I’m Scott Wilkinson – a teacher living the expat dream in Dubai. I grew up in southwest England, in the city of Plymouth. I had a fairly adventurous childhood growing up and was lucky to holiday abroad each year.
By the time I reached university I had enjoyed a range of travel experiences. The next natural step for me was to plan an around the world trip after graduating. It was in India where I developed a passion for teaching. I was travelling solo and spent some time with Indian school children. As I came home, it was clear to me that teaching would be my long-term career.
Teaching abroad was something that was always part of my plans after graduating but, as life often does, I followed a different path and took a post teaching in the countryside of Cornwall. After two years of teaching there, I decided that it was now or never on my plans to teach abroad.
Although Dubai was on my radar as somewhere accessible for teachers to move to, I actually took interviews for schools in a number of countries but finally decided on the UAE after weighing up each option.
Living the Expat Dream in Dubai
I am currently in my fourth year teaching in the UAE. I spent my first two years living and working in the neighbouring Emirate of Sharjah and then moved to Dubai as an expat in 2019. I live with my partner Teagan and our Shiba Inu Kenji in a spacious villa inside a gated community called Mira.
Communities in Mira have incredible amenities: pools, tennis courts, gyms, shops, etc. Everything you need! As much as my social media might not show, a typical working day here is much the same as back home.
School days in Dubai start earlier than back in the UK. So it’s usually a 5:30am wake up to walk the dog before leaving for work at 6:30am. My commute is roughly around 30 minutes. There are of course many schools that provide accommodation much closer but after living in the country for a while it becomes much easier to choose better places to live.
After work, I head off to the gym or go for a run (when the weather is cool) before relaxing for the evening. Weekends are when life differs from back home. The weather is glorious year round, although very hot in May – October. Runs along the beach are an excellent way to start the weekend.
We usually have breakfast at one of the eateries in the city, relax by the ocean or go for brunch on Friday afternoons with groups of friends (Friday brunch is a Dubai institution). Dubai is so accessible. You can be climbing the mountains for a sunrise hike in the morning and then be relaxing on the beach a few hours later followed by sunset drinks overlooking the city.
Massive Expat Community in Dubai
The expat community in Dubai and the UAE is massive – making up over 80% of the population. As I moved to the UAE, I began working at a school that had a large intake of teachers. We lived in the same apartment block and socialised together. It was almost like being at university again and ensured that I had an almost ready-made group of friends.
As I settled into a routine, I began to form my own life – meeting friends through colleagues, sports and hobbies. After six months, I was introduced to my partner Teagan through mutual friends. She is South African and we now split our non-travelling holidays between the UK and South Africa.
In terms of the culture of the UAE and Dubai – it’s tolerant and accepting of western culture. As expats, we are respectful of the culture that we live in and take the time to immerse ourselves a little in the culture and traditions of the UAE. Whilst my Arabic will never be fluent (or conversational), taking the time to learn a handful of words and phrases goes a long way.
The UAE is extremely proud of its heritage, history and accomplishments which it has achieved in such a short space of time. You will see this pride showcased each year on the National Day. As a Dubai resident, these days always make me feel proud of the country that I have chosen to live in.
Best Memories from Living in Dubai
My time in Dubai has been filled with some incredible, pinch yourself moments. The first time I drove into the city, greeted by the towering Burj Khalifa and skyline, it definitely did not feel real. It was a long way from the small English village I was working in only a few weeks before.
Eating dinner 72 floors up in the tallest hotel in the world, walking out from my house and being surrounded by desert and watching the sunset, being able to fly to places such as Tbilisi and Beirut just for the weekend, wearing traditional Arabic clothing to work for the National Day, hiking mountains at sunrise – all of these experiences have been amazing!
Something I love doing is taking my family and friends who visit me to these places. Seeing their faces when they visit these spots is priceless. If I had to pick a favourite memory, it would be last August when Teagan and I moved into our new villa – the realisation of what was supposed to be a year’s move to this moment when we felt at home.
I moved to Dubai as an expat all by myself and knew no one in the country at first. But four years later, I have a wonderful partner of three years, a dog, a car and am living somewhere that I dreamed about growing up.
Challenges as an Expat in Dubai
The biggest challenge I have faced while living the expat life in Dubai is the lack of greenery and countryside. As someone who was brought up on the coast of England – with beautiful rolling hills, greenery and moorland – it took me a long while to adjust to the different landscapes here.
That being said, changing my mindset from that of comparing the UAE to where I came from and embracing the landscape and scenery for what it is really helped me overcome this. It definitely helps that over the past few years the UAE has really begun to market itself as an adventure destination.
Once you begin to see past the city, it really is an adventure playground. There is more to do outside the city, in the desert and mountains than you would imagine. If I wanted it to be like home, I would have stayed there.
Diverse Food Scene of Dubai
The food scene in Dubai is huge! It’s varied with cuisine from all around the world. There are huge influences from America and Lebanon. As someone from the UK, I’m still on the lookout for a Fish ‘n’ Chips to rival that of my hometown. However, Dubai has every food outlet and cuisine you could ever wish for so I’m not complaining much about not having Fish ‘n’ Chips.
After a weekend trip to Beirut a couple of years ago I came back to Dubai with a love for all things Lebanese. The city has a huge variety of places serving up excellent Manakish and Shawarma – Lebanese staple dishes.
With British expat numbers over 100,000 in Dubai, there is never a shortage of places to eat when I’m missing home but often, rather than hunt for a Sunday roast or Fish ‘n’ chips, I keep it on my list for when I go home.
Having a partner from a different country does mean that there is a merge of food cultures (BBQ vs Braai, for example) and there are some excellent South African shops that provide all the food she misses from back home.
Travel Adventures in the UAE
The UAE is so much more than glistening malls, towering skylines and golden beaches. Of course, these are fantastic but the country has much more to offer. Less than an hours drive from Dubai you can discover the Al Hajar Mountains. This area is my favourite place to explore in the UAE.
There is a dam at these mountains in an area called Hatta where you can go kayaking. You can also hit up the bike trails which are some of the best that I have ridden and the hiking is fantastic. I have started running trails more while living in Dubai and the trails in this region are incredible.
In general, the UAE is known for having beautiful wadis (small valleys and ravines that hold water). Many of the hiking trails pass by or end at wadis. There are still many places to visit on my list even after four years here!
Jebel Jais – the UAE’s highest peak – is located in Ras Al Khaimah and has the world’s longest zipline. This is something I am dying to try! But Teagan not so much. The Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi is a huge expanse of desert and home to the Liwa Oasis – another place that I would love to visit.
Of the seven emirates, I am yet to visit Fujairah and this place has been on our bucket list for some time now. It’s an excellent spot to snorkel and dive. Teagan and I are super keen to go for some rest and relaxation.
Tips for Expat Life in Dubai
If I had to give tips for people looking to move to Dubai I would say: don’t believe everything you read in the media! Since living here, I have received countless messages from people commenting on how strict they thought it was, how you can’t do this or that, how they did not think the UAE looked like this or how you cannot purchase things (pork and alcohol for example).
In truth, you can do everything in Dubai that you can back home and more. I would add that you should be respectful. Understand where you are moving to. The UAE is Islamic and holds its values in high regard.
They are extremely tolerant and accommodating of western culture and continue to make the country accessible and desirable for those looking to move here. Embrace the culture, learn the country’s history, participate in celebrations and take the most out of the experience that you can.
For anyone looking to move here to work – attracted by the tax-free salaries, the attractive packages and nice housing – I would say: have a goal in mind and set a budget. Dubai is the kind of city where you can have the most memorable day full of incredible activities for next to nothing and then you could easily spend a month’s salary on one night of partying!
I know people who have moved here, saved for a mortgage deposit in a few years, paid off their bonds and returned home with more savings than they ever imagined. I also know many who leave the country with nothing because they bought into the lifestyle and lived beyond their means.
When people ask if I enjoy living in Dubai, I just tell them that I have been here for four years now and have no immediate plans to leave 🙂