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Moving from Small Town to Big City, Relocating from USA to UAE

moving abroad from the USA to Abu Dhabi

From Small Town to Big City, USA to UAE

Do you ever entertain the thought of moving from a small town to a big city? Wonder what about life in another country? There are a number of changes you have to adjust to when making the move abroad and most you probably wouldn’t give any thought to.

I’ve always held the notion far back in my mind-- I would love to live abroad once in this great journey we call life. Much to my surprise the opportunity presented itself and before I knew it-- off I was on a new adventure. Not once did I imagine I would make my move to the Middle East, but here I am and I’m better for it.

I grew up in a small town outside the capital of Boise, Idaho. You’re most likely unfamiliar with it, it’s not a place that sticks out to people when they think of the US.

Moving from a small town to a big city To paint a better picture, I remember our little town installing its first stop light halfway through my senior year of high school. As a little kid, I remember most of the city limits consisting of countless corn fields. I spent my young life ten minutes out of town on 14 acres, grew up riding horses and competing in rodeos. I was just a small town girl who eventually in her adult life ventured off to a big city abroad.

Now I live in the capital of the UAE- Abu Dhabi, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. It’s made up of over a million people from many different walks of life. My hometown had 13,000 people-- so quite a change in the population I was accustomed to.

Increase in Diversity

Abu Dhabi sky line Idaho is not a diverse place by any means and doesn’t stray far from consisting of mostly outdoor fun loving people. It is a laid back, slow paced society.

You might find it surprising to know in the UAE only 11% of the population are Emirati locals, the rest are made up of expats like myself from all over the world.

The expat community is a friendly community. Due to the high turnover of those constantly coming in and going out, it has a kinder garden method of establishing friendships-- you introduce yourself and that’s it, you’re now best buds. That’s how it worked for me at least.

I’ve met the most interesting people living here and it’s an experience you learn quite a bit from. You gain a better grasp on the world when a different a perspective is never in short supply.

Living in a mixing pot of cultural diversity does come with its own set of issues-- mostly involving communication barriers. You can expect when bringing people together on a large spectrum of different languages, there it’s bound to create some confusion and difficulty relaying messages. You slowly become highly skilled in understanding accents and adjectives, to me I believe this will only prove to be useful in my future world travels.

It was a drastic change in company resulting in culture shock. Small town USA to living the Middle East-- it’s not a subtle change in scenery either.

Getting used to New Surroundings

moving to another country You don’t put much thought into how much a change in surroundings really does to you-- or at least I didn’t.

Both my husband and I, up until last year, were born, raised, and spent our lives encompassed by beautiful scenic mountains. There was not a day where I could look on the horizon and not see those blue and white snowcapped peaks. Drive an hour up a winding road and I could enjoy the nature in them. We spent our lives in the city of trees and never gave much thought to it-- easy to assume we were accustomed.

Now I’m the desert with rolling sand dunes, beaches, and skyscrapers. The beauty here is mostly in those three features. The architecture and the ocean are what’s in view when I look in any direction. Take a short drive out of the city and you experience the endless red sand hills you imagine when you think of an Arabian desert. Venture long enough and you’re bound to see camels too.

While I do enjoy aspects of my change in scenery, I was born and raised surrounded by vibrant green nature, so part of me will always yearn for it. It was not something I appreciated until it was no longer around me, it was always there and always expected.

UAE landscape
Change in Climate and Altitude

The capital city of Idaho sits around 2,700 feet (823 meters) above sea level and, as stated, undeniably beautiful. The state has the best of all four seasons, the winters are cold and the summers are hot. The climate is dry and one my skin has always taken issue with. While enjoying the change in color every season brings, my skin did not. It was constantly dry and I invested in my fair share of lotion.

Abu Dhabi is at sea level. It ranges from hot to extremely hot, and is also quite humid. My husband and I joke the weather is in a constant battle between trying to be as hot as it can, while also trying to remain as humid. We usually base how nice the weather is by the amount of time it takes to break a sweat. It can be a bit tough to adjust to the heat at first, but my skin loves the humidity-- so no complaints and no dry skin here.

Getting used to UAE heat More to do

In order to love Idaho, the great outdoors and nature need to be in your list of hobbies. Otherwise, for you it may be a boring place. If you love these things, you can indulge in the fun of going on hikes, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, hunting, camping, fishing, you name it. If you are a city person, then finding enjoyable activities in Idaho might be a struggle.

You can expect a move to a big city results in more to do and try, but the UAE is special in this than any other city in the world. No worries necessary when finding activities to enjoy, there is everything. You have your choice in theme and water parks, extravagant hotels, shopping, and an abundance of delicious restaurants-- only to name a few. There is fun only found in the UAE- an outdoor wake board park or an indoor ski hill for example. Any venture you enjoy or want to try- you can experience.

Difference in Currency and in Cost of Living

What to do in Abu Dhabi Making the adjustment to a new currency requires fine tuning your math skills and takes a bit of practice if the exchange rate isn’t an easy math problem. For me, I’ve become great at multiplying by 3.65, odd number I know, but that’s roughly the exchange rate from USD to AED.

In relation to the number of activities you can chose from, they also come at a price. While it’s no feat to have the time of your life in the UAE, it isn’t necessarily affordable to do on a regular basis, especially if your goal is to save money.
Necessities including housing and groceries are a bit more expensive (meat and produce mostly) than the low cost of living we ventured from. If you come from a city similar to Miami or LA, you may not notice much of a difference.

Additional Methods of Public Transportation

Getting around in the UAE In Idaho, public transportation is not a popular option and most rely on owning and driving their own vehicles. Buses do not run every day of the week, and there is no subway or train system. There is an increase in those who bike to their way around. You can only really hail a cab downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. If any other case you have to call and book one and fairs are not cheap.

Abu Dhabi is crawling with cabs, you can hail a ride virtually anywhere and due to government regulations they are very affordable. For the first time in my life, I am not in need of a car. Anything I need to accomplish for the day can be achieved by a quick cab ride. We’ve become a one vehicle family, not something I ever foresaw.

Abu Dhabi desert Decrease in Crime

Where I grew up is a pretty safe place when compared most major US cities, where kids can still play outside and gang violence is few and far between. It has one of the best as far as crime rate goes for most major cities.

The UAE is unique in terms of crime. It’s virtually nonexistent and does an exceptional job of keeping danger at bay (quite an accomplishment when you think of the number of people living here and the geographical location). Being and feeling safe is an easy adjustment.

These were my experiences when I moved from a small town to a big city, from the USA to the UAE. They may be similar or different from your own, if you’ve had the opportunity to relocate to a larger city or move abroad.


  1. I live in Utah! What city are you from? And that is so cool!! Good luck on your adventure :)

    1. Grew up in Kuna, moved to Boise for college and stayed there until I moved to the UAE last year. I have family in Utah, which part are you from? :)

  2. Idaho to the UAE, thats a big change! Great hearing your thoughts on Abu Dhabi, next time i connect through Dubai on one of my world adventures I should make time to visit, there are some amazing spots there that i need to see!

  3. I lived in the Middle East (Qatar) for 10 years, before I moved permanently to New Zealand; and it was an amazing experience. Being so close to the UAE, we would go over for weekend shopping - crazy! I definitely agree about the level of crime. One time, I absentmindedly left my wallet on a table at a restaurant in a very busy Souq. I didn't realise it for about an hour or so. I went back to the place, and the waitstaff had put it aside for me - everything was untouched. I hope you love your experience x

  4. This is so cool! Will surely follow the post when I'm in UAE! :)

  5. Cool post. Dubai is one of the loved destinations in the world. Shall follow this post in need

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