Meet the expats who fled the pandemic for a new life in the UAE

Often arriving without jobs, many found new careers, friends and a new place to call home

Paul McCoy, from Ireland, says he does not regret his decision to move to the UAE during a pandemic. Christopher Whiteoak / The National
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The past two years have led to upheaval in the lives of millions.

From job losses to the pressure of lockdown, the pandemic led or even forced many to re-evaluate, be bold, and plan a new life. And, for some, that was a new life in the Emirates.

After relocating to Dubai in June, Irish resident Paul McCoy said he hasn’t looked back.

“I’d say I’m very much a risk taker. In the summer I took a risk moving here without a job and it paid off,” he said.

I landed a job a few months after arriving, completed my probation period and just four weeks ago I finally got my visa and Emirates ID
Paul McCoy, Irish resident

“I landed a job a few months after arriving, completed my probation period and just four weeks ago I finally got my visa and Emirates ID.

“I think finally having those documents in hand makes me feel settled and while the initial plan was to stay for a year, I’d say I’d be here for another two years at least.”

Working as a marketing and business development manager for a small financial company, the 22-year-old recently moved from his temporary serviced apartment in Dubai Sports City to a large, shared apartment in Dubai Marina.

“It was definitely the right move coming here during the pandemic,” he said.

“When I ring home and speak to my friends, they’re pretty much doing the same thing they were doing before I left as the Covid-19 restrictions are still strict there.


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“The only small bump in the road I have had is trying to set up a bank account. I sent my application off four weeks ago and it still hasn’t been processed.”

Expats that moved to the UAE during the pandemic said it took a lot of guts, but forward planning also helped.

Applying for and securing a job before landing in the country is recommended, but for those that move without a job, the key is to be proactive.

Mr McCoy's advice is to get involved with the community, network when possible and sign up to the array of Facebook community groups online, as often jobs are secured through word of mouth.

Single mum makes big move for better life

Moving to Dubai had been a long-time goal for British Pakistani lawyer Tuyyubah Amjid, 39.

She made the switch in September when she moved from Birmingham, in the UK, to the emirate with her eight-year-old son, Isa.

“The pandemic was a time of reflection. I was working remotely and my son was being home schooled and I kept thinking there must be more to life than this,” she said.

“He can learn from anywhere as long as it’s a British curriculum school and it was always dark and cold.

“There was nothing really holding us back, now we live somewhere that is nice and sunny all the time.”

However, the move was not without complications.

“Because I came here for a remote working visa it was quite challenging for the first few weeks,” said Ms Amjid.

“If you’re being sponsored by an employer it is a lot easier with the visa process and they help you with accommodation allowance, education for your children and healthcare.

“But I had to do it all myself which was challenging.”

One of the major issues she had was with banks acknowledging her status.

She said some of them had not heard of a remote working visa and were refusing to let her open an account without a salary certificate.

As a result they spent a lot of money staying in hotels as she was unable to rent a long-term apartment without a cheque book.

However, those were small teething problems as Ms Amjid and her son were able to move into their new home in Dubai Creek soon after.

HR manager Mani Talan Dhama moved to Dubai in June, from Northampton, in the UK, to be reunited with her husband who had moved to the emirate for work last year.

It was the UAE’s handling of the pandemic that led her to up sticks, along with her 11-year-old daughter.

“My husband kept telling me how good the handling of the pandemic was in Dubai, especially compared to the UK where it was terrible,” said the 38-year-old.

“It’s been amazing to be honest. There’s so much to do and so many places to go and there’s so much diversity.”

Ms Dhama said she was worried her spell in the sun might be curtailed though.

“I need to find work or else we’ll probably have to move back when the school year ends,” she said.

“I was working remotely for a bank in the UK but they wouldn’t let me do that any longer than three months and that time’s up.”

One of her biggest frustrations has been with recruiters who she said have failed to deliver on their promises.

“I’ve encountered so many recruiters who have been unreliable,” she said.

“They contact me and tell me I have been shortlisted for a role but when I look on LinkedIn I can see hundreds, and sometimes thousands, have already applied for it and then nothing materialises.

“A lot of the recruiters I have encountered have just not been professional.”

Alan Richards left Nottingham, in the UK, during the summer to take up an IT director role with a school in Dubai.

He fell in love with the city when he visited with his wife five years ago, telling her he would jump at the chance to work in Dubai, if the chance ever came up.

That dream became a reality in August and Mr Richards, 53, said he has been loving his time in the sun ever since.

The last piece of the puzzle will fall into place when he is joined by his wife in the new year.

“We’ve got a house in Damac Hills 2 (near Al Qudra Road) because we are coming here to live, not as tourists,” he said.

“It’s a big move obviously but so far it’s everything I expected and more.”

Checklist for moving to UAE

Visas and work permits

If you are relocating to the UAE with a job, your employer will process your visa and work permit allowing you to enter the country legally.

If you do not have a job and plan to look for work once you arrive, you may need to apply for a visit visa, depending on your passport.

Tourist visas to the UAE can be issued for 30 days or 90 days for single or multiple entries. Tourist visas can be extended for 30 days twice, without the need to leave the country.

Finding somewhere to live

For many who plan on staying in Dubai for the foreseeable future, renting an apartment or villa on a long-term basis is a good option.

To prepare a tenancy contract you will need:

  • valid passport copy
  • residence visa copy
  • Emirates ID copy
  • cheque book and valid bank account

To secure a property, residents will need to put down a security deposit cheque and agency fee, each of which are typically five per cent of the annual rent.

For tenants who want to scope out the area before committing to a long-term rental, they can rent a short-term serviced apartment.

To rent, newcomers only need a passport. This is helpful for those who are still waiting for their residence visa to be processed, which can take several weeks.

Health insurance for resident expatriates

In Dubai, employers are required to provide health insurance coverage for their employees. Sponsors are required to get insurance cover for their resident dependents.

The extent of coverage for employees and their dependents is determined by things like salary and designation.

If you do not have an employer or sponsor, you should arrange travel insurance, which covers health, before you arrive in the country.

Updated: December 12, 2021, 5:22 AM