Which Middle Eastern Country Should You Move To?
We take a look at the top 4 countries in the gulf and analyse the four factors that influence an expats move (cost of living, visa acquirement, lifestyle and potential earnings). We put them all together to help you determine which country in the Gulf would be more suitable for your next career move.
Cost of Living
Dubai’s general cost of living has increased dramatically over the past few years in Dubai, largely due to the rising cost of real estate and price of inner city apartments. The cost of Living Survey for 2014 by Mercer revealed Dubai as the 67th most expensive city to live in in the world. This is a significant change from their previous ranking of 90th just a year earlier. A 3-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre will likely cost you in excess of $2,800 USD whereas if you wished to live in the city centre that price would increase to $4,200 USD. A three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant in Dubai (on average) will set you back $44.65 US Dollars. A regular cappuccino costs $4.12 USD, pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) is $2.72 and Gasoline is 48c per litre, an unfathomable price for many expats!
Regionally speaking, Saudi Arabian cities generally rank lower than most Middle Eastern cities in terms of international cost of living surveys. Considering that housing and transportation costs are typically incorporated into an expat’s salary package, very little money needs to be spent to live here. A three bedroom apartment in the middle of Riyadh will set you back approximately $966 USD per month and $655 per month for a similar apartment outside of the city centre.
Living costs are not expensive either; a three-course dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant will cost an average of $26.65 USD, a regular cappuccino costing $2.82 USD and a packet of cigarettes (Marlboro) costing an average of $2.67 USD.
With Gasoline costing 14c per litre, the cost of running a car is very cheap, however if you do decide to use public transport, a regular pass for a monthly ticket will cost around $40 USD.
The cost of living in Kuwait is more or less equivalent to that in the majority of European nations, for an average western expatriate. In other words, life in Kuwait can be considerably expensive; Business Insider reports that Kuwait maintains the ninth highest cost of living in the world. While the cost of goods and services may not be real bargains like those seen in Southeast Asia, but the lack of taxation is a major advantage to make these costs less oppressive. This is particularly true on certain items like cars. A 3 bedroom apartment in the city centre in Kuwait is likely to cost you 2,248 USD – quite reasonable compared to the staggering property prices in places such as Dubai) whereas a similar apartment would cost you approximated $1,859 USD per month.
The cost of living in Qatar is not nearly as high as in its Middle Eastern neighbours, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Aside from incredibly cheap petrol however, many everyday goods are more expensive in Qatar than what one may be accustomed to in the UK or US. 90% of the country’s food is imported, meaning that even basic foodstuffs can be expensive. A cappuccino costs around (on average) $5 USD and a litre of mil is $2.07.
Rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the centre of Doha will likely cost on average of $4,180 USD whereas a bedroom outside the city would cost around $2,767 USD.
Overall, Saudi Arabia is cheapest by far. Qatar, despite having the most expensive inner city real estate on average, overall living costs equates cheaper than the UAE, which is followed by Kuwait.
A residence visa is a prerequisite for expatriates to live in Dubai. While a residence visa is not the same as a work permit it is usually sponsored by the company employing the expatriate. A residence visa is mandatory to open a bank account in the United Arab Emirates, get a driving license and to register a car. In most cases, the residence visa is valid for two years. For investors, this is extended to three years.
In order to be granted a visa, you need to be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least six months or the entire period of your stay-whichever is longer. The passport must have two blank visa pages facing each other.
Saudi Arabia does not recognize dual citizenship. Therefore you should avoid carrying two passports with you at any time. For example, there have been cases where UK-Saudi nationals have had one of their passports confiscated when it was discovered. It is also important to note that if your passport in any way indicates that you have recently visited Israel, you might be refused a visa to enter the country.
To live permanently in Kuwait, expatriates other than GCC citizens must have iqama, or residence permit. To obtain residence on a work visa, an offer of employment must first be accepted. The Kuwaiti sponsoring employer then must apply for a work permit from the Ministry of Social Affairs & Labour. The sponsor will need a copy of the employee’s passport to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the General Administration of Criminal Investigation at the Ministry of Interior. Once the expatriate has entered Kuwait, they must undergo local medical tests and obtain a fingerprint certificate before he can process his residence visa.
A Work Residence Permit is not easily obtained unless there is a job offer or contract from a Qatar-based employer. Once a job offer is accepted, the employer begins the application process; the employer informs the employee of what documentation will be required. Certificates such as university degrees and marriage documents may need to be presented to both the country of issue’s foreign office, also well as the Qatari embassy. A medical test is also compulsory for all forms of residency permit.
Overall, the UAE is the easiest to obtain a visa from, also due to the ability to make a quick day trip across the border to Oman if you need to leave. Qatar and Kuwait have a similar stringency but Saudi Arabia is a clear-cut loser when it comes down to ease at which it is to obtain a visa.
When you’re off the clock, Dubai offers a lot to see and explore. Dubai boasts museums, film festivals, art festivals and sporting events. To experience a taste of Emirati life, there are also the souks, desert safaris, dune bashing, camel riding and pearl diving encounters. Expats can also “shop ‘til they drop,” as Dubai is a shopping destination with a mall on nearly every corner. Anything and everything can be found within Dubai to suit your proclivities.
Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative Islamic state. Islam dominates all aspects of life in the Kingdom. Many expats will discover that many of the liberties they enjoyed back home are strictly regulated. As such, there are no bars, movie theatres, nightclubs, or other gathering venues that many expats may be accustomed to. Those who are single may be disappointed at the lack of opportunities to mingle with those of the other sex.
However, one’s feeling of culture shock may be tempered t if living among the expat community within a Western compound. Many Western franchises thrive here, and satellite television is easily obtainable to watch the same entertainment seen in your homeland.
Kuwait offers a fantastic experience for those who appreciate the low-key and family life. It possesses amazing architecture, great shopping experiences and fun outdoor activities such as water sports. However, if you are on the lookout for a western style nightclub in Kuwait, you may be a bit disappointed. This is not Dubai!
The nightlife in Kuwait focuses on friends and food, and smoke of water pipe or shisha, or maybe one of the low-key discos, but alcohol will not be sold here due to religious beliefs. However, nightlife in Kuwait has its own charm and can add different kind of flavour to your vacation, as nightlife in this city does not mean just the nightclubs and bars.
It is fair to say that the lifestyle in Qatar revolves around two things: money and the weather. The cost of certain Western luxuries, such as alcohol or going to the cinema, is excessively high. And the typical scorching summers makes outdoor activities very limited during large parts of the year. If you can bear some of these grievances, however, there are certainly activities and cultural events that can lend themselves to a fulfilling lifestyle. Places such as the Corniche, State Grad Mosque, Museums and malls mean you will be not short of something to do on the weekends.
Commonly known as one of the most vibrant cities in the Gulf, Dubai tilts the lifestyle section in the UAE’s favour. A recent investment in infrastructure helps Qatar nab the second spot, closely followed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia rounding off the list.
Potential earnings have been broken down into 3 categories, construction, engineering and healthcare and all are monthly earnings. These are some of the top potential earnings by location and remember, all of these countries have no income tax!
UAE - $9,300 USD
Saudi Arabia - $12,900 USD
Qatar - $10,600 USD
Kuwait - $11,300 USD
UAE - $3,500 USD
Saudi Arabia - $4,400 USD
Qatar - $4,700 USD
Kuwait – No information available
UAE – $2,800 USD
Saudi Arabia - $2,400 USD
Qatar - $2,100 USD
Kuwait – No information available
Overall Saudi Arabia boasts some of the highest salaries in the region with Qatar coming a close second.
Overall the race is close with each individual country having certain strengths. As an expat it is about prioritising what is right for you.
If you are seeking a luxurious lifestyle with not too many differences from home then the UAE is the ultimate choice. With a large expatriate community already there, the UAE is one of the closest countries to home you will find in the Gulf.
If you are looking for a balance of a slightly higher income but not as much exuberance regarding your lifestyle as the UAE then Qatar would be a great option. It is becoming one of the hubs of the region, with exciting events such as the FIFA World Cup just around the corner.
Kuwait is another great location for the expat who wants a great salary and freedom with an expensive cost of living. With one of the most stable economies in the world, salaries are likely to remain high and not fluctuate with the current up-and-down oil prices.
Saudi Arabia offers great monetary benefits despite laws of entry and visa requirements being a lot stricter and the country being a lot more conservative. If it is more money left in your pocket, then Saudi Arabia is a great choice for you.
Whatever stage you are at in your career, explore the various options thoroughly. Need more information? Then let us help you make the move by uploading your CV to our database and advice on how your CV is currently placed to find opportunities in the Middle East.