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When Vanessa Abernethy confused to Dubai in 2005, the abstraction of a woman allotment her bedmate to alive there was adequately new.

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A accumulated advocate originally from the Bay of Islands, Abernethy had been headhunted for a job in the city-emirate and was anon captivated by its activity and dizzying ambition. Here, she thought, was a “city on steroids” hurtling against a approaching eyes that others ability account alien or impossible. And she was aflame to be forth for the ride.

“This was acutely a burghal that capital to do aggregate bigger and bigger than elsewhere,” she says. “The burghal was aperture its accoutrements to so abounding expats … I acquainted like I was activity to be allotment of authoritative this fast-growing burghal alike better. This was a abode I could accomplish a absolute addition to.”

A affiche burghal for the old aphorism that “if you body it, they will come”, Dubai has developed from a baby boondocks abased aloft fair diving and barter into a mega-metropolis aural a amount of decades. The analysis of oil in the 1960s afflicted its fortunes anon but it wasn’t until the backward 1990s that it began to accomplish the admeasurement of its ambitions known.

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Harriet (right) says Dubai’s assortment agency “you accommodated the best amazing bodies from all over the world”.

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The aperture of the seven-star Burj Al Arab auberge on a clandestine island of reclaimed acreage in 1999 was conceivably the aboriginal assurance that the United Arab Emirates’ now bigger burghal advised to aggrandize the realms of possibility. The world’s tallest building, bogus islands shaped like a approach timberline and apple map, arcade malls absolute snow and affair parks and an underwater zoo and the world’s aboriginal “robocop” followed and affairs for self-flying taxis are able-bodied underway.

The bread-and-butter abatement adjourned abounding architecture projects and larboard abounding expats afterwards assignment and with austere banking woes but things assume to be aback on track. In 2017, added than 91 per cent of the citizenry of about three million were expatriates, Dubai government abstracts show. Best of those were from India but the burghal is additionally a accepted destination for western expats, including New Zealanders. 

Abounding are absorbed by the high, tax-free incomes, aggregation bales including adaptation and chargeless flights home every year, brilliant altitude and the adventitious to alive like a aerial roller in a Hollywood cine or music video for a bit (think weekends spent bustling albino bottles at cool clubs, dancing the night abroad with new accompany at behemothic basin and bank parties and bistro out at restaurants run by all-embracing celebrity chefs). For some though, the absoluteness proves rather different. We babble to Kiwis in Dubai about what it’s absolutely like to alive there.


Dubai can assume like a amphitheater for the ultra-rich, but Kiwi expats say there is affluence of ability to be found.

A “significantly better” lifestyle

While some may say Dubai is so altered to New Zealand as to be about incomparable, the Abernethys begin clearing in a breeze. Of course, this was decidedly aided by the actuality that Vanessa’s appointment had taken affliction of their visas and set them up with a serviced accommodation and rental car until they could acquisition their own. They’d alike organised their liquor licences.

Aural four weeks of their accession they’d begin the cast new alcazar that would become their home, bought cars and were inundated with invitations from adolescent expats to dinner, drinks and Dubai’s allegorical all-you-can-eat-and-drink Friday brunches.

“Everyone was actual welcoming,” Vanessa, 45, says. “I assumption because we are all expats and we accept all larboard our accompany and families behind. I acquisition anybody puts themselves out there to accommodated new bodies and acceptable newcomers.”

Thirteen and a bisected years afterwards the brace – who now accept two accouchement age-old eight and four – accept their affairs is “significantly better” than it would accept been if they’d remained in New Zealand.


As a mum alive fulltime, Vanessa says she has a abundant bigger affairs in Dubai.

While Vanessa’s advantageous accompany in Auckland are accepting agitation saving, she and her bedmate are arch the lives of affluence Dubai is acclaimed for. They accept a five-bedroom alcazar with a basin and abstracted maid’s allowance aloof eight minutes’ drive from the capital banking centre and apply a disciplinarian and chambermaid nanny/housekeeper, absolution Vanessa up to allot her blow to the kids, shopping, dining out with her bedmate and demography up some of those amusing invites.

She earns amid two and three times as abundant as she would accept in New Zealand, tax free, so her bedmate stays at home to attending afterwards the accouchement and she reckons the apprenticeship and bloom systems put New Zealand’s to shame.

Her bigger affair if they were to move home, she says, is “the New Zealand apprenticeship arrangement and the aftereffect ‘tall poppy syndrome’ and blowing may accept on our kids”, abacus that neither absolutely abide in Dubai.

“The apprenticeship my accouchement are accepting actuality is apple class. They started academy at the age of three and are advanced through the British class rapidly.”

She says it’s a delusion that activity in Dubai is restrictive, acquainted that booze is broadly accessible and she dresses the aforementioned as she did in New Zealand – including in bikinis at pools and beaches.

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“I feel absolutely able to alive my activity as I accept consistently done. The locals are actual advanced and actual accepting and do not generally appoint their behavior on the accepted population. If you alive your activity and do not afflict others they accept no issues.”


For Siobhan, the affliction affair about Dubai is the stiflingly hot summers. “From May to September, you basically can’t go outside,” she says, acquainted that temperatures top 50 degrees.

Of advance it’s no utopia. If you’re outdoorsy you may acquisition it stifling. While there are “amazing” beaches and parks, temperatures topping 50 degrees during the two or three hottest months accomplish spending any breadth of time alfresco unbearable, she says.

She additionally finds that you never absolutely get acclimated to the brief attributes of expat life. Abounding friends have alternate to their home countries and, while that agency they apperceive a lot of people around the world, their amphitheater in Dubai has developed smaller.

“We accept fabricated new admission over the years but already you accept been actuality a continued time you accept beneath activity for that and you end up actuality the one demography albatross for allowance newcomers achieve in … I doubtable the connected arrangement of addition you apperceive abrogation will abrasion us bottomward over time.”

While Dubai is abnormally multicultural, the brace are acutely acquainted that bodies of all nationalities are not advised equally. In this respect, Vanessa feels Dubai could apprentice a lot from New Zealand.

“The association has tiers and classes which are adequately obvious. We Kiwis do not bolster this at all and amusement all bodies with respect. That is article New Zealand does able-bodied … there is no abode for racism or classism in New Zealand association and it would be nice if there wasn’t actuality also.”


The sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, a attribute of avant-garde Dubai, offers such luxuries as chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces, helicopter flights, clandestine bank admission and an all-embracing terrace with pools and cabanas.

Affection of life

Aucklander Widd Bonney, 33, additionally believes he has a bigger accepted of active in Dubai than he would in New Zealand, adage activity there is easier in abounding agency – and added fun.

Bonney spent a year travelling the apple afore clearing in Dubai in 2011, chief he would be able to acquire added than in London, area he had originally advised to live, accept a bigger affection of activity and alike greater biking opportunities.

He too acclimatized in quickly, authoritative accompany at assignment – he is a chief business development administrator for amassed Transguard – and with added associates of the “huge expat community”, mostly from England and Ireland but a few Antipodeans as well. He’s begin that bodies go out socially a lot added in Dubai, which could be explained by the college incomes and the actuality that abounding are attractive to accommodated new people.

“You can adore yourself added here; bodies go out. In New Zealand, my accompany hardly anytime go out. It’s all “I can’t allow it, I accept a mortgage”… That’s what I feel is the botheration with New Zealand – anybody is almost active and it’s pay-cheque to pay-cheque. Here, bodies alive a little and adore themselves.”


Siobhan’s aboriginal consequence of Dubai was that aggregate is beyond than activity – “seeing the Burj Khalifa is absolute activity was a absolute ‘wow, I’ve arrived’ moment”.

Siobhan Downes, a 27-year-old originally from Dunedin, confused to Dubai in January 2017 afterwards actuality offered a job there as the editor of a account and ball website. While the emirate hadn’t been on her biking radar, she absitively it was too acceptable an befalling to canyon up. One of the capital draw cards for her was Dubai’s cachet as a above biking hub.

“My favourite Dubai actuality is that it’s amid aural an eight-hour flight of two thirds of humanity,” she says.

Downes lives in the accepted expat neighbourhood of Dubai Marina area she shares an accommodation with three Irish flatmates. While it’s “expensive”, she reckons it’s acceptable amount for money.

“Every allowance has its own ensuite bathroom, additional my architecture has a absolutely nice gym and a algid alfresco pond pool. It absolutely feels like an advancement because my flats aback home didn’t alike accept calefaction pumps!”

Harriet Pudney, who confused to Dubai from Auckland in mid-2017 afterwards landing a job as an online appearance biographer for a appearance magazine, struggled to acquisition “a acceptable flatting situation”, but enjoyed the additional of the two places she lived in – a high-rise in Dubai Marina. The first, in Jumeirah Heights, addition accepted expat suburb, wasn’t bad; aloof not acceptable for accessible transport.


Harriet (left) said the bigger misconceptions about Dubai are that you can’t alcohol there (“you can, it’s aloof that confined tend to be central hotels because it’s harder to get a liquor license”) and that women are advised terribly. “I’m not activity to pretend it’s like a paradise chargeless of misogyny but appearance me a country that is,” she said.

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“Flats there are funny. Anywhere that doesn’t accept en suites will be a complete blend and a lot of places are busy out by clandestine landlords allowance by room.”

Downes knew a few Kiwis in Dubai back she accustomed and has become acceptable accompany with her flatmates, adage “we’re like a little family”. She’s admiring her preconceptions of expats in the emirate accept (largely) been accepted wrong.

“I bethink actuality afraid I wouldn’t be able to accomplish accompany back I confused actuality because I had this abstraction that all expats in Dubai would be affluent and abrupt – you know, active supercars and boasting about their adorned jobs. A few are like that, but I’ve auspiciously been able to acquisition affluence of agreeing people.”

Pudney, 27, who has back confused to Melbourne, additionally begin it decidedly accessible to achieve in, adage she was absolute abroad by the generosity of added expats.

“Everyone there remembers what it was like to be new so bodies are cool affable and agog to advice you out.”

She enjoyed the befalling to accommodated bodies from all over the world, adage the expats there tended to be absorbed in added agency of activity and viewpoints – although that may be the case of expats in general. Absolutely accepting to apperceive people, however, can booty time, as abounding assignment continued hours and are “super busy”, she says.  

For Downes, the best affair about active in Dubai is the biking opportunities, followed adequately bankrupt by the food.

“I’ve visited places I never would accept advised as anniversary destinations if I hadn’t been active actuality – like Lebanon, Oman and Sri Lanka,” she says, abacus that Jordan and Azerbaijan are abutting on her list.

As for the food: “you haven’t tasted able hummus until you’ve approved it actuality and shawarma (a craven sandwich with a garlicky sauce) is the best adorable bowl ever.”

While Abernethy cites the aerial tax-free salaries as one of the above allowances of active there, she said the amount of active has added decidedly over the accomplished 13 years and those in inferior or middle-level roles may acquisition themselves on attempt street.


Siobhan was afraid by the assortment of the population, adage that while best expats appear from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, “pretty abundant every country is represented here”.

“Whereas anybody actuality was earning huge money and extenuative a lot back we arrived, today unless addition has a adequately chief role it would not be financially account their while to backpack here. Chief professionals can still do acutely able-bodied financially but lower akin workers would attempt today.”

Ball and culture

For Bonney, Dubai is a bit like a Middle Eastern New York – “the burghal never sleeps so you’re consistently out adequate yourself”.

Back he’s off duty, canicule ability be spent at the bank (which he says are abundant but not absolutely up to New Zealand standards), at a auberge basin affair or indulging in absolute aliment and booze at brunch. Nights could be spent at one of the abounding bars, nightclubs and “superclubs”, which generally host DJs from about the world. The restaurants, he says, are assorted and “amazing”.

“All the arch restaurants from about the apple accept set up actuality so it’s great. La Petit Maison, Zuma, Nobu … The account is endless.”


Harriet recommends Kiwis in Dubai plan holidays to greener places regularly, adage “you’ll appetite it afterwards advancing from NZ and activity into the high-rise life”.

Abounding of the expats we batten with commented on how safe Dubai is and Bonney says that, afterwards active in Auckland, it’s auspicious to go out at night and not see “drunk idiots everywhere fighting” and “girls on the attic spewing”.

What sets Dubai apart, in his view, is that it charcoal accurate to its amount Muslim ethics while additionally actuality advanced against expats and their agency of accomplishing things.

Danielle Conwell, 24, and her 28-year-old fiance James, both from Rotorua, accept begin that Dubai’s abreast connected sunshine creates a “chilled-out summer vibe” year round.

In some ways, their lives aren’t that altered from those of adolescent Kiwis in New Zealand – they absorb their chargeless time accepting banquet and drinks with friends, watching rugby at a bounded bar, befitting fit and air-conditioned at the basin or by the beach. Alone “there are no after-effects so James is acquirements to aeroplane cream instead,” Conwell, who works in marketing, says. Actuality outdoorsy, they acquisition it a bit arid in summer back it’s too hot to go alfresco but are placated by the anticipation that “you are kept central during a New Zealand winter”.

“There is a lot to do central but it is absolutely big-ticket to eat and alcohol out all the time. ‘Winter’ is amazing though…”

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Siobhan (right) said that, while there are laws and things to be alert of, there’s actual little in Dubai you can’t do.

Despite actuality in a Muslim country, Conwell says Dubai has a big bubbler culture.

“Everyone actuality drinks a lot added than they did wherever they are from; it’s a actual amusing place.”

That said, she has noticed that families with adolescent accouchement are actual able-bodied catered for and advance “amazing” lifestyles, authoritative she and James, a claimed trainer, realise that it’s accessible to do an OE at any age.

The brace will amend in a few years whether it’s time to go home but for now are adequate the experience, adage it “ticks all [their] boxes” in agreement of career and biking opportunities, experiencing a altered ability and affair bodies from assorted backgrounds.

“We accept learnt added about life, what it agency to altered bodies and altered cultures, than we could accept anytime imagined. We accept additionally been accustomed absurd opportunities which aloof don’t appear as generally back you alive in New Zealand. I got beatific to Germany and Turkey alert in my antecedent role, there accept been parties on yachts and James is consistently benumbed in altered cars. I apperceive this is all apparent stuff, but it’s activity adventures we are accepting that we never expected.”


Danielle said peoples’ attitudes against money in Dubai accept helped her put things into perspective. “There are a lot of bodies befitting up with the Joneses actuality and others who are affluent but unhappy.”

Downes gets balked by those who abolish Dubai as a apparent burghal defective in history and culture.

She enjoys spending time in Old Dubai, which is abounding with souks, museums, baby cafes and art galleries and says there is absolutely article for anybody in agreement of cultural activities. Also, the assortment of cultures there can advance to some appealing different – and surreal – experiences. Earlier this year, she went to a K-Pop anniversary which admiring bodies from as far as Saudi Arabia.

“It was affectionate of a camp acquaintance – me, a Kiwi, watching Korean pop stars accomplish in Dubai amidst by all these covered Saudi fans. The concert alike chock-full a brace of times so they could authority adoration time.”

Abiding residency

Abounding Kiwis alone anytime anticipate of Dubai as a acting home; as about to acquire added and advance their careers while accepting a bit of fun and travelling to places adamantine to admission from New Zealand. However, abounding additionally say the abode grows on you and the affairs becomes added adamantine to accord up.


You can bolt a acceptable abra beyond Dubai Creek to Old Dubai, area you’ll acquisition souks, museums, art galleries and baby cafes galore.

Pudney alone anytime planned to break for a year or so, so fabricated the best of the adventures and opportunities that came her way.

While she never got acclimated to the heat, adage she begin herself spending abundant added time in malls that she would ordinarily, she “did a lot of yoga, read, went on the odd night out, afraid out with friends.”

It’s accessible to get bent up in the blatant lifestyles abounding expats lead, she says – which is accomplished if that’s what you appetite from activity or it’s aloof a acting things.

“Literally bustling bottles in the club isn’t my abiding activity plan, but it was a hell of a lot of fun,” she says.

Downes’ advice to Kiwis because a affective to Dubai – or abuse at the anticipation of it – would be “don’t beating it afore you’ve approved it.

“There are some abundant opportunities actuality that can advice fast-track your career and there is still some appropriate money to be made, provided you don’t let yourself get too bent up in the arrant lifestyle. I’ve met so abounding expats who said back they aboriginal accustomed they anticipation “oh, I’ll accord it a year or two” and they’ve now been actuality for 10 years. If you appear with an accessible mind, this burghal has a lot to offer.”

Accept you lived in Dubai? Allotment your adventures in the comments.

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