10 Questions Expats Ask Before Moving to the Middle East (Part 2)
Last week we covered 5 (out of 10) questions expats ask before relocating to the Middle East. This week we finish the remaining five questions to help you pick up your bags and relocate with confidence, without that feeling like you have forgotten something.
While the cost of living may be cheaper than in one’s homeland, hidden costs can cut in one’s lifestyle. In Dubai, for instance, telephone, internet, and television fees can be more expensive that what is normally found in Europe or North America. Brand name goods must be imported into the Middle East, leading to these to also cost more than normal for many expats. School fees for those with children-to send children to private schools- can also be categorised as a hidden cost, as public school options are typically not viable for expatriate community members.
Throughout the Middle East there exists large pockets of expat communities. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are roughly 100,000 North Americans and European foreign nationals. In Kuwait, there are over 13,000 Americans. However undoubtedly, it is the UAE where the most number of expats reside due to the relatively liberal society. With 91% of residents living in the UAE being expatriates you will find large numbers of expats everywhere you go, particularly in the main centres of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. As for the rest of the Middle East nations, the size of the community is simply dependent on the location and its historical ties to English-speakers and although Arabic may be the native tongue spoke, you will find english is still widely used and understood.
Healthcare varies depending on the nation you elect to reside in. Qatar, for instance, has an exceptional state health system. The Hamad Medical Corporation offers free treatment to everyone who registers, including expatriates. Private medical options are also readily available. Many GCC nations are investing heavily in their healthcare systems also as the populations mean age is increasing. This has lead to an increase in spending of infrastructure to facilitate the care of these patients whilst also creating numerous jobs as well.
Living in an Islamic country can be unfamiliar at first as there are some customs westerners may not have experienced before. The importance of religion and family over work is something that is valued very highly in Middle East nations. Depending which company you work for, some Muslims will practice Salat (5 prayers per day) which two could potentially happen whilst at work.
Another important religious holiday is the holiday of Ramadan, a very important and Holy time in the Islamic calendar. A time of fasting for Muslims it is common for many companies to ban eating and drinking at desks out of respect for those fasting during this period. Most bars and restaurants will remain closed throughout the day and open in the evening. Trying to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in the street or in public during this period is important also. It is typically a slow month due to the fasting and many expats will go on mini-breaks during the period.
It is important to keep an open mind, stay calm and respect the customs of the native Arabs. It usually does not effect day-to-day life too much as you do become accustomed to it, however it can be a culture shock at first.
An international; driver’s license is not sufficient enough in many Middle Eastern countries. While holders of international driver’s licenses can drive rental cars from official rental agencies, residents must apply and be issued a driver’s license from local authorities for private vehicles. Depending on where your license is issued from, you may have it converted directly to a local driver’s license, as is seen in the UAE for many westerners. If your existing license is not issued from any of the countries listed in the legal code, you must take the driving examinations before you can be issued a UAE driver’s license.
It is important to consider every possibility and aspect of what you want from your life if you are to uproot and travel to lands anew. The Middle East is a land of excitement and adventure, but it is likely different from your homeland in several respects. Be prepared for this differences, so that you can get to enjoying all that it has to offer quicker!
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