The salary cut letter (right) that Abegail received in 2009.


How expat in UAE survived salary cuts in 2009 and 2020


DUBAI – Eleven years ago, Abegail (not her real name) experienced her first expat trial in the UAE: a salary cut in the wake of the 2009 global financial crisis.

Fast-forward to 2020 amid the global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Filipina experienced her second pay cut in 16 years of living in the UAE.

In an interview with, the Filipina recalled the lessons she learned in 2009 and how she is coping with the trials of 2020.

Abegail, who first arrived in the UAE in 2004, was an accountant at the firm; earning a comfortable salary that was enough to support her family in the Philippines and let her indulge in the expat dream in the UAE.

“I took a brand new car in 2008. I also had a credit card. That time, I was staying in Dubai where rents were quite high. I also splurged on branded clothes and bags. I was an impulsive buyer. Eating out also took some of my budget,” she said.

But then the 2009 crisis hit. “I was working in the construction industry so we were badly hit by the crisis,” she said, adding that it wasn’t long before she received a letter from her employer telling her of a reduction of her monthly salary to Dh6,000.

“The good thing was, I was still single that time, with only one loan. I was scared because I had just taken that loan and still had five years of monthly repayments to make. My co-workers were complaining non-stop,” she recalled.

“Immediately, I sold my car and limited my visits to the malls so I don’t get tempted with buying unnecessary items. Sadly, I didn’t have any budget for savings,” she said.

Her original salary was never reinstated until she resigned in 2012.

Abegail, 40, is now married and lives with her husband and their baby in Sharjah. She is now an accounts manager in a different company.

What lesson did she learn from her experience in 2009?

“When you have the opportunity to have an income higher than what you previously received, never change your lifestyle and your spending habits. Instead, increase your savings for rainy days especially if you’re still new in the UAE,” she said.

Surviving 2020 salary cut in UAE

From April, at the height of the coronavirus in the UAE, Abegail was given a salary cut that she fears “might be permanent”.

Her salary has been reduced to Dh11,500, but may not be enough to cover her growing expenses. Frills, including regular visits to the hair saloon and overseas holidays, are now over.

“This time, it is more scary than 2009. The first question in my mind: How can I pay my loans? I now have two loans,” she said. She is also paying for her child’s education insurance policy, and was saddled with payments toward a property investment in the Philippines.

How is she coping with her budget after the pay cut?

She is reducing her family’s monthly allowance in the Philippines. She also sold off her property investment.

“I stopped going to the malls, except to buy essential items. I completely stopped buying unnecessary things like clothes, shoes and bags. My family and I stopped eating out and only eat home cooked meals,” she said.

Since the company where she works transferred to an office in Dubai, it has become an “expensive and tiresome” drive from her home in Sharjah to her office in the neighboring emirate. To save on her monthly car expenses, Abegail has opted for carpooling. “My husband also helps me manage our expenses,” she added.

Abegail said the pandemic has taught her to “always be prepared for what the future holds”.

Her advice to UAE residents struggling this time? “Save! Save! Save! Surround yourself with people who know how to handle finances,” she said.

“I believe that these financial difficulties we are experiencing right now will not last. This, too, shall pass. And don’t forget to pray,” she added. PIA/Expat Media

Her budgeting tips for UAE residents

Set priorities, pay off your debt first

Completely trim off unnecessary purchases

Buy only basic needs

As much as possible, stop using credit cards

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