Just moved to Abu Dhabi with young children? Here's your ultimate guide
Many of your friendships will be made at the pool or in soft-play centres, the UAE equivalent of neighbourhood playgrounds
Moving to the UAE with young children is perhaps the easiest way to do it. One problem with moving is the difficulty of making new friends, and children provide an easy pretext, as well as a need to get out of the house before frustrations run high. Plus, the UAE is great for young families. Many people are able to afford household help that they wouldn’t have in their home countries, and the family-centric atmosphere – being able to bring young children to restaurants, hotels with dedicated spaces for little ones and a general feeling of delight rather than annoyance about small children – is a breath of fresh air.
Meeting people and things to do
Because most people have been new to the UAE at some point, it’s easy to make friends. In Abu Dhabi, The Club, usually known as the British Club but open to all nationalities, is a great place to start. Two years ago, they refurbished what they call the Family Hub, so that a small soft-play area sits next to a cafe. The Club also has a children’s pool and activities throughout the year.
Many of your friendships will be made at the pool or in soft-play centres – the UAE equivalent of back gardens and playgrounds. In the capital, Little World in Nation Towers is a favourite, with a variety of activities beyond climbing frames. If your children are older, there is a climbing wall at Adventure HQ in Yas Mall. It’s worth buying a season’s pass to Yas Waterworld: it may seem pricey, but the children have a blast inside and you will end up going there enough times that it’s worth the initial cost.
The Abu Dhabi Children’s Library at the Cultural Foundation of Abu Dhabi, next to Qasr Al Hosn, will also be a boon to parents on-island. Louvre Abu Dhabi also has a great children’s section with hands-on activities, and Manarat Al Saadiyat runs drop-in art activities every weekend.
The capital’s fast urban development works in your favour: in the five years since my family moved to Abu Dhabi, we benefited from Louvre Abu Dhabi, Warehouse421, Qasr Al Hosn and Warner Bros – that’s a pretty incredible flowering of activities.
Carrefour and Lulu deliver, which is a lifesaver. Waitrose here is even more expensive than the UK, but could be most convenient depending on where you live. Spinneys has the best meat, while Carrefour in Yas Mall offers the best shopping experience.
It’s hard when the working parent starts his or her job immediately after arriving, leaving the partner to build a new life from scratch
The UAE has its own schedule of vaccinations. You’ll have to pay for vaccinations that are off the UAE schedule, and you will have to go to a government clinic for the vaccinations on the UAE schedule (unless you pay for them yourself).
I recommend King’s College Hospital and Harley Street. If you are British, many doctors are ex-NHS and will follow the schedule in your little red medical book.
Most are of a high standard, but often have long waiting lists, so get in touch with them as soon as possible. Bright Beginnings is a long-time favourite, with two branches in the main city and another on Saadiyat. Redwood Montessori Nursery, particularly in Saadiyat, is another good option. Many parents also rave about the International Montessori Nursery in Khalifa City.
Where you live and dealing with loneliness
Finally, a word of advice: don’t get discouraged if you get lonely. It’s hard when the working parent starts his or her job immediately after arriving, leaving the partner to build a new life from scratch. There’s nothing like talking about these changes with others in the same boat, so even if you are shy or sceptical, it’s worth getting out there.
My best piece of advice for moving with children has to do with where you decide to live. Moving to a compound or a building with shared facilities that people actually use will improve your life immeasurably. Compounds such as Saadiyat Beach Residences, the St Regis apartments, the new building on Reem, the houses in Reef off-island and the new Yas developments have that most wonderful of things: community.
Updated: September 16, 2019 05:10 PM