What It’s Like to Live the Expat Life in Dubai

Maximilian Büsser, founder of the avant-garde Swiss watch brand MB&F, reveals the true Dubai—much more than just shopping malls.

What It’s Like to Live the Expat Life in Dubai

M.A.D., a home for kinetic art run by watchmaker Maximilian Büsser, is one of the many new noteworthy galleries in Dubai.


The first impression most people have of Dubai is of five-star hotels and malls. But that’s not my experience. Before my family and I moved here in January 2015, we visited friends who’d lived in Dubai for years. I saw that their quality of life was noticeably higher than in Geneva, which is where I had been living since 1998. I began a career as a watch creator 25 years ago and founded my own brand, MB&F, in 2005. After my daughter was born in 2013, I realized that I’d be too busy to watch her grow up if we stayed in Geneva. We chose Dubai because it was halfway between Europe and Asia. But we didn’t really know what we were getting into. It’s so much more interesting than that first impression. In a city of more than 2.6 million inhabitants, roughly 10 percent are Emiratis and 90 percent are expats who’ve arrived in the last 20 years. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world, and virtually no one has an extended family here. Everybody welcomes you warmheartedly and wants to introduce you to everyone else.

Of course, you’ve got fantastic hotels and restaurants, and the tallest building in the world, but there’s another Dubai that tourists don’t usually see. It’s populated by numerous ethnic communities and groups that share common interests. For me, that social mix combined with proximity to the ocean is extraordinary.

Explore Maximilian’s Dubai

One of the coolest new neighborhoods is Alserkal Avenue. It’s a little like Shoreditch in East London, which used to be all warehouses that were slowly taken over by artists and galleries. Alserkal includes galleries like the Third Line, one of the most reputable art venues in the Middle East; Custot from Paris; and, as of January 2016, my own gallery, M.A.D., which stands for “mechanical art devices.” The art on display might share traits of watchmaking—gears and moving parts—but we’re not interested in telling time. We want to create kinetic sculpture.

Dubai is constantly transforming. After spending the summer in Geneva, my wife and I wondered what we’d discover when we came back. On Sheikh Zayed Road, the main thoroughfare, they elevated a 14-lane highway in eight months. That is what is possible in Dubai.

>>Next: How I Live: A Designer Shares Her Favorite Spots in Bali

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More from AFAR