Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai

We are excited to welcome Suzanne to our Expat Life Interview Series. As a British expat, she will be sharing her expat experience in South Africa and Dubai. 


Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai

First family photo in 10 years


About you

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I’m originally from the UK, Newport in South Wales. But we were living in The Midlands prior to starting our expat journey.


Q: In which city and country are you living now? Did you move there alone or with a spouse/family?

A: Currently living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I live with my husband, and cat and dog.


Q: How long have you lived there and how long are you planning to stay?

A: We relocated here in December 2014 and plan to stay until my husband reaches retirement ages in 2022.


Q: Why did you move and what do you do?

A: We originally left the UK with my husband’s employers to South Africa, with our 2 youngest children, then aged 11 and 15. We relocated to Dubai after 4 years when we were unable to renew our visas. My husband works in the food and beverage industry for a chemical company and I am a teacher, specializing in Autism and child welfare.


Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai

Teaching in South Africa


Living Abroad

Q: Moving from the UK to South Africa (South Africa to Dubai), what was your first impression?

A: South Africa was dangerous, it was big, very cheap and lots of open space and the sky was higher and bluer.

A: Dubai was safe, clean, busy and hot.


Q: What do you enjoy most about South Africa & Dubai? What were some of your favorite experiences in South Africa & Dubai?

A: In South Africa, I loved the wildlife, the travel, people and experiences we had as a family.

A: In Dubai, I love the number of visitors we get, for holidays or on a stopover. I love being able to know me and my belongings are 100% safe and I can go anywhere I choose and live my life as I choose (within the law).


Q: What do you miss most about home?

A: Being able to pop home when a family is ill, missing out on birthdays, etc. PG Tips when we lived in South Africa. I miss the ease at which I was able to make friends, know my neighbors, being outdoors and being safe, compared to South Africa, being able to have a career and work (unable to work in SA).


Q: What has been the greatest aspect of your expat experience so far? What are the adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life there?

A: Working out how everything is done, making friends and working. Dealing with loneliness and having my children leave home early and abruptly to return to the UK to complete their education.


Q: How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country, in terms of cost of living, public transportation and healthcare system?

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A: In South Africa, the cost of living was very cheap, health care was private and very good, and there was no public transport there.

A: In Dubai, Health Care is private also and exceptional. Public transport is the easiest way to get around.


Q: What are the best things to do or places to visit in Dubai?

A: I love to visit Deira, the old part of Dubai where I can wander around shops and be outdoors, spend time on the beach outside of the summer months.

Read more: 10 Romantic Things To Do in Dubai


Meeting people and making friends

Q: Tell us about your typical day as an expat in Dubai.

A: I have a 9 am rule were the dog is walked and household chores are completed by that time as it gets too hot to do the gardening, walk the dog. I make sure I’m dressed for the day and set myself tasks for the week ahead. I go out every day for a coffee, explore somewhere new. I blog, write letters documenting our lives abroad. In the heat of summer I will sleep in the afternoon, the rest of the year I will go for a swim at the local pool. I cook every evening, regardless of whether my husband is home or away. I walk the dog after sunset and pick one household chore to do every day to keep on top of it all.


Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? Did you feel you fitted in culturally?

A: In South Africa, all my friends were locals. I found it very hard to make friends at first as the children were older and I did so through voluntary work. Once I met a few people it became easier to meet others.

A: In Dubai, I really struggled and still do to meet people and make friends. My friends here are expats only themselves and not British, although their husbands are from the UK. Everyone I know in Dubai I’ve met via Twitter or Instagram. I have a few Arabic and British people I socialize with that I met through working here, otherwise, it’s very difficult to make friends here with a job or small children.


Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai

Teaching the teen to drive South Africa


Working Abroad

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or go through an agency?

A: In SA I wasn’t permitted to work due to Black Economic Employment Empowerment. Our visas for SA and Dubai were organized via my husband’s company, as in we were told what we needed to do but not how. My husband relocated with an Inter-Company transfer to both countries. In Dubai, I spent a year teaching and I was able to work with my husband sponsoring me.


Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: For my husband, he has daily challenges working with people from so many different backgrounds. There is a ‘whatever’ attitude in Dubai and also in SA, things do not work at the same speed as you’d hope for and demands on him from people in other countries are high especially as they don’t understand how things work in different countries. For me as a teacher, demands are high, but there is a slow approach to getting things done and a lot is left to the last minute. There is also a lack of accountability, not wanting to take responsibility and people waiting to be told what to do rather than thinking for themselves.

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Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai

Teaching in Dubai


And finally…

Q: What are your tips or advice for anyone looking to live and work in South Africa or Dubai?

A: Visit the country you’re moving to, get a good idea of the cost of living. Don’t just look at the salary, find out how much housing is, cost of buying and running a car. School fees and extras, food, eating out etc. Get everything in writing/email from your future employers, otherwise, things won’t happen as promised.



Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai


Thank you, Suzanne, for taking the time to be part of our Expat Life Interview Series! Suzanne is a 46-year old British expat, supporting her husband with his career. Mum to 5 adult kids. Blogging about her life living abroad, through words and pictures, both the good and (more often than not) the bad. Took 2 of the kids to South Africa in 2011 and left there 4 years later, no kids but with a cat and a dog to Dubai.
Follow her website at Chickenruby, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chickenruby.

*All photos are the sole property of the author. They were provided and used with permission for this interview only. Any unauthorized use of these photos is prohibited. 

The Expat Life Interview Series was created to know more about the country, not just from a traveler's perspective. We hope to help others who are thinking of working abroad to know how it is to live and work with the locals. If you are living and working abroad even for only a few months or several years and would like to be featured on Wellington World Travels, please Contact Us so we can send you the questions and you can share your expat life experience.

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8 thoughts on “Interview with Suzanne: Expat Life in South Africa & Dubai”

  1. I was born and raised in South Africa, now live in the UK, went back 2 years ago and I also did not feel safe! It is very sad that it had become so dangerous. Not at all how it was when I was growing up. It is interesting to read other people’s experience. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great to know Suzanne through this interview. I have traveled to a few countries but never lived like an expat. It is something I want to do. The sense of making lives away from home excites me. I am aware of the challenges but like Suzanne said, a lot research is needed before a final decision is made. Glad she was able to work in Dubai.
    Great post!

  3. So cool that Suzanne did the Middle East bit as an expat. I spent a month in Qatar last year. Way cool place. Different feel than any nation I visited since it is a Muslim country. No holding hands in publish, shoulders to knees covered when you leave the compound, all that stuff. I had so much feel. It feels enjoyable to live in different cultures.


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