Raising a child is an expensive exercise for many parents, with childcare costs accounting for a big chunk of household budgets. Even before factoring in school fees, working parents in the UAE pay a significant amount to either nurseries or nannies to look after their toddlers.
About 80 per cent of families in the UAE spend between 5 per cent and a quarter of their household income on their children's education, according to a 2019 study by Dubai-based consultancy Education Intelligence Group and listings portal Property Finder, which polled 3,000 parents.
Insurance company Zurich also found in a 2017 study that educating a child in the UAE from preschool through to university can cost about Dh1 million.
Shruti Sayed, a working mother of two children aged 3 and 6, opted for a nanny rather than a nursery because she was unsure about the level of attention they would receive. Cost was another factor that influenced her decision.
"A [nursery] would have cost me between Dh4,000 to Dh5,000 per month, whereas hiring a nanny through an agency cost me Dh3,500 in 2014," she tells The National.
Although Ms Sayed initially opted for a nanny who did not stay with them, the family decided three and a half years ago to sponsor a live-in, full-time nanny because they needed more flexibility.
Visa sponsorship costs for the first year, including the refundable deposit, are usually between Dh8,000 and Dh9,000, while visa renewal costs range from Dh5,000 to Dh6,000 in the second year, says Ms Sayed.
Aside from a monthly salary of Dh2,500, the family also provides an annual ticket allowance, paid leave of one month, health insurance cover, an annual bonus and food, in addition to meeting costs for miscellaneous items such as shampoo and skincare products.
“All these costs put together, we spend between Dh3,500 to Dh4,000 on the nanny every month,” says Ms Sayed.
However, the family manages to save despite the cost of childcare. Ms Sayed, who handles the operations and sales side of the family’s investment migration consultancy, makes a monthly budget of their income and expenses and uses apps such as Spending, Paymaster and Zoho to keep tabs on finances.
“If the expenses are too high in a particular month, then we cut down on leisure costs such as shopping or dining out,” she says.
Ms Sayed says she and her husband save a quarter of their income every month.
Residents that opt for full-time nannies can also go through Tadbeer, an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation that handles all domestic and household workers, including nannies.
“You can hire a nanny directly from Tadbeer. However, costs can vary from one service centre to another, so it is best to shop around to find a package that works best for you,” says Angelica Robinson, chief executive of CloudNine Kids, a childcare and babysitting company.
“Alternatively, if you have found a nanny through recommendation, you can arrange the visa through them.”
Tadbeer requires a monthly payment towards a nanny's salary for wage protection purposes and the family can pay the balance of the salary directly to the nanny. The cost is around Dh10,000 for a two-year visa and covers medical test and Emirates ID fees and health cover.
Families in the UAE typically pay a full-time nanny between Dh2,000 and Dh4,000 a month, depending on the level of experience, qualifications and whether the nanny lives with them, Ms Robinson says.
“For live-in nannies, they can earn between Dh2,000 and Dh3,000 per month, with their own room and food provided," she says.
"For live-out nannies, they typically earn between Dh3,000 and Dh4,000 per month, including food, accommodation and transport costs. Whether you have hired a live-in or live-out nanny, it is legally your responsibility to provide the visa and cover all employment costs.”
Nannies are entitled to 30 days of paid annual leave, a return flight ticket home after two years (many families provide this yearly) that can cost as much as Dh3,000, depending on the destination and the time of year, as well as food at home or an allowance for groceries of about Dh300 to Dh400 a month, according to Ms Robinson.
“Some families also offer extra time off for public holidays and a gratuity or end-of-service benefits. However, this is not mandatory.”
CloudNine Kids provides families with part-time qualified nannies who do not want to be burdened with the hassle of employment and visa costs.
Packages on a live-out basis for eight to 12 hours of work a day start from Dh1,920 a week or Dh6,720 a month while daily rates are from Dh53 an hour for a minimum of four hours.
Zena Daher, a Lebanese project manager with a retail company in Dubai, hired a part-time nanny to look after her daughter, Tiana, 4, after school.
Although her daughter has attended a nursery since she was six months old, the closure of preschools in February due to Covid-19 forced Ms Daher to hire a nanny.
She pays her part-time nanny Dh2,500 a month for about five hours' work a day.
The nursery charged Dh4,200 a month and this included full-day supervision, daily meals and activities such as language and music classes. During summer and winter breaks, the fee also covers camp costs at the nursery.
“A nanny is more cost-effective. However, I wanted my daughter to spend time with her peers and qualified professionals to take care of her as opposed to just one person and therefore decided to enrol her in a day care,” says Ms Daher.
She is also exploring part-time nursery options that charge Dh3,000 a term or Dh1,000 a month for afternoon activities alone.
The family manages to save by allocating fixed amounts for childcare expenses, household bills, groceries, contingency funds and entertainment.
Ms Daher and her husband spend 10 to 15 per cent of their combined salary on childcare.
“We manage to save because we don’t go out as much as we did before having the baby. We eat out once a week and order in once a week. We try to shop with discounts when available,” says Ms Daher.
Nursery fees can start at Dh20,000 and exceed Dh50,000 a year, depending on variables such as length of terms and whether staff is qualified. Some nurseries will offer discounted summer or spring camps, free uniforms, transport and reduced registration fees.
Parents are advised to ensure the fees are within their budgets. It is also worth considering if activities are included in the basic fee or charged separately, according to whichschooladvisor.com, an independent school review website.
Some companies pay for school fees, but this usually begins when a child starts primary school. As a result, parents still need to plan for childcare and education costs until a child reaches the age of 5 or 6, says Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching.
She says that it is usually cheaper for families to sponsor a nanny rather than hire one through an agency. However, an agency offers other benefits such as arranging visas, managing sick leave and providing annual leave cover.
"Shop around for nurseries; prices vary wildly, and a higher price does not necessarily mean a higher standard of care and education," she tells The National.
“Ask the nursery for a payment plan to make it easier to manage cash flow. It will not reduce the cost, but if you do not have savings to cover the full cost, it will take a lot of pressure off each term when the next payment is due.”
Families with more than one child can also ask the nursery for sibling discounts. Some nurseries offer sibling discounts of up to 10 per cent, according to Ms Glynn.
Parents looking to manage childcare costs can review their current expenses and cut back on subscriptions, expensive coffees, lunches and eating out.
Ms Glynn advises families to do proper meal planning and shop in cheap supermarkets to save on grocery bills.
“It is amazing how small savings can add up very quickly. Shop for groceries online as we tend to buy less impulsively online than being in the store,” Ms Glynn says.
With rent accounting for a big chunk of residents' expenses in the UAE, they can negotiate with their landlord to reduce it or move to another property to take advantage of lower rents.
“Entertaining can be expensive, but there are many options such as parks, beach days and hiking, which cost very little compared with theme parks and expensive play centres. If you go to theme parks regularly, get season passes so that you can save over the year and attend guilt-free after approximately the third visit,” says Ms Glynn.