Skip to content

Expatriates: Ten Reasons Why You Should Work in The Middle East, and Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

April 19, 2011

Some time ago, I wrote an article for the employment section of a leading UK technology magazine. It was about reasons, based on my experience, for working in the Middle East. It was based on another piece I wrote for the Career Advantage website.

I’m a bit sniffy about blogs that churn out lists – Twenty Reasons Why You Should Have Your Chihuahua Neutered, and the like. But in this case I thought it was the right format, and everybody else seems to like lists, so that’s how I wrote it.

I looked at the piece again the other day. I wanted to see if I would change any of my thoughts in the light of all that has happened in the Middle East over recent months. I found that no, I wouldn’t. The Middle East was and continues to be – for me – a great place to live and work.

But it’s not for everyone. How you find the experience – at least for a Western expatriate like me – depends on you. Your character, your expectations, your attitude towards people, society, faith, politics and business.

Many expatriates tend to form physical and mental bubbles around themselves. They look to shut out whatever they find distasteful, and concentrate on the task of making money. They will create small societies, mainly composed of like-minded people. As long as they feel safe and relatively fulfilled, they will consider that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and they will stay for as long as it suits them.

With the coming of the Arab Spring, there will be many people who might have considered moving to the Middle East, but who may feel rather spooked about the prospect now. Especially so if they read the various foreign ministry advisory notices from countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.

So I thought I would re-publish my original Ten Reasons for Working in the Middle East, and write another list that gives ten reasons why the Middle East might not be the right place for a Westerner – or anyone else for that matter – to live and work.

Here’s what I wrote about eighteen months ago:

Ten Reasons for Working in the Middle East

It’s been nearly thirty years since I first set foot in the Middle East. Looking back, I can say that getting on that plane to start the two-year contract I first signed up for was one of the best decisions of my life.

So for anyone contemplating taking the same step, let me share ten reasons based on personal experience as to why a move to the Middle East is potentially a good move at any stage of a career

Financial: This is the obvious one, of course. I moved to Saudi Arabia in my late 20’s on a contract that ended up lasting for nearly a decade. The money I earned enabled me to start a business with a partner in which, after many evolutions, peregrinations and a few sales on the way, I’m still involved today. Saudi Arabia gave me the means to break free of a lifetime working for others, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Cultural experience: In my time in the Middle East I have worked with nationals of at least thirty countries. I have learned not only from the native cultures of the Middle East, but from everybody I have worked with – Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists, Zoroastrians and Taoists. I have learned to look beyond the caricatures through which the western media often presents the religion and cultures of the region, by talking to people, socialising with them and hearing their stories. I feel enriched beyond wealth by the experience.

Jumping off point: The Middle East is a perfect jumping off point for parts of the world where one might not ordinarily visit. This is perhaps less relevant today than it was 30 years ago, when flights were more expensive. But places like the Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, the Oman, Syria and Egypt from here are potential long weekends. Further afield, destinations like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand become a doable seven hours flying, as opposed to a tedious 12 hours plus from the US and Europe.

Friendships: I have friends whom I met here that I have stayed in touch with for 30 years. Living and working in the Middle East creates a common bond through shared experience. It’s true that many relationships are superficial and don’t go the distance. But I have been lucky enough to meet people far and more talented and wiser than me, and they have become an enduring part of my life. This applies particularly to Arab nationals – trust and respect are not always easy to come by, but once won can lead to a friendship for life.

Professional Network: It never hurts to create a network of relationships in one of the world’s economic powerhouses. If you are involved in an international business, your work will not always touch on the Middle East, but the region will always be there as a factor. Oil and gas, regional politics, sovereign wealth funds – all have a bearing on every business in the world. It’s good to have people you can talk to in the region.

Exploration: If you have a yen for exploration beyond the usual tourist traps, the Middle East has much to offer. Roman, Greek and Byzantine ruins in the Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Meteor craters, vast deserts and spectacular Nabatean tombs in Saudi Arabia. Tropical oases in the Oman. Spectacular diving in the Red Sea. And then, of course, Egypt. I have only scratched the surface.

Making a difference: I’m not sure if this is uppermost in the minds of many people coming to the Middle East, but suffice it to say that in many professional areas there is an opportunity to make a real difference, directly or indirectly, to people’s lives. In the 80’s I worked in civil aviation. The region didn’t have a great track record in terms of safety, and many areas were without airports. Pretty basic standards of air traffic control applied. In helping to develop the region’s infrastructure, I always felt that what I was doing was worthwhile, even if you could say after the fact that I indirectly contributed to the carbon emissions that so concern us today.

Upping your game: The phrase “taking your career to the next level” is the king of clichés. But for me it actually worked out that way. I found that in my time in the Middle East I ended up with far more responsibility than I would have had in a comparable organisation at home. I was stretched, challenged and occasionally, frayed! The skills I can directly attribute to my time in the region include working with multi-national, multinational workforces, patience, toleration, communications and political acuity. They have all served me well in my subsequent career.

International track record: Being able to cite a “difficult” region on their curriculum vitae is bound to be of benefit to a career. If you’re British and have spent three years in Germany that of course is valuable experience. But you are still working in the European Union, in an environment where best practice is roughly similar and recognisable. I suggest that experience of the Middle East, with its different cultural, social, legal and commercial norms, is a far more valuable badge of experience, matched only by the Far East. Which leads me neatly to the final reason.

Gateway to the East: The days when Bahrain and the Emirates looked primarily to Britain as a dominant trading partner, and Saudi Arabia likewise to the United States, are gone. Whether or not we are in the Eastern Century, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Malaysia to name but five countries, are playing a major role in the economy and business community of the region. In the Middle East you will work with or compete against companies and executives from the Far East on a much wider scale than you might, say, in a senior role in the UK or the United States. Not only will you benefit from that experience, but you might find yourself making your next career move to the Far East because of what you learned in this region. On a personal level, my understanding of the Muslim world was very helpful when I came to set up a company in Malaysia, for example.

The Middle East is a diverse, challenging, infuriating and ultimately fascinating environment. It’s not for the squeamish or the fainthearted, as you will discover when you read on. But I don’t have a single regret about the time I’ve spent in the region. I’d do it all again.

Ten Reasons Not to Work in the Middle East

This might seem like a list of negatives. All of the reasons can be so for some. It depends on your attitude towards them, and what you’re used to at home. Also, some of the reasons I quote apply to a lesser or greater extent across the region. No one country is the same, which is why generalisations about “Arabs” and “Muslims” can be misleading and dangerous. Just keep that in mind.

Heat: This is the obvious one. There are some parts where the summer temperature can get above 50 degrees. Cities like Jeddah, Manama and Dubai can also be suffocatingly humid in the summer months. Others, like Riyadh, have a dry heat that can mummify you in short order. Yes, you will have air conditioning in your accommodation and your car. But for three or four months of the year, be prepared to confine your outdoor life to the evenings, when things are cooler.

Noise: If you come from Naples or Delhi, no problem – you will encounter nothing worse in the Middle East. But many cities in the region have horrendous traffic problems – Cairo for example. So be prepared for an endless serenade of honking horns and engine noise, especially at peak times. Also be aware that in some cities, construction doesn’t stop at weekends, so don’t be surprised to find your pleasant weekend evening on the balcony punctuated with banging, crashing and grinding from the nearby building site. Finally, there are the mosques. Minarets have loudspeakers, and if you live in an area where there are many mosques, expect to be treated to simultaneous prayer calls in surround-sound. Most people get used to the sound – and listening to good muezzin can be a musical as well as a spiritual experience. But if you’re a light sleeper, you will not be amused to be woken by the early call – from 4 am in the winter, a bit later in the summer.

Pollution: Almost every city in the world is polluted to some degree. But the traffic snarl-ups in many of the big Middle East cities can cause even hardy smokers like me to gasp like a fish out of water from time to time. Then there is the dust. Cities in the throes of construction booms can throw up all kinds of nasty stuff. And especially in the Gulf, you will encounter sandstorms that leave a thin suspension of dust in the atmosphere for days after the storm. So if you’re prone to asthma, as many locals are, factor this into your decision.

Bureaucracy: Many governments in the Middle East are massively overstaffed. There are a number of reasons for this. More recently because creating more government jobs is an easy was to address pressing unemployment problems. Traditionally, because many governments still adhere to practices handed down from the Ottoman Empire and – as a Brit, I hate to say it – the civil service created by the British Raj in India. So getting residence permits, driving licences and a host of other essential pieces of paper can be a long drawn out and painful process. Things are getting better. Many countries – especially Bahrain and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, have embraced e-government. But if you find it hard to tolerate bureaucracy in your home country, what you might encounter in the Middle East will do your blood pressure no favours.

Status: It’s always worth remembering that your status in the country you settle in is that of a guest. You will usually be treated with great courtesy and respect when you come to work in the Middle East – although less so the lower you are down the food chain. But if you wander around barking like a memsahib, you are liable to be reminded that you are a guest, and warned not to overstep the bounds of hospitality. So if you are the sort of person who is inclined to broadcast your discontent omnidirectionally, you may encounter problems. After all, it’s their country, not yours.

Rights: This is a tough one. In some countries, you will hear of – or even witness – abuses of human rights that might offend you. They may be casual acts by individuals, or they may be tacitly sanctioned from on high. Before you come to the Middle East, you should carefully consider your own moral position. You may determine that the greater good in what you have been hired to do transcends your personal reservations about the freedoms and rights accorded to citizens of the country. Equally, you might shut your eyes and determine not to care. By and large, your personal rights under the law will the same as those of citizens. But laws are not always evenly applied. And don’t expect to have a voice on national political issues, especially where you are tempted to side with one political faction or another. The recent painful experience of Bahrain shows why.

Equality: Another tough one. The issue of women’s rights, opportunities and place in society – especially in Saudi Arabia – has been so widely debated that I’m not going to discuss it here. Be aware that the Middle East is not a level playing field in many ways. There is discrimination on grounds of ethnicity – not just by locals against expatriates, by the way, but between locals themselves and between different ethnic groups within the expatriate communities – and faith. If you come to work in the wealthy economies of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, you will need to accept that you are the hired hand, and that standards expected from you may differ from those applied to the local workforce. Not officially of course, but in reality. If you can’t cope with that without resentment, you might find things tough.

Customer Service: In the Middle East, this is very varied. Expect to be delighted one day, and pitched into a stupor of disbelief the next. My coping mechanism is to laugh, and write about my experiences. There are lots of reasons why customer service has its awful moments. Poor management, weak process, cultural inhibitions and lack of training. Most people want to please, but not necessarily in the way you want. But this is a worldwide issue, so I’d offer the same advice for many countries beyond the Middle East: if you’re inclined to get impatient to the point of apoplexy, stay at home. At least there you will understand the consequences of your rage.

Safety: No beating about the bush – there are unsafe areas across the region, both within cities and without. As there are in Rio, Moscow, London and Los Angeles. The important thing to consider is how you cope with fear of the unknown. In every city you can quickly find out where the unsafe areas are, and as you experience grows you can temper the advice with your own experience and common sense. But if you’re the sort of person who fears gremlins at every corner – like the guy I once drove from Riyadh to Damman, who was reluctant to get out of the car at a desert gas station in case someone was waiting to shoot him – then perhaps you should ask yourself if the Middle East is not a step too far.

Tolerance: As the people of the former Yugoslavia, Ireland and Rwanda know, attitudes that lurk in the back of people’s minds for decades and even centuries have a habit of bursting to the surface at moments of stress and discord. All eyes have been on the Middle East in recent times, and if you keep a close eye on the conventional and social media, you will easily find stories of intolerance and factionalism on a daily basis. But always remember that the people of Middle East have the same needs and desires as most of us – to live in safety and peace with our fellow human beings.

Yes, there are bad people doing and saying bad things. But most countries in this region are not war zones, and even though it can be hard to ignore some of what many Westerners see as the negative aspects of societies in this region, tolerance and respect for difference is a two-way process. If you go to a foreign country – on holiday perhaps – and find it hard to see the good in that country because of its many imperfections, perhaps that is an indicator that you will also struggle in the Middle East.

Just be aware that there are many good people in this region. If you reach out, you will find them. If you never try, you will not know what you are missing.

86 Comments
  1. Abid permalink

    This should be read by anyone who is visiting the Gulf countries for the first time. Lovely !

  2. Saad permalink

    Very nicely written. I’m also a recent expat in Middle East from South Asia. Despite my very different background vs. the writer, i could really relate to most of the points he made…

    • Thank you Saad. I think most of the points are universal – I was just being careful to avoid assumptions about different perspectives.

  3. Heather permalink

    I think this would be a really useful one for anyone contemplating a move to the Middle East to read. Totally agree about the status point, I think that is one of the key things to get over if you are to spend any extended length of time here.

  4. Chantelle permalink

    What would be your views on a female Westerner (I’m a 2nd year University student from Canada, studying business) wanting to work in a managerial – strategic oversight, commercial operations, etc- role in the oil and gas industry? I feel I would like to experience the culture, but am not sure about the work environment and opportunities, and the looming threat of depletion of oil and gas reserves…what would you recommend? Is there much demand? I’m also a polyglot- know Russian, French, English and some Spanish, and was considering learning Arabic in my remaining 2 years…

    • Hi Chantelle

      If your query relates to the Middle East, I would say that oil and gas is a good field to be in, and Arabic would give you a serious advantage. All of the national oil companies employ women, including Saudi ARAMCO. As a Canadian, you will be well aware of the move from “conventional” extraction to exploiting shale deposits, so the oil and gas industry worldwide is likely to continue to be critical for the likely span of your career. I suggest you read Daniel Yergin’s new book “The Quest, Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.” This should give you some perspective. Also you might want to take a look at an earlier post on this blog for my take on the next 20 years of oil-related geopolitics: https://59steps.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/shale-shale-everywhere-the-geopolitical-game-changer/.

      Think also of downstream products. Middle East companies are getting into joint ventures with Western chemical companies as a way of adding value to their production and hedging against potential gluts of supply. ARAMCO’s recently announced tie-up with Dow Chemical is a good example of this trend.

      So oil and gas is a great business to be in. If you add Arabic and Chinese to your list of languages, you will have covered most of the bases!

      Good luck….

  5. Chantelle permalink

    Thank you very much, your insights were helpful! I’ll definitely look into the book and other resources!

    • chintan gandhi permalink

      Hi Chantelle how are you doing?
      I wanted some information from your side regarding the same Middle east because right now I am standing at the same place you were two years before…
      kindly reply me for the same on my provided email id…

  6. Anthony permalink

    I am an Australian Builder/Developer with 20 years experience seriously thinking of looking for work as a project manager in the Middle East. Would there be certain companies that I should target?
    Your views on this would be greatly appreciated.

    • The construction industry in the Gulf region is booming – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi would seem to be the busiest. There are many international companies here – Bechtel and Atkins for example. But particularly in Saudi Arabia there are some big local top tier players – Saudi Binladin and Saudi Oger are probably the largest. Many of them subcontract parts of their very large projects. So yes there are opportunities, but as I’m not in your business, it’s difficult for me to judge your prospects. But good luck anyway!

  7. eapen permalink

    do u think this is the time to get into banking / financial sector in middle east?

    • I can only suggest you look at the world and follow the money. But if you’re not in banking now, you might not find it easy… Good luck!

  8. Thomas permalink

    Steve, your points of view on the Middle East are very interesting and helpful to would-be professionals considering the region to work and live in. Would you happen to know of any sources of information relating to law related jobs in the region? I’m a qualified (mature British) New York attorney looking to use my qualification somewhere in the world (immigration restrictions in the US prevent me from working there). Any pointers would be helpful. Thanks for sharing your views. Thomas in Dublin.

    • Hi Thomas. There are many international law firms in the Middle East. Most are concentrated in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are also many Saudi law firms that have partnershiops with international firms. Your best bet would be to start with a search on law firms in the UAE.

      Bear in mind though that since 2008, a number of firms in the Middle East have downsized somewhat. I’m not sure what the situation is now, but nothing ventured nothing gained!

      Good luck!

      • Thomas permalink

        Many thanks for that tip Steve. Will follow up on it…….Thomas.

  9. Rikardo permalink

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you for your information.
    I recently offered to be a project manager in one of automation company in US to work in Middle east. Training will be in Pakistan or dubai.
    But, I’m afraid that the security there will thread my life. Can you advice me on this security issue?
    I’m from Indonesia.

    Thank you,

    • You are unlikely to come to any harm in Dubai given, as you suggest, you would be coming in a professional role. But watch the traffic and don’t eat too much!

      • thanks steve, hey..what about pakistan? you only mentioned dubai.

        thanks anyway.

      • I have little experience of Pakistan, which is why pointed my comments only at Dubai. Sorry!

  10. Amy permalink

    This is a very informative article. Thank you for posting this here. I believe I will have to fine-tune my mind-set and behavior into Middle Eastern way, Sometimes too much freedom of speech in the Philippines allow me to utter statements that are in no way useful in my transfer to Oman. I might find myself in trouble if I continue giving unnecessary comments about the system here.
    How do you find Oman in terms of pollution and heat?

  11. mari permalink

    hi steve, i too found your article interesting and informative, any advice for an international educator?
    thanks –
    mari

    • Hello Mari

      Thanks for your comment, and sorry it took me so long to reply to your post! I guess the answer depends on what you mean by international educator… What is required is not always the same as what is needed. Safe to say that there are many opportunities for lecturers and teachers in the GCC countries (Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Oman). Eduaction is one of the major issues in the region because of high youth unemployment and national imperatives to replace expatriate workers with nationals.

      To get a fuller picture you might want to take a look at some of my posts on education. The bottom line is that the GGC governments are being bombarded with advice from all quarters on how to improve their education systems. But thinking is easier than doing. In Saudi Arabia for example, there are is a great diversity of thought, ranging from highly conservative to progressive, that interacts to put brakes on reform.

      No question, though, that there is a huge appetite for education in the Middle East, huge investment in it, and yes, oportunities. So it depends on where your career is right now, whether you think you can make a difference, and whether you have the resilience to deal with a pretty dynamic environment.

      Good luck!

      Steve

  12. Opeyemi Odejide permalink

    This is an amazing article. I am a financial analyst in Africa (Nigeria). I have had friends relocate to Dubai and Bahrain in recent times and I am considering looking for a finance role in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha or Oman. Any pointers to any financial institution I can look at? Thank you.

    • Thanks for your comments Opeyemi. I can offer no specific recommendations, but aside from tapping your network (are you on LinkedIn, for example?) you could go to the online versions of local newspapers (the Gulf Daily News in Bahrain, Khaleej Times and Gulf News in the UAE. Also you might want to register with the big job boards – monster.com, which has a Middle East section, and bayt.com, which is specifically focused on the Middle East.

      Good luck with your search!

  13. Arun permalink

    hello 59steps, I’m from India with 10plus years exp.,, in sales & recruitment, recently got an offer as Business manager in an IT Services organization in Abudhabi.They offered me 14000AED p.m,without benefits like Accommodation etc.Kindly suggest is this workable.thank u.

    • Hi Arun. Hard to say without knowing more about the role and the company, and I’m afraid I don’t offer advice of this nature. However, I suggest you look at Middle East employment websites like gulftalent.com and bayt.com. You should be able to glean some comparisons from them. Also, are you on LinkedIn? If so, try approaching some of your contacts, and also joining some of the interest groups.

      Good luck!

  14. Leni permalink

    Hi
    This blog is very informative and more than that you are responding to queries…thanks for this. Just wanted to find out what advice you can offer for one who is a Procurement professional and am looking to work in the Middle East. Have been on the international agency sites and there doesn’t seem to be much on there. What advice can you offer as to a job search route to adopt.
    Thanks
    Leni

    • Hi Leni,

      Procurement is a tough one, largely because many governments in the Middle East reserve jobs in this area for their own nationals, as is the case also with HR. Your best option for finding a line management role would be with multinationals that have subsidiary operations in the country. As far as the GCC countries are concerned, I would suggest that your chances are highest in the UAE, less high in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, and lowest in Saudi Arabia.

      A lot also depends on your level of seniority. Many of the GCC countries tend to have nationals in senior positions, but also use foreign nationals as advisors and consultants.

      Hope this helps!

      Steve

  15. Rajoo Khan permalink

    Steve,

    I would say you did a pretty good job of portraying the picture of Middle East for westerner expats (although I noticed people as far as Nigeria contacted you where heat may not be an issue). I found it interesting because you kept your bias aside and quite literally listed facts and myths. Usually, when I read about going to work in Middle East most of the time it is negative (except the money part). I also amazed that you can spare a time to respond to each and everyone here for their questions. Kudos!

    I’m east Indian muslim who migrated to Canada some 20 years ago. I’m working in safety field with some 10 years’ experience (Master Degree in OH&S). I think I’m getting tide of cold weather and have thought about going to Middle east for work but some stories on the web or some people who I have met here that used to work there and their experiences horrified me. I personally visited Saudi Arabia few years ago for Makah. Generally experience was good but one or two incidents with local Saudis horrified me. Although, I do not understand Arabic but their body language told me as they are saying “F*** of” even when I have not done anything wrong. I’m just horrified with the thought that if I find a job in any middle eastern company and uprooted my family here, sell my house, quit my job and if didn’t work out?

    • I your opinion which country is better for Oil and gas jobs?

    • What safety standards they follow – I’m not sure if they have developed their own yet?

    • Should I look for residence on compounds or outside?

    • They automatically offer residence, health, air fare, kids schooling or you have to negotiate it?

    • Salaries do wary in Canada from industry to industry and location to location. But I would say with 10 years’ experience it is between 70k to 100K. How should I negotiate salary and perks? What you can negotiate and what you cannot negotiate? What is realistic expectations for salary? Like any other place annual salary update or increase in normal – what to expect when you are in middle east?

    • I think you should also write about what expats can do and should not do in middle east (or maybe you have already written about it)

    Thanks for your time!
    Rajoo

    • Hi Rajoo

      Good questions all. I’m not sure I can respond to them all in the detail you might like, but here are some thoughts.

      Which country: all the producing coutries are worth looking at. Obviously Saudi Aramco are the largest employer because of the scope of their operations. But the NOCs of the other GCC nations are also worth considering. Next in line in terms of size would be Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.

      Safety standards: as far as I am aware safety standards arte as good as in any western country. I’d be pretty condfident in saying that Aramco has a better record than BP over the past five years! I laso believe that most of the NOCs have standards adapted from western partners – for example, Aramco in its earlier years was an American joint venture before being taken into national ownership. It has many partnerships and consultants that it brings in for help in specific areas. Standards in areas other than oil and gas are more variable. I’ve seen some pretty sub-standard practices in construction and maintenance. The reason for the difference is that oil and gas is of strategic importance. Industrial accidents outside the sector do not tend to disable an economy, even if they obviously cause injury and loss of life.

      Accomodation: Most NOCs have their own compounds – such as Aramco’s Camp, which even today has the feel of little America. My advice to you is that if you are thinking of Saudi Arabia, think of a compound. Most of them have decent security and it’s easier to get to know people. In the other GCC countries , as in Saudi Arabia, there are both compounds and external housing available. If you get the chance, opt for a compound until you know the environment well enough to make an informed choice.

      Employee benefits: the NOCs will offer the kind of package you are referring to. Some have service organisations to which they have outsourced support functions. They may not offer full packages, but might offer an all-inclusive deal. In this case, make sure you have a good feel for the cost of living before you sign up. A google search should get you to first base on this, but do discuss these issues with the employer.

      Salaries: to get a feel for salaries, I suggest you take a look at some of the job boards specialising in the Middle East: monster.com, gulftalent.com and bayt.com for example. Gulf Talent do an interesting salary survey. Try and get hold of a copy.

      Dos and don’ts: as a Muslim you have an advantage over non-Muslims, since Islam permeates the cultural norms of the region. Obviously there are variables, but fundamental values are not much different from anywhere else in the world – espoused but not always lived up to!

      You mentioned your experience when you visited Makkah – presumably for the Haj or Umrah. I can only comment that this is a time of year when the the hosts – both individual and institutional – are under great pressure. Even though pilgrims are seen by the government as “guests of God”, you are bound to find examples of discourtesy and impatience as you would in any mass event. Don’t take it too personally, but be aware that there is a social pecking order, and if you are of Indian extraction you may occasionally feel the effects of that. But if you behave with dignity and professionalism you will earn the respect accorded any professional.

      Upping sticks and moving to another country is a major step as you will know from experience. My only advice would be always have Plan B, and make sure that wherever you go, live up to your own standards of work and behaviour. Barring accidents you should be fine!

      Good luck….

      Steve

  16. Rajoo permalink

    Steve,

    Thank you very much for your prompt and detail. I must say you have balanced approach in life. I can’t thank you enough for your time and really like “Plan B” option.

    Rajoo

  17. Rajoo permalink

    Steve,

    I did some searching on the net for salary information in my filed but unable to see any numbers. I think that networking might help in order to get those numbers? Do you recommend any recruiters in Middle East who may be able to help or have this specific information about salaries in particular field?

    Do you think that speaking Arabic help? I know that workforce is pretty diverse in Middle East but I’m not sure what language they use to communicate to each other. When I visited Makah I noticed that people were get by whatever language they speak but not sure about at work? However, I had a hard time finding something at local store where they do not speak any other language but Arabic.

    Once again, appreciate your time and help!

    Rajoo

    • Hi Rajoo

      I suggest you google Middle East recruiters and call one nor two. Re Arabic, yes, of course knowing even a limited amount of Arabic helps. But as an expatriate in a professional role English is the paramount requirement. S

  18. Fletch permalink

    Hi 59 steps

    Great article and views. I wish I had the guts to do what you did by stepping on that plane to the Gulf, like you did many years ago (please read below)!

    Please could you help me, as my mind has been going around in circles for several weeks, and is now reaching exploding point! I am a 50 year old UK construction professional with several years experience, and have been offered a position, working for a UK Organisation based in Qatar, on a minimum 5 year contract.

    The ‘all-inclusive’ package is for a management position, and is reasonable ‘if I go out there alone i.e.without family. Taking my family there would be more costly, and complicated in terms of my teenage child being close to satring her GCSE’s. My family is OK with me going ‘solo’, as long as we have regular meeting during the kids’ holidays etc. I have a ‘stable’ position in UK Co. here but find little job satisfaction, or motivation, within the job. The UK construction industry has been pretty ‘flat’ for several years, and will be so for several years to come! Ther is no ‘buzz’.

    I have been going through a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ since I got the job offer, and am certain this is having an impact on my health and emotional well-being. Some days I am very excited and confident about the opportunity, and other days I feel very anxious and worried. In fact when I wake up first thing in the morning I am feeling very negative, but as the day wears on, and the realities of the humdrum of work life here sets in, I feel I have to avail this opportunity in the Gulf. Are the first thoughts in the morning called ‘intuition’? And are these the thought one should listen to??? Or are this early morning thoughts to be ignored?

    My worries consist of many issues, including re several issues such as:

    -missing nearest and dearest (I have 3 children, one in the teens), plus close knit extended family
    -will I be able to adapt to such a different social culture. climate, business-culture
    -will I be able to do the job to their satisfaction, and should I fear I might be on the next plane home if I cant!
    etc etc etc etc (too mnay to list fully)

    I did do a reconaisance visit out there for only a short time but this didnt really help much in coming to a final decision.

    I also agree that if I were to overcome some of my anxieties/fear, that the experience in the Gulf would do my CV no harm at all, and would be great for my personal development!!

    I just wanted any of your views on anything that might help me come to an informed and rational (non-emotional) decision. Are my fears/worries normal, or should they dictate my final decision?.

    Would be grateful for any advice on the above, since I now have to make my decision as they have given me long enough to decide, and it would be unfair to keep them hanging on any longer.

    Would really appreciate a response ASAP please 59 steps (or anyone out there who has been in a similar dilema), and once again thanks for reading, and providing your great insights 59 Steps .

    Cheers all, and look forward to hearing from you (very) soon!

    Fletch

    • Hi Fletch

      Only you can deal with the personal fears that seem to be holding up the decision. But what I can say is that Qatar is probably the best place in the Gulf today for a construction professional to make a name for himself/herself. Only Saudi Arabia rivals the country in terms of the intensity of construction activity.

      I think you need to look at each fear on its own merits.

      Missing the family: will they miss you as much as you miss them? Or will they be excited at the prospect of regular visits to a very different part of the world. This was the case with my parents. Their visit to Jeddah 25 years ago was one of the highlights of their later life. Also, the difference then was that the only way of keeping in touch was via the phone, and that was expensive. These days we have skype video, and it’s free if you and your loved ones are subscribers!

      Adapting to the culture: be sure that this will not necessarily be an easy ride. But you would be following a path that many have been on already. And if your employer is a large construction company, there should be no shortage of advice and guidance. I will offer you one piece of advice: live and work by your standards. If you see others not following “best practice”, this does not mean that you will have to follow. In other respects, you will need to be prepared to compromise, to be prepared for what I call the “buggeration factor”. But remember that you are not moving to a primitive place in the desert. Qatar is a very sophisticated society. It may be different from the one you’re used to in the UK, but it’s important that you judge it on its own merits.

      Will you meet expectations? I can only suggest that you ask yourself why the country is importing foreign expertise. If you shape up in the UK, you will in Qatar!

      Finally, it’s a big decision. Ask yourself how you might feel if you didn’t take the chance. Regret? A feeling that you’ve missed out?

      If you would like to email me personally (the email address is on the site) I would be happy to put you in touch with someone who has recent experience of the construction industry in Qatar. Perhaps he would be prepared to share his thoughts. He went solo a few years ago and is still in the Middle East.

      Hope this helps.

      Steve

      • Fletch permalink

        Hi Steve

        Thanks so much for such a prompt, informed and inspiring reply. You have really hit so many valuable points. Yes you are right re the family, and in actual fact I can see that their visits would be a source of excitement and valuable insight for them. And yes, the fact that others have paved a way, would definitely make things easier for me. Your reply has inspired me to overcome my ‘fear’ and given me much encouragement to go for it. Yes, if I didnt do it I would probably regret it, and that is also a big fear of mine.

        And thanks for the offer of putting me in contact with a construction professional in Qatar for an insight, as his/her experiences of going solo (and surviving!) would be invaluable. I will send you a separate email re this a srequested.

        Many thanks again Steve, you are a diamond geyser!!

        Fletch

  19. Debbie permalink

    Hi Steve

    I am so pleased I stumbled across your article in terms of what you have to say about working in the middle east as well as reading what other people are considering doing.

    I had never considered working in the middle east until I had the news that I would be made redundant in 3 months time. Well, I say I’m beng made redundant but they are restructuring and it will mean I have to take a massive paycut to retain employment here. I am 40 years old and have worked in local government in the UK for the last 22 years in various roles. This recent news has made me rethink my future and I’ve decided that it’s time to move on and try a new challenge. My current role involves project management (I have the APMP qualification), financial management, process improvement although I do have a background in tourism (12 years) and office management.

    Having looked on the internet on many websites advertising job vacancies, I have become somewhat overwhelmed by the number of companies and agencies there are. Do you know of an agency that offers jobs in my line of work please?

    • Dear Debbie

      Sorry to hear your news. The Middle East specialist agencies are GulfTalent and bayt.com. Also try Monster, which has an ME section. PMP is s well-regarded skill in these parts. I suggest you try contacting the person who runs the Project Arab Gulf blog. You may get some ideas from her. A link to the site is on my blogroll (scroll down the home page).

      Best of luck.

      Steve

      • Debbie permalink

        Sorry for the delay in responding Steve – many thanks for the advice and I will certainly follow up on your suggestion.

        Thank you so much again – will keep on with the research.

        Kind regards

        Debbie

  20. embt permalink

    thanks for informative,well-written article.I am a ‘mature’ female job seeker,hoping to find a teaching job in the Middle East.I have lived and worked in many different countries and so doubly appreciate your honest blog.Thanks !

    • You’re welcome. Good luck!

      • embt permalink

        one more question-is it true that divorced or separated women find it difficult/impossible to get jobs in the Middle East?I am thinking of Saudi,in particular.

      • No problem. Divorce and separation are very common in Saudi Arabia!

        S

      • embt permalink

        thank you-I was under the impression that divorced/separated Europeans were not welcome.This makes me feel a bit more optimistic about applying for TEFL jobs.
        Thanks once again for being so prompt and helpful.

      • embt permalink

        Thanks once again-as a separated European woman,it makes me feel more optimistic about applying for jobs.

  21. Sarah permalink

    I’m looking to find employment in ghe Middle East… Dubai, Saudi, Abu Dhabi etc… I’m struggling to find legitimate recruitment agencies.. Alot of them are scams taking registration fees.. Can anyone recommend a good source of recruitment abroad in the Middle East…

    I am a well educated university graduate.

    All advice is appreciated. 🙂

    • Hi Sarah

      Charging registration fees is illegal in the EU and many other parts of the world, so I’m not sure where you’re based. To work in the countries you specify, you will need to bring some specific skills to the table. There are lots of locals with good degrees looking for jobs. If you are a recent graduate you would be competing with them to your disadvantage. To look for opportunities, I suggest you go to monster.com (Middle East jobs) bayt.com, gulftalent.com. If you google on recruitment agencies (using the country name in the search statement) you’ll find lots of others.

      Good luck!

      Steve

  22. Prad permalink

    Hi,

    Thanks for your article, which is really informative for people planning to work in ME.

    I was looking for opportunities in healthcare R&D and found few in Saudi, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon. I am not able to chose which country should I opt for since my work involove travel to hospital and research institutions considering the safety.

    Considering the current revolutions and protest in Egypt, is it safe for foreign workers. I am not aware about life at Jordan and Lebanon for foreign professionals.

    • Thanks for your comment. As you probably know, the Middle East is a volatile region, and advice that might be appropriate for today is often out of date next month. If physical safety is your concern, then I would rate Turkey and Saudi Arabia as the safest, with Lebanon and Egypt currently at the bottom end.

      Good luck with your search!

  23. Shatadip. permalink

    Brilliantly written! Being an Indian who has worked with people from many countries and cultures, your knowledge of the globe amazes me!

  24. Edward Cressney permalink

    For someone that has travelled and has decided to write such an in depth piece on the adjustment to living in the Middle East I have to say I regret reading every word due to your comparison of Ireland to Rwanda… Political struggle to genocide…. You sir, are a clown.

    • Edward, thanks for your comment. I think you misunderstand. I was talking about the role of ancestral memories and grievances in igniting conflict, not the scale of the ignition. If you call the murderous activities of religious, political and ethnic factions in Ireland over the centuries “political struggle” then your opinion is different to mine. I could just as easily have cited Bahrain, Syria, South Africa and, currently, Ukraine.

      For me Cromwell’s massacres, the Plantations, the violence of the Black and Tans, the Loyalist murders and the Omagh bombing go way beyond political struggle. S

  25. You have a very informative blog.

    I am a first time worker here in Saudi Arabia. Dammam is my location so far so good. I have my own office, salary for me is good for a first timer, good accommodation.
    Except for police who forced me to get inside the car because I have no iqama yet. Only waraga, and he did not see that my paper was right (I almost think he is stupid).
    But thanks that he sets me free immediately.

  26. james permalink

    Im a fire fighter from the UK. Well actually im a junior officer so i assist in the management of the watch. Whats the salary like there and do many westerners get jobs there?

    • Hello James, sorry for the slow reply. I’m not sure I can answer your question, but my gut feeling is that you might struggle to find a job in your profession in the Middle East. I suspect that most fire fighters are either nationals or people from countries where the wages are much less than the UK. However you might find a role as an advisor or trainer, so do keep an eye out on the job boards like bayt.com, gulftalant.com and monster.com. Good luck!

  27. Jade permalink

    Hi! Loved your article. I’ve just been offered a job in Bahrain leaving quite soon. It will be for a band over there in one of the hotels as in a singer 🙂 Having worked in Dubai and Abu Dhabi I have had experience with the Middle east,but I’m a little unsure about Bahrain? I will be with a British band also. Could you give me some advice please. Thanks Jade

    • Bahrain is a little edgier than the UAE because of the political situation. 4 years on from the Arab Spring protests, there’s no sign of a political settlement. On the other hand, the country is very pro-British, and has a large population from the UK, so you would definitely feel at home. Most Brits living there manage to stay away from the trouble, which tends to be concentrated in specific areas. Another plus point is that the Bahrainis are friendly and hospitable, and whereas you can go for weeks without encountering an Emirati in Dubai (except in an official capacity!) this is not the case in Bahrain, because 50% of the population are citizens, whereas the proportion of Emiratis to expatriates in the UAE is much lower. So go for it, and good luck!

  28. This article has really inspired me! I’ll be off one day to the Middle East, hopefully.

  29. raipriya567 permalink

    The reason why should work here in the middle-east has a clear cut umbrella term of “growth” which is the thing that drives people from across the world over here. The same thing happened with Dr p Mohamed Ali the great : https://about.me/pmohamedali

    • I agree. But we have limited time on earth, and it shouldn’t be just about money, even though that’s often the case…

  30. This article is really useful for every person who want to migrate to middle east. Read it carefully.

    • Thanks very much. There are still so many good things about the Middle East, despite the malign efforts of some people to make it not so.

  31. Micah permalink

    Candidly, I have not read any article that is as informative as this for those trying to work in the middle-east as first timers. Thank you very much.

    Can u please advice on the easiest country and other useful tips in the middle-east were one can easily get Information Technology jobs as am about to process a visa but yet to conclude on which to process?

    I am a Graduate in Computer science / Statistics with some professional qualifications with 5yrs work experience in Information Technology and dont understand arabic

    • Hello Micah

      Firstly, thanks for your feedback. I’m glad you found the info useful.

      IT jobs are to be found in most parts of the Middle East, but you should be aware that you have competition from nationals of those countries. Also Saudi Arabia, the biggest workplace in the region, has been involved in a programme over the past two years to reduce the amount of foreign nationals. So unless you have some rare and special skills, you might find it difficult to get work there. Your best bet would probably be the Emirates and Qatar. I suggest you take a look at some of the regional job boards – gulftalent.com, bayt.com and monster.com Middle East section to see what suits you. Lack of Arabic is not usually a problem, but again you will be at a disadvantage when competing with people from other Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan. Both of those countries have some skilled IT people.

      Hope this is helpful.

      Good luck with the search!

  32. Development in the construction sector is catching pace. Not only cities like Abu Dhabi are prospering but also their neighbouring countries and cities. There’s huge scope for construction industry there http://bit.ly/1UqBILP

  33. There are pros and cons for everything. It’s upon us to go for what is best suited for us and taking the decision accordingly. Your information was precise and apt. Thanks for sharing. Planning to work for company that has brought a great change in the real estate company in the middle-east http://bit.ly/1GGZehw

  34. Jose Rodrigues permalink

    hello 59steps,

    Great article and views. Having lived in ME for a decade now, Your views are really to the point.

    Now my question, is somewhat reversed. Now that i have worked in Kuwait for nearly a decade, i am thinking of moving to UK. I am Indian National, working here a Brand Manager in Watches industry, Thanks to point that you have mentioned ” Upping your game” .

    What do you think about this move, I am most probably looking to continue in similiar career in UK? I have a Son, who is 3 years and my Wife here in Kuwait.My wife, is BCOM Graduate as wel. I am MBA in Marketing/HR, with more than 6 years experinene in Brand Management. What about the salaries & job security? I heard you need to go through the agencies and there are many layoffs. Have to pay a lot for the rents and cost of commuting to work is high.

    Can you advise me on this, please Jose.

    • That’s a bunch of big questions Jose! You should be aware that although the job market in the UK is better in terms of percentage employed than in most European countries, there are serious barriers to entry for non-EU citizens. I don’t want to discourage you, but the general principle (there are lots of rules that I won’t go into, but which you should be able to find on the net) is that you should have a set of skills that are hard to find in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. Perhaps your knowledge of the Middle East market for luxury goods would stand you in good stead, but I’m not qualified to give you an informed opinion on that.

      Having said all that, there’s no harm in trying. Nothing ventured nothing gained! Steve

  35. Jose Rodrigues permalink

    Thank you very much Steve, I am well aware of the immigration barriers rules for Non-EU. Can you advise me on the recruitment boards or website…
    Jose

  36. Lance permalink

    Hi Steve

    Thank you for your insight most interesting . I have been offered a position in Saudi in my industry. I want to ask if you can give me more direction as to the day to day lifestyle with regards to
    1. Is it safe to drive around out of the compound (my position is regional sales manager to construction sites)
    2. Limitations for my partner to visit me until she is ready to move, are compounds safe .

    Your reply will be much appreciated

    • Hi Lance

      In answer to your questions:

      Driving safety – that depends on your attitude towards risk. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest death rates from road accidents in the world. Many Saudis consider it a national scandal. Speed cameras have definitely helped, but the accident rate is still unacceptably high. That said, millions of expatriates drive every day without incident. You do develop a feel for danger based on what you observe. Sudden stops, speeding, overtaking on the wrong side, badly-maintained vehicles (especially tyres) all play a part. I think you are emailing from South Africa; I have encountered a few crazy drivers in Jo’burg too! Bottom line: defensive driving is a must. If you’re a nervous driver you won’t be any less so on the roads of Saudi Arabia!

      Compounds: Are they safe? Again, that’s a matter of degree. Since the 2003-2004 Al-Qaeda attacks on Western compounds, security has been beefed up, but I’d hate you to think that they’re invulnerable. They’re not. There have been one or two attacks on westerners over the past two or three years, attributable to Al-Qaeda or ISIS, but none on compounds. Most of them have been lone wolf attacks, “inspired” by one or the other. With the rise of ISIS, the future risk for expatriates in KSA is obviously higher than it was, but up to now they have focused their attacks on Shia places of worship rather than expats. If that makes you nervous, consider that there are tens of thousands of westerners still working in the country who have never encountered any danger from terrorism. However, you should look carefully at the security arrangements for every compound you consider. Again, if you are from RSA, you would probably do that anyway. Concerning your partner, if you’re married you should have no problem getting her a visit visa. I suggest you point her towards an excellent blog by a lady called Margo Catts, who has written extensively about the joys and tribulations of being an expatriate wife. It’s here: http://margocatts.com/

      Good luck! Steve

      • Cheryl permalink

        Steve,
        I have a few queries to ask :
        1. If a person is taken on a contract for 2 years service in so and so company and is provided with accommodation, medical benefits, etc. Then when the contract expires, does the company renew or extend the service?
        2. If renewed/extended, is the employee entitled to a vacation and for how long?
        3. Though its mentioned in the contract that after 2 years of service, the employee is entitled to a round trip by air, will the company provide it?
        4. If the employee is stuck up till the time a replacement is found, will the company pay him/her till such time the replacement takes over?
        5. Or can the employee leave the company and go back home, if he does not want to continue after two years?
        Please help with your answers.
        Cheryl

      • Hi Cheryl

        A few answers. Don’t sue me if they turn out to be wrong!

        1. If a person is taken on a contract for 2 years service in so and so company and is provided with accommodation, medical benefits, etc. Then when the contract expires, does the company renew or extend the service?
        A: Not automatically. It depends if they want to keep you or if you want to stay. Either way, they should ask you to sign an extension document that specifies any new terms and conditions, or states that the terms are unchanged.
        2. If renewed/extended, is the employee entitled to a vacation and for how long?
        A: That depends on what’s in the original contract. Most contracts specify an entitlement to holiday on an accrual basis, or at the end of a calendar year – usually both. You should also be entitled to paid public holidays (such as Ramadan and Haj Eid).
        3. Though its mentioned in the contract that after 2 years of service, the employee is entitled to a round trip by air, will the company provide it?
        A: If that’s part of the employment contract, of course. But that’s usually dependent on contract renewal. If you’re leaving end of the contract, the company should provide you with a single ticket home.
        4. If the employee is stuck up till the time a replacement is found, will the company pay him/her till such time the replacement takes over?
        A: If they persuade you to stay until they can find a replacement, the agreement should be documented by a contract extension or variation. If you continue to work, absolutely you should be paid!
        5. Or can the employee leave the company and go back home, if he does not want to continue after two years?
        A: You should be able to leave at any time provided you provide the notice required in the contract. If no notice is specified, you still should be able to leave, though some contracts specify penalties (such as refunding the company for anything they have paid you before you are actually entitled to it – holidays and airfares are the most usual examples). But certainly, once you have completed your contract, in most countries in the ME to stop you from leaving for no reason would be illegal.

        Please bear in mind that this is generic advice that applies to all the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. There might be variations from country to country, so if you’re worried, you should make inquiries about the rules in the specific country you have in mind.

        Good luck!

  37. varun permalink

    Steve,

    Let me tell you something. You are a Legend and the article and your subsequent answers to questions posted here are even more adorable.

    I spent a few months in Jeddah before coming to Australia from India and now am an Australian Citizen. My quest to go to middle east is more around making trip back home (often as less distance) and making sure my kids understand our culture. A few key takeaways for your discussions shere:

    1) Start making a start by applying on gulf specific job portals.
    2) May be a call or meeting with recruiters
    3) Most importantly have plan B

    You didnt talk about salary and perk negotiations but I think each one learns after getting a few offers as to what to take and what to leave. Also what you get also depends on which country you come from. I think Middle east is heavily biased for higher salaries for Western passports rather than Asians.

    Another option may be worth exploring might be trying to get work into an organisation that can send you to middle east. Hard to find but possible.

    I will get my journey started. Thanks for the great discussions.

    • Thank you Varun, you’re very kind. Good advice to add to the string! Especially when you talk about having Plan B. Things are far more uncertain than when I wrote the post, so it’s sensible to plan for the worst case scenario. Congrats on your Aussie citizenship, though you’ve chosen a time when Indian cricket is on the up, and the Aussies are rather on the slide. But now you can be proud of two countries.

      Good luck with your next job. Steve

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: