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Hiring Home Help in Dubai: How to begin your search

INFO POST: Whether you’ve recently moved to the UAE, or simply grown tired of battling the housework on your own, finding the best cleaner in Dubai is easy once you determine what sort of home help fits in best with your lifestyle and budget

Should we or shouldn’t we hire a helper?” It’s an issue that desert dwellers soon encounter. For some, it’s a no-brainer. Both parents might be working and an extra pair of hands around the house is an essential cog in the wheel – the glue that keeps the family, with all its comings and goings, functioning.

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How long until she caves in and hires a maid?!

For others, it’s a complicated decision that often starts with resistance (‘I didn’t have help at home, why should I need it here?’), becomes a grey area where you’ve warmed to the idea (husband’s travelling, baby has colic, school run takes two hours, family are 8,000 miles away), then ends with a full-on, wide-scale search for the right fit for your family.

At first, finding the best cleaning service or maid agency in Dubai may not seem straightforward. There’s a myriad of different services and cleaning providers to choose from, foreign brands you may not recognise, not to mention the well-intentioned but often outdated advice from friends and work colleagues which can make the process appear more confusing than it has to be.

But once you break it down and figure out exactly what it is your family needs, finding the right fit for your lifestyle becomes much easier. For busy professionals and young families alike, a good starting point involves asking yourself:

Should I sponsor a maid or hire a cleaner?

Live-in maids who help with the housework and children are invariably from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia or India, and are a popular choice, despite the fact they’re unlikely to have any childcare qualifications. A housemaid will need to be sponsored by the head of your family (which means assuming responsibility for her), but if you hire someone whose personality you like, who knows when to take the initiative and when to step back, and is liked by your children, this arrangement can be wonderfully beneficial, for both you and her.

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During your search, you might meet the Pampered Housemaid. She’s worked on the Palm and expects travel on Emirates rather than a budget airline. When you respond to her ad, she’ll interview you, bringing the conversation to an abrupt end if you reveal you have more than two children

Gone are the days where expat families quietly hired cleaners on the black market for a few hours a week

Sweeping changes made to labour laws in the UAE, and newly enforced regulations in countries such as the Philippines, Nepal and India, have made the process of sponsoring a maid more expensive and complex than it once was. Hiring a live-in housemaid involves paperwork, financial payments and deposits, and health checks, which can all seem rather daunting, but have resulted in largely positive changes to the working conditions experienced by domestic staff in the GCC region. You can find out more about sponsoring a maid’s visa at ExpatWoman’s Maids, Nannies & Home Help Section.

Gone are the days where expat families quietly hired cleaners on the black market for a few hours a week. Alongside the new labour restrictions and regulations, recently introduced penalties for hiring maids and cleaners off the black market have made many Dubai residents think twice about hiring house help illegally. Instead of risking hefty fines for employing black market home help, a considerable number of expats are instead turning to registered cleaning agencies.

Hiring a part-time cleaner from a reliable agency relieves you from all the headaches associated with applying for sponsorship visas. Using a reputable cleaning company not only enables you to take the worry out of hiring a cleaner, but gives you peace of mind, with the knowledge that your home is being looked after by someone with professional cleaning experience.

How to search for a home cleaner in Dubai

If you’ve decided that hiring a part-time maid, or even a one-off cleaner is the best way forward, the next step is knowing where to find a local cleaner that you can count on. It’s easy to flip through newspaper classifieds or online message boards, but if almost every maid agency and residential cleaning agency in Dubai claims to be the best in the business, who should you trust?

Trustworthy cleaning companies should employ well-trained and friendly cleaning staff, who have all the necessary permissions to work in Dubai. Ideally, you should be looking for a service that can offer you an easy-to-use booking system, a transparent pricing structure, a secure method of payment, and have a customer support team at the ready, just in case you have any questions. Not all cleaning companies have the same standards of cleanliness, so try to stay clear of companies that have bad reviews, that don’t seem to be interested in receiving customer feedback, or can’t offer you proper receipts.

It’s important to choose a home cleaner that you feel comfortable with, who will not only leave your home sparkling from top to bottom, but can be trusted with your valuables. If you’re still getting used to the idea of employing home help, it may be best to search for a company that ensures that all of its staff have been personally interviewed, tested for their cleaning knowledge and experience, and are able to communicate in a language you’re comfortable using.

Consider hiring a Helpling

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Helpling’s part-time cleaners have all passed a strict interview process

If you’re looking to hire a part-time cleaner, either for a weekly, fortnightly, or once-off clean, consider hiring a Helpling. Helpling is an online service that matches your cleaning requirements to experienced Dubai cleaners, who are fully licensed to work in the UAE. In just a few clicks, you can arrange for a Helpling cleaner to assist with your home cleaning needs, whether it be mopping, scrubbing, sweeping, or ironing. Enter in your cleaning needs, alongside your address and desired time and date, and Helpling will do all the rest.

NEXT WEEK: A great alternative option for childcare – Grannie Au Pairs!

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A maid interview overheard

As anyone who lives in Dubai will know, timing is everything when visiting a mall on a Friday. Get there in the morning, and you’ll have a pleasant experience; arrive later – anytime after about 3 – and you might as well be committing retail hara–kiri.

It was around lunchtime, and you could see the mall population visibly swelling. I popped into Café Nero and, while queuing, realised that an interview was taking place at a nearby table.

The interviewer was blonde, and wore a pea green summer dress. She looked polished and shiny, with eloquent eyebrows and oversized earrings. Across her nose, I noticed the faintest sprinkling of freckles. She had a kind smile, and was leaning attentively towards her interviewee.

“Do you cook,” she asked.

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So when can you start?

The replies were more softly spoken. But the answer must have been yes.

“You can cook Arabic food too, that’s great!” she said, her hand fluttering upwards to push a strand of hair behind her ear.

On the other side of the table sat a petite, dark-haired Filipina lady who you could tell from her body language was nervous, but was being put at ease by the friendly potential Madame.

There was a pause. There are always pauses in these interviews, what with the language difference and the awkwardness you feel when you’re not used to hiring domestic help.

“Can you iron?” she asked next, again perfectly politely.

I could see that they were sizing each other up. The blonde thinking: Will she fit in? Could she make the myriad of tiny logistical manoeuvres that make up my life run a little smoother? Would I feel comfortable having her watch my kids while I’m working, or would I feel strangely untethered? Could she run the household while I’m gone like a Swiss watch?

And her potential employee thinking: Have I got the job? What are the hours, pay? She’s an expat so more time off! Cable TV? A laptop? My own room? I really hope they don’t have pets!

As much as I wanted to hear the outcome of this interview (especially the words You’re hired!), I had to leave before they’d finished chatting. I walked by and heard a shared giggle – a genuine bubble of laughter that floated above the table. And I found myself thinking, I really hope it works out for both of them.

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When the housemaid’s away

It was a day I wasn’t especially looking forward to: our live-in helper and nanny Catherine the Great was leaving on a well-deserved vacation.

Not for the first time – she returns to the Philippines for a month each year, but usually this is while we’re gone over the summer. This year, she’s going twice because there’s a special occasion at home she really wanted to attend in March.

In other words, it’s the only time in four years she’s left us [hangs her head in shame] to our own devices in Dubai, with one-and-a-half jobs and the children to juggle. [Gasps]

I could tell she was nervous. She had a long journey ahead to Manila, albeit in business class, and a 10-hour coach ride to her village.

pic1We talked about what to wear on the plane, to be wary of fellow, drunken passengers (my main advice was to travel semi-smart – no flip-flops, no shorts – and she took this to heart, looking glam as she left). We discussed how I could contact her. Then I realised what it was she was actually nervous about.

She looked at me sagely: “Will you be okay Madame? With the two boys? All by yourself.”

The worry in her eyes was undisguisable. OMG, I thought, she thinks I won’t cope. She’s sure the household will fall to rack and ruin with me in charge.

“Of course!” I replied, with a squeaky, too-high voice. “We’ll be absolutely fine. But you will come back, won’t you?” I asked with a nervous laugh.

She assured me she would (PHEW!) and I told her to go upstairs and help herself to as many of the baby toys in the cupboard as she could fit in her suitcase.

philippinesHer family lives on a rice farm in an impoverished part of the Philippines. They don’t enjoy all the trappings that we do in the West and anything we can send over really helps. There’s probably a whole island wearing my old clothes from Gap and Monsoon; and much of our baby stuff has already been shipped to her sister, who recently gave birth.

We hauled her suitcases – practically splitting at the seams – to the door and called a taxi. I’d bribed BB and LB with sweets to be extra-nice in the hope she might miss them (one was, the other wasn’t, the little minx) and then it was time: to let.go.

With a swish of her long, black glossy hair, and one last worried glance back, she was gone.

And suddenly I was staring down the barrel of no childcare and a job to hold down for the next couple of weeks. The silence of the abyss she left behind would have been deafening if it wasn’t for the fact I had to put a kicking-and-screaming BB in time-out for bidding Catherine goodbye while STILL on his DS machine – after which he RAN AWAY.

*Good* start.

pic2But, and I know you can’t wait to hear how it’s going, things have gotten a lot better. Day one, to my amazement, was remarkably smooth, even quite blissful. We reveled in the independence, loved having the house to ourselves. I moved things around in the kitchen; reinstated control and was practically doing pirouettes around the broom.

“Wow,” I thought. “This isn’t so bad.”

Fast-forward nearly a week, and the novelty has begun to pall, though to be honest – other than not finishing all my chores until 10pm – I think DH might have noticed her absence more than me. I’m finishing a work contract, so he had to take vacation (not sure he’d exactly call it that) and has been holding the fort at home; yesterday accumulating neighbourhood children as the day went on like a Pied Piper of Dubai.

Help with childcare and chores aside, I genuinely miss her – she’s a true gem, a gentle, kind and sweet-natured person and an adult companion in the house with oodles more patience than me.

I REALLY hope she comes back.

Now, where did she say the iron was kept?

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Help! I need somebody

I’m not sure whether to post this as it makes us sound terribly spoilt, but here goes.

In the Middle East it’s possible to outsource every task you could conceivably think of – from the ironing to banging a nail into a wall, changing a lightbulb and assembling Ikea furniture.

Even things I didn’t think were possible to avoid can be delegated. Had we wanted to, we could have valet parked at a children’s party this week, and already today I’ve politely declined having someone carry my groceries to the car and having the car washed while I shopped.

Expats tend to follow a typical pattern. They hire a cleaner, pay a teenager to babysit, then farm out the ironing. Before too long, they realise it’s cheaper to sponsor a live-in maid
Because the truth is, it’s really, really difficult not to have help in Dubai.

One of my favourite bloggers, Where’s my ruby slippers?, posted a wonderful and honest account about this aspect of Dubai life, and I found myself nodding in somewhat shame-faced agreement when she described how, that morning at the mall, a lady had taken her parking ticket at the exit and put it in the machine that operates the barrier. “Had she been able to shut my car window without cutting her arm off, I have no doubt she would have done that as well,” she wrote.

The drawback, of course, is how lazy it makes us. How it becomes too easy to throw money at a problem – and, the most concerning part, the effect it has on our children. I’m constantly reminding BB and LB that there are many things in Dubai that aren’t normal (“Where’s her nanny?” asked BB once in England, on meeting a little friend in a park filled with mums, not paid staff).

But, here’s the thing: apart from our trips home, this is the only existence my children know, and teaching them that life here can be a little too easy is a challenge.

This week, our doorbell rang and it was DH’s dry cleaner, dropping off his freshly laundered and pressed uniforms. We thought nothing more of it until we realised the impression it had made on BB.

I bought him some new school uniforms a couple of days ago, but one item was out of stock so I placed an order and left my phone number.

“They call when my shirt arrives?” BB asked, looking a little puzzled. “Won’t they deliver it, like Daddy’s work clothes?’

Sigh! Time to revisit real-life for a reality check, me thinks.