10 Questions Expats Ask Before Moving to the Middle East (Part 1)

10 Questions Expats Ask Before Moving to the Middle East (Part 1)

Relocating is an exciting venture. With all the preparations that must be accomplished in the run-up, you might run the risk of overlooking several attributes of life in Middle East that can affect one’s daily life. After all, there’s more than tax incentives, warm climates and luxurious living standards to this ancient land.

Moving abroad is a big decision that can’t be taken willy-nilly. There are cultural, financial, and social considerations to be kept in mind, especially in locales across the Middle East. Among the many aspects to avoid overlooking, here is part one of a two part series that you should make special note for before you pick up your bags and go:

qatar at night
1. What is the job market like in the Middle East?

The job market varies from country-to-country, and industry-to-industry. A recent study has suggested that the retail and logistics sectors recorded the strongest growth for the year of 2014, at 28 percent. Banking and financial services were up 21 percent, including a 17 percentage point improvement in long-term growth momentum. The oil and gas sector, interesting, actually shows a drop in terms of job availability, even though it still maintains the most critical element of most Middle Eastern economies.

The nations of Bahrain and Qatar have seen the greatest upturn in relative job availability. Job postings have fallen to some extent in the countries of Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Be sure to check out our industry updates for Q4 2014.

2. Do I have to know Arabic to get by?

Whileknowing the native tongue of the region is always an advantage, it is not a necessity among the metropolises. In the national capitals and major cities- such as Muscat, Doha, and Dubai- a significant percentage of the population understands English or other western languages. Many of the road signs and other official buildings feature writing in both English and Arabic. Keep in mind that the farther away from these cities that you travel, the necessity for Arabic increases. If you desire provincial living, then Arabic will be required.

3. What is the food like?

The traditional cuisine seen across the Middle East can be a shock to the system to many expats. Some commonly used ingredients include olives and olive oil, pita, honey, sesame seeds, dates,sumac, yogurt, chickpeas, mint and parsley. Some popular dishes include kibbeh and shawarma.

However, In recent decades there has been a renaissance of culinary variation. Within the major expat destinations, each ethnic community has a variety of options which cater to this tastes from back home. Dubai, the worldliest city within the region, has also promoted world-class restaurants of all cuisine types as one of its most notable features. In fact, many countries across the GCC is proving to be a preferred destination for global fast food chains, driven by a growing population, influx of tourists and expats and a business friendly environment. The fast food market is accounting for 40% of the franchising market (currently $30B) with the UAE’s fast casual dining sector with $8.7B by 2015 and Saudi Arabia’s fast food market worth $4.5B by the same time.

American Fast Food chains such as Steak ‘n’ Shake, Dennys. Jamba Juice, and Sirio Maccioni all have plans to expand across to GCC nations in 2015 so you can guarantee you won’t be going without some of your favourite foods.

Saudi Kingdom Tower4. Can you freely practice your own faith?

Religious freedom is a point of concern for many individuals considering a move to the Middle East. There is a fear of discrimination and persecution if one chooses to practice their faith openly. While the same freedom seen in the West may not be presented throughout the entirety of the region, there is still a great deal of tolerance and open-mindedness in many of the region’s countries. Qatar, for one, has legally established freedom of religion, and have established the Doha International Centre for Inter-Faith Dialogue. And while Islam is the official state religion of Bahrain, bibles and other Christian publications are displayed and openly sold in public spaces.

5. Is it really tax-free?

Despite there being no income tax in many of the Gulf States, there are other areas in which you will be taxed. In the UAE, for instance, there is a Municipality Tax on property: five per cent of annual rent, or 0.5 per cent of the price of your home per year if you have outright purchased it. In addition, alcohol is taxed at 30 percent, and there’s sizeable taxes on luxury items like concert tickets, restaurants, and imported goods.

Next week, we feature the remaining five questions expats ask before relocating.

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