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Moving to Dubai: 22 Things Only UAE Parents Will Understand
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Parenting has to be one of the most equalising experiences in the world. Whether you’re an average Joe, or an A-list celebrity, there’s nothing like nappy changes, toddler tantrums and the school run to bring you firmly down to Earth.

But although many parenting experiences are universal, moving to Dubai introduces some aspects of raising a child that you will only understand if you’ve been there and done it.

From the quirks of the education system and the challenges of parenting in a desert, to the nuances of raising a family as an expat away from home, here’s our list of the top things only UAE mums and dads will understand…

Moving to Dubai means…Having a Baby 5-Star Celebrity Style

First up, let’s start with the very beginning: childbirth. Having a baby in the UAE is most likely nothing like having a baby in your home country. Step number one is picking your doctor – and this can be a bit like scrolling through a contacts list of celebrity influencers. There are certain ‘rock star’ OB-GYNs who get mentioned on all the mums’ messaging forums, have their own social media followings, and get booked up months in advance. You also get to choose which hotel you are going to give birth in. Sorry, did we say ‘hotel’? We mean hospital of course, but with the luxurious private rooms, landmark views and valet parking it can often be hard to tell. While the medical care is still top notch, we recommend not comparing birth notes too closely with your friends from home (they might get jealous).

 

Moving to Dubai: luxurious hospitals

A luxurious hospital room, like many in Dubai

The Many Nuances of Nanny Culture

Next up: Nannies.

Affordable home help really is one of the most game-changing things about parenting in the UAE. While not everyone will have a nanny of course, there’s no doubt you will have friends who do, and these wonderful women can make parenting not just much easier, but possible, for working couples who are raising their children away from the support systems of their own families back at home. Either way, whether you have help or not, every UAE parent will come across nanny culture in some form; from the lovely ladies accompanying their wards to the park, to the nanny-employee dramas recounted on Facebook forums, it’s just part and parcel of UAE parenting life.

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You can read just one example of the issues that come with sharing parents with a nanny here: Help! I’m jealous of my baby’s nanny

Moving to Dubai means…Sending your Child to ‘Big School’ at the Age of Three

One of the quirks about the UAE education system is that children start going to school much earlier than in most countries. Although compulsory education does not begin in the UAE until the age of 6 years, it’s very common for schools to start taking in children from Foundation Stage 1 or Pre-KG, when they are only three years old. This means you have the choice between keeping them in nursery, or starting them  at ‘big school’. Which is better? There are pros and cons to each – find out more here: “How to choose between a nursery or school for your child”.

Why Some People put Newborns on a School Waiting List

There is a plethora of excellent school options in the UAE, but as the population in the UAE rises, the best schools are increasingly becoming full. In fact, there are certain schools that are so popular that you’ll need to make sure you sign up your child well in advance – so much so that we have even heard of couples applying to some schools when their child has only just been born!

This phenomenon has toned down somewhat, with most schools now only accepting applications one or two years before the enrolment date – but it still pays to do your research well in advance.

You can find help navigating all these issues here: When do I start to look for a school in the UAE?

Moving to Dubai means…Eye-wateringly Early School Start Times

Something many parents who are new to the UAE balk at is school start times. School days in the UAE start early. In fact they start very early when compared with the norm in many other countries around the world; although individual schools vary, the majority of private and public UAE school starts are from around 7.30am, with arrival times from 7am not uncommon.

Compare that to Finland – frequently lauded for its successful education system – where classes tend to start between 9am and 9.45am; or the UK, US, India and Australia – where classes usually start between 8am and 9am.

It’s great for getting a start on the day, but it does mean that you have to be very disciplined about bedtimes to ensure children get enough sleep.

You can get advice on the best approach to this here: Is your child getting enough sleep for their age?

Moving to Dubai: Early Mornings

Be prepared to consume a LOT of coffee

Why Desert Dwellers need Umbrellas

UAE residents would hardly ever have the need for an umbrella, right? Wrong; if you’ve ever run blazing gauntlet of sizzling sunshine at school pick-up time, you’ll know that umbrellas can be just as crucial in the hot desert sunshine as in a drenching downpour.

…And sweaters

It might be toasty outside, but it’s often frosty inside thanks to vigorous AC systems – which can often mean little ones leaving their classrooms with freezing cold fingers. The solution? Undershirts and jumpers and all the accessories you’d associate with a country that’s 4 degrees outside rather than 44.

The Sense of Safety

It can be impossible for visitors to understand how some people will not only feel safe enough to leave their cars unlocked, they will even leave them with the engine running to keep the AC going while they do pick-up. Want to reserve your table while you go and order a coffee? Leave your iPhone there to signal that the table is use. While we wouldn’t recommend doing any of this, the fact that it is so common is testament to how much safer the UAE is compared to our home countries, and it’s certainly a reason why many of us choose to stay here long-term.

…And the worry that your kids are growing up too sheltered

As delightful as the UAE bubble is, it will inevitably burst at some point when your children get older and travel outside of the country or go to university abroad. Street wisdom is not generally one of the things that children learn while at school in the UAE, so parents may find themselves worrying about the opposite of what parents in other countries might worry about – have your children been exposed to enough risky situations, or are they too sheltered?

The 4.5 Day Week

Introduced in 2022, the UAE’s 4.5 day week was an innovative and progressive move towards work-life balance and prioritising family. While we love the concept, we also know that UAE parents are the only people who can understand the complicated intricacy of arranging your day around Friday’s half-day pick-up (don’t forget to avoid the prayer time traffic!). Read more: The UAE’s 4.5 day week.

Moving to Dubai means…Embracing The Concept of a Rain Day

Do you remember that thrilling feeling when school was cancelled due to snow when you were little, when literally you were so snowed in you could barely open the front door, let alone have a chance of digging your car out of a snow drift to get to school anyway.

Some people might be surprised to realise that a rainy day in the UAE can be as exciting and disruptive as a snow day in some other countries. While there are only a handful of rainy days per year, when they do happen they can be dramatic (as evidenced by recent floods and lengthy school closures!) – this mainly because the buildings and roads are generally not set up to drain rainwater in the way that countries with heavier rainfall are. This means that roads can be flooded and school does sometimes gets cancelled.

So a Rain Day really can be the UAE equivalent of a Snow Day in cooler climes!

Moving to Dubai

Rain can mean school closures in Dubai

 

Moving to Dubai means…Answering The Most Difficult Question of All!

Expat parents can find it super hard to answer when children ask the question: “Mum, where am I from?”. With so many cross-cultural and mixed-nationality families, the question can be complex in itself – but when children have also only lived in the UAE their whole lives, that adds an extra layer of complication. It’s all part of raising third culture kids!

How do you Choose Which Curriculum?!

With such melting pot of cultures in the UAE, there is also a surprising number of curriculum choices to choose from – a conundrum not usually faced by our peers back in our home countries. British? American? IB? CBSE? MOE? Canadian? Chinese? The choice is yours…

Moving to Dubai means…Every Day is a Holiday!

Another by-product of the cultural melting pot is that it can sometimes seem like every day is another dress-up day for one celebratory festival or other. It’s wonderful for children to experience such diversity, and schools will, and do, wholeheartedly commemorate all the global religious and cultural festivals with equal gusto – from Eid-Al-Fitr and Eid-Al-Adha, to Diwali, Holi, Christmas and all of the other international celebrations. Yes, in the UAE, every day is a holiday!

Your Five-year-old may well Speak Much More Arabic than You Do

With Arabic being a compulsory subject in schools, it’s common for children to start learning the language from a very young age. This is a wonderful benefit and USP for children going to school in the UAE. However, be prepared!  It does mean that, if you are not a native speaker, your child may well converse better in Arabic than you do – even when he or she is just in primary school.

The Struggle when your Child’s Best Friend Leaves the Country

A difficult part of expat life is how transient it is. Friendships can be intensely important when you are away from family – making it all the more heartbreaking when those friends leave. For children it can be even tougher when their best school mate leaves away – but it is all part of building the open-minded resilience that should hopefully help them thrive later in life.

Moving to Dubai means…Pixelated Grandparents

With so many expat families living far away from their families, it’s quite possible that your littlest ones might have seen more of grandma or grandpa through the computer or phone screen on video calls rather than in person.

Moving to Dubai means…Being Spoilt for Choice when it Comes to Education

Choosing between schools can be like choosing between 5 star hotels – facilities are all so good: “oh we decided not to go with so and so school because it only had one swimming pool”.

Umm…. Reality check!!

Moving to Dubai means…Your Child has a Favourite Brunch

Or they’ve tried lobster, or sushi, or both. You learn quickly that five-star living includes the children in the UAE.

Jaw-dropping Birthday Parties

In the UAE some kids have birthday parties that would rival your 18th, 21st and 30th put together. And don’t forget that awkward moment when you’re child’s party bag gift is better than the actual present you bought the birthday girl or boy…

Moving to Dubai, Kids party

Toddler yacht party…anyone?!

Turbo-charged Kids’ Entertainment

The UAE is a playground for both adults and children, with families able to choose between the beach, park, pool, water park, theme park or snow skiing on any given day…

and, last but not least,

Moving to Dubai means…Accepting The Tyranny of Sticky Socks 

Anyone who’s ever entertained children during the UAE summer will know about the crucial importance of sticky socks when it comes to kids’ indoor play areas – and are bound to have a drawer full of them (quite literally) as a result…

Over to you…

Do you have a story to share of just how upside down, wonderful or simply eye-popping being a parent in the UAE can be? Share it with me at [email protected] or join our Facebook discission on Parents United UAE

© SchoolsCompared.com. A WhichMedia Group publication. 2024 – 2025. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of SchoolsCompared.com. Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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