.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Everything is here. Physical activity is huge here. there are often community races, family events, etc. there are a variety of gyms and health clubs with varying costs depending on what you are looking for. Average is about $16 per exercise class.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Yes, very safe. We use credit cards for everything.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, all are available, I think.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, everything is in English.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

They can get around, priority parking is available, ramps and elevators are everywhere.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are safe but a bit expensive if you use them a lot. Uber might be coming back

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Bring what you like, there are a wide variety of cars here. It is nice to have a Jeep or other 4WD to drive in the desert and larger SUV is good from road trips and camping. Renting cars is easy here as well. You will see Ford next to Maserati next to BMW and Bentley.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, it has some limitations for access but that isn't a big issue. Installation can be quick and the cost starts at about $100 per month with phone and cable included.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local provider, it's easy and works well.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Lots of local vets. Some landlords don't allow pets at all, many don't allow dogs. Ask before you commit to anything. Importing/exporting pets is challenging and expensive.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Many work at the Embassy or local schools. A lot have telework with a US employer. both part-time and full time are available.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

I would say business casual yet suites and ties are in many offices. There are some formal events requiring long dresses, not common to see cocktail dress at events.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None, this is a safe place. my kids walk everywhere

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is OK, apparently better in Dubai which is only 1 1/2 hours by car. People get all kinds of treatment locally.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

It varies, because of dust storms it can be bad sometimes. It does affect people with asthma.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

You can get a lot of stuff here for any dietary requirement. Locals use a lot of nuts in their food, be prepared.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

May-September very hot, October -April pretty pleasant and it can get chilly in January and February.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Lots of great options with American, international, British, Indian and other curriculum. All are pricey.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

This seems to be limited, you need to check with the school.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, and very expensive but they seem to be worth the cost. I hear that parents are very happy with the preschool options.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Tons! Rugby, soccer, basketball, American football, tennis, baseball - it is all here somewhere.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge! This is a country of expatriates.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Sports activities, AmCham, there are lots of options.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for everyone, you can find what you need.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I hear it is okay if you don't advertise yourself. Homosexuality is illegal so it is a risk but there apparently is community

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not a lot. Gender issues are definitely there but they aren't too horrible. Men and women often don't socialize together. Some women will be covered but this is not required or expected for expats.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

It is a travel hub, you can go anywhere from here.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Driving to Oman, visiting the other Emirates, and camping in the desert.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not really, everything is imported.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is almost like living in any other developed big city. Lots of opportunities.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The amazing architecture. It is just wow!

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

YES!!!!

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Everything, you don't need anything here.

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4. But don't forget your:

If you forget it, you can get it here.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

National Geographic mega structures in Abu Dhabi.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 06/08/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

4th expat experience

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Direct flights from DC and several other U.S. Cities to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. About a 14-hour flight.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Embassy Abu Dhabi

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy housing is great -- spacious and convenient. The embassy recently got rid of some houses that were quite far from the city and now all the residences are a very reasonable commute to work and most locations have either access to pools and other amenities, or the location and proximity to downtown locations can't be beat.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Available and can be expensive if you like western brands. Some stuff is inconsistently available (marichino cherries, frozen blueberries), and some cannot be found (extracts with alcohol).

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Vanilla extract, clothes and shoes (expensive here), sporting goods (expensive and poor quality).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything and more. The only food that isn't widely available is pork and even that can be found in hotels. There are very cheap Indian restaurants, though you have to know here to look. Fast food is ubiquitous and about the same price as DC, and fancy foods of every ethnicity (though not good Mexican) is everywhere. If you aren't careful, you'll get chubby.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants in summer. Mosquitoes in winter. Ants come inside to find water and escape the heat. Mosquitoes find water and come to life around the greenery in winter.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO! I love DPO. Many expat friends get mail through their company, however, and the UAE seems to thrive on post box addressees since residential addresses are still a work in progress.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Widely available and very good quality. You can find great help here and that has been a definite bonus to our stay.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Many compounds have gyms for residents and the embassy also has a small gym. Also, the Club (previously known as the British Club) has a modern and reasonable gym if you are a Club member (totally worth it IMHO). Otherwise the gyms seem to be expensive and have limited hours.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards and ATMs are everywhere and I've never had a problem with fraud in the three years I've been here.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Ummmm, not sure. I know they are there though.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. English seems to be the lingua Franca since so much of the population comes from abroad. I was actually hoping to improve my Arabic, but I couldn't find many to practice with.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. While efforts have been made to put cut outs into sidewalks and ramps in public buildings, the results are inconsistent.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are cheap, and the bus is cheaper though the routes are poorly laid out.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Everyone who is anyone has a huge SUV (or a Ferrari, or both) If you want to feel safe on the road, I suggest at least a small SUV. Gas is very inexpensive and having a 4 wheel drive opens up a lot of opportunities for desert driving. There are most types of car repair services here and very reasonably priced.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Definitely. Bring your Apple TV!!! If you want Netflix or similar you'll have to use a VPN (blocked here) cost is comparable to DC.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy uses the national svc Etisalat, a 4G provider. Du is another state owned provider and the "competition" is a joke. Pick one and move on. You'll need a passport and/or an emirates ID to get service though.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Pets don't need to be quarantined on arrival and there are many good vets in the area. Importing and exporting pets can be complicated, however, and I recommend googling UAE pet importers to find someone to help you. Pets can only enter the country as cargo and there are other legal hurdles. The expense of professional help is worth it, especially when you arrive hot, exhausted and disoriented.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. There is no U.S. work agreement, so most spouses find work either at schools or at the Embassy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Tons, you can do a lot of good here for kids, animals, poorer workers, environmental causes....

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Work: business. In public: you see everything, but it is a Muslim society so no minis, tank tops, etc if you want to show respect.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There are occasional notices of extremists threats, but the most pressing pressing security concern is the very agressive drivers. They are crazy dangerous, particularly between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. My blood pressure would soar whenever I made that trip until I learned to just avoid the left lane. There is very limited theft and street violence due to stringent deportation laws. However, if one crosses an Emirati, one should be prepared to take the blame, be it a car accident or accusations of insulting behavior. The stories of arrest for flipping the bird or insulting the government are true.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care quality can be quite good, or real crap. There are so many nationalities practicing here that I've run into the gamut: Doctors have told me that underwire bras cut off circulation and the change in temperature causes colds, while some have been great with good asthma advice and fantastic dental care. Get recommendations and ask questions. Some of these people are nutters and some really know their stuff.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality can be iffy with the sand storms, but my occasionally asthmatic son has not had too many problems here. It's just extremely humid in summer.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Dust storms are the worst and always cause respiratory problems for our family. I won't miss those.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winter between November and February is absolutely lovely. The rest of the year is hot, humid, and dusty. About three days ago the UAE had the hottest temperature on earth. A very dubious honor.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Schools in Abu Dhabi are extremely competitive. There are not enough school slots to go around and the prices reflect that. Some expat families have even been obliged to homeschool because of unconventional arrival times and the lack of schooling opportunities. Most embassy families go to the American Community school (ACS) both because it's a good school and because it's mostly guaranteed for embassy families. Applications for limited spaces in private schools (the only options for expats) are accepted early in the year, often before assignments are finalized. Hopefully they will be able to resolve the school problem soon.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not many. There is a therapy center-- stars for special abilities-- which has a caring staff of OT, reading, special education, etc therapists who are very good with English and use modern therapies. It's the only game in town, however, so appointments are limited. For other needs like speech pathology, child psychologists/psychiatrists the American center for psychology and neurology used to be the only option (good therapists, horrible mgmt) but there are now more options for some services (speech therapy). If you are looking for true accommodation, I don't know where you'll find it though.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Nurseries in Abu Dhabii are plentiful and mostly good quality, though it's almost impossible to reserve a space before arrival. Most preschools require a tour before they will accept an application. The schools accept ages 0 to 4. Regular school in Abu Dhabi starts with KG1, a pre kindergarten grade. Nurseries will not accept children after they are 4 (though they won't boot them if they turn four during the academic year) and that leaves embassy parents on the hook to pay for much higher "big school" prices if they want their kids to go to school. On average, KG1 is about US$10k a year, plus bus fees.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Tons. There are any number of programs at the Zayid sports center, the Club has a lot, ACS supports all level is sporting activities. All is available for a price!!!

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge and varied. Like anywhere, it is what you make it.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

In winter: camping, hiking, biking, various and numerous festivals and expos. In summer: sweat.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, except for single women. Dating options for women are limited, but tor families and couples there are lots of activities.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Homosexuality is illegal in Islam, but that doesn't stop nature so I'm sure there are lots of under the radar options.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes! If you are Asian or African, you will face discrimination. After that, the next rung up seems to be other Arab, then European, the the tippy top is Gulf Arab with Emirati at the apex.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We visited Omani turtle reserves and saw turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea, camped in the Liwa desert and rolled down huge sand dunes, sat on a catamaran and sailed across the Arabian gulf accompanied by dolphins, went up the tallest building in the world... Like I said, lots to do!

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Oman turtle reserve, desert trips, camel beauty shows, crazy boozy brunches, amazing Christmas displays at the posh hotels, desert astronomy adventures, the (British) Club, meetup groups, bonfires at kite beach...

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Hmmmm. Not much is made here, although they do import some nice Asian furniture and Persian carpets. Local crafts are palm frond baskets and rustic pottery.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The UAE has all the "amenities" of the U.S. and more. The culture here is not Arab, but a mix of Arab, Western, various Indian, South East Asian, Philippines, etc. The UAE is only 20% (generously) Emirati with the rest being expats. Everything is available, though all is imported. You can even buy a Chritmas tree from Canada! There are lots of things for families, singles, couples to do at all times of the year-- with the exception of summer when the wealthier expats clear out. All this comes with the caveat that you have to PAY for your fun. The UAE is not cheap.

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10. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I moved here from Bahrain so I thought I knew what I was getting into. The UAE is even more materialistic and has less indigenous culture than Bahrain. I wish I had known how very expensive it is and what a marked entitlement culture exists. There are two classes catered to: the rich expat who seems to expect a wide array of luxury hotels, apartments, shopping, and cars, or the very poor expat (usually Pakistani/Indian) who are crowded into tiny apartments (soon to be crowded out by luxury developments) and have very limited disposable income. The inequalities are pronounced and after living here for a while, I'm uncomfortable with the effect it's had on me and my family. Maybe a heavier answer than desired, but be mindful while enjoying your Filipina nanny, Bangladeshi car wash boy, and Indian gardener.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably not.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Hopes of saving money, learning Arabic, and making life long Emirati friends.

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4. But don't forget your:

Telescope for clear desert skies, camping gear, and breathable summer clothes!

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307378233/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307378233&linkCode=as2&tag=thesunspousunder&linkId=ALNCRKFZRXZDUROA

It's about an expat in Dubai, but you will find it funny after you've been here a while.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The UAE is a young country, only 40-ish years old, and still developing its processes and policies. I keep trying to remember that when the place and attitudes tick me off. Many of the allegiances are familial and/or tribal and you never quite know what to expect between one Emirate and its neighbor. Just wait till you try to sell a car while in Abu Dhabi to someone in Dubai. Seems like neither Emirate got the memo hat they are the same country. Patience is key, and I lost all mine while living in Bahrain.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 05/19/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Previous diplomatic service and professional experience over 25 years in Japan, Western Europe, and elswhere in the Middle East.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

East Coast of the U.S., now accessible by nonstops by both of the UAE's national carriers, as well as United to/from Dubai.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Four years, from 2009.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic service, sixth tour overseas.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

For the U.S. Embassy, a mix of villas and apartments, mostly fairly central. Commutes probably average ten to twenty minutes. A few years ago the embassy acquired some units out in a new suburb. Those poor folks are half an hour away, not only from the Embassy, but from all services and shopping. It really stuck out in the desert. Most units have some kind of chronic maintenance issues, but that's pretty much the norm here. Construction standards are low, and new units are often no better than old ones.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can find almost anything, but you may have to look. The price range is surprising, with some chains (Lulu and the Coop) significantly less expensive than others, such as Spinney's. The market is growing, with several new chains coming in, including Spar on the reasonable side and Waitrose on the upper end. It can be hard to find good cleaning supplies, as many have heavy perfumes or are quite harsh.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Cleaning supplies, cotton underwear, vanilla essence (you can't get the real thing because of the alcohol base).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is a wide range of choices, but most places lack consistency. A meal can be great one time and disgusting the next week. And prices can be daunting. There is good cheap Middle Eastern and some okay reasonable Asian choices, but a dinner with a drink or two at a hotel can easily run to $125 a couple or more. Fast food is everywhere, both familiar Western brands and some local/regional ones.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants, ants, ants, in several different seasonal waves. Our dog has had ticks nonstop as well, only partially put off by standard treatments like Front Line. They say that while they are getting to be more common in the city, they aren't currently known to harbor any chronic illnesses like Lyme Disease.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We rely on diplomatic mail. There are no street addresses, so you use either your own or your employer's PO box for snail mail.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Officially, you have to full-time sponsor an expatriate housemaid, which can be pricy to set up and is kind of luck-of-the-draw if you just take a maid from an agency. While it is technically illegal, many people have part-time help, with the maid/gardener/nanny already in country, usually on a visa provided by an Emirati citizen. It's possible to get cheap help, but you get what you pay for. We have a half-time housekeeper whom we trust totally (including dog-sitting) and frankly overpay at over $500 a month. But for us it's worth the peace of mind.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Most hotels offer gym/pool memberships, and there are standalone gyms as well. It can be expensive, especially for single men, but there are big discounts for couples/families and some for single women. But men on their own pay a premium.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are common, and credit cards (including international cards) are widely accepted. It's wise to observe good basic cautions, though, as one hears a lot about ATM skimming and other kinds of petty fraud.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are churches, but there may not be one specifically for some of the smaller denominations. There is good information online about churches, with service hours, both on Fridays, the standard day, and Sundays.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Abu Dhabi's English-language paper, The National, tries to be as good a paper as it can be, given all the local censorship and limitations on things like political reporting. There are various satellite and TV packages available, all with a focus on English (U.S./UK) content. Other magazines and newspapers are widely available, but imported ones can be expensive ($15 for a monthly like Vanity Fair is standard), and sometimes things are censored or issues just never appear.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Emiratis are a small minority (15% maybe?), and it's actually hard to practice Arabic here. English is as close to a shared language as there is (more people probably speak Urdu than anything else). That said, Arabic-speakers really like it if you try even a few words.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It would be hard to have a physical disability here. While most new buildings have made at least some attempts at accessibility, they're very inconsistent. Sidewalks are far from common and are usually uneven.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Public transport in Abu Dhabi is pretty limited. No local trains/metro, and not enough bus routes (or actual buses). Taxis are generally safe and fairly cheap, but be sure to use your seat belts, as the drivers can be hair-raising. There's a fairly good and cheap intercity bus system, once you figure out how to use it.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Check carefully on restrictions on importing vehicles, as the rules seem to shift a lot. The roads are dominated by huge SUVs and expensive sports cars. I've never seen so many Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis. It can be intimidating to drive a small, lower-end car. Locals prefer highly-tinted windows, but expats can only tint up to (I think) 30%. Unless you want to do desert driving, there is no reason except status-seeking or perceived safety to have a huge car, as roads are generally good.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Through the state provider only. Speed can be an issue. Costs vary depending on the package you chose, but can be reasonable. Around $40 a month, I think.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They're everywhere. You'll have to have one, and you can find endless places to buy them at the malls.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No, but the rules about importing an animal are complicated and require some expertise. We worked with a local vet, both to import and now to export ours.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

While Emiratis (and many Muslims) don't like dogs, we haven't had many problems in public with ours. There are a couple of international-quality vet clinics (German, British, and American), and I've heard about a new "five-star" kennel. Supplies of specific medicines can be inconsistent, so we try to keep stocked up on basics for our dog.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Expats do pretty much everything, but the current focus on "Emiratization" increasingly means that the best jobs are reserved for UAE citizens. Expat spouses can have a difficult time finding employment unless they're teachers or willing to freelance (semi-illegally) in some way.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Abu Dhabi can be a dressy place: business suits for professional men and comparable for women, with an accent on modesty. There's lots of public griping by Emiratis about "indecent" Western dress, but it can be hard to find suitable clothes for men or women in local shops. But you will find lots of miniskirts, bikinis, and muscle clothes - it's just not clear where you're supposed wear them. Malls supposedly have dress codes that include "no bare shoulders" and "no short shorts", but they don't consistenly enforce them.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

While the city is very safe, driving is simply terrible. Emiratis, especially young men, drive like maniacs, and in general it's an unusual day that I don't have at least one terrifying moment during my half-hour commute. I've lived in Cairo and Lagos and prefer the driving there.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is iffy at best. After 8 years in the region, if I had any serious medical issue, I would get out as soon as possible. Most doctors might be okay, but the system depends on overworked and underpaid nurses and technicians. You hear horror stories about misdiagnosed illnesses, surgical complications, and other problems that come from cutting corners and sloppy practices. In theory, the arrival of international players like Cleveland Clinic should improve things, but until then...

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Generally dusty, even in the best weather. I think the real problems come not from the air outside but from the universal reliance on air-conditioning and the increasing prevalence of sealed buildings that never allow access to fresh air. We had terrible air-conditioning-related mold problems and resulting breathing problems throughout our tour.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hellishly hot, long summers -- like nowhere else I've been. Central Africa is pleasanter. Unbelievable humidity from April through November; don't plan to be outdoors much. Although, to be fair, the cooler weather has lasted far longer than usual in 2013. November through March is pleasant, even a little chilly some nights, and usually less humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We don't have kids, but I hear good things about the American Community School and the GEMS schools.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

From what I hear, a little at ACS and GEMS, almost none elsewhere.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Some are listed in the free weeklies, but it would have to be seasonal and/or indoor.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Vast - like 90% of the population. But most are short-term workers. There are many fewer management/professional expats, but still it's a large and diverse community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies widely - some people have been here for decades and love it; others find the combination of social/political restrictions and the climate unbearable.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

We've done less home entertaining here than anywhere else we've lived. Emiratis often don't like to visit expat homes for fear of alcohol, pork, and dogs. There are lots of going-out options, including various special promotions -- women frequently drink free, for example.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Abu Dhabi is a surprisingly dull place. Aside from one-off attractions like Ferrari World and a new water park, there's not much beyond shopping malls. Movie theaters are basically just places where local teenagers come to talk, and many movies are censored. And only the big action and kids' films get here in the first place. There are occasional pop concerts, but not much else. Some day there will be museums, a performing arts center, etc., but that's years off, and until then it's either seasonal things like the annual film festival or classical concert series, or nothing.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There's more of an underground culture than outsiders might be aware of (including a nightclub), but it's pretty much just Arab expats with a few Westerners, all mostly pretty young. There is not much for older couples or women.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes, racism is a huge issue, with the system reinforcing prejudices that pit locals against all foreigners, and wealthier people against poorer people. You will find lots and lots of bias against the often-put-upon workers who do all the heavy lifting that keeps the place running. Colleagues regularly report instances of color-based discrimination and gender prejudice.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

On a daily basis, climate and traffic aside, Abu Dhabi is a pretty comfortable place to live. Supermarkets are generally well stocked, it's possible to find good quality on most things if you're willing to look hard, and we've enjoyed the cooler winters.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There are some nice beaches, although fewer and fewer free ones. And at public beaches, some people may not feel comfortable in Western swimwear, which attracts either lecherous or disapproving stares. And for five months of the year it is just too hot. There is lots of shopping. Dubai is a regular getaway for many, although that mostly means just more shopping and hotels. The city of Al Ain, in the interior, is an interesting place and a nice weekend destination. And it can be fun to explore the smaller emirates.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are almost no real local crafts. Most items that look like that are imported from Oman or India or China. There are some good deals on Persian carpets if you know where to look.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The Emirates are what you make of it, and those coming with fewer expectations will be happier than those who take the shiny surface of things at face value. While the UAE is pretty short on anything authentic (the whole place has been more or less invented in the last 40 years), it is a fast (though often not cheap) hop to Asia, Turkey, Africa, and more.

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11. Can you save money?

It's possible, but Abu Dhabi can be a very expensive place to live, and as one major sanity-keeper is travel, it's easy to lose track of spending.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No. I find the local culture to be pretty oppressive, the weather horrible, and the quality of just about everything to be weird. It's not nice to be in a place where everyone )except the few local nationals) is expendable, where everything depends on cheap, imported labor, and where status symbols and conspicuous consumption are what people seem to care about.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations of consistent good service, winter clothes (except for travel outside the region), anticipation of an authentic Arabian cultural experience...

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen, patience, and an exit strategy.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

"Sex and the City 2" was supposed to be set in Abu Dhabi, but not a minute of it was filmed here, and it's kind of a local joke that the movie was all about how beautiful and traditional the place is.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

A lot of this may sound negative. In fairness, I know a lot of people who love the expat life here. It's just not for everyone.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 07/20/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I lived in Austria and the USA as an expat.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

UK is my home base. Abu Dhabi is a seven hour direct flight from Heathrow. Ethiad, Qatar and British Airways all fly daily

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3. How long have you lived here?

Lived there for 3 years 2007/2010.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Educator working as anadviser to local schools.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We were provided with new apartments on the island, about fifteen minutes from the city centre in a pleasant suburb with parks and villas for Emirati families. However, if accommodation is not provided by your employer, it is difficult and expensive to find housing. Many people were commuting in daily from Dubai where rents were lower after the financial crash.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

If you eat locally-sourced fruit and vegetables or go to the supermarkets like Lulu catering for Indian/Asian customers, which is cheaper than UK supermarkets. Fresh coriander for the equivalent of 10p a bunch; limes 10 for the equivalent of £1, Iranian saffron at £2 a box. On the other hand if you crave Stilton cheese or bacon (available in a separate section banned to Muslims) it is available in Spinneys.... but at a higher price than at home. There is a Waitrose in Dubai if you really want to splash out. M&S in Abu Dhabi has some goods like porridge and biscuits but it is not like the foodhalls at home!

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Taylors Yorkshire Tea (the Liptons varieties available locally were very weak); books and CDs are more expensive than at home; more RoC sunscreen in larger quantities.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Every variety of Western fast food in the malls, lovely Lebanese and Vietnamese outlets for healthier fast foods. Restaurants offering every variety of cuisine from 30dhms meals in Indian or Iranian cafes to 100s in the five star hotels.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ant invasions are common. The chemicals in the insecticides used liberally in this countryare likely to do you more harm than the insects themselves.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

The national post system (Empost) could be a bit slow. In addition there are no street addresses in the UAE so you need to get a post box from the post office. If the contents were important I would use Fedex.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

I did not need this but friends who did engage domestic help found it easy to do so.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Plenty of clubs and hotels with gym facilities and pools.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are plentiful. ADCB ones always try to lure you into making donations to the Red Crescent when you withdraw your money. I used my UK credit card without any problems and declined a UAE one. Too many people seem to end up in real difficulties if they don't pay them off in full; stories of debtors being stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving the country feature in the local media.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes. There is an English Language mosque; Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical churches offer English services. The Anglican church compound has about 70 different denominations using it at the weekend from Ethiopian Orthodox to Pentecostals.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The National is a reasonable newspaper with Abu Dhabi and international coverage, Gulf News and Khaleej Times have a more local and Dubai focus; TV packages include BBC, CNN and dozens of English language channels for about 2000 dhs per year

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A little Arabic goes a long way and is much appreciated. English is widely understood and spoken.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Curbs are steep and not all buildings have a ramp entrance.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Trains exist only in the excellent Dubai metro system although there is talk of building a Dubai/Abu Dhabi railway. Buses between the cities are cheap Within Abu Dhabi the city bus is very inexpensive, if crowded. Women in the front, men at the back. It is embarrassing, but if you are white, people will usually try to offer you their seats. The silver taxis are also relatively cheap but try to find a driver with a good sense of direction, ask for his mobile number and ring him directly for your future needs. Some drivers have limited road knowledge or uncertain temperaments especially during Ramadan.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Driving is a dangerous sport in the UAE. I got a driving licence and hired cars from time to time but chose to use public transport/taxi most of the time. As with unpaid credit card debts, car hire purchase/lease arrangements can need to be settled in full before you leave the country. The local custom is to write 24 pre-dated monthly cheques, but if you lose your job/income stream within the two years you are still responsible for making sure that the cheques don't bounce if you want to stay out of prison.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, through Etisalat. Depends on the speed/download that you want but I had change from 200dhs a month for landline and internet.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are two companies, Etisalat and Du, with the latter being less expensive. You need to show residence ID to buy a handset. Top-up cards are easy to purchase in shops or from street vendors.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

We lived in apartments and the lease forbade pets.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Colleagues' spouses who wanted jobs all found something.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

I worked in Emirati settings so sleeves past the elbow and skirts nearer the ankle than the knee. Trousers are fine provided that they are not tight and worn with a top that covers your bottom. Male colleagues were expected to wear trousers and shirt/tie to work. Paradoxically while western women sometimes chose to wear an abaya at work and in public (because they could wear shorts and tee shirts underneath if they chose), it is very bad form for western men to wear the dishdasha.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The traffic is dangerous, but Abu Dhabi is otherwise a safe place to live.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There are hospitals with links for example to Imperial College and some well respected clinics. The major concern is ensuring that your employer provides an insurance policy that is accepted at the better hospitals and GP practices.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Sandstorms and the fogs in the winter are uncomfortable, but relatively uncommon, experiences.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Gorgeous from November to April when there are balmy breezes as well as sunshine with sunset much later than in a northern European winter. Scorchingly hot and unbearably humid in the summer so that much time is spent inside with the air conditioning full on.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I inspected many of them for ADEC and standards do vary considerably so i would advise prospective parents to look beyond the marketing brochure ask about these inspection reports.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

This can be a worry for expat parents because special needs are less consistenly supported than in national systems in the West. If your child comes to the UAE with a statement of special needs you will need to probe about provision before enrolling. If your young child starts school for the first time in the UAE, the diagnosis and quality of screening will vary from school to school. Some of the British curriculum international schools offer support for pupils with dyslexia or ASD.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are English medium private nurseries operating in Abu Dhabi with varying philosophies of early years educaton

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, through the clubs, the international schools and an extensive summer program in the parks, although most families escape the heat and go to their home countries for the summer.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge. Emiratis are less than 20% of the population and you have to go to El Ain to see a city in which they are the majority.

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends upon the expat. Indian/Pakistani workers put up with very sparse conditions as long as they are being paid. It is only when their wages stop and there is nothing to send home that they grumble. Philipina and Indonesian runaway maids in refuges have understandably fragile morale. Westerners don't, relatively, have anything to complain about... but we do.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There is a club or society for practically every sporting and cultural interest.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Families say it is a good safe place to bring up children. Be aware that the local culture recognises and respects married couples, but not unmarried partners.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Discretion would be necessary.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Racial prejudice? As one charming Emirati student put it 'the UAE is not a melting pot but rather a salad bowl where the different ingredient live alongside each other but do not blend together'. Other posts identify the pecking order of Emirati, then other GCC Arabs, followed by other Arabs from the Levant and North Africa, then westerners with professional/technical expertise all supported by large numbers of workers from Asia and the Indian subcontinent doing the manual work.



Religious prejedice? It is an Islamic county. The festivals and public holidays follow the Islamic calendar. Expect to work on Christmas Day for example. Followers of other religions are tolerated, but it is against the law to proselytize or try to convert Muslims. Churches are in one limited area, many in a compound with no overt external display of crosses allowed. I can't recall seeing any temples but there are associations for the Keral, Nepali, etc., workers so I think that they celebrate their festivals and rituals within their clubhouses.



Gender prejudice? More Emirati women than men are going to university nowadays and there are women heading government departments and in leading roles in commerce. Many women that I have met seem matter of fact about polygamy. Although men and women can seem socially segregated to western eyes, for example with women and children on one side of the audience at a traditional concert, and men on the other, women wield significant influence in the family. They are proud that they have always had the right to their own property. Some female colleagues did not drive outside the town because their husbands did not want them to, but this always seemed more out of concern for safety on accident-plagued roads than outright chauvinism. It was generally understood that westerners are different and expect the sexes to work and socialize together. It was women from Asia who suffered from prejudice in that they were often assumed to be maids or prostitutes.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Good spot for holidays in places I would otherwise not have considered like Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, and Egypt. Privileged, due to my work, to go beyond the 'expat bubble' and spend time within Emirati schools and homes.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Fabulous if you like natural history, camping or stargzing in the desert; sailing opportunites plentiful; horse and camel racing worth seeing; a festival of some sort be it falconry, films or food every few weeks in the splendid conference centres; arts well catered for with new Guggeneim, Louvre and classical concert series; world music festival on the corniche and easy distance to Indian Ocean or Mediterranean holiday spots for long weekends.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

prescription specs are cheaper here for 'designer' frames' jewellery made locally or in Oman is striking, camels milk chocolate is a good gift and delicious, dates and spices make nice presents, carpets, tiles from the Iranian market.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

A wonderful opportunity to experience a different culture and meet people from all over the world while having access to most of the comforts of home.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if accommodation and utilties are part of your package, and if you don't go retail crazy in the malls

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Umbrella (unless lined with sun repellant material and used as a parasol); preconceptions about the Gulf; sense that rules of the road are there to be followed.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sun screen, sense of curiousity, willingness to learn.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Don't They Know It's Friday? Cross-Cultural Considerations for Business and Life in the Gulf
is a helpful primer for adapting to life and business in the Gulf. Anything by/about Wilfred Thesinger Wilfred Thesinger
helps to gain an understanding of how much has changed so rapidly in this country.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

City of Life and Death
is the first Emirati made movie. It is based in Dubai rather than Abu Dhabi but much of the story of the tension between family expectations and the easy life of fast cars and faster friends is as relevant in this emirate and the Emirati kids in the audience loved it! If you get a chance to see the Freej in English - cartoon Emirati grannies like a sort of Arab French and Saunders sketch show - do so!

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 08/09/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

My Sixth expat experience - others include Cairo, Tokyo, London, and a couple of African capitals.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

New York, NY. Non-USG travelers can take advantage of a number of direct flights from the U.S. (fourteen hours nonstop from Dulles). Those subject to Fly American tend either to take United to Dubai (although Embassy Abu Dhabi will not assist travelers arriving in Dubai) or fly via Europe, mostly Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Eighteen months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomat, U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

For the U.S. Embassy, a mix of mostly smallish villas and often surprisingly roomy flats. Villas are spread around the city, and flats are mostly near the Corniche. Few villas have more than a tiny patio outdoors; gardens are rare. Some buildings for flats have amenities (pool, gym, etc.); some have none. The same goes for villas, which are both in compounds and standalone (the standalone ones tend to be larger).

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Almost everything is available, although you do have to look and may have to hit more than one supermarket. For U.S. staples like peanut butter, apple sauce, and Hellman's mayo, you'll probably only find tiny jars - family-size here means rice and other local staples. Chickens are tiny (a little over lbs at most), which is I guess the local preference. In terms of cost, if you insist on having all the same brands as at home, very expensive. If you will only eat perfect-looking European produce, ditto. Beyond that, you can shop quite reasonably, especially if you shop around.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Not much - high-quality pet supplies are limited, so those, perhaps; anything that you have strong brand loyalty to, because even if you can find it sometimes, you might not another.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything you can imagine and more, some more expensive than at home. Lebanese and Indian choices are especially strong, but there are lots of fast food chains (U.S. and international) and some great top-end choices. Restaurants with alcohol are almost all in hotels and trend toward the expensive; if there's a gap in the market, it's for casual, Western-style places where you can get a drink and not spend a fortune (no nice neighborhood corner joints, in short).

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Some supermarkets (especially Spinney's) will have a choice that, while limited, covers most of these bases. Others may have things you wouldn't imagine - the small Abela chain seems to stock more oddities than you might think, for example.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Our villa has been beset by various kinds of ants, including tiny ones that relentless invade any unsealed food container. Flies can be a moderate problem in winter when windows are open (screens aren't universally available), but less so than on the East Coast of the U.S.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We get ours through the Embassy; I've heard okay things about the Emirati post, although it's all to PO Boxes (no home delivery. No addresss, in fact, really).

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help is readily available, although technically illegal if you are not sponsoring a full-time maid (which single people are not allowed to do).The grey market for part-timers is large. We have a lovely Indian lady who works 20 hours a week for the equivalent of a little over $500 a month, which is on the high side but worth it (we trust her with dog and cat, she stays overnight when we're out of town, etc.). Many pay less and have to worry about their help's honesty, reliability, etc. It's not a great system, and it exploits lots of people, but... it's really nice to have a clean house and a hot dinner. You'll have to find the right person; our experience was that those who've work for Embassy families before often have very high salary expectations and are willing to do fewer things (we had one Filipina candidate who wanted more than we pay current for only ten hours weekly, and she wouldn't care for the pets, work in the kitchen, or iron, for example).

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Widely.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Widely available, usually at good rates. I generally pay 1% of any transaction to my U.S. bank for ATMs, but have never had any trouble accessing funds.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Some Christian services, but only in state-sanctioned facilities. No synagogue. Widespread Muslim observance, of course, but only in Arabic that I've ever heard of.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Several English dailies - The National is probably the best. Various TV packages are available that give you lots of choices, including a lot of U.S. programming.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. Arabic is great to have, but English is almost universal. It would almost be more useful to have Tagalog or Urdu.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many. Newer buildings are accessible (although often with ramps that slope at a 45 degree angle, are accessed by a couple of steps, and the like), but there are few other concessions.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are adequately safe, although driving is erratic and few drivers will know more than the most basic destinations, so you do have to be prepared to give directions. The limited bus system is slow and mostly used by those withough other choices. Taxis are relatively cheap (less than $5 for most in-town destinations).

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

If you're really into off-roading, a big four-wheel is appropriate. Other than that, almost anything would work, although you'd find it hard to be comfortable in a soft-top convertible in the summer, and a little height can be nice when navigating traffic jams.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, although speed is often less than advertised. The provider, Etisalat, has spotty service. I believe our monthly bill is on the order of $40.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You will need one and use it frequently. I can't remember the last time my home landline rang, in fact. There are only a couple providers, and the cost isn't outrageous.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No, at least from the U.S., not if all paperwork is in order.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Adequate. There are American, British, and German clinics, with fans of each. I wouldn't kennel my dog in any of them, but we get good care. This is definitely not a dog culture (can't take them to parks, the beach), etc., but there aren't many problems, especially if you have some outdoor space at home.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes, many, although the push to "Emiratize" means that's changing. Within the Embassy, there is currently no agreement that lets spouses work on the market; there are some good jobs for families inside the mission, but they're hit-and-miss.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Fairly formal at work, and conservative everywhere. This is not the place for short-shorts (for either gender), revealing tops, etc. That said, lots of people dress in loud colors, lots of glitz, etc.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The UAE has been the least affected country in the region by recent political upheaval - but it's neighbors do include places like Yemen and Saudi, so some unease remains. On a day-to-day basis, Abu Dhabi feels like one of the safest places on earth. Women are subject to harassment (most stares and whistles, especially in the older parts of downtown), especially if dressed at all revealingly. Driving is probably the worst concern - it's simply awful, with near-accidents feeling like something that happens every day.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Local medical care is spotty at best, with some good specialists and generally pretty poor nursing, generalists, and facilities. There are lots of places offering laser, cosmetic procedures, etc., but I can only imagine the quality of some results. Dentistry can be as or more expensive than the U.S., without much reliability.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Moderate to poor - it's dusty much of the year, with sandstorms reduce visibility to zero, heavy fogs, and, for much of the summer, deeply unpleasant humidity like no where else I've lived.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cool, pleasant winters, as noted above - offset by summer heat and humidity (April through October, more or less) that can at worst be unbearable. You basically live an inside life in summer, much as Northerners do in deep winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The embassy-supported American Community School has a good reputation, but there are a number of international-quality choices.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Probably, but most will be more expensive than at home.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large - technically, about 90% of the population. Western expats are a much smaller percentage, with Americans a small percentage of those.

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2. Morale among expats:

At the embassy, fair to good. It's an individualistic place with little community spirit, but we haven't minded it too much. In general, some people adore the place; others are driven mad by it. It can be hard to see so many grindingly poor people work so hard in what is supposed to be such a rich, glossy place.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

As much or little as you like. Little home hospitality that involves Emiratis, as they can be shy about coming into Western houses where gender-mixing patterns, food and drink, etc., won't be what they're used to.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Families and self-entertaining couples will have a nice time, although small chidren (and their parents) probably find the long summers trying. There is some nightlife for singles (on a reduced scale from that in Dubai) and outgoing types will enjoy themselves. Entertainment options are relatively limited - a fair number of movies (censored, frequently weeks or months old), lots of restaurant choices, but special occasions aside, not much in the way of culture (no museums, few art galleries, a couple of concert series, no high-quality jazz/live music clubs).It can be hard to find a social circle, as the Embassy is less community-oriented than some and different nationalities mix less than you might imagine.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Neither impossibly bad nor great. If you come with some contacts and access to the mostly underground scene, it can be okay; Arabic speakers will have access to the surprising number of Arab expats. That said, it's all very hush-hush, even compared to Dubai, and of course local culture is highly homophobic on the surface. The U.S. Embassy is extremely supportive, although handicapped by local refusal to automatically grant visas to same-sex spouses/partners (work-arounds have been found).

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Many. While I don't feel as strongly as a previous poster about some of the UAE's social issues, it's still an authoritarian state run primarily for the benefit of its comparatively few citizens (possibly as little as 10% of the total population).Racism is rife in so many directions it can get funny - Emiratis vs everyone else, Arabs vs Westerners (and vs Indians, Asians, other Arabs, you name it), Muslims vs Christians, etc., etc. Women's rights are much talked about by UAE authorities even as a discriminatory traditional culture is highly promoted. Classism is overwhelming - the rich own things, the (smallish) middle makes it all run, and the (very large) underclass of laborers, maids, and the like do virtually all the heavy lifting. In any situation, any foreigner - whether a Pakistani day-worker or an Oxford-grad executive with years in the country - ranks below any Emirati; both are equally vulnerable to arbitrary arrest, deportation, and countless lesser hassles.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Enjoying the beaches that line the city's Cornice; traveling to places like Oman and Qatar; enjoying some things (such as household help and luxurious spas) that are prohibitively expensive at home.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Outdoors types will love the desert and the sea; some will love the shopping. When something special is on, AD can be fun - the Film Festival brings in new movies and stars, Abu Dhabi Classics hosts a few high-profile concerts, and there are pop concerts (Shakira, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, etc.) every few months.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Few if any Emirati crafts (prior to oil, there just wasn't all that much here).Some nice jewelry, crafts imported from India, Syria, etc. Local and regional travel.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Abu Dhabi blends the feeling of a big city with a surprising amount of greenery, easy access to the beach, and (although you have to work to find them) pockets of traditional Arabic culture. Although the city feels sprawling and spread out, few things are more than 20 or 30 minutes apart. For Westerners, most conveniences of home are easily available and the majority of concessions to local norms aren't terribly onerous (alcohol is readily available in many places; all but the most exposed styles of Western dress are tolerated, if not welcomed).The winter (approximately November through March) is lovely, with evenings cool enough at times to require a jacket or sweater. Dubai, which is flashier and has more silly things to do, is only an hour or so away, and lots of destinations are a short flight for long weekends. It's an expensive place to live, but once one knows how to shop economically and where to take advantage of specials and discounts, not outrageously so.

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11. Can you save money?

If you're careful, possibly; if you need to live like an American in DC (or like a high-living expat), no.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably. The Emirates is a weird place in ways it's almost impossible to understand without being here, and it can get trying. For Embassy people, as previously noted, it's neither a warm nor an especially service-oriented work environment, but it's not actively awful, either. The summer is exhausting - but then there's the rest of the year, and there really are lots of advantages that, on the whole, outweigh the problems.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Parkas, expectations of being in a traditional Arabic culture, and idealism.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, patience, and sense of adventure.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Explorer Guide for Abu Dhabi residents.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Not much - and be warned:"Sex and the City 2", while technically set in "Abu Dhabi", has nothing but nothing to do with life here (it was filmed in Morocco and is definitely a local sore point).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 07/17/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, D.C.; 15 hours via Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Roads are good and commute times are not too bad depending on what part of the city you're living in. In any case, commutes here beat any USA metro area commute; housing is varied but good - huge villas or apartments.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Everything is imported. You can get most Western goods and there are some very good supermarkets - Lulu chain and Carrefour. Pretty good grocery situation although not as much selection. You pay more if you want a specific brand or you want pork.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Any special medications although they have most.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Many good restaurants and fast food in malls; similar to the USA.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Limited. Not a lot of diet foods. Lots of Indian subcontinent and Arabic food. Western food for a price.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

In hot weather, ants come up into the houses; no mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Not an issue.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Visa sponsorship is costly and at end of service you have to deport your maid/nanny or find her other visa sponsorship. The sponsorship system creates a widespread slavery system in the UAE and domestic workers are routinely abused. Most non-diplomats withold their domestic workers' passports and put them on airplanes at the end of their service. If I were a domestic worker, I would never work in the UAE where you are treated like a dog by the system. The U.S. State Department ranks the UAE as a "Tier 2" (moderate violator) of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) but they should really be "Tier 3," along with the rest of the Gulf countries. Human beings are commodities in the UAE to be bought, sold and traded.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. They are fairly abundant.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are plentiful, but there are debtor prisons and draconian laws about failing to pay credit card bills or bouncing a check, including significant jail time.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Probably. The UAEG will tolerate limited non-Muslim religious practice but don't try converting Emiratis or anything or you will be jailed or deported.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Abundant. Cost is reasonable.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You're generally fine with English although some basic Arabic is useful. Urdu is useful with cabbies and maintenance workers.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

They're making progress but not all buildings are handicapped-accessible.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Women should always sit in the back seat of a taxi and not engage the driver in conversation; never let a taxi driver into your house. Otherwise, cabbies are plentiful and reasonable. Abu Dhabi is gradually building out a city bus system, which is inexpensive.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Any kind of car; there are extensive garage and maintenance facilities although foreign parts may have to be ordered out at a premium.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes and reasonable cost.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You can buy a phone and SIM service in the country. All phone networks are monitored by the UAE Ministry of Interior and there are only a couple of telecom providers. Blackberries are tolerated but UAE Ministry of Interior was trying to ban them in 2010, as they were having trouble bugging them. Some internet sites and articles are blocked. Remember, despite the glitzy hotels and buildings, this is a police state with no human rights.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Yes, but don't know all the regulations.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes, the UAE is growing and they outsource everything to expats. UAE is desperate for educated professionals and teachers, but remember, check the language of your contracts carefully and remember you have no legal rights in the UAE. If your employer decides they want to pay you less or don't have the money to pay you any more, you have no recourse. Emirati/Arabic companies routinely don't pay out last month's pay or severance pay - they find excuses not to pay you. Again, if you get into a royally-subsidized entity that's paying you well, you can live the good life for years but all that can end abruptly and get ugly in many cases. Do not/not get involved in any political activity.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business / professional. Women need to keep skirts and dresses at the knee or lower. No tank tops.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

I think there are several. Due to guest construction workers, there are probably 3 - 4 men for every woman in the UAE and assault cases on vulnerable women and girls are frequent; they police the roads thru extensive cameras and speed traps and exorbitant traffic fines. A parking ticket is about US$150; a speeding ticket could be US$200 - $500; a red light violation is US$650 or one week in jail or two weeks of car impoundment. It's easy to get a traffic violation and Emiratis routinely speed and pay out thousands of dollars to the UAEG; if you're on a budget, don't come to the UAE as you'll inevitably incur traffic fines; if you're a diplomat, you can't export your car or sell it without paying your fines and your Embassy won't help you. The most dangerous part of the UAE is driving.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is hit or miss. There are a lot of bad doctors interspersed with some good ones. The technology is there but not everybody knows how to use it. Dentists are after your money. Don't use Gulf Diagnostic Hospital in Abu Dhabi - they have no standards of care; patients are routinely misdiagnosed and mis-medicated, and the hospital treats their employees terribly. If you get sick, go to Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center (SKMC). SKMC is in a tie-up with Johns Hopkins University and the Cleveland Clinic but it remains to be seen if this will improve medical services in Abu Dhabi. Select your dentist carefully and preferably by reference.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Moderate. A lot of sand and dust in the air. Occasional sand storms come over from Saudi Arabia, but otherwise hot and sunny every day.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

From December through February it's beautiful. It sprinkles rain maybe five days a year at most; always sunny for the most part except for occasional sandstorms. From April through October temps are brutally hot and everybody stays indoors.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

International schools are all good. British- and American-curriculum schools are all very good.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Check with the invididual school but culturally, not a lot of accommodation and there's stigma.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Preschool situation is tough. There is not a lot of availability although it's improving. If you're moving here, you need to contact preschools in advance and get on waiting lists. Most preschools are run by Western staff and you can register or make contact online.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, but more for boys and less for girls. Not too extensive outside of soccer / football.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

UAE is about 15% native Emiratis. 85% of the population are guest workers, with Indians being the largest expat community, followed by Pakistanis, and then maybe Filipinos. There are roughly 400,000 westerners, many in Dubai, led by Brits and then Americans and Australians, some French.

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2. Morale among expats:

The UAE is about making money; if you're making good money and your kids are in good schools, it's not a bad life until you get fired, jailed or deported for something. Europeans, in particular, thrive on the tax-free salary and low gasoline prices for all.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Good. Kids in the expat schools have a great time. Westerners have money and a good social life with other westerners. There's not a lot of ethnic mixing. Emiratis keep to themselves and other Gulf Arabs.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

The UAE is an authoritarian regime and a police state where third-country nationals and guest workers have no rights; being a diplomat keeps you out of jail, but that's about it. People move to the UAE to make money but the risks and rewards are both high. In theory, Abu Dhabi is a good city for families with nice parks and malls. If you're happy making money and taking high risks for getting fired or deported in an atmosphere where there is no social justice, this could be for you. The American Embassy provides no personal services for its staff - so you are completely on your own in terms of getting your car registered; setting up and paying for home phone and internet. As such you will be subject to extra "fee payments" in a system where there is a very immature legal system. It is a very unhelpful embassy. NGOs are routinely shut down and democracy activists are jailed. For singles, Dubai might be better but remember sex outside of marriage and drinking alchohol (without a permit) is against the law and can easily land you in jail.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No. It's a conservative muslim country; gays are at risk although they definitely exist underground.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

A lot. There is extensive ethnic and gender discrimination. Number one, the Sunni rulers hate Shia and actively try and deny visas to Shia and those countries that are in political disagreement with the UAE. Secondly, women are routinely treated as second-class citizens and have a code of conduct and significantly fewer rights in the legal system. Single women can have trouble getting visas unless escorted by a male relative. There is significant ethnic profiling; even among expats, Brits and Americans will be paid more in the private sector than Australians. Emiratis are at the top, then other Gulf Arabs and then there's everybody else. The UAE does not grant citizenship to any non-Emiratis ever, except in very limited circumstances - like a decree from a Sheikh.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traffic fines are five times what they are in the United States or Europe, and wreckless driving is abundant; the American Embassy won't help you. The UAE is set up by Emiratis for Emiratis; everybody else is a guest worker subject to firing or deportation at any minute. Foreigners (non-UAE nationals) have absolutely no legal rights; if you were to harm or injure an Emirati somehow, you could be put in jail and be subject to high payments to get yourself out. You can make a lot of money in the UAE, but you're at high personal risk.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Many water parks, great restaurants and hotels. India is a 2-hour flight from the UAE; Europe is a 6-hour flight, etc.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Persian carpets; Indian fabrics; chocolates; hotel getaways and water parks.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

You can make a lot of money in the private sector; non-American G8 earn tax-free; work holidays are in abundance.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes; especially for Europeans who don't have to pay taxes back home. Americans can pay reduced taxes under "Foreign Earned Income" regulations.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Definitely not. It's a morally bankrupt country where nobody, except Emiratis, have any legal rights. The American Embassy is the most unhelpful I've ever experienced. Traffic fines are exorbitant and private sector workers can be fired or not paid for no reason at a moment's notice. Pick another country please. At least they don't behead in the UAE.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Morality, sense of social justice, and wallet. Be prepared to pay the Abu Dhabi police a lot of money in traffic "fines."

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3. But don't forget your:

Diplomatic Passport, if you have one, and your lawyer's phone number.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Google recent articles - "The Making of a Police State" and a 2010 or 2011 New Yorker article about living in Dubai.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

I think parts of "Syriana" were filmed in Abu Dhabi.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The UAE is all image. If you go there, just make sure the money is worth the risk you're putting yourself at. If you're an American diplomat, you don't want to serve at at an Embassy that cares more about protecting its military relationship than its own employees. For private sector, check all your contracts carefully.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 11/07/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. London (UK), Harare, Calgary (Canada)

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

New York

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is EXPENSIVE. Most Embassy staff without children live in apartments in the downtown area close to the Corniche. Some families with kids live in villas downtown as well but most live in villas close to the Embassy. The housing here (both apartments and villas) tends to be large, spacious and well equipped. People compete for the best housing on principle only because all housing is very comfortable. Newer housing appears great on the surface, but the workmanship is pretty shoddy and requires lots of maintenance until all the kinks are sorted out. From downtown to the Embassy is about a 20 minute drive.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

The cost of groceries is on par with Washington, DC.The great thing about being here is that you can find goodies from all over the world since Abu Dhabi tries to accommodate all the expats. Treats from Australia, the USA, UK, South African, and Asia are easily available. It's actually better stocked than the US.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Vanilla extract. The vanilla sold in stores here does not contain alcohol and doesn't do your baking any good. Special baking products, good quality scented candles, craft supplies, books are also things I'd ship. If you have certain toiletry brands that you like, bring them too. Although virtually all are available here, sometimes they are unnecessarily expensive. Clinique is really expensive here; have yet to figure out why. Yet Mac is comparable to the rest of the world. If you are particular about your sheets and towels, bring those with you as well.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

ALL fast food is available here at prices comparable to the USA.Abu Dhabi has good restaurants with food very well prepared. The restaurants range in price with some being quite expensive. All hotels do elaborate brunches on Fridays... it's a local tradition.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Stores like Abela and Spinneys stock a small supply of "special diets" foods, but people on special dietary needs would probably struggle here.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

I had occasional ant invasions, but otherwise nothing. I think it was too hot for any self respecting insect to want to be there.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

I use the Embassy's APO/DPO.There are no actual street addresses and I have never seen a mail delivery person. There are post offices but I have never been inside one here. Aramex is a local courier service thatgives you a UK and US address so that you can shop online and have things delivered to you in the UAE. Aramex charges you for the delivery. FEDEX, UPS, DHL and local service Empost are other couriers available in country.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

This is a complex issue. If you do everything by the book, it can be expensive. Although locals often flout the regulations, it is recommended that as a foreigner you abide by the rules. All domestic employees must be "sponsored". The annual cost for that is about US$3,000.There is no set salary for domestic help. I pay my full time live-in US$500/mo as well as providing her with food, accommodation, and toiletries. However, I knew of local families who overworked their employees and did not pay them less than US$100/mo (assuming they even paid them regularly). If you are non-Arab, domestic employees will seek you out. Many need a lot of supervision to get to the point that you can rely on them to look after your home/children the way that you like. Language is often a barrier as many do not speak English or Arabic.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, they range in quality but they are everywhere. Membership is usually per annum so be prepared to shell out about US$ 1,500 to join.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. ATMS are safe and widely available. It is still advisable to check your bank statement every month to look for any inconsistencies.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, almost all churches have some kind of facility here (including LDS and Jehovah's Witnesses).

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, Abu Dhabi has a decent daily paper called "the National" and then there are other less high-brow ones (Gulf News and Khlaleej Times).7-Days is always good for a laugh as well.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Little. Being able to exchange pleasantries in Arabic is always appreciated. Knowing Urdu would be much more helpful. Most business and government workers speak English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

A lot. The curbs are very high (to prevent cars parking on them).Sidewalks are few and far between. Domestic labor is fairly reasonable so one could always hire a full time carer to alleviate some of the problems.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, all are safe and affordable. People use taxis a lot. The buses are very cheap but extremely underutilized as people prefer their own cars.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Emiratis love their cars. I've never seen so many Ferraris, Bentleys, and Maseratis in my life.4x4s are very popular as people like to go out to the desert for off-roading adventures. The roads here are excellent, so pretty much any car will do. The government will not let you import cars over 5 years old, but with so many cars on the market, you can always buy a car in country.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but the speeds are not impressive for the amount of money you pay. My Etisalat service is about US$90/mo but it constantly crashes or is really slow. Faster packages are now on offer, but I have not seen any improvement.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Emiratis love their gadgets, especially their cell phones and must always have the latest and greatest. Handsets can be bought everywhere. Carrefour and Plug-Ins usually have the most competitive prices. All phones are unlocked. There are only two service providers: Etisalat and Du. You can buy prepaid cards from either or you can sign a contract. It is cheaper than the US because virtually all business is done via cell phone.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I've heard it is decent, but I don't know.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes. There is a huge skills shortage here. It's a young country and the local capacity does not yet meet the demand. If you are aWesterner, you can do very well here. Salaries are based on nationality. Locals earn the most, followed by fellow Gulf Arabs, then Westerners, other Arabs, Africans and Asians (in that order).

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual. It is a conservative country, but non-locals tend to ignore that. As a woman, I've found that slacks are always a good option as are knee length skirts (or longer if you prefer).Bare arms for women are not a good idea, but nobody will say anything. The more skin you show, the more unsolicited stares you will receive, especially from the low skilled workers; do it at your own risk.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Petty crimes are on the increase, but not enough to be concerned about. Teenagers have no real outlets so tend to walk around in mini-gangs trying to start something.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Diagnostic medical care is good, but if you need serious medical attention (like major surgery), for your own peace of mind, it's best to go to Europe,North America, or South Africa.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

It's not very good when a dust storm kicks up, but it is tolerable. I have asthma but never had any problems with the dust. When the seasons change, my allergies get really bad though.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

From October to March it is GORGEOUS. The midday temperature is usually around 80 degrees. From April - September however, watch out. It is crazy hot and impossible to go outside. I hate air conditioning but am forced to keep it cranked high 24 hours a day during these months. Temperatures can easily top 120 degrees.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Most American Embassy kids go to the American Community School which has both an elementary school and a high school. Standards at the ACS are not what they once were and the GEMS academies (for elementary school) are giving ACS a run for its money. Choueifat is another option for high school, but I don't know how good it is. There are also non-English schools (German, French... and of course, Arabic).

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

From what I hear, what is available is mediocre at best. If parents are willing to make the effort, kids should be ok.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

ACS has a preschool facility. There are also a number of Montessori schools that people have been pretty happy with.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Usually through the schools, but there isn't really much out there that I know of. Marina Mall has an ice skating rink that is very popular with kids. All malls have a kids amusement center. It is a very family friendly city.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge. Expats make up 80% of the population. In reality, most are low income laborers and domestic workers. The actual Emirati population is tiny.

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2. Morale among expats:

Mixed. I love it, but like with many other people, the conspicuous consumption and local arrogance wears me down. Getting out of the Middle East on vacation usually takes care of that. The driving here is APPALLING and traffic accidents are the leading cause of death locally. Expats always complain about the traffic and the blatant flouting of traffic regulations.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Absolutely. The restaurants and cafes are great.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, for everybody. Single people do have to make more of an effort to make friends, but once you do, the relationships can be quite strong. This is a fantastic city for people with young children. Teenagers quickly get bored here as there is not much on offer for them.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There is a gay community here, but it is kept very low key because homosexuality goes against what is culturally acceptable. Most gay people find Dubai more friendly, but even there it is not advisable to flaunt it.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Your nationality determines how you will be treated here. South Asians are treated horribly. Many Westerners of Indian or Pakistani descent have had an unpleasant time here. Emiratis have no issues with African-Americans but African-Americans sometimes face discrimination from Filipino workers and/or other Western expats. Black Africans are not treated badly by the Emiratis, but are ranked lower than Westerners. Female friends of Asian origin (Korean, Chinese and Filipino) have often received unwanted sexual advances from men who assume they are prostitutes.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

I have loved getting to know other expats. The long leisurely brunches/lunches on Fridays and the countless coffee shops and cafes that the city has to offer are fabulous. The restaurants here are really good and when you tire of those a quick drive to Dubai will perk you right up . I love the leisurely pace especially on weekends.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Shopping, eating, and more shopping. Quad bike riding in the desert is fun as well. Trips to Dubai for more shopping and eating are also fun. Visits to the Emirates Palace and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque are a must.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Nothing is actually made here. You can however get bespoke jewelry at lower prices than you would in the West.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

This is definitely not a hardship post. Life is quite comfortable if you have a good salary package that includes housing.

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11. Can you save money?

NO! I suppose if you never eat out or go shopping, you can save a little bit, but chances are you will travel and all savings will vanish.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely, in a heartbeat! I live well and have lots of friends. What's not to like?

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Any notion that people respect the rules of the road; the roads are great, but the drivers are terrible. Preconceived notions of the Middle East with women's faces fully covered... this is not Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Winter coats, but bring light sweaters and shawls for the frigid air conditioning. Forget any preconceived notions that this is some sort of backward country. The physical infrastructure is very impressive. Abu Dhabi is a rather pretty, but artificially manicured, city.

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3. But don't forget your:

A whole lot of patience as well as sunscreen, vanilla extract, craft supplies, books, and sporting equipment.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Girls of Riyadh. It isn't about the UAE, but gives an idea of the interaction between local men & women.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Don't watch Sex & the City 2; it does not reflect the reality of Abu Dhabi at all.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

From the day I arrived, it has been one big adventure here. I think you have to be very open minded to enjoy your time here and be willing to make your own fun. The locals are quite insular so you have to make the effort to befriend them.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 01/31/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is our second experience abroad.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

It's approximately 13 hours direct with Etihad to Toronto, but expensive in comparison to a Luftansa/Air Canada flight connecting in Frankfurt that is anywhere from 16 hrs +.

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3. How long have you lived here?

This is our second year here.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

affiliated with the Canadian government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There are many high rises with apartments in the downtown core. There are villas too, however, more people are choosing to live in villas outside the downtown core due to cost, however the commute time is longer.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I find the groceries here are expensive, especially if they are imported. Local produce is cheap and good. There are 4 main grocery markets and one may have to visit all 4 to find what they are looking for. Many people stock up on their favourite things (for example Kraft mayonnaise) because once they are gone, you may not see them again for several months.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can pretty much get everything here. On summer visits back to Canada I always bring Kraft peanut butter, chapsticks, face wash and some choice toys for the children.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

One will find your typical fast food restaurants here such as McD's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway etc...There are many high end restaurants located in the hotels, but can be a bit pricey.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants everywhere!!

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is cheap for either live-in or live-out. Help can range from 700dhs to 2000dhs depending on the arrangement. Many people hire gardeners and drivers.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes there are many gyms to choose from.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

I use my ATM and credit cards without any problems.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is an Anglican and a Catholic church in Abu Dhabi.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

From what I understand, there are two cable pkgs for purchase. They are reasonably priced.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is spoken everywhere here.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yellow taxis are not equipped with seatbelts and most drivers do not speak english. The grey taxis are recommended. You can flag them down or by appointment and they have seatbelts.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We have an SUV and our reason was because of the atrocious driving here. Should the unfortunate occasion arise of being in an accident, then at least we'd feel more safe in a larger vehicle. The majority of vehicles driven here are SUV's. Did I already say the drivng here is bad?You need two sets of eyes.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

We've recently been installed with fibre-optic. We pay approximately 250dhs per month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Everyone here has one.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I'm not a pet owner but do know of two vet clinics in the area.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Work is the reason expats are here. Tax-free income,need I say more?

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Again you are in a muslim country so dressing conservatively is recommended.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

I feel very safe here. I jog in the evenings and have never felt threatened.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There are many western-trained doctors available with several clinics to choose from.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

It seems to be ok. I cough a lot more now than before I moved here.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winter weather (November - April) is great with temperatures ranging anywhere from 19-28 degrees depending on time of day. It rains here but is infrequent. Many people leave the country in the summer (May-Oct) to escape the unbearable heat and humidity. Temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I haven't heard any negativity regarding any of the international schools. My daughter goes to an American International school and the majority of the teachers are Canadian.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Pre-schools are available throughout Abu Dhabi. There are a few popular ones like Stepping Stones, Bright Beginnings and Jigsaw. Waitlists can be an issue though so plan ahead. Most preschools offer only morning to early afternoon programs.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

The schools offer sports programs. Outside of schools, there is an equestrian club, ballet for kids, martial arts training (somewhere), and swimming lessons offered at any of the clubs.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large. Everyone is from away. Locals make up of about 20% of the population.

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2. Morale among expats:

There are those that like it and those that don't.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a good city for families, singles and married couples.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

This is a muslim country so there is no tolerance for this lifestyle.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Jordan is a short flight from here. It's an interesting place to visit with lots of history to offer.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Desert camping, camping in Oman, clubs, golfing, dune bashing, shopping, day trips to Dubai, hotel clubs.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

carpet

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

This is a good post for virtually anyone.

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11. Can you save money?

yes we have but there are many things we've had to sacrifice.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

I don't think so. Although safe, I'm just not a fan of the sand.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothing.

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen and bathing suit, but most of all patience.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 08/25/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

First experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

I have been here a year, will leave in the summer of 2010.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Foreign Service.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

You can fly direct from Atlanta or Chicago to Dubai, but then you must drive to Abu Dhabi. My preference is US to Frankfurt or Amsterdam, then direct to Abu Dhabi.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Concrete homes, windows are kind of drafty. Downtown Abu Dhabi is crowded, and traffic can be dense. I live off-island and it is much more managable. Going downtown from home takes 20-30 minutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Carrfour, Spinney's and Abela are grocery and general supply stores. Cough syrup can ONLY be gotten at a pharmacy.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Deodorant from the states is better quality than the same brand bought here. Same goes for shampoo. If you are particular about q-tips or toilet paper, you might want to ship those items. Cereal is expensive, and those with children ship it.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

KFC, Fuddruckers, McDonald's, etc. Lots of fried chicken here, but no pork on pizzas. Pork is available only at 2 grocery stores and one restaurant. Nice restaurants are expensive and harder to get to. There are few places for just a casual meal at a reasonable cost. Going to dinner is an AFFAIR and will take a lot of time and will cost you.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants, and lizards inside sometime, but not often. Flies and mosquitoes can become an issue in the winter.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

PO Boxes-there are no street addresses in the UAE.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Not sure of the cost, but helpers are readily available.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Everywhere.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMS are everywhere, and exchanges are everywhere, with so many expats here from all over the world. Expats make up 90% of the population.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a couple of religious services available in Abu Dhabi, Christian and Orthodox. Several languages.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, cost is not prohibitive.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Very little, most speak English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Drivers are not careful and would hit anyone who does not move fast enough. Ramps are becoming more available downtown and in the newer areas, but it is difficult to even ride a bike in most places because of the 10" curbs.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No trains, bus service is new and usually used by workers (crowded and smelly), taxis are prevalent and affordable. Women should be careful with drivers and all should make sure the taxi uses a meter. I have seen drivers refuse to give change and take your money. Make sure you have small bills. Any driver turned in for bad conduct could be deported, so get the driver information before a problem happens.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Roads are great. Emiratis use them as raceways. Large expensive vehicles are treated with a little respect on the roadway, smaller ones are considered annoyances and will get pushed off the road. But smaller is easier to park in the crowded downtown area. Gas is reasonable and carjackings are non-existent. Crime in general is very low, but car accidents happen often. Usually with a serious speeder. Ticketing is done by camera, and you will only know you have fines to pay when you try to register your vehicle (unless you check).

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, about 65 dollars a month for unlimited usage. It is difficult to get service from the provider, but it is good when it works.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They are everywhere, easy to get, and there is only one company-owned by the government.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No, but the shots required are a bit different than in the states-check early. Best source of info is the British & American Vets. They can also help with importing things. ALL pets must arrive as CARGO-cannot be in the cabin.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

British Vet (best!) and the American Vet Clinic. AVC has a kennel, but its the only one I know of.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

For those specialized and connected, yes; for ordinary worker people, they can hire a 3rd-worlder to do whatever they need cheaper than most westerners.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

For ladies: covered shoulders and knees-reasonable dress. No shorts or tank tops. Business attire is always appropriate.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate, mostly air pollution, dust/dirt in the air. There doesn't seem to be any open burning allowed, and they try to keep vehicles that spout smoke off the road.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

I have them all!

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Nothing major.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Most things are available, if just a little difficult to find.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Oct thru April is wonderful at 70 F for daily highs. Skies are clearer. Summer hot, usually 115 F, with dirty skies. Buildings begin to look very old in the summer. There is of course no rain, just a few hours in the winter. It is desert.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

HUGE! Lots of Brits, Americans, and more.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Dinners out, golf and spending time among friends.

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3. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. It is a place to come make money, so as the market goes...

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Families seem to do okay, but they often leave in the summer with children, as there is little for them to do in the heat. Night life in Abu Dhabi is much more sedate that in neighboring Dubai, but the slower lifestyle is more to my liking. There are nice places to go, but they are expensive. In the winter there are lots of cultural activities. Desert safaris, boat cruises and water activities are always available.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Men regularly hold hands with one another, but they say it is not gay. UAE does not recognize gay couples, but it is harder for an unmarried man and woman to live together than for two males or two females.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Islam dominates and men outnumber women by a great margin. As a woman, get used to being stared at-though they probably don't know any better. A single woman may have trouble "sponsoring" a maid or a spouse, because the Emiratis expect a man to be doing it. It is difficult but doable.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Desert Safari, shopping in Sharjah, scuba diving. Spas are abundant.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Emirati-sized gold, diamonds. Emiratis are worse than Texans in that EVERYTHING is bigger.

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9. Can you save money?

Not really. You still gotta eat.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

umbrella.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of humor.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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