Zoom into the UAE

Communication is key! In the UAE the way we communicate has drastically changed in the last five years. When our family first came to Abu Dhabi Video calling was difficult, at any given moment the government could shut down those capabilities. This was based on intelligence decisions to safeguard their citizens or for reasons the public will never know. This forced communication back to real telephone calls or email and text. With Covid the need to communicate, educate and do business has changed. Zoom has become a reliable platform in the UAE for all these tasks.

Business could not stop any more than necessary under the Covid restrictions. Communication has now been required to be more reliable for their citizens. In the past, disabled video calls crippled social media’s ability to connect its users. The effectiveness and reliability of commonly used Facebook or WhatsApp was a challenge. One could say Covid helped make Zoom in the UAE a trusted tool as a result.

If you do not have a zoom account it is easy to get and essential for an expat! Most friends and family of expats live elsewhere. Navigate to the Zoom website in your browser or go to the App store on your phone. Sign in using your Google Account. This is much simpler than creating profiles in every app or platform you use. Most have a choice to link your accounts.

Communicating as an Expat has never been easier! Keep those you love close, with Zoom!

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!

Online Again

Upon our arrival our kids were transitioning to Gem’s American Academy in person school. The school is beautiful, and the staff is friendly, as well as helpful! The teachers work hard to connect with the kids, and some have a bit of a language barrier if you are an American English-speaking student.

Transitioning to a school out of the country can have its challenges, but when you add Covid on top of it all transitioning becomes even more complicated. Teachers and staff are tested every two weeks and the students were tested upon entry to school. The society at large moves freely to the mall and restaurants with masks and social distancing. At restaurants once you are seated at your table, your mask can be removed. The staff and kids then filter into a school that have more strict guidelines to adhere to, as well as enforce.

At Gems this week, a teacher or staff person has tested positive and all students were moved to online distance learning from home for 14 days. The school itself is new and highly technical already so the transition seemed easier than what I have witnessed in the states. The teachers are more organized and well versed in interaction with their students online at home. Every student was already required to have a laptop and was operating paperless in person at school. Teachers were utilizing the superior technology they were already amazingly comfortable with to bring to online platforms.

Tuition is exceedingly high but is often partially paid or completely paid by the employer here in the UAE. We have six kids, and some have or are currently enrolled in college back in the states. The Gems tuition feels like college tuition. But I must say for the quality of what my kids are receiving as compared to public education, it also feels well worth it.

I am a strong supporter of public education, but our teachers have not been able to keep up with technology in many of our classrooms. Part of the problem is simply the technology is not available for schools struggling to stay funded by the community and keep enrollments up for federal funding. The other issue is training. How can you train and use technology confidently if it isn’t available to practice and use regularly? Covid has forced the issue, at least it did in our little rural community.

As a parent, it becomes a real difficult decision to keep with what feels like a sinking ship by having our kids in public education and on top of that in a rural school that experiences even more difficulty. The technology gap is just too large now to be ignored. Adaption is key! These kids in rural schools are getting caught in the middle; especially for those who are forced because of financial issues to stay in a less technologically equipped system. Outdated technology is not the answer and does little for the rural kids having to compete in the real world with kids who have more advanced technology available and updated consistently.

For expat families, I consider the education a reason to be here. Your kids will have an advantage above the majority of publicly educated kids in the US and even around the world. Education is no longer a memory game for college and testing, it has become a race into teaching your kids how to work and be productive in a technologically advanced world. The world will not wait for your public-school kids to catch up! Education is another example of the UAE doing things right!

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.

Our Favorite Way to Travel Locally

Careem has become our favorite way to get around the UAE. First download the app to your phone from the Google Play Store. You should already have the app preinstalled on your phone. Apps are the preferred way to navigate UAE expat life.

Our family likes Careem because you can earn free rides, the cars are nicer and cleaner than your average taxi, and are heavily managed by their app. Not only can you follow the progress of your trip on the app itself, but you can enter your destination and even change it mid travel. This solves a lot of confusion about your destination that can occur with a language barrier of any given driver.

At pick up, your driver looks for you which is nice. A tip as well as a rating can be given after your trip. All financial exchanges occur by card. During Covid, it is prudent to have as little exchange as possible.

Another nice thing is that your driver can communicate with you directly to clear up any confusion that may be associated with the booked trip. Also, free-wifi is available. Long trips can be used to keep working or communicating with friends and family. The ride is incredibly smooth in the upscale cars.

Enjoy your travel!

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.

This time, I didn’t get sick from the Plane

I always get sick from flying, at least it felt like that pre-Covid! However, it has been a week and I am almost afraid to say this out loud. But I did not get sick from the plane!

As much as I hate face masks, I do like all the careful cleaning going on EVERYWHERE! I think I actually feel safer from the nasty little germs that usually plague us this time of year. I tried to comply with all the guidelines despite my personal beliefs and research about the guideline’s effectiveness.

I am sure at some point I will get Covid and probably should get Covid naturally. I trust evolution and I work hard to be healthy with a healthy immune system as a benefit.

If I do get sick, I plan to do what I always do with a flu. Stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids. In the meantime, I am living life without fear of every possible thing around me. I choose to live one moment at a time like I always have, hopefully soon it will be without a mandated mask!

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!

Restaurants and Covid

The UAE is like most of the US in that restaurants are hungry for business. The shut down hit the hotel and restaurant industry hard. Take out (or take away as it is referred to in UAE), as well as delivery has been the go-to for most of us. Our family uses Zomato (Picture from Zomato) and Deliveroo most often.

Just like the states it is accepted behavior to wear masks to enter the establishment. Once at the table masks can be removed to enjoy the items served. In some parts of the US, there are maximum allowances of people per table. The UAE is no different and sets guidelines at eight per table. Often sanitizing wipes and or liquid sanitizers are offered at the table. Restrooms are serviced and cleaned well.

Restaurants offer a bit of normalcy for many of us who felt isolated in our homes with only our screens to socialize with others. As a tourist, restaurants and hotels are necessary to travel. The more open, inviting, and accommodating the establishment, the better the experience.

Live music is beginning to make a comeback in the UAE with some restrictions. It may take some time to revive, but live music is a much-missed part of the dining or clubbing experience. Collectively, many of us have learned to appreciate the ability to enjoy hospitality in public and long for those freedoms to return completely unrestricted by Covid. All in all, most Americans will feel comfortable as well as familiar with the new Covid etiquette of dining out in Dubai.

Covid on the Beach

After flying into Dubai, our family is required to quarantine for two weeks before going to our Villa in Abu Dhabi. This is the case even with a negative PCR test that allowed us to get on our flight to enter the UAE. By choosing this option we do not have to wear a tracking device that would keep us confined to our Villa for two weeks.

We have chosen the vacation responsibly option with social distancing and masking in Dubai. An Air BNB was acquired by Jumeriah Beach for the two-week quarantine period. So far this has been a welcome reprieve from the conditions in Washington State in the United States.

Tourists can enjoy the beach without masks. Amazingly, the social distancing is an advantage as families are not fighting for space on a crowded beach. Restaurants and fun tourists’ attractions are open.

The UAE was already an exceptionally clean country. Attendants were at the ready to tidy up, clean and sanitize bathrooms and public places the second one vacated a table or bathroom stall. It was always very impressive to me that so many workers in this country are employed just for sanitation purposes of public space even before Covid. The good news is they have upped their game, if that could have even been possible.

Dubai is open for tourism and they are doing it responsibly! So, come enjoy Dubai as a tourist or to wait out a quarantine. The weather is great this time of year and the water is warm and inviting! The cuisine is the best in the world and your kids can even count on their American standby’s being delivered right to their door.

Our family for one is thankful to begin living an even better version of normal life with the care given towards cleanliness and hygiene! Dubai is waiting for your family!

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