Helen Debrah-Ampofo, aged 30, shares her expat journey moving from the UK to UAE.
“It was easy to make friends because the UAE is very safe – people will meet you in a shop and invite you over for dinner that same night. And it’s normal.”
Let’s start at the beginning: Where are you originally from? When did you move abroad and where did you move abroad to?
I was born and raised in London, England by Ghanaian parents. I identify as ‘Black British’ or ‘British Ghanaian’ or ‘British’ depending on where I am and who’s asking. I moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE in August 2016.
How were you able to migrate? (Job, Visa, Spouse, Family or another channel?)
My husband secured a job in Abu Dhabi.
Why did you decide to move and did you know anyone there?
I didn’t know anyone before moving – I had never even visited this part of the world before. I moved because there were better opportunities for teachers out here than back home.
How did you find the job searching process? Was there anything about working overseas that surprised you?
My husband manged to secure a job before coming out here – he was headhunted by an agency and it all worked out as planned for him. However, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to work as an English teacher here (even though I had done in the UK for three years) because my degree and teaching qualifications were in different subjects. I was told that once I was out here, I should be able to find something but I still have no full-time career four years later.
How was the experience finding a new home?
The home was provided by the school and it was relatively easy moving in and adjusting to the area.
How is the social scene? What was your experience making friends?
Because I was not working straight away, I actively sought out meet-ups and coffee mornings where I could meet new people regularly. It took a while to find ‘my kind of people’ but I know where they all are now. It was easy to make friends because the UAE is very safe – people will meet you in a shop and invite you over for dinner that same night. And it’s normal. People seem to be extra friendly here. I’m also part of a local church and so I felt as though I had a ‘ready-made community.
Did you date overseas? If so, what was that experience like? Any memorable stories you can share?
No. I’m married. But I know the struggle is very real for single ladies out here.
Do you feel your race impacted your experience? If so, how?
Yes. But for once, positively. I often speack of ‘passport privilege’ and how I’m seen here as British first and Black second (if at all). So my experiences here have been great, but I am aware that your experience will differ here based on where you come from. Black Brits and Black Americans are treated much better than Black Africans. The few times I’ve been ‘mistaken’ for an African directly from Africa (rather than via the UK) haven’t always been pleasant.
What has been the most challenging thing about moving abroad?
My job situation for sure. I have been offered jobs so many times and they have all fallen through. The job market here is a real tricky one and sometimes it can be very frustrating and I regret some decisions I’ve made.
What has been the most rewarding?
Also my job situation. If I was still teaching, I never would have explored my creative side. I’ve started 3 businesses since being out here and have grown in so many ways.
Tips & Advice for our Expat Community
What in your experience would you say is the minimum monthly cost of living?
Any advice on the visa/migrating process that could help someone else’s process go smoother?
Try to make sure everything is sorted before you get there.
Any insider tips on a place you enjoy going to or an activity you enjoy doing?
There are lots of discounts available. The UAE community love Facebook groups so join them!
Finally, If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before you got on that plane to move abroad, what would it be?
*Document everything and put it online.
Amen to that…