Free at Last

I successfully endured a 14 day quarantine with a very bulky watch! After flying to Abu Dhabi, I was given a heavy watch to insure I stayed in my Villa. The laughable thing about these watches is that they did not actually tell the time, despite being numbered as if it could! Luckily, my villa was large with walled off outdoor space as well as decks off the bedrooms. I could chase the sun around my villa quite easily and the weather was perfect in December for opening all the doors and windows to let the outside in.

The watch was placed on my left arm at the airport immediately after getting off the plane. The lines were relatively short for me because I only had a carry-on bag. I have two homes, one in the states and one in Abu Dhabi. I keep each home intact and do not bring my closet everywhere with me when I travel. Having your documents at the ready speeds the process. For this particular trip I needed my passport, my UAE identification card, and a negative PCR Covid test that was taken less than 96 hours before boarding the international flight. My family was allowed to pick me up from the airport and bring me to the Villa. I was also allowed to stay with my family, even though they were also allowed to come and go as usual.

On the 12th day I PCR tested again at the Exhibition Center in Abu Dhabi. This place felt like I imagined Ellis Island would have felt to early immigrants coming to the United States. The lines were long but professionally managed with numbers and callers, as are most things in the UAE. Some of the local Emirates were discouraged by the lines and would voice their disapproval. However, all, and all there were extraordinarily little disruptions to the process. I do not know what the locals were saying to those in charge, but I must assume that things run so smoothly here because of the local involvement. I appreciate that the locals keep everyone on task and well organized. 

Two days later I was allowed to remove my watch with a negative Covid PCR result. This test is sent SMS to your mobile phone. It was the same Ellis Island feel at the Exhibition Center. All chairs placed 2 meters from each other and social distancing as well as masks were required. Several lines at various stations guided me through the process. My test and documents were checked at the first station, at another my watch removed, and the third station registered my UAE Identification ensuring that I had no quarantine violations.

I found humor in that many were joking about how much I would enjoy my freedom as if being released from prison. The relief is real. But I will admit, I was not even sure what I should do first with my new-found freedom. Quite honestly, it has been three days and I have not left the villa. The new Covid world has stepped up the ability to have everything delivered, so I have not really had much of a need yet. My first outing will most likely be to the mall to encounter people yet again!

Laws are Changing

For many Americans looking from the outside in, the UAE may have seemed repressed and unsupportive of women. I often hear this complaint from American women. Culturally the shift has been happening quietly in support of women. Honor killing crimes were not prosecuted and unless laws concerning women were blatantly broken, highly ignored. Now the laws are catching up with a culture that existed anyway and largely supported women. This could have interesting implications on the society.

It may make the service women who try to attach themselves to lonely working men struggle harder for support. These men are either here without their families or single (in a culture with very few women of their economic strata). Culturally it is customary to support the service women who become live ins with a monthly subsistence payment. It is how service women offset low wages that do not compare to skilled or western women. It was essentially a black market for lonely men.

These women work ridiculously hard to make these men attached to them to keep the money flowing. Now they are no longer considered underground or illegal because cohabitation laws have changed. If these women are no longer technically illegal it becomes similar to what laws have done for marijuana in Washington State, or prostitution in Nevada. Black markets exist when there are legality issues or a lack of supply. The supply is not lacking in this service worker/desperate woman market and now the live ins are no longer illegal (provided the man isn’t married).

All in all, I once again applaud the government as they adapt the laws for personal freedoms and to protect women! It removes exploitation and sets the stage for real reform with human rights by exposing many behaviors that have been underground anyway. Customary support is no longer illegal for the live ins and if caught the risk of deportation or a fine has been removed. Laws now have a chance to make some difference and protect these desperate women, by acknowledging that the cohabitation is so prevalent.

Time will tell what happens with this market, but it is important to note that since the culture is changing for many personal freedoms; it only makes sense that the laws will also adapt.

Run for the Border

After our family did their two-week quarantine in Dubai as tourists, we were able to cross the border into Abu Dhabi. This required another Covid PCR test with negative results. In this instance we did not have to endure both nasal cavities being swabbed, but just one. Prices for the test vary, so shop around before committing to your existing health provider.

The lines were long at the checkpoint and we had to produce our passport showing when we arrived in the UAE. Also, we needed our Covid results. I do not know what would have happened if our results were positive. Requirements seem to keep changing based on the number of cases. It is possible they would have turned us around and made us go back to Dubai or let us go to our villa in Abu Dhabi to start the fourteen-day quarantine process all over again. Fortunately, the border crossing went smoothly for us at the check point.

Interestingly enough, at the checkpoint only two passengers and a driver are allowed per car. Our family of four had to be in separate cars to cross. In Abu Dhabi itself, we can be in the same car together. However, we must all wear masks in the car, or risk being stopped by police and fined. A single driver does not need to wear a mask while driving.

Within six days of our PCR test to cross the border another test had to be administered, or a five thousand AED fine per person would be assessed on our residency visa (1,361.30 United States Dollars). At this time there are four of us who were facing this requirement.

Keep in mind this is the state of things only at this moment. Requirements are in flux. Yet as is always the case in the UAE, one must certainly adhere to the rules or face being deported and/or fined. This is how the UAE effectively controls their borders.

How to Process as a Dependent

There are no homeless in the UAE. To be here beyond a month as a tourist, one needs an official visa. This is something I admire about the UAE! They have more effectively controlled their borders as compared to the States. Stiff fines are administered if one overstays their month as a tourist. There are ways to enjoy a longer stay, but it involves leaving the country and then returning as a tourist with the ability to stay for another month. Travelers insurance is required and makes sense with the concerns of Covid.

We have a lot to learn from the UAE in how they handle their borders and homelessness. Emirate citizens share the wealth of this country and are given homes, health care, and the best jobs. They feel immensely proud of their country. Anyone else who wants to be here must possess a work visa. There is a huge service sector of foreigners who are happy to do the menial work here. They send funds back to family members to places like Thailand, The Philippines, Pakistan, or India.

For our family coming back to the UAE, we are going through the visa process again. Dependent visas are discontinued within six months of not being within country. The process requires that we take current passport pictures from one of the machines found all over the malls here in UAE. These pictures are turned into the Human Resource departments of the hiring companies. The visas are processed through the working person’s visa as dependents (yes, this sounds a bit like the military). This too is another thing the UAE does right, in my opinion. It avoids the straggling family members that slip into our country undocumented.

These dependents are given healthcare by the companies, as its required. A person on a work visa in the UAE must have a residence for their dependents before the dependents can be processed. All very logical solutions to a huge problem in the US. Once documents are gathered, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, and current pictures taken here in the UAE; a health screening is scheduled. Once all has been addressed then an official government issued ID is offered to the dependents.

The process is incredibly efficient and is accomplished in only a few days! At that point one can enjoy all that the UAE and its citizens enjoy. It is a beautiful country that treats their expats very well. Our family is thankful for the opportunity to be an expat in the UAE!

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