How this Swiss expat family left everything for Abu Dhabi

Expat interviews
  • expat family in Abu Dhabi
Published on 2022-06-24 at 10:00 by Nelly Jacques
It's been four years since they packed their 10 years together in a few suitcases to move to Abu Dhabi, on the 75th floor of a building overlooking the capital. The Swiss Family Expat, comprising Sandy, Roger, Louane and Novan, talks to us about this unique adventure.

Tell us a few words about your family.

We are a family of four Roger, Sandy, Louane (10 years old) and Novan (6 years old), originally from Switzerland. It's been four years since we moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

What was your life like before moving to Abu Dhabi, and what made you want to move?

We had a very normal life, with cool jobs, Louane at school and Novan at nursery, five weeks of annual vacation, and family and friends close by. We also had a tight schedule with extra-curricular activities, lunches and dinners here and there, appointments, etc. It was quite hectic.

We moved to Abu Dhabi after Roger was canvassed on LinkedIn, and after careful consideration, we decided to leave everything to live our first expat experience.

Tell us more about your move. What were the main challenges, and how did you overcome them?

We asked ourselves a lot of questions, such as, "Are we going to fit in?" How are we going to adapt to the culture and make new friends? Will the children adapt? How are the schools there? What is it like to be an expat woman in the UAE?

We couldn't find clear information about expat life in Abu Dhabi. This is why we have created a YouTube channel, Swiss Family Expat, where we share our family life in the Emirates to help anyone who's looking to move to the UAE.

It was also important to test the waters, so we made a quick 4-day trip with the children to Abu Dhabi to visit schools, meet expats who had been living there for a few years, etc., to find answers to our questions and consider the future more calmly. Were clearly seduced by this new adventure in the UAE!

Our move was quite simple. We packed only a few suitcases after selling all our belongings on online platforms and in garage sales. We all had to gather our essentials in a few boxes and stock them in grandma's cellar. We also had one suitcase for toys and one for French books for the kids.

Then we threw a big farewell party to say goodbye to our family and friends.

What were the challenges you faced on your arrival in Abu Dhabi?

We arrived in early July when the temperatures were around 40 °C, and stayed in a serviced appartment, so it looked a bit like a vacation. However, it was too hot, even to go to the beach or to the swimming pool. Outdoor walks were next to impossible! After 200 meters, we were dripping from head to toe.

Then we discovered the gigantic malls with indoor amusement parks like ice rinks, cinemas, etc. So we had to get used to air conditioning.

After visiting apartments, we found ours on the 75th floor of the World Trade Center, with a panoramic view of Abu Dhabi! Since then, we're living our dream.

What about culture shock? How did you overcome it?

We did have a lot of doubts, but we were pleasantly surprised by the openness of the inhabitants, the rich cultural blend, and access to a wide range of services. The UAE is also a very child-friendly country.

Besides, Abu Dhabi is a city that never sleeps. All shops are open every day, even late at night. You can even do last-minute shopping without having to plan everything. You just need to take a trolley, and the elevator takes you to a mall.

The laundry is close by, and we get our car washed in our parking lot. Even the gas stations are serviced, so you don't have to do anything on your own. Refueling yourself is not even an option.

There is no theft in Abu Dhabi, so you don't need to keep your hand on your bag all the time. You could leave your bag in a cart, and two hours later, it's still there! If you leave your phone in a taxi, the driver brings it back to you. If an ATM has just been filled and the employee forgets the keys there, they can still find it the next day without anything being lost.

What can you tell us about the city of Abu Dhabi? How is it organized?

Abu Dhabi is the largest Emirate, covering 80% of the country's territory.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and is made up of the main island and 200 surrounding islands, which are more or less reachable, even inhabited. It is also home to a huge expat community.

Abu Dhabi is a haven for families, considered the countryside, compared to Dubai.

What does your everyday life in Abu Dhabi look like?

I'm up at 6 a.m., so I start preparing the children's lunch box" before the school bus takes them off to a school day at 8 a.m., and this is where they are until 2 p.m from Monday to Friday. When they return from school, they have extra-curricular activities (swimming pool, dance, or piano ). Otherwise, we're at the beach or having a snack with friends.

What do you do for fun or to discover the city or country?

From November to March, our favorite activity is to camp in the desert with family or friends, observe the stars in the sky, roast marshmallows, share stories around a bonfire and enjoy the absolute silence. We also like brunches and beach clubs.

When it's hot, we head to other places like Ferrari World or Warner Bros amusement parks, etc., as well as malls.

What do you like most and least about your new life in Abu Dhabi? What are your plans for the future?

This family experience abroad is a big plus for us all. It helped us break our routine and discover new, exciting and enriching things. We have added a beautiful and unforgettable chapter to our life story. Also, the climate here allows us to wear shorts and flip-flops all year round.

The most difficult part is the distance from our families and friends. However, we are planning our return to Geneva very soon.

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