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The Mid­dle East is a fas­ci­nat­ing region offer­ing mul­ti­ple career oppor­tu­ni­ties and attrac­tive des­ti­na­tions. The region is emerg­ing as a sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness hub in which many peo­ple have advanced their careers. The area is vast and var­ied, so relo­cat­ing does present some chal­lenges. The cli­mate, lan­guage, reli­gion, cus­toms and the new­ness of the region must all be dealt with while set­ting up a new life. With the right advice, you can tran­si­tion to a new phase in your life seam­less­ly and enjoy the time you spend in The Mid­dle East.

Why Move to The Middle East?

- Opportunity

The major­i­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties for expats in The Mid­dle East are found in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, The UAE and Sau­di Ara­bia. The region is expe­ri­enc­ing a boom in many areas, par­tic­u­lar­ly in con­struc­tion and nat­ur­al resources. As the expat pop­u­la­tion grows to meet this demand, expat work­ers are being sought in indus­tries such as health, finance and edu­ca­tion. Many work­ers are attract­ed by the lucra­tive salaries and poten­tial­ly tax-free earnings. Expats are also reward­ed with pack­ages that include free or sub­si­dized accom­mo­da­tion, health insur­ance, sub­si­dized pri­vate school tuition for chil­dren and a return flight home once a year. The Mid­dle East offers flights direct­ly to many of the world’s major air­ports. The biggest air­ports in the Mid­dle East are trans­port hubs themselves.

- Doing business

Work­ing in The Mid­dle East is not like work­ing from home. Those who enjoy the most pro­fes­sion­al suc­cess in the region are those who can adapt the quick­est. Keep an open mind. For exam­ple, work­ers raised on the phi­los­o­phy of effi­cien­cy and expe­di­en­cy may be frus­trat­ed in meet­ings that open with a lot of social plat­i­tudes and casu­al con­ver­sa­tion. This appar­ent time-wast­ing is part of the way of doing busi­ness in the region and is thought to cement per­son­al rela­tion­ships, which then devel­op into fruit­ful busi­ness rela­tion­ships. Maybe it’s too hot out­side to play golf!

- Employment

Des­ti­na­tions for con­struc­tion jobs are The UAE, Sau­di Ara­bia and Qatar, espe­cial­ly in project man­age­ment, quan­ti­ty sur­vey­ing and design engi­neer­ing. Qatar has increased its out­put in prepa­ra­tion for the FIFA World Cup in 2020. Health is anoth­er indus­try seek­ing expats, and jobs are avail­able, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Sau­di Ara­bia and The UAE. Emer­gency and inten­sive care skills are high­ly sought after, and nurs­es are in con­stant demand. Eng­lish lan­guage instruc­tion, and qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, is in high demand across the region for local and expa­tri­ate chil­dren. All of the coun­tries list­ed above recruit native Eng­lish-speak­ing teachers. A teach­ing pack­age com­mon­ly includes accom­mo­da­tion, insur­ance, flights and pos­si­bly free or sub­si­dized edu­ca­tion for chil­dren. Many teach­ers find they can send their child to a pri­vate school that would sim­ply be too expen­sive back home. Pro­mo­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties and career advance­ment are also much bet­ter for teach­ers in The Mid­dle East. Most inter­na­tion­al schools will fol­low either the British or the US edu­ca­tion system.

- Work visa

Rules for work visas dif­fer from coun­try to coun­try, but the employ­er should orga­nize the work visa, or at least assist with the process of secur­ing a work visa. For teach­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, it is impor­tant to research the schools thor­ough­ly because there are some dis­rep­utable schools that can fail to source a work visa properly.

- Finding work

Job fairs are a pop­u­lar way for recruiters to source tal­ent to work in The Mid­dle East. These are often con­duct­ed in per­son, but many of them have start­ed to estab­lish online recruit­ment processes. Some indus­tries will com­plete the recruit­ment process before the employ­ee arrives in the coun­try (such as teach­ing). At the same time, in oth­er indus­tries, experts sug­gest that being on the ground and net­work­ing in per­son is advan­ta­geous. It is also believed that some employ­ers look for employ­ees of a cer­tain age or gen­der – so do your research.

Some Things to Keep in Mind:

- Climate

The Mid­dle East is hot. The heat is gen­er­al­ly dry, and tem­per­a­tures are a shock to any­one mov­ing from cold­er countries. The Mid­dle East almost does­n’t have a win­ter, so expect warm weath­er all year. That said, the region is gen­er­al­ly arid, so the tem­per­a­ture does drop at night. Light, cool cloth­ing is best dur­ing the day, but you will need some warm cloth­ing as the sun­sets. Of course, if you’re relo­cat­ing for pro­fes­sion­al rea­sons, you will dress as your pro­fes­sion demands.

- Daily routine

Avoid the heat of the day. If you plan to exer­cise, social­ize or explore, try to do that in the morn­ing, late after­noon or evening. You can stay out of the heat and will also be reward­ed with beau­ti­ful sun­sets. Fur­ther­more, most of the local peo­ple have adapt­ed to this cli­mate over cen­turies, so if you head out in the morn­ing or evening, you’re more like­ly to see them and have the chance to expe­ri­ence local cus­toms. Drink lots of water. That is still the best way to sur­vive the heat.

- Religion

Islam under­pins the cul­ture of the region. Fri­day is a ded­i­cat­ed day of prayer, so the work­ing week and work­ing hours, as well as times for social­iz­ing, react accord­ing­ly. Also, the dai­ly lives of the local peo­ple change dra­mat­i­cal­ly dur­ing Ramadan every year, and this affects every­one in the region, even in a pro­fes­sion­al sense. As a major­i­ty Mus­lim region, the sale of pork is heav­i­ly restrict­ed. Think of it as a chance to kick your addic­tion to bacon and branch out into some­thing new. Sau­di Ara­bia is regard­ed as the most reli­gious­ly con­ser­v­a­tive of the Gulf states, and the social and cul­tur­al life for expats reflects this fact. In some loca­tions, reli­gious police enforce rules such as clos­ing times for prayers and appro­pri­ate dress, and expats are expect­ed to abide by all of these rules.

- Culture

Women will not enjoy the same free­dom or social stand­ing that they may be used to. Restric­tions for women include the way they are allowed to dress, their free­dom to trav­el alone and their sta­tus in society. Every­one is also expect­ed to think about the way they inter­act with peo­ple of the oppo­site gen­der, in any sit­u­a­tion. Also, women may find few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties in cer­tain indus­tries that are still entire­ly male-dom­i­nat­ed in this region. One pecu­liar­i­ty that new­com­ers will notice is the women-only check­out aisle at the super­mar­ket. At least they get women through the check­out more quickly! The grow­ing expat pop­u­la­tion has cre­at­ed a live­ly social scene. Sport­ing, artis­tic and social clubs have emerged. Many coun­tries have their nation­al asso­ci­a­tion, and there are nor­mal­ly many events expats can attend to have fun, unwind, net­work and pick up some local tips from those in the know.

- Can I get a drink?

Rules and reg­u­la­tions dif­fer per coun­try, but you should assume that you can’t drink alco­hol with the same free­dom that you would back home. In some places, you sim­ply can­not drink alco­hol. In oth­er places, expats can pur­chase alco­hol from offi­cial loca­tions and take it back to their pri­vate residence. Most impor­tant­ly, you must respect local cus­toms and laws and seek reli­able advice from locals before hav­ing a drink.

- Language

Most peo­ple can get by with Eng­lish. Ara­bic is the lin­gua fran­ca of the region, and if you speak this lan­guage, or can learn it, you will inte­grate far more easily. Author­i­ties in the Mid­dle East under­stand that Eng­lish is an inter­na­tion­al lan­guage, so it is nor­mal­ly pos­si­ble to find some­one who speaks English.

- Housing

The stan­dard of hous­ing for expats in the region is nor­mal­ly very high. As dis­cussed ear­li­er, it can also be pro­vid­ed free or sub­si­dized. Build­ings are new, high­ly secure and well-fur­nished. Expat com­pounds tend to be self-suf­fi­cient, with shops, restau­rants and oth­er ser­vices on-site, which is a great advan­tage in a swel­ter­ing cli­mate. It is not uncom­mon for expat hous­ing to include an on-site gym or pool.

- Services

Most of the major ser­vices are avail­able in major cities. Hos­pi­tals, super­mar­kets and med­ical facil­i­ties are all on par with what one might be accus­tomed to. How­ev­er, if liv­ing out­side a big city, this may not be the case.

Last but not least

Mov­ing to a new place is chal­leng­ing. The unfa­mil­iar­i­ty cre­ates stress and doubt and throws up obsta­cles you prob­a­bly hadn’t even imagined. Mov­ing to The Mid­dle East is no dif­fer­ent. How­ev­er, this chal­lenge can be over­come if you keep an open mind. Accept that the region is dif­fer­ent in terms of cul­ture, lan­guage and cus­toms and that Islam is cen­tral to the lives of most peo­ple. Dress and act accord­ing to the heat and adjust your dai­ly rou­tine to suit. Research job oppor­tu­ni­ties and con­tact rel­e­vant recruiters or employ­ers, and you could land your­self a reward­ing and lucra­tive career with many benefits.

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