15 November 2018Last updated


Expat families living apart

With rising rent prices, school fees and an increasingly competitive job market, what happens when it no longer makes sense for your whole family to live in the UAE? We speak to two women who’ve returned to their home countries with their kids, leaving their husbands to work in Dubai

By <i>Aquarius</i> team
1 Nov 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Joanna England with her family.

    Source:Supplied Image 1 of 3
  • Source:Supplied Image 2 of 3
  • Eight months ago Joanna moved back to the UK with the three children, while Nick remains in Dubai to develop his photography business.

    Source:Supplied Image 3 of 3

Joanna England

Time spent in Dubai: 16 years

Enjoyment factor: 10/10 – we had a great time

Reasons for moving back: Schooling; better financial security; ensuring the children have roots

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Annmarie Hawes



Time spent in Dubai: Almost seven years

Enjoyment factor: 8/10 – all in all it was good but we had our ups and downs

Reasons for moving back: I’m pregnant with baby number two, and it makes more financial sense for us to be in the UK while my husband earns in Dubai

“I came to Dubai when I was 29 and I met my now-husband Craig after three years of being here. We were friends for a year and then finally got together. Very early on we decided we wanted to have kids and we were lucky that it happened almost immediately. However, it also came as a bit of a shock since we hadn’t had much couple time together before we became parents.

“We were in the UK for Christmas when I had the baby – our son, Tenniel (23 months), was five weeks premature, so it was unexpected. I stayed in the UK for nearly six months afterwards while Craig went back to his job in Dubai, so he wasn’t really involved in Tenniel’s earlier days. Then when I returned to Dubai with Tenniel it was hard because Craig had to learn how to be a father very quickly.

“We decided we didn’t want to have a nanny, so when Tenniel was eight months old we put him into nursery, which was shortly before I started back at work part time. But six months or so later, I fell pregnant again.

“From early on, I had a rough pregnancy second time round – a lot of morning sickness. It meant that Craig had to be both mum and dad, which was hard on top of his full-time job and it caused a lot of issues – because my first pregnancy was so smooth, I think he didn’t understand it was as bad as I was saying it was. I started bleeding and doctors were telling me to take it easy, and I had to put pressure on him to step up – but with us both working and no help at home, things were difficult. Just before I got to 20 weeks the doctor said, ‘I don’t think you should fly – if you start bleeding, you might lose the baby and you might die as well.’
At that point it hit home for us both how critical the situation was.

“I said I wanted to go home and be around my support network of family and friends. We were living in a one-bed apartment and we’d had a discussion before I got pregnant the second time about how we couldn’t afford to have another child in Dubai. We’d also agreed that we wanted them educated from primary school in the UK; nursery hours in Dubai are OK, but what would we do when they go to school and need picking up at 2.30pm? Also, we wouldn’t be able to survive on one salary – would we have to pay for nursery/ schooling and summer camps so we could both work full time?

“We decided it would be best to come back to the UK, where schooling is free and I have a supportive family who can help out with childcare. But the issue is the job market in the UK – Craig is worried about finding a good job, but at the same time he doesn’t want to be away from us. I am now six months pregnant and I moved back to the UK with Tenniel just a couple of weeks ago, so it’s all very new. We know it’s only a temporary thing, but it will be until next summer at the earliest.

“It definitely makes sense for us though. Because the UK government is encouraging mums to go back to work, they are giving out childcare vouchers – when Tenniel is three, I’ll get 30 hours’ worth of childcare vouchers per week. To be fair, nursery is a bit pricier in the UK than in Dubai, but 30 hours is a lot – more than three days of childcare.

“In the UK, I’m not worried about having a support network – I’ve always had a strong link with family and friends. The issue for me is the kids missing out on time with their Dad. We’ll have to keep up Skype and I’m sending lots of photos. Relationship-wise, you miss out on the intimacy, but I think Craig is sad he’ll also miss out on being with the kids and seeing them grow, although he’s going to come out quite regularly.

“My dad was in the RAF and he was away a lot when I was a kid. We didn’t have Skype or a phone; we would record cassette tapes and send them. So it’s not that alien for me to be apart – but it is for Craig because his family was all together.

“Now Craig is alone in Dubai he can focus on work and saving some money. It was getting unsafe for me to be in Dubai with a high-risk pregnancy and no help. I can’t lift my son out of the bath or into the highchair – whereas my parents and Craig’s parents can support me over the next few months.

“There is a girl I met in Dubai when we were both pregnant first time round. As soon as she found out she was pregnant a second time, she went back to New Zealand. When I announced I was going back to the UK, she emailed me and said ‘You are doing the right thing. You’ll need your family around you’.”

By <i>Aquarius</i> team

By Aquarius team