After spending 16 unforgettable years in Dubai the England family were finally convinced to leave for a whole host of reasons, not least factors such as schooling, better financial security and ensuring their children had roots. Here mum Joanna describes their experience…

“Moving back home to England without my husband after 16 years in Dubai was a fairly scary prospect. But eight months in, we don’t regret it for a second. 

“The spiralling costs and stressful working hours in the UAE motivated our decision. My husband Nick (a photographer) and I always saw our time in Dubai as an opportunity to save money for the future. But in recent years, with escalating school fees, rental hikes and other rising costs, that plan had become increasingly difficult to fulfil. So we decided it was time for a change. As Nick works for himself and has a good client list in the UAE, it made perfect financial sense for him to continue working in Dubai and for the children (Jack, 10, Rupert, seven and Isabella, three) and I to go back home by ourselves. 

“Once we’d set a date to leave, everything fell into place and it was really pretty easy. We booked the shipping company on the recommendation of a friend, and we managed to get our two older children into a lovely village school in Suffolk.

“The children’s education worked out well. There are fewer than 80 children in the boys’ new school, and just seven to nine children in each class, so they get loads of teacher attention and are faring much better academically than they were. They’ve made friends very quickly too – as have I.  

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“There were a few bumps in the road in the very beginning though. We arrived home in March this year – and it was freezing! I wore my coat indoors for two weeks because I couldn’t shake off the shivers. Our Dubai rescue cat found the transition stressful and developed bald patches – but he soon embraced the new lifestyle too. The children, of course, just saw it all as a huge adventure. And once our furniture arrived, we moved into our house so that life could really begin.

“Being on my own with the kids has been an easy transition. Before I left Dubai, some mums asked me, ‘How will you cope without a maid?’ – the answer to that is ‘so much better!’ I worked way too hard in Dubai so that we could keep on top of our finances. And I hated having to leave the children with nannies. Since I’ve become the main caregiver, they are more self-sufficient and responsible. They are happier and better behaved too. 

“Occasionally I ask them if they miss Dubai and they usually name friends, or mention the beach or our desert camping trips. But they’ve settled well. They love the outdoors and are fascinated by the seasons. They are much more physically active now and spend far more time exploring the neighbourhood on their bikes, for example, instead of playing video games because it’s too hot to go outside.

“Living apart has been hard though. Nick and I had never spent more than a week away from each other since we first began dating 12 years ago. He is a very hands-on father too, so that was a big change for him. Currently he only visits for a week or so every two or three months – although we are planning to have more frequent trips next year. The reunions are wonderful but the goodbyes are tough. I won’t sugar-coat that. However, now we’re used to being by ourselves, we fall into the ‘just mummy again’ routine very quickly. 

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“Technology is brilliant too. We talk every day via Skype or phone and we WhatsApp all the time. Obviously it’s not the same, but it helps a lot.

“It isn’t for everyone, but we are so happy we’ve taken this step. We are far less stressed and have goals that we will fulfil in a much shorter time frame than if we’d stayed on in Dubai. It’s been a very positive move for our family.”

This article was originally published in Aquarius magazine in 2015.