Once you decide you want a baby, your mind will probably wander forward to the pregnancy and the birth, but you might not think into the future about what will happen in the years after you leave the labour ward. Is Dubai a good place to bring up children? Where will your child go to school? How will they cope in the summer heat? We asked real expat mums who’ve been there and got the sweet-potato-stained t-shirt what you need to ask yourself before starting a family in the UAE.
How will I cope without my family network?
Harshika Daryanani from India moved to Dubai 11 years ago when her son was one. She says the community spirit of Dubai is a great substitute for grandparents, aunts and cousins. “The friends we have made here have become family,” she says. Adding, “House help is also readily available which is a big bonus.” In fact, Harshika believes it’s actually easier to manage here as a mother than in other parts of the world – despite not having a traditional family network around. “One example was when I was travelling alone with my son when he was younger. The Dubai airport officials would let me pass through to the immigration counter without needing to wait in the queue. Plus, everything is super convenient here – you can get vegetables, groceries and even fully cooked fresh meals delivered straight to your home!”
While nobody can quite replace family of course – and homesickness can certainly hit harder once you have a little one in tow – the conveniences available in the UAE are rose-tinted for Annie Harvey, who moved back to her native UK with her two-year-old last year after six years in Dubai. “I had imagined that we could rely on the grandparents for childcare in the same way as we did our nanny when living in the UAE, but of course they have their own lives and want to go on holiday and so on without needing to get an ‘OK’ from us. So as it turns out we have had to arrange childcare from outside the family anyway.
“We also don’t necessarily see that much more of the family as we used when we lived abroad,” Annie continues “Maybe once every couple of weeks for a day at a time, whereas they used to come and stay with us in Dubai for several weeks at a time.”
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Will my kids be labelled ‘expat brats’?
Mum-of-two Malvika Siddharth Vaikunth and her family have lived in the USA and Australia before settling in Dubai five years ago. “My kids were not born in Dubai, but in the USA and Australia respectively, but after five years in Dubai they are entitled for sure, just by virtue of having home help – who we rely on as a family - and the semblance of living the ‘perfect life’.” However, Malvika says regular trips to see her family in India help to keep her kids grounded.
“One of the main reasons we moved to Dubai was to be closer to home in India. Having lived in the USA and Australia, we’ve never been fortunate enough to have our family live in the same city or even country as us. But in Dubai we have the luxury of being able to fly family down or visit them as it’s just three and half hours away. Visiting India gives the kids a sense of awareness of what the real world is like.” Malvika adds, “I also get them to do chores round the house and talk to them about important topics going on in the wider world.”
Harshika says that all parents all over the world risk raising brats, and the inclusive society in Dubai actually makes her kids more patient and open-minded. “There is so much more to living here than fancy cars and posh restaurants,” she says. “Our kids are actually brought up to be more tolerant and inclusive as a society, and if parenting is done right, they grow up to be grateful, rather than self-entitled brats. It all comes down to parenting - which is challenging in any part of the world!”
Will my kids have a sense of identity without citizenship?
Even if you child is born in the UAE, current laws mean they won’t be a UAE citizen. Instead, their passport will likely be from your birth country which in some cases is a place they may never have lived. Where will home be for your kids? Harshika says this is easier to navigate than you might imagine. A spate of Dubai-bashing articles in the international press have served to unite expats who have adopted the UAE as their home, and that sense of community and togetherness is palpable among expat families. “The patriotic fever is so strong here, and the love for the country so apparent that expats are actually now protective of the UAE,” says Harshika.
"The love for the country is so strong that expats are protective of the UAE"
“We absolutely dislike those articles that make people here sound like shallow socialites who only go for brunches and ladies’ nights. Additionally, the government and schools do a great job of instilling the national identity in the kids. Teaching Arabic and the activities that go on in schools and public places during National Day and Eid give a huge sense of belonging,” she adds.
This phenomenon of raising so-called ‘Third Culture Kids’ also has its up-sides, says Charlotte Iantorno, an early-years teacher who has worked in primary schools in Dubai. “I think it's definitely beneficial for a child to grow up with mixed nationalities and cultures as it teaches them respect and acceptance. I also think third culture kids more often than not seem more 'worldly wise' and instils an interest to learn more about the world and different cultures.”
Can we afford to raise kids here?
According to a recent survey by HSBC Expat Explorer, Dubai ranked 18th out of 39 countries for raising a family, but it was placed 36th for cost. One of the biggest expenditures is schooling. “Schooling is definitely a big expense here and the stress to get into the right school also is a bit intense,” says Malvika. “Nowhere else are kids moved around from school to school like here. And the fees are high.”
In fact, new insight from insurance company Zurich – Middle East, has found that the average cost of putting one child through education in the UAE from pre-school through to university costs Dh938,599, which is around US$255,749 (based on sending one child to a UK university for three years), while HSBC’s ‘The Value of Education’ study found the UAE to be the second-most expensive country for education out of 15 countries, just behind Hong Kong. Harshika adds, “It’s not just the fees, but the entire process of class trips, back to school essentials, uniforms, bags, lunch boxes etc.”
The upside is that with over 200 nationalities living in the UAE, your children will benefit from a multicultural environment and start learning Arabic from the day they start primary school, with many schools offering first-class facilities and good-quality international teachers. Although the introduction of VAT is set to rise prices further cross the board from January 2018, it looks likely that the cost of education at least will remain exempt.
Read more: 'Top money-saving tips from UAE families'
How will we cope in the summer?
Depending on the climate of your birth country, summer is usually a time to get outdoors and enjoy the sprawling school holidays in the sunshine. But with temperatures during the summer regularly hovering around the 45-degree mark in the UAE and as such simply too hot to be outside, how do parents cope? A recent survey by Turner, a division of Time Warner called Kids Compass, found that children in the region spend nearly four and a half hours every day with technology – more than double the daily one-to-two hours limit recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics. As a stay-at-home mum, Malvika is lucky that she can escape the Dubai heat for two months in the summer and bring her children, 12 and 7, home to India, which is what many expat mothers do. “We are gone for two months every summer, but there are plenty of great camps in the summer in the UAE which are life-savers.”
Of course working parents aren’t afforded this luxury, but as a result as Malvika says, nursery summer camps abound, as well as a variety of indoor entertainment options that are designed specifically to appeal to little ones over the summer. And of course, during the autumn, winter and spring months there are countless outdoor events, and long stretches of reliably clement weather in which plenty of time can be spent enjoying the park, the beach or the pool as a family. Harshika says that if you are sensible, you can easily navigate the heat as a family, “After 11 years, we have learnt to manage,” she says. Not only is everywhere from the bus stop to the cinema to the metro well and truly air conditioned, “We know when to stay indoors, and when we are outside, we are properly protected (sun block, hats, glares, water etc). Just as people in colder countries manage going from heated-indoor-place to heated-indoor-place when the weather is cold and harsh in the winter, we do the same with air-conditioned venues in the summer. It’s really no big deal.”
What do you think about raising kids in the UAE? Let us know in the comments below.
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