The Honest Expat: Pam in Dubai, UAE

Today I’m interviewing Pam – A South African expat who emigrated to Dubai, UAE with her husband and their daughter – as part of The Honest Expat interview series.

John emigrated at 53 – 3 years ahead of Pam & Stevie – Pam emigrated at age 52 and Stevie at age 8. She is now 14.

Where are you originally from?

John was born in the UK (N. Ireland) but lived in South Africa most of his life (since he was 13). Stevie and myself were both born in Johannesburg.

Where did you emigrate to?

We went to live in Dubai UAE. One can never emigrate to the UAE, as you can never get permanent residence.

Having said that, there are many people who have lived there for many years.

When did you emigrate (year)?

John left 2011

Pam and Stevie left in 2014

What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?

Money! John works in advertising as a writer, because it is such an ageist business (and because this is such an ageist country) he couldn’t find well-paying work.

The country was also still reeling from the worldwide financial crisis.

How long had you thought through the emigration process?

Not long at all. Emigrating wasn’t really on our list. John really went for financial reasons. We also had no clue how long he would be gone for at first.

What was your first year like after emigrating?

Oh man, it was so strange.  Being in the desert was really different. There was so much I missed.  The rain, the ‘greeness’, my older daughter (who stayed in SA with her dad). Not knowing where I was going in terms of navigating. I thought I would never get the hang of the roads etc. My friends.

What have you loved about your new home – for you and your children?

I loved the people we met.  Of course, meeting fellow South Africans was the best.  We had the best neighbours – a young English couple, and we formed the loveliest bond with them.

My daughter is dyslexic, she was at a great school, it was incredibly supportive. They had an inclusion department second to none. We both really missed that support.

How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/documentation/ finances etc? (the positives of emigrating)

My husband was sponsored (which is how it works there) by his company. And we were then sponsored by my husband.

He was highly recommended to his company by a fellow colleague.  The actual time it took to make up their minds to employ him, was the longest process. The company put in the application and once he got the ‘pink slip’ (work permit) he could begin working straight away. He only left SA, once he had the permit. That only took about a month. Stevie and I went over on visitors visas and then applied for our residence visa’s.

What have you found hard about your new home – for you and your children? (the negatives of emigrating)

As I said above. My daughter really missed her friends and her older sister.

What have you NOT missed about South Africa – for you and your children? (the positives of emigrating)

The safety. We NEVER EVER locked our door. It was never an issue. Also, that the UAE dirham (currency) had some value so we were able to travel easier, which was fabulous.

This was my personal insight: In South Africa, we carry each others baggage (metaphorically) – whether we like it or not. As do all people of all nations, ours just happens to be pretty dark. What I loved about being somewhere else in the world was that when I met other people it was at total face value – there are no pre-conceived ideas or history. I found that incredibly refreshing.

What have you missed about South Africa – for you and your children? (the negatives of emigrating)

I know this sounds so wishy-washy but there is NOTHING and I mean NOTHING like the outpouring of African Joy.  The almost primal fun and laughter.

Of course I missed friends. And now that we are back that has also changed, as we have changed. It feels complicated sadly.

Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?

I would go back to Dubai in a heartbeat. It would be really interesting to go back knowing what we know about the place. We would be a whole lot wiser!

I would be happy to adventure anywhere else in the world.

If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you consider returning to South Africa?

We are back! Not so happily.

My husband is working both here in SA and for Dubai clients. I have my own fitness studio. We are not THAT miserable!

We are finding the school system here brutal though and that is difficult.

What were the unexpected (good and bad) aspects of emigrating that you’d wished you’d known about before going. Do you have any advice for those contemplating making this huge move for their families? 

Honestly, ours was not a conventional emigration. We didn’t have ‘papers’ etc to get together. Ours was pretty impulsive and we did things on the fly. It’s kind of how we do life! So no overthinking for us!



If you enjoyed this interview with a South African expat be sure to read the other interviews with South African expats in The Honest Expat series.

If you are an Honest Expat and happy to share your own emigration story please leave a comment or send me an email at

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!


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