While having a baby is considered to be one of the most natural events in life, wise parents-to-be seldom do so without careful consideration and forward planning - especially when faced with giving birth in a foreign country, away from the familiarity of one's homeland. However, as the UAE continues to develop as one of the leading health care providers in the region, it is increasingly common for expatriate parents to choose the Emirates as the birthplace of their offspring rather than make the trip home for care and delivery. Without comprehensive research into the available options, and awareness of the legalities involved, starting a family here can be a daunting experience. But, as Claire and Donald McInnes explain, it can also be a viable alternative to what is available at home. Mr and Mrs McInnes moved to Dubai from Melbourne in 2003. They were newlyweds looking for an overseas adventure, and the UAE seemed to fit the bill. Little did they know that bill would amount to nearly Dh45,000. In 2006, at 33, Mrs McInnes became pregnant with their first child, and while the couple were ecstatic about the prospect of becoming parents, they had to decide whether to stay in the UAE or return home to Australia for the birth of their child. Three years on, after the birth of both Grace Ella and their second child, Samuel James, the family is pleased with their decision to have both children in the UAE. "With reliable advice from a friend who used to work as an obstetrician in one of the UAE's leading private hospitals, we were very confident that the quality of health care in Dubai was of a high standard, so the final decision of whether or not to have the child in the UAE rested on the financial feasibility of both options," Mrs McInnes explains. "Our combined disposable income in the UAE is almost three times more than what we would earn in Australia, and with the added bonus of 45 days of paid maternity leave it ultimately made more sense to go ahead with the pregnancy in the UAE." Despite having a relatively comprehensive health insurance plan through their employer, the McInneses chose to upgrade their cover. "It is common for health insurance to only cover the cost of complications to a pregnancy, but as we were hoping for an unproblematic experience we knew we had to pay to upgrade our existing plan to cover the costs associated with normal pregnancy," Mrs McInnes says."This worked out at an additional Dh5,000 (US$1,360) a year." Once the children were born, their insurance premium increased to almost Dh10,000 a year, which made a considerable dent in their budget. Having made the decision to go with a community obstetrician at a private clinic rather than take out a maternity package directly with the hospital, as each pregnancy progressed, Mr and Mrs McInnes were paying for everything in advance from their own pocket. Claiming back up to 80 per cent of their expenses from the insurance provider, it took anything up to four weeks for the transaction to be processed. Paying between Dh250 and Dh300 for each consultation at the clinic and up to Dh2,000 for each consecutive scan, the total cost for the McInneses' ante-natal care came to almost Dh9,000. Ante-natal classes are not commonly covered by private health insurance, so it's up to the individual parents to decide whether this is something they will pursue. "My husband and I attended ante-natal classes at the hospital before the birth of both of my children and we would highly recommend the experience for any first-time parents," Mrs McInnes says. "Having an idea of what to expect helps to alleviate anxiety before the birth." This particular two-day course at the hospital cost Dh1,800. Once the pregnancy has been determined it's common for the expectant parents to sign up for a maternity package at a hospital. The prices vary depending on which hospital you choose but at a private facility you can expect to pay Dh10,000 for a normal delivery with a two-day stay including initial postnatal care, and up to Dh20,000 for an elective C-section with a four-day hospital stay. A similar maternity package at a Government hospital should cost between 50 to 80 per cent less depending on the form of delivery. Most hospitals will require full payment in advance when signing up for the package. Mrs McInnes explains: "We wanted our community obstetrician to be there to deliver our babies so our maternity package was reduced to Dh6,500." Once the baby is born, there are numerous health care-related expenses that occur during the first few months of their lives. Inoculations are not only expensive but they are often excluded from your health insurance plan, so make sure you allow for this in your calculations. "I always have Dh1,000 in my purse when I visit the clinic for vaccinations," Mrs McInnes says. "The children often require more than one vaccination at a time and at approximately Dh300 per shot, things quickly add up." Free community follow-up care for new babies is not available for expats in the UAE. Most mothers seek advice from well-baby clinics available at most surgeries in the UAE. For a Dh90 consultation fee, the nurse will administer inoculations as well as discuss day-to-day problems and keep track of your baby's weight. With an expanding family comes the necessity for additional living space. And as we all know, more square footage means more money. Mrs McInnes explains: "For an additional Dh85,000 a year, we upgraded from a one-bedroom flat in Bur Dubai to a large two-bedroom flat in Jumeirah." Also, in order to accommodate all the car seats, booster cushions and baby-accessories you may find the need for a larger family car. As a foreigner in the UAE you will be required to legalise your child's existence in the country. An Arabic birth certificate costs Dh700 which then needs translating into English for an additional administrative fee. Application for citizenship from your country of domicile will cost around Dh500 depending on your embassy requirements and a passport will cost between Dh300 and Dh400 per child, with an additional Dh300 for a three-year residence visa. Kitting out your house with baby-friendly appliances and appropriate accessories can add up but with some forward planning and cost-cutting strategies you should be able to afford all the necessary gear. To cut costs, the couple will often buy in bulk and purchase any large items at discounted rates during the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises. For example, Grace's car seat cost Dh600 while Sam's snazzy, three-wheeler pram was on sale at the Dubai Shopping Festival for Dh1,200. A baby stroller can cost up to Dh1,000 while a good quality baby-harness can set you back over Dh500. "We are also about to invest in a double-buggy from Good Baby in Karama for Dh1,750 which is much cheaper than those on offer at the boutique stores in the malls," Mrs McInnes says. "Leaving the house with two children in tow will become less of a circus." While Grace's colourful Ikea cot was reasonably priced at Dh600, Sam's new state-of-the-art cot will cost almost Dh2,000. Changing tables can vary in size and similarly in price but you should expect to pay at least Dh300 for a basic model from a general furniture store. Ikea is also great for child-proofing mechanisms and the McInneses have invested in a Dh200 safety gate that helps keep their children out of harm's way. "We spend an average of about Dh80 to Dh100 a week on nappies, and the baby food can be very expensive, with 400g of milk formula costing up to Dh100 per can," Mrs McInnes says. To keep the food bill on track, why not cook up a large batch of fresh vegetables and meats and freeze them into individual portions, ensuring a healthy diet for your child while saving pennies along the way? Children grow out of clothing at a phenomenal rate so stocking up on larger clothes meant for older children during the sales is a wise investment. "I would recommend buying good quality clothes that last and wear well, saving you money in the long run," Mrs McInnes explains. Finding suitable childcare can be challenging and can claim a large chunk of your budget. "In Australia childcare for two children can cost up to Dh2,000 a week, which is far more than we pay at the moment," Mrs McInnes explains. They have enrolled their daughter in the Small World nursery in Jumeirah which costs Dh6,300 per term for four mornings a week. The nursery also charges an additional Dh1,300 for their yearly registration and medical fees. Employing full-time home help will cost you up to Dh2,000 a month including sponsorship fees. Where and how you choose to have your baby is very much a personal decision. While this couple were confident that having their children in the UAE was the right decision, it's certainly not for everyone. Whether or not you have insurance to help cover the cost of having a baby, always keep a running total of what you spend along the way. The paperwork can easily pile up, causing confusion when it comes to knowing when to expect your claims to be paid or when payments should be debited from your account. Advance planning and careful research are essential to ensuring a hassle-free experience during this exciting time in your life.