Relocation – The Middle East

Relocation – The Middle East

Off By Ed Hanna

The Middle East is fast becoming an attractive resettlement location for British expats. With the Gulf States in particular investing billions in economic and social development, the region has the lure of job opportunities, good tax-free salaries, hot weather and the chance to experience a different way of life.

This makes it an appealing option for Service leavers looking for a fresh start. With the Expo 2020 taking place in Dubai next year, it could be a good time to consider a Middle Eastern adventure.

By Gary Buswell

Here are some of the locations we think Service-leavers should consider…

United Arab Emirates

One of the most popular destinations in the Middle East due to its two thriving cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a sizeable expat population and is one of the more liberal and multicultural of the Gulf states.

Job opportunities: With money being pumped into several big infrastructure projects in the country, there is a current need for skilled foreign labour. The biggest recruitment sectors at the moment are construction (with job opportunities including project management, quantity surveying and engineering), ITC, finance, healthcare (nurses and medical professionals) and teachers in the many English-speaking schools.

Culture and lifestyle: Culturally, the Emirates is one of the most mixed and relaxed of all the Gulf states. Around 88% of the population is immigrant and there are plenty of English-speaking expat services and facilities as well as opportunities to sample local Arabic culture in restaurants, museums and souks. There is diverse entertainment and nightlife plus beaches, although there are some cultural restrictions to note. You need a license for alcohol and kissing in public is illegal (punishable by deportation). Women have more freedom than in neighbouring countries but are required to follow rules on modest dress.

Salaries and cost of living: Good earnings opportunities, tax-free salaries and VAT at only 5%. The average net salary is around £2,000 a month (higher than the UK), with higher-paid jobs paying around £4-5k. The biggest expense is accommodation (similar costs to UK) but food, clothing and utilities are cheaper. Petrol prices are among the cheapest in the world.


The smallest nation in the Gulf with a population of just 1.3 million, Bahrain is considered one of the best places to live in the Middle East in terms of quality of life and ranks highly in studies on social life, work culture and environment.

Job opportunities: Bahrain has a highly developed economy which has diversified a lot in recent years. It’s the financial capital of the Gulf region with several big Arab banks as well as western banks such as Citibank and BNP Paribas based there. Its fast-growing economy means there are opportunities for expats in sectors such as construction, tourism, education and the service sector.

Culture and lifestyle: Similar to the UAE, Bahrain offers a blend of Arabic and western culture in one of the most cosmopolitan environments in the Middle East. Its capital, Manama, was ranked third best city to move to in the 2018 Expat City Ratings. It’s a more tolerant and progressive nation than its neighbours and has a lively nightlife. All faiths are welcomed, although there are conservative laws in place and disrespecting the Islamic faith can lead to punishment.

Salaries and cost of living: Like many other Gulf states, there is zero tax although residents pay a 1% social security levy. The average net salary is around £1,200 per month (rising to £3-4k for top jobs) and the cost of living is around 14% lower than in the UK. Public healthcare and schooling is available to help reduce costs.


One of the world’s wealthiest countries due to its vast oil reserves, Qatar is a beautiful country with spectacular white sandy beaches and a desert landscape. The country will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup which is creating employment opportunities across several industries.

Job opportunities: The national economy has, up until now, been heavily driven by the large oil and gas industries as well as a strong financial sector. With the World Cup seeing around $200 billion spent on stadiums, facilities and transport, big firms are currently looking for skilled labour and managerial staff in areas such as construction, tourism and hospitality, engineering and transport planning.

Culture and lifestyle: Another country with a majority (88%) expat population, (although with not so many Europeans and English-speakers as Bahrain or UAE). Most westerners live in Doha, the capital, which still retains a strong Bedouin Arabic vibe in places despite the rapid pace of change. Qatar hasn’t liberalised as much as some of the other states. There’s a conservative dress code (especially for women) and alcohol can only be purchased from the Qatar Distribution Company.

Salaries and cost of living: Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, with average wages around £2,600 a month. According to one study, around a third of expats in Qatar have a disposable income of over $100,000. It’s another tax-free zone and about 10% cheaper to live in than the UK, but accommodation is over 50% more expensive and energy bills are high due to airconditioning costs during the sweltering summers.

Saudi Arabia

Known for being one of the strictest Islamic regimes in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has shown some signs of modernising and there are plans to invest billions on social programmes that will bring new jobs and opportunities to the country.

Job opportunities: As much as $1 trillion is estimated to be spent over the next decade on development projects in construction, infrastructure, power, water, IT, agriculture, health and education and the country will be looking to attract skilled foreign labour to fill the many gaps.

Culture and lifestyle: Life in Saudi Arabia is more strictly governed by Islamic customs. There are no bars, clubs or cinemas. Alcohol and pork are banned. Dress codes are more restrictive and women have less freedom, although some laws have been relaxed recently. Western residents mostly live in segregated compounds where they have a certain amount of freedom to live as they like.

Cost of living: Saudi Arabia is one of the more affordable Gulf countries. General living costs are nearly 30% cheaper than in the UK, with accommodation costs over 60% cheaper on average. Salaries, however, are still good. The average salary works out at around £1,300 a month with some managerial level jobs paying around £3-4k. There is no tax, just a 2% social security levy which is normally covered by employers.

Useful resources

Finding a job – general recruitment – general recruitment

Visas and general information

UAE Embassy

Tel: 020 7581 1281

Bahrain Embassy

Tel: 020 7201 9170

Qatar Embassy

Tel: 020 7493 2200

Saudi Arabia Embassy

Tel: 020 7917 3000