5 minute interview – living and working in UAE and during Ramadan
Samantha Daly is the country manager of K2 UAE. She has managed mobility programmes from both an in-house global mobility management and relocation provider perspective for eight years.
Having previously lived and worked as an expatriate in Singapore and now in Dubai, Sam talked to us about how her personal experience also complements her GMS qualified global mobility expertise and enables her to support companies and relocating employees to successfully settle into working and living in the Middle East region.
What attracted you to your current role at K2 and living in Dubai?
I actually started my K2 career back in 2013 when I relocated from Scotland to Singapore. After three highly enjoyable years as APAC Team Leader I took an in-house global mobility role which allowed me to further enhance my industry knowledge and experience albeit from a different perspective.
In 2016, my husband’s role brought us to the UAE and it turned out to be excellent timing as Nick was contemplating establishing a stronger K2 presence in the Middle East. The challenge of starting a new office in a new region was a huge attraction for me, so too was the prospect of returning home to K2 – a company where I had always felt nurtured and appreciated.
The UAE itself always had a draw for my husband and I – both of our parents spent time in the Middle East in the 80s and so the region has always been close to our hearts. The region will always be special to us in this way, even more so since our own daughter was born in Dubai 18 months ago.
What have you found to be the biggest learning curves in terms of living in the UAE? What has been your favourite cultural experience?
I would definitely say that my patience levels have improved during my time in the UAE, as anyone who has spent time in the region will know, certain administrative aspects of life here can be frustrating and time consuming to say the least. I found it very difficult to adapt to at first, especially having been used to the efficiency of Singapore, but now I use my personal experience to ensure we fully manage our client’s expectations in this regard – handling these processes for families upon arrival in the Middle East is just one way in which we look to ease the moving and settling process from the offset.
In terms of my favourite cultural experience – while Dubai is often viewed as being a vast modern metropolis, showcasing contemporary architecture within a major business hub and of course a popular tourist destination, some of my favourite time within the city has been spent in the old town. Prior to the union of the Emirates in 1971, Dubai was a vastly different place where Bedouins roamed the land farming, fishing and herding. It is easy to forget how far the UAE has come in such a short time and I love to wander the old bustling souks and further into the old town.
Al Shindagha is a traditional area in Dubai where the previous ruler Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum resided, his previous home has now been restored and is open to the public as a museum. Close by, the area of Al Bastakiya was originally in habited by wealthy pearl and textile merchants. Today, the area has been restored and allows you to get lost in a maze of winding lanes and alleys. As you walk through the area, traditional buildings with original wind towers (the traditional method of cooling the air) can be explored – many of these buildings have now been turned into cafes or art galleries and it is an area where I can happily get lost while exploring.
What is your most frequent piece of advice to relocating employees moving to the Middle East?
Without doubt, the most frequent piece of advice we give to assignees is to abide by the laws and rules of the country which they are relocating to. To many assignees some of the local rules and regulations seem strange at first and do take some adapting to. As an example, many of our relocating employees need reminding at first that public displays of affection should be totally avoided in the Middle East. While some countries enforce the rules more strictly than others, out of respect and in the interest of being safe, we advise all of our clients to adhere to the local laws. Breaking the simplest of laws in the Middle East can ultimately lead to arrest and deportation so it really is something we encourage from day one.
What are the top considerations for their employers?
In terms of top employer considerations, I would list the following:
1. Immigration and visa processing.
Immigration processes vary between Freezone and Mainland entities but regardless of where the company is registered, securing the correct visa both for an employee and their family in a timely manner is vital to ensure a smooth transition. Many factors in terms of home finding, utility connections, opening a bank account etc hinge on the assignee’s visa and ID being available in good time upon arrival.
2. Provision for cost estimates.
Special considerations must be considered to calculate housing allowances, travel allowances, school expenses and health care all of which greatly impact the cost of a relocation into the region.
3. Making preparations for a spouse.
As an example, identifying potential career opportunities prior to arriving in the UAE will highlight any knowledge gaps which can be rectified with training or research ahead of the move.
4. Sharia law.
I find myself referring to aspects of Sharia law on a daily basis when conversing with clients and of course it is a huge consideration for any employer when relocating an employee to the region.
5. Lastly, I would say partner selection.
When a candidate is hired, and the relocation process begins, the ultimate goal is of course to make the experience as positive as possible for the assignee – selection of a trustworthy and reputable provider is of upmost importance in the region. In Dubai alone there are over 200 registered moving companies, these companies vary in terms of size, reputation and service levels. Similarly, I have already highlighted the importance of the visa and immigration process in the settling process yet many providers in the region are not regulated or quality assessed. Being completely independent from our global mobility partners allows K2 to provide truly autonomous advice and recommendations to our clients which is paramount in our region.
What are the main things to consider when living and working in the UAE during Ramadan?
Ramadan 2020 is expected to begin on April 23rd and run until May 23rd, although these dates may change slightly based on the moon sighting.
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims — the Prophet Mohammed reportedly said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam’s sacred text, to Mohammed, on a night known as ‘The Night of Power’ (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic).
During the entire month of Ramadan, capable adult Muslims are required to fast from dawn until dusk every day and see it as an act to free their soul of impurities. Those experiencing illness (or pregnancy) are exempt from fasting. Children are also exempt from fasting until they reach the age of puberty. So long as they are healthy at that time, they will also begin to fast.
It is a time of spiritual discipline – of deep contemplation of one's relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity. In addition to the regular five daily prayers, Muslim men and women perform tarawih prayers daily after isha prayers in mid-evening. It’s also seen as a time for Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for those less fortunate – encouraging gratitude, generosity and charity which includes activities with non-Muslims.
There is no expectation for non-Muslims to fast during Ramadan in the Middle East. However, they are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during the fasting hours (this includes chewing gum). This applies to all public places as well as both public and private transportation. Public observance of the fast in UAE is compulsory regardless of religion. Non-Muslims can eat and drink in the privacy of their own home, as well as in designated areas.
Meetings – if possible, it is recommended to hold business meetings in the morning during Ramadan to take into account fasting participants energy levels.
Dress – expatriate residents and visitors are expected to give consideration to, and refrain from, wearing revealing clothing out of respect to those observing Ramadan. While this etiquette rule is also observed throughout the whole year in the Middle East, it is particularly important during the month of Ramadan. Consideration should be given to visiting malls, hotels and restaurants or iftar tents in the evening.
Public comportment – public displays of affection are avoided as a general rule but even more so during Ramadan.
Traffic – during the month of Ramadan, traffic is usually heavier than normal within an hour of sunset as Muslims travel to their Iftar destination in anticipation of breaking their fast at sunset. If possible, it’s best to avoid any unnecessary travel during this time and try to be flexible with your plans to avoid delays.
Entertainment – in many places, live music entertainment is prohibited, dance clubs are closed, and bars are kept dry during Ramadan.
Shopping – shopping malls are usually very crowded in the evening during this time, and many tourist activities are put on hold throughout Ramadan.
In what ways do you think that COVID-19 will impact this years’ Ramadan celebrations in the UAE?
I expect that Ramadan in the UAE will look very different this year due to COVID-19.
At the moment public places such as shops and restaurants are closed, children are conducting virtual learning and everyone is being urged to stay at home unless visiting a supermarket, pharmacy or the hospital. These changes have impacted the way we live and work, and will also unavoidably affect the Ramadan celebrations here in the UAE.
For example, during Ramadan, iftar is the meal used to break the fast. This year, usual restaurants and iftar tents will not be welcoming guests to break fast, as restrictive measures against COVID-19 prevent them from opening their doors.
Authorities have also placed a large emphasis on the maintenance of social distancing throughout Ramadan. This means the usual large gatherings of family and friends will not be possible this year.
Prayers at mosques and places of worship have also been suspended as mosques, churches and other places of worship have all been closed until further notice. This means that during the month of Ramadan, prayers will have to be conducted at home. This will be a big cultural change as large group worship is usually integral for many throughout the year, but particularly during this time.
As you can imagine, these changes will have a big impact on the usual routine celebrations for Ramadan in the UAE. Hopefully families and friends will still be able to celebrate in a way that is fulfilling and enjoyable, but also safe.
Ramadan Kareem to all those that are observing Ramadan this year.