Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

A little older, a little wiser and on the move again

It's all very well moving to a new city as a solo expat. But throw children and families into the equation and there's so much more to worry about.

They say that change is as good as holiday. Moving countries, however, takes that old adage to a whole other level. And holiday is not a word that I'd use to describe it, despite the change it brings.

It's been almost five years since my daughter and I moved countries; the last time being from Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi.

That marked the first time my daughter moved countries (and houses, for that matter), having been born in the former British colony.

At just five, it was a difficult, confusing experience for her. Not only was she leaving behind all that she knew, she was moving to a city she'd never visited, let alone heard of.

Before that, it was just me. Moving from Australia to Papua New Guinea seemed relatively simple in comparison. Call in the shippers, get the paperwork done, wait for your visa to arrive and start your new job.

It was the same when I moved from Papua New Guinea to Hong Kong. Another call to the shippers and another wait for the visa to come through.

All I really had to think about was myself.

When I arrived in Hong Kong with a couple of suitcases and a job contract in tow (while the rest of my belongings took the slow route), all I had to worry about was checking into my hotel and negotiating my way to the office. Of course, opening a bank account was on the list, as was finding a decent and affordable place to rent.

Those were the days when I travelled light. By the time I left Hong Kong, I had a whole lot more than when I'd arrived. Child included.

So there was much to consider when we came to Abu Dhabi. And, in hindsight, a lot of lessons to learn, too.

It's all very well moving to a new city as a solo expat. But throw children and families into the equation and there's so much more to worry about.

Getting my daughter into a good school was at the top of my list, although I had no idea just how hard that would be.

Thanks to the huge influx of expats who arrived in the city in 2007 and 2008 - stretching its infrastructure, housing supply and schools to the limit - there were no places available. Anywhere. And the prices were astronomical (some still are) for the quality of education and facilities that were on offer.

It took a couple of years, but we did find a great school for her. And I could finally breathe again. The same goes for where we live.

Looking back, I know I was guilty of not paying enough attention to the high emotional and financial cost of moving to the UAE.

Sure, some things were out of my control, such as finding affordable education and housing (although that has since eased).

I was consumed by the practicalities of the move rather than the impact it would have on our finances and on our emotional well-being (at least in the short term).

Those practicalities included deciding what to bring and what to sell or give away, getting quotes from the relocation specialists to pack our belongings and ship them to our next destination, finding a place in a school before we left, who to bank with, buying a car, finding a nanny and a place to live. The cost of living and tackling a new job were up there, too.

Then there's the people you leave behind; your support network, your friends and even family, especially if it's your first relocation abroad.

It's difficult on many levels, but that's the price an expat family pays in return for career opportunities, attractive salary packages and the chance to make some serious savings for the future.

On the flipside, many of us know that, as expats, we've had some amazing life-changing experiences.

According to HSBC's Expat Explorer Survey 2012, the financial benefits are one of the top motivators for people to move abroad for work.

Unfortunately, the survey doesn't look at the costs involved in setting up in a new country, although if you have a good relocation package, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Then again, I remember reading some time ago that it can take up to two years to recover financially from an international relocation, even if your employer is paying for your move.

If you haven't already guessed, my daughter and I are preparing to leave the UAE.

And you'll be happy to know that I've learnt my lessons during our time here.

In fact, I've just heard back from the school we were hoping she will be able to attend. They've confirmed a place for her, so we are off to a good start - despite everything else that has to be done before we leave.

But I'll fill you in on all that next week.



Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 The Greens, villas: Q1 no change. 3BR - Dh210-250,000. 4BR - Dh210-260,000. 5BR - Dh220-300,000. Q1 2013-Q1 2014 5% rise. Pawan Singh / The National

In pictures: Where Dubai rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014

Find out how rental prices in the prime locations in Dubai have altered during the first three months of the year and the current rates you will pay according to data provided by Asteco.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

 The cooling towers of the Temelin nuclear power plant near the Tyn nad Vltavou in Czech Republic. The country wants to continue expanding nuclear energy capacity despite cancelling a tender to build two new units. David W Cerny / Reuters

In pictures: Best business images for the week to April 17, 2014

Here are some of the best business images for the week to April 17, 2014.

 A sign points the way to an outdoor market popular with German visitors on the Polish side of the German-Polish border. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

In pictures: A decade since the European Union went east

May 1 will mark 10 years since the European Union expanded east, taking in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states as new members. And though the border region between Germany and Poland is flourishing with trade and cultural exchange, the open border has also brought a sharp rise in crime.

 The Wind, Energy, Technology and Environment Exhibition takes place from April 14 to April 16. Above, the Dewa showroom during last year’s Wetex. Jaime Puebla / The National

April corporate and economic calendar for the UAE and overseas

From Cityscape to Wetex to stock-market holidays to nations reporting first-quarter GDP figures, here is our helpful calendar of April's business events in the UAE and internationally.

 Get the latest information on credit cards, bank accounts and loan products in the UAE. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Rates report: Latest on UAE loans, accounts and credit cards

Souqamal.com brings you the latest interest rates on banking products in the UAE.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National