Where in the world: Dubai

Written by
Emily Sexton-Brown

04 Jan 2017

04 Jan 2017 • by Emily Sexton-Brown

Changeboard speaks to Lily Temperley, COO for a financial services firm, living in Dubai having moved from Australia, then to London. Lily tells us about her personal international career move experiences…

Why did you move to Dubai?

A job opportunity arose that was a challenge, made good use of my skills and experience and provided the opportunity to move to a new city, country and region. We focus on both making a profit and changing lives through financial inclusion. The mix of commercial operations and social good appealed to me.

How long have you lived in Dubai?

I have been here 18 months now

Did you always envision yourself moving abroad?

As an adolescent I always had wanderlust so once I graduated from University I got on a plane bound for London. I had thought I would travel a bit and return home. 16 years and five countries of residence later I am still abroad and travelling to new destinations for work and pleasure as often as I can.

What were the main culture differences did you find?

I think the main cultural differences I notice in my everyday life in the Middle East centre around beliefs. Muslim culture is both ancient and evolving. The way local women dress is vastly different, covered up by Abaya, yet the Western fashion influences can still be seen for example. I enjoy Ramadan, which is the holy month where the focus is on charity and understanding the lives of those less fortunate.

Do you think this move has enhanced your career, if so, how so?

I definitely think so. Operating in a different environment teaches you to be more respectful of diversity and how perceptions and norms need to be challenged to fit the audience best. I have spent a lot of time researching how traditions impact the way people connect and build relationships and ultimately make decisions. These are all useful insights to understanding how business is done in the Middle East.

How did you feel about moving abroad?

I didn’t really think about it too much until I landed and realised that while I was coming for a great job opportunity, there was much to be done to establish a new life in a new place, from the actual move itself, to finding the best places to eat and shop to creating networks of people professionally and personally. Making new friends in your thirties is quite different to when you are younger.

How has your family coped with the move?

My parents worry about the proximity of Dubai to some of the reported trouble spots in the Middle East but they are wise enough to know that if I make a decision I have thought it through. My sister has visited twice with her family as she too has the travel bug. With me living here they get to experience the city in a way they may not as tourists.

How does the cost of living compare with the UK/Australia?

Dubai is on a par with London in terms of rent, living costs and clothing. Taxis are cheaper and you can eat out at some great local spots for less than the price of buying the ingredients at the supermarket so I definitely cook less!

What do you do in your spare time?

I live right by the beach so spend time paddle boarding, sun bathing and jogging on the boardwalk near my house.

What advice would you give others moving to Dubai?

The best place to meet people is through common interests. There are clubs and events for just about everything so joining these ensures you will connect with like-minded people. Be prepared for the heat – the mercury tops 50’C in the summer months.

Is there a large expat community?

The population is a mix of locals - only about eight percent of Dubai's population of around 2 million are Emirati - the other 92 percent are expat and migrant workers. I have friends and colleagues from the UK, US, India, Nigerian, Ethiopia, Russia, Spain, Sweden…. So it makes for interesting times.

Do you have any regrets?

I think that travelling and living abroad expands your horizons. If I regret anything, it is being so far away from my family. I miss important occasions and milestones. My parents aren’t getting any younger and my niece and nephew are growing up fast. It is a hard balance between living my own life and being part of the lives of the people I love who are geographically distant. Technology is a blessing to make the world feel smaller and people closer.

I miss … walking everywhere in London as I drive everywhere now and I miss the treats from my childhood down under

I don’t miss … the chaos of living in London or the distance it is to travel anywhere from the bottom corner of the world

Local area:


Restaurant? Is Tom&Serg. It is a café style joint set up in a warehouse a short drive from my place. They serve amazing coffee and have a changing menu of delicious food. They also make lamingtons which are one of the childhood favourites I miss.

Tourist attraction? I like to take visitors to the top of Burj Khalifa. It is hard to beat being on the viewing platform of the world’s tallest building feeling the wind on your face and seeing what looks like a Lego city and the desert and ocean stretched out before you.

Activity? Going quad biking in the desert. It is exhilarating riding an ATV over the sand dunes and the sand is a beautiful red. You can see camels as you bike and get a real sense for how magical and vast the desert is.

Place to meet other ex-patriates? DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) has some great bars and restaurants. Zuma and Le Petite Maison would be my picks for a great cocktail and excellent food.

Shopping? There are some real gems here. I like the mega-malls as everything is under one roof but my picks would be Priceless which is a department store selling designer clothes at massive (up to 90% off) discounts or Garderobe which sells designer handbags, clothes and shoes on consignment.