Expats Around The Globe – Interview With Medha From Hopping Feet

Hi, I am Medha. I am a woman in my early-30s, who loves to travel, eat, write, drink wine, explore, take lots of pictures, and just LIVE, on my own terms. I grew up in one of the very few liberal families in India, moving around from one city to another every couple of years (my dad was in the Armed Forces), making friends along the way and meeting thousands of people, from diverse backgrounds and cultures wherever I went. I never travelled outside India (we could not really afford it) until I was 23 years old and saved up for my first ever trip to the UK.

I had never imagined that I would be gripped with wanderlust the way I am, nor had I thought I’d ever settle anywhere outside my country. And here I am, living a beautiful life of contradictions, in Dubai and travelling the world. I am also very passionate about my work (I am a Marketing Professional). Moving from one city to another every few years, changed me from being an extremely introvert child to a very outgoing, friendly and fun-loving person. I truly believe there are NO certainties in life and the only way to handle that, is to take it one day at a time.

I have some of the most amazing people in my life, who have supported and loved me unconditionally, through thick and thin and I’m so thankful for them. I am probably not the easiest person to love! On days, you’ll see me out and about, talking to people, being the centre of attention, laughing loudly and monkeying around. On others, I’ll be locked up inside my room, glued to a book or my laptop, shut away from the outside world. My lunacy isn’t probably the easiest to handle for my husband, Mohit or my family. LOL.I am always brutally honest (ask me anything and you’ll know), don’t believe in judging people (and don’t care about being judged either, opinions are a dime a dozen) and you’ll always see me with a wide smile on my face.

Where are you living now and where did you live originally?

We (my husband and I) currently live in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). We were both in India before this.

How long have you lived your current destination or last destination as an expat?

We have been here for almost a decade (I have been here for 7 years and Mohit for 10).

How many countries have you lived in as an expat?

This is the only one, however, we often consider moving on to maybe Canada or Australia in the future.

What made you decide to move to the current country as an expat?

Better job prospects! Mohit moved here right after university and it took me a while to follow him. The cost of living in India is very high and we were very attracted by the glitzy glamorous life in the UAE. As young people with no responsibilities and commitments, we wanted to give Dubai a shot.

What were your biggest fears of moving if any?

Firstly, we both are from very close-knit families. Our biggest fear was that we will miss them a lot, we may not be able to make it to important family events, or worse, in case of emergencies. We were never worried about feeling out-of-place. Fortunately, Dubai has a large population from India so it did not feel very alien to us when we first moved here. Having said that, we also ended up making a lot of non-Indian friends,which made us feel very much at home.

How do you keep in contact with friends and family and do you get to see them often?

We are lucky that we are hardly a 3.5-hour flight away from them so we fly to India twice in a year (and get our families to visit us once in 2 years). In terms of keeping in touch, we speak to our families almost every day, thanks to Skype and Facebook Messenger ?

Did you encounter any immigration or visa issues? 

Unfortunately, the UAE does not give you permanent citizenship, no matter how long you’ve lived here. This also means that we are not entitled to any public benefits, do not pay any taxes on our incomes, can own houses in only certain designated areas and will not hold a UAE passport ever. We are here only until a company sponsors us with a work permit (which is usually for a period of 3 years, subject to renewal) or if we are dependent on someone who has been sponsored by a company (parent, spouse). If we are on a company visa and lose our jobs (which is not uncommon), we have 1-2 months to find another job or go back home. This brings with it some amount of stress and hesitation in investing in any property here. The uncertainty can be disconcerting! It is definitely not a place we can imagine settling down in, for good.

 

How did you decide what countries or country you would become an expat in?

Dubai happened purely by chance. When we were in university, waiting to get our job placements, a company from Dubai visited our campus (it was the only international company visiting our college) and although I was hesitant about moving to a foreign country, my husband (then, my boyfriend) wanted to give it a shot. He got picked up and I followed him eventually (after we got married).

 

How do you make you living as an expat in Dubai?

I have been slightly unlucky in terms of my career here in Dubai. However, my husband has, fortunately, done well. Although there is a fair mix of cultures existing here, there is an invisible glass ceiling for Asians / Indians in many sectors and organisations. Barring a few multinational companies, there is a clear disparity between the incomes and the positions that Asians / Indians hold and it took me a while to accept this reality. Having moved here after several years of working in India, I had a certain expectation which was in line with my career progression back home and this did not happen. I was unfortunate several times, being employed at a wage way below my peers back home and positions that were not commensurate with my experience.I was also unfortunate that one of the organisations I was working in went bankrupt and I was made redundant, leaving me jobless in an extremely tough market.

On the other hand, my husband has been employed with one of the largest multinational organizations in the world for over 7 years now and I guess that is the reason we have stuck around here in Dubai, instead of returning to our home country.

Do you live the (nomad life or location independent life – work and travel freely, if so how easy or difficult was it is do? what challenges did you face? What type of nomad work do you do? any tips for people who want to start this type of lifestyle?

Although I am employed in a full-time job now, for a year in between I was working on freelance projects, giving me location independence and flexibility to travel. I was working as a ‘Marketing Consultant’, handling projects pertaining to creating marketing and branding strategies for various companies in the Travel & Tourism sector in the UAE (thanks to my experience). A lot of digital marketing jobs can be location-independent allowing you to work as long as you have access to the internet.

The biggest challenge I faced during this time was – scouting for new projects constantly, high pressure on the prices I could charge to the clients, considering that they had access to a lot of digital marketing experts based in India and other Asian countries, who were ready to charge very low prices,and following up constantly for collecting payment after the project was over (some of them took several months to pay up) and because it is not technically ‘legal’ here in Dubai to work as a freelance expert unless you obtain a freelance visa, most of these contracts were not legally binding. Eventually, I decided to go back to a full-time corporate job.

As and expat in the current country you are living in or any previous countries (did you speak the languages or learn any of the languages) if so what languages do you speak or did you learn? Any tips for people wanting to learn languages (self-taught sites etc) or any other tips?

Although the regional language here is Arabic, since majority of the population is expat, English is widely spoken. Having said that, it is always beneficial to learn the basic words to help you get around better.

What are the approx costs of living where you are now or any previous place you have lived as an expat?

The cost of living both in India and in Dubai is quite high, though the standard of living is much better in Dubai than in India. The house rents are particularly high and make for 20-25% of the salary. However, certain things like owning a car, is a lot more affordable than in other countries. Eating out can be expensive however, buying staple food from the supermarket is not. Also, unlike many Western countries, there are no ‘minimum wage’ rules here, making it easy to hire house-help and other services such as cleaners, cooks, and drivers.

What is the tax system there like? 

The one most popular thing about working in Dubai is that there is no tax on our incomes. However, we do pay taxes in other forms, for example, road tax called Salik (for using the 6-lane fast-moving highways), house tax (calculated as a certain percentage of our rent), municipal tax on hotels and entertainment facilities, and a newly introduced VAT which will soon be levied on the non-essential consumer items, making the cost of living higher.

What have been some of the pros and cons about living in Dubai?

Pros:
No crime, making the city extremely safe to live in
Dubai is the ‘gateway to the world’ located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, making it easier (financially and in terms of the time taken) to travel to many countries
High standard of living
Excellent infrastructure
Easy affordability of cars
Low gas prices
Large Indian community making it feel almost like home
Great mix of cultures, from all around the world
Efficient low and order
Dubai is a ‘smart city’, welcomes innovation and facilities that make residents’ lives easier and convenient
Numerous entertainment options and constant development, leading to newer things coming up all the time, so much to keep you busy

 

Cons:
Not being able to be with family
Constant stress of having to relocate, due to job loss
No citizenship, hence no public facilities
Expensive education for kids
Expensive to own a house

Do you have any tips for people who might want to visit or move to Dubai?

I have a lot of tips for people who want to visit Dubai. In fact, some budget travel tips and things to know before visiting the UAE can be found on my blog.

 

Do you have any future plans to move somewhere else? If so where are you thinking? why this place?

As mentioned above, this is more of a ‘transit’ country rather than one where we can imagine being settled for the rest of our lives, mostly because our being here is dependent on either or both of us having a job. The moment we lose sponsorship, we lose residency. This is extremely stressful. We plan to eventually relocate to Canada or Australia in the future.

Can you give any insights into the local culture / customs where you live as an expat (either now you previously) How important is it for people to be aware of these when living here to visiting here?

Being in the Middle East, it is extremely important for people to be aware of the local culture and customs here. Although Dubai itself as not as conservative as most other cities in the United Arab Emirates or the other countries in this region, there are several things one must know and respect while living here. We are not required to necessarily cover our arms and legs always but we must dress respectfully, especially in certain areas such as malls and public spaces. Beaches, swimming pools and clubs allow for open dressing but this must be restricted only to these areas.

Also, loud music in cars, or abusive / offensive language, and public display of affection is frowned upon. Drinking and driving has no tolerance so must be avoided at all costs. During Ramadan (the Holy Month of Islam), although we are not expected to fast, it is considered rude and even illegal to drink or eat in public.

Having said that, following these customs is not really that tough! There’s a lot of discipline in the life here, and it is a refreshing change from the way things are back home in India.

Do you travel around from this destination where you are living as an expat? What are some places you have visited from here / any countries close by that you recommend / what are the travel costs like to these places?

A lot actually! Since we moved here in 2011, we have made it a point to travel at least 2-3 times in the year. As residents of the UAE, many countries have lax visa laws (despite our Indian passport), giving us easy access to East Europe. Also, there are several inexpensive direct flights (flydubai is an economy airline) to many European, African and Asian countries. Dubai is great in terms of connectivity, we managed to travel to 34 countries in the last 7 years!

How are the locals where you live (were they easy to make friends with)? are there any expat clubs or similar that you have joined? 

Strangely, locals only form 15% of the total population of Dubai! The rest is all expat – 85% of the expats are from Asian countries and 50% of that is from India!

The locals (Emiratis) are quite friendly, laid-back and not a lot of them are very ambitious. They’re also very ostentatious, which is easy to see from their gold-plated cars, Ferrari and Lamborghini cop cars, the obsession to build the ‘biggest, tallest, fastest’ in the world and their love for wild pets such as leopards and tigers.

There are several expat clubs, most of them targeted towards the various communities here and we are part of several such clubs. It is, however, very easy to make friends across cultures because everyone is so used to working in a very dynamic and mixed environment.

How is the nightlife where you live? Any recommendations?

The nightlife in Dubai is amazing! You have hundreds of bars, lounges and clubs, most of which stay open until late night, some even until 6 am! The city is extremely safe, which makes it even better. People love to party, especially on weekends. Step out at 3 am and it’ll seem like it’s still day time, with all the cars on the road and the people out and about.

For some great parties, I recommend: Nasimi Beach Club (Atlantis Hotel), Barasti Beach Club (Mena Seyahi) and 360° in Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Some of my favourite bars and lounges are: Jetty Lounge at One&Only Royal Mirage, Siddhartha Lounge at Grosvenor House, Treehouse at The Taj and Level 43 Sky Lounge at Four Points by Sheraton, Sheikh Zayed Road.

How do you spend your time off here or at weekends?

There is a lot to do here! From movies, world-class malls, thousands of food & beverage options, bars, lounges, parties, entertainment venues such as The Opera, live entertainment shows, dinner theatre like Music Hall, activities such as Horse Riding, new upcoming venues such as City Walk, The Boulevard downtown and what not, the list is endless!

During the day, hit the beach!!

What is the climate where you live (any specific times to visit)

The weather is unbearably hot during the summer (May – September) when the temperatures reach a high of 45°. It begins to cool down in October and the best time to visit is between November and April.

If you have a travel blog or at other blog: Hopping Feet 

Please give a short description of your blog and what you cover:

Our blog, Hopping Feet, was launched 6 months ago as a platform to discuss budget travel tips, top things to do in a city on a short trip, travel stories and experiences, and off-beat ideas. We are adventure seekers, food lovers, road-trippers and nature enthusiasts, exploring the globe, one country at a time. You will find 1-2-week itineraries, best things to do in a destination, how to save money, tips on road-trips, hikes, activities, and recommendations on food, wines and beers, on our blog.

Please share one life quote or any quote you love.

“Don’t get so busy making a living, that you forget to make a life.”

Expats Around The Globe

Social Media:

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www.facebook.com/hoppingfeettravelblog

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https://twitter.com/hoppingfeet

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Showing 4 comments
  • Lexieanimetravel
    Reply

    Waaw what an awesome interviewee, I could really relate a lot (about my lunacy as well hahaha I’m not a gift for sure) and the fact that she evolved into a greater person through her work and travelling such a magnificent story to be inspired.

  • Lyf&Spice
    Reply

    Such a lovely read. I like the way they lead their life being so sorted. It’s good to learn about the challenges as well as amazing points of living in Dubai. 🙂 Cheers!!

  • Helene
    Reply

    I love how technology enables us to become global citizens! I also keep in touch with loved ones through Skype and messenger:) would love to visit Dubai sometime!

  • Travelquartz
    Reply

    Great interview. I like how Medha has shared about her journey. the tips shared here can help everyone planning a visit to UAE or moving there. I have been to Dubai and really liked that place.

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