A Dubai Dilemma (for Expat Type 3) – to stay or to return to South Africa?

My husband and I have been living in Dubai for nearly seven years (me, a little bit less) and in this time we have found that there are four types of expats (especially South African expats) living in Dubai: the Expats Running Away, The Expats Using Dubai as a Springboard, the One Foot In and One Foot Out Expats and the Die Hard Expats.

A South African expat in Dubai
Dubai – a city packed with expats, including many South Africans, where the cost of living is rising as fast as the buildings.

Here’s a quick description of each type of expat, as simply as I can explain it:

1. The Expats Running Away:
The ones running away are the expats who have no respect for the country they grew up in. They have nothing good to say about it, and are constantly criticising it…BUT they also complain about Dubai at the same time.

2. The Springboarders:
The Springboarders are using Dubai as a stepping stone to their next destination.


3. One Foot In and One Foot Out:
This type of expat knows they will always return to their birth country and often has an exit strategy in place.

4. The Die Hards:
The Die Hard expat is the one who has been in Dubai for nearly 20 years and has no intention of leaving until such time as they have no choice.

A South African expat in Dubai3
The author of this article Nicky Liguori, her husband, and their son Daniel

My hubby and I are number 3 (1 foot in and 1 foot out). We have always maintained that we will return to South Africa…back to our families and our heritage.

But what has come to light in the last few years, especially since the birth of our son, is that it is becoming harder and harder to maintain the balancing act of being happy where we are now and wanting to be back in South Africa.

Don’t get me wrong – we love our life in Dubai and we are attracted to the simple choices that we have to make, although the current rising expenses is not making things as simple anymore.

But our parents are getting a little older and, although they would never ask, they do want us to come home at some point. They are missing out on watching their grandson grow up. (Thankfully Skype and WhatsApp do make things a little easier than before.)

Even though we are based here in Dubai we currently consider ‘home’ to be the farm in the Eastern Free State where my hubby grew up. (I am a published children’s book author, and my books – The Adventures of Daniel and Tasco – are based on the farm, Tripolitania.)

My hubby is the fourth generation Liguori to grow up on Tripolitania. Our son Daniel is the fifth, and it was always my wish to have my son enjoy a similar upbringing to that which both my hubby and I had.

Farm in South Africa
Tripolitania, the beautiful farm in the Eastern Freestate that Nicky and her husband currently consider ‘home’..

I grew up on a farm in the Eastern Cape near to a small town called Stutterheim, and even though I have very little ties there anymore it is a beautiful part of the world.

Lately we have had to weigh up the options of giving Daniel an international upbringing or packing it in and heading back to South Africa.

Nicky Liguori
Nicky Liguori, author of children’s books “The Adventures of Daniel and Tasco”

But, for now we have realised that we still have some unfinished business in Dubai and we know that the time to pack up and go home will come soon enough without us forcing the issue.

We have also learned to enjoy life for the now and it makes our trips home even more special.

Of course, we look forward to the day when we won’t have to say goodbye to our loved ones in South Africa…and when that day comes I am going to be sad to leave Dubai because we have made so many wonderful friends here…and our son was born here, and this is where we started our married life.

So my advice to each expat type is to enjoy the moment and respect where you have come from – after all it helped make you who you are today.

And look forward to what is next to come. You never know…you might find yourself enjoying life a little more than you realised!