Expats find raising children more challenging in the Middle East

by Ray Clancy on November 8, 2012

Many expat children in the Middle East struggle with social integration

Expats raising children in the Middle East face a more challenging environment that those living and working in other parts of the world, a survey has found.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are the most challenging, according to the HSBC 2012 Expat Explorer survey, ranking in the bottom half of this the Raising Children Abroad league table.

Social integration is one of the areas where expat parents in the Middle East reported their children had most difficulty. Six out of 10 expat parents in Saudi Arabia reported that the social integration of their children had become worse since relocating, as did 40% of those in Kuwait and 34% in the UAE, all of which is well above average of 26%.

With poor social integration comes a higher propensity for expat children in the Middle East to spend more time playing video games and watching TV. In Saudi Arabia, nearly half, 47%, of children spend more time playing video games than they did in their home country. In the UAE it is 44% and Kuwait 33%.

The region also ranks among the highest for the amount of time spent watching TV, with Saudi Arabia taking the top spot with 63%, closely followed by the UAE and Kuwait both at 48%. This is compared to just 31% on average.

A possible explanation for this may be the severe temperatures that are common in the Middle East outside of the winter months where temperatures can often reach 40 degrees Celsius.

‘The need to keep children indoors and away from the scorching heat could be a factor in the increasing likelihood of watching TV and playing video games. Perhaps as a consequence of the limited social integration and need to concentrate on indoor activities, expat children in the Middle East are likely to be missing home,’ the report says.

When it comes to childcare costs, expat parents in the Middle East are most likely to report an increase since relocation, especially in the UAE (77%), Saudi Arabia (70%) and Kuwait (67%) which forms the top three nations across all expat locations for this.

Expat parents in the UAE in particular see the cost of children’s education (86%) and the overall cost of raising children (87%) being more expensive when compared to the expat parents’ home country.

The economic outlook across most Middle Eastern countries is positive and the region is increasingly a place expats enjoy living. But this trend is not mirrored across every Middle Eastern nation.

Expats in Bahrain paint a different picture from those in the rest of the Middle East across a range of factors. Just over one in ten (13%) expats believe Bahrain is heading in the right direction while 26% believes the country is off on the wrong track.

In addition, while the economic outlook is well above average in every other Middle Eastern nation, satisfaction with the state of the economy in Bahrain is below the global average of 59%, with only two fifths satisfied. Yet this is not the area in which expats are reporting the highest level of dissatisfaction.

For many expats in Bahrain, political instability remains a bigger concern than the state of the economy. While the number of expats actively looking to leave Bahrain, 37%, is slightly higher but broadly in line with other Middle Eastern nations, more than half, 60%, of those looking to leave are doing so due to political instability.

While this figure is much higher than the global average of 9%, it is also much higher than other Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia at 6% and Qatar at 5%.

‘It seems the Arab Spring, which has had a pronounced impact on Bahrain since the beginning of 2011, is still having a noteable impact on the views of expats living in the country,’ the report concludes.

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