Three lessons I've learned from moving to Dubai for work - Emil McKenzie

More than seven in ten UK employees plan on working in a different country, according to new research from the Post Office.

This statistic is no surprise to me, having recently made the move with my family to work in Dubai.

Relocating your entire life to another country is not without a number of challenges however, so here are three key lessons I’ve learned in my first few months as an ex-pat.

Transferable skills are key

Emil McKenzie has recently relocated to Dubai with his familyEmil McKenzie has recently relocated to Dubai with his family
Emil McKenzie has recently relocated to Dubai with his family

Living abroad was more of my wife’s dream than mine.

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As a financial planner for over 16 years, I’ve worked hard to build up a client base and there were the obvious ties of friends and family in the UK.

As we started to research possible locations, we could find plenty of opportunities for my wife, as a primary school teacher, but my financial planning qualifications were proving less portable.

Finding a country where both our skill sets were transferable was therefore key and a major reason we settled on the UAE.

There are currently no formal minimum qualification requirements to operate as a financial adviser in the UAE, so being fully UK qualified was an advantage for me, as that is seen as the gold standard amongst reputable firms.

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I was also lucky that my UK employer, Progeny, has offices internationally so I was able to apply for a role in our Dubai office.

Prepare for admin and costs

Whatever country you move to, it’s likely to involve a pretty long list of both work and life related admin. In the UAE, the route to everything is obtaining your Emirates ID card. Whilst the initial application for this can be started in the UK, you have to be in-situ to complete it and until issued you cannot rent a property, obtain a driving licence or apply for your work ID card, so it’s important to understand the process and be prepared.

My new employer, and particularly our office manager who has lived in Dubai for around 20 years, were an invaluable source of help here.

If you have school-age children like us, the educational system can also be quite costly and stressful, with the majority of the system made up of private schools. Because my wife is a teacher, school places and tuition fees for our two girls were part of her package but otherwise you would be looking at applications, interviews and tests, as well as annual costs ranging from £9,000 to £20,000 per child.

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The rental system in Dubai is also something of a culture shock, with rent per square foot approximately double that in Leeds and the majority of landlords requiring an eye-watering year’s rent up front, so it’s very important to be aware of this and to be financially prepared.

Build your network

Whilst I’d anticipated many of the things about the Dubai lifestyle, having been here several times on holiday, what I didn’t anticipate was how supportive and welcoming people would be. We didn’t move out here to a network of family or friends, but there is a very strong ex-pat community in particular, and people who have only just met you will take you under their wing.

I’ve genuinely felt really humbled by this and it’s made our transition into our news lives so much easier.

Whilst missing everyone that we have left in the UK has been the hardest thing, we love the lifestyle, climate and opportunities in Dubai.

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For anyone seriously considering working abroad, I’d highly recommend it, as long as you do your research, tap into local knowledge and be prepared to move to where your skills are transferable.

Emil McKenzie is a Business Development Executive at the Fry Group, Dubai, part of Progeny.

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