Exploring expat opportunities in the Middle East

  • opportunites au Moyen-Orient
Published on 2023-07-25 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Moving to the Middle East has become a prominent trend, with the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus leading the way. A wide array of individuals, including foreign investors, executives, young graduates, and students, are now exploring opportunities in cities like Dubai or Nicosia, making it an increasingly diverse community. Some other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia, are also making modest reforms to attract more foreign professionals.

So, who exactly is well-suited for expat life in the Middle East? And what about those considering moving with their families or curious about salary structures? Furthermore, how can one ensure a sustainable and fulfilling life in this region?

Moving to a Middle Eastern country in 2023

In 2023, the prospect of moving to a Middle Eastern country has been influenced by the impact of the COVID pandemic. During the initial months of the outbreak, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took significant measures to position itself as a "safe destination for expatriates." Through various communication campaigns, particularly on social networks, the UAE, which already had a substantial immigrant population, succeeded in attracting the attention of potential expatriates. However, it's essential to clarify what is meant by the term "Middle East."

The term "Middle East" was coined by Western states and encompasses a diverse group of countries, including Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen. While all these countries fall under the category of the "Middle East," only half of them are of interest to aspiring expatriates. Various factors influence the attractiveness of these countries for potential expats, and their interests are shared by the respective governments to different extents.

For example, Cyprus, Qatar, and the UAE are actively seeking foreign professionals, and they make this known through their policies and outreach efforts. These countries present significant opportunities for expatriates looking to work and live in the Middle East.

In the race to become the preferred destination for expatriates, Saudi Arabia has also joined the competition, aiming to challenge Qatar and, especially, the UAE as the new flagship destination. Israel, on the other hand, is heavily relying on foreign workers to address labor shortages in key sectors of its economy. Meanwhile, Kuwait, despite its ongoing Kuwaitisation process, is still open to highly qualified expatriates. Oman, facing the void left by the departure of 300,000 foreign workers during the Covid pandemic, is also welcoming skilled expatriates to fill essential roles.

However, Bahrain has taken a different approach by intensifying its "Bahrainization" policy, aiming to combat rising unemployment by prioritizing national employment. The idea is to ensure that sectors that historically employ fewer Bahraini nationals become more Bahraini-centric in their hiring practices.

In contrast, some destinations in the region are less popular among expatriates due to internal challenges such as political instability, security issues, and economic crises. These factors contribute to making those countries less appealing for foreign professionals seeking stable and secure environments for work and living.

What expat profile is best suited for moving to the UAE?

Expatriation to the Middle East is open to a diverse range of individuals with different profiles and goals. Whether someone is looking to travel alone, move with their family, or pursue work opportunities, various factors must be considered before deciding to relocate.


When it comes to starting a new life abroad as an expat, salary is undoubtedly a significant motivator, and the Middle East, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is known for offering attractive salaries, with Dubai being one of the best-paying cities in the world. Salaries in Dubai can range from approximately AED 15,550 to AED 16,270 per month (around 4233 to 4430 USD per month). However, it's essential to recognize that the average salary can vary significantly depending on the industry, profession, level of experience, and hierarchical position (e.g., manager, director, etc.).

The UAE, along with other Middle Eastern countries, has been investing in its cities and infrastructure, creating a conducive environment for expatriates to thrive professionally and personally.

In various Middle Eastern countries, the average monthly salaries differ significantly. In Cyprus, the monthly average wage falls between USD 1,550 and USD 3,590, while in Israel, it hovers around USD 2,600 per month. In Qatar, the average salary is approximately USD 4,260 per month, and in Saudi Arabia, it is around USD 2,250 per month. These figures illustrate the wide salary range based on factors such as the employment sector, profession, work experience, and job position.

Compared to several other countries, the average salary in Dubai is notably higher, making it an appealing destination for foreign talent. For example, the average salary in Dubai surpasses that in France, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, and Tunisia.

Comfortable salaries are a strong draw for expatriates considering these countries as their destination. However, it's crucial to note that salaries alone are not the only factor influencing the decision to move overseas. Career prospects also play a significant role in motivating individuals to pursue opportunities abroad. Young professionals, particularly those traveling alone, are often eager to explore new horizons, and they are attracted to the promise of a rewarding career in a foreign land.

For young professionals, questions related to family life may not be a primary concern in their calculations. They prioritize personal and professional growth, viewing their new life abroad as a chance to broaden their experiences and advance in their careers. On the other hand, individuals who decide to move as a couple or a family tend to be more sensitive to factors like education opportunities, social protection, income levels, and the overall cost of living. These considerations become more critical when planning for a family's well-being and stability in the new environment.

Cost of living

Discussing salary without addressing the cost of living is virtually impossible. Dubai, a favored city for expatriates, is gradually becoming one of the most expensive places to live. The soaring prices have transformed it into a hub for the "super-rich," as reported by Bloomberg. For instance, the average annual rent for a family in Dubai has skyrocketed to nearly $85,000 (equivalent to approximately $7,083 per month), a 26% increase from the previous year.

Despite the allure of high salaries and tax benefits, expatriates are now opting to leave wealthy Dubai in favor of more affordable cities like Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, or Ajman City, where living costs are more manageable.

In contrast, Cyprus remains an attractive destination for expatriates, with Nicosia as the preferred capital city for settling down. Families can choose between free local state schools and private international schools in English or French. Moreover, accommodation in Cyprus is relatively more affordable than in Dubai, with an average monthly rent of around $1,800 for a property in the city center and $1,500 in the suburbs.

Saudi Arabia also offers a slightly lower cost of living than Dubai, although Riyadh, the capital, strives to compete with its counterpart. Expatriates often choose to reside in cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, or Damman. Those relocating with their families are drawn to these places due to the availability of international schools. Solo travelers, on the other hand, face fewer burdens, particularly if they plan to stay in the country for a limited duration, seeking to gain experience, develop their careers abroad, and expand their network.

However, families and individuals contemplating long-term immigration consider additional expenses like schooling, health insurance, and leisure activities essential to their decision-making process.

A new way of life: The example of Saudi Arabia

In society, people should adhere to the norms and customs of their particular country, as rules and expectations may vary from place to place. While salary is often a motivating factor for moving abroad, it's crucial to remember that other aspects like climate, lifestyle, and cultural differences also play a significant role. For example, even in countries like Canada, a favorite destination for expatriates, there might be disappointments related to the climate or lifestyle that some individuals may find challenging to adapt to.

Countries in the Middle East, influenced by Islamic law (Sharia), have distinct cultural practices that expatriates should be familiar with to avoid any misunderstandings or problems. Some countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain strict applications of Sharia law, leading to major restrictions, particularly concerning women and same-sex couples. On the other hand, countries like Oman are relatively more moderate, with various religious groups coexisting harmoniously. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are perceived as being less rigid in religious matters, as the UAE, in particular, has embraced a principle of less Sharia law and more diplomacy to attract foreign talent.

Political systems in certain countries may also cause concerns, despite claims of openness and socioeconomic progress. For instance, Saudi Arabia has made progress under Mohammed Bin Salman's (MBS) leadership, but certain restrictions and policies still deter expatriates from settling in Riyadh. Alcohol consumption remains banned, and the options for international schools are limited compared to places like Dubai. While reforms have been undertaken, the overall atmosphere in Saudi Arabia is perceived as less free and cosmopolitan than in Dubai.

Saudi Arabia's Vision2030, aimed at transforming the country, has been met with controversy due to its impact on public finances, repression of opponents, and the concentration of power in the executive's hands. Despite this, Saudi Arabia continues to strive to become a flagship destination in the Middle East. However, attracting expatriates on the scale of Dubai may take time, given the ongoing differences and restrictions in various aspects of life.


In October 2022, a survey conducted by The Economist, a British magazine, identified 27 cities in the Middle East and Africa among the 172 most liveable cities for expatriates. Topping the list in the Middle East-Africa region were Abu Dhabi and Dubai, followed by Kuwait City and Tel Aviv. Kuwait City, like several other countries in the region, is pursuing nationalization policies to prioritize employment opportunities for its citizens. Similar measures are being implemented in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, albeit with varying degrees of intensity. The Emirati government, for instance, introduced a quota system earlier in the year to promote the employment of nationals, particularly encouraging Emiratis to work in the private sector while maintaining openness to the global community.

Long-term expatriation to the Middle East is indeed feasible, depending on individual projects, available resources, on-ground realities, adaptability (including learning the local language), and the willingness to work abroad. Prospective expatriates must carefully consider the tax advantages offered by countries like Cyprus or the UAE while also factoring in the cost of living and job prospects. For example, Cyprus seeks to recruit individuals for various low-skilled occupations, such as drivers, salespeople, secretaries, kitchen assistants, and hospital staff. At the same time, they also need highly qualified professionals like nurses, IT specialists, economists, and engineers.

In Israel, the government aims to counter labor shortages and manage the cost of living by planning to recruit "thousands of workers from India and China" for roles in the construction and healthcare sectors.

Aspiring expatriates should assess these opportunities carefully and consider their personal circumstances before deciding to live and work abroad. Factors like job availability, quality of life, language barriers, and cultural adaptation should all be considered when considering expatriation to any of these Middle Eastern and North African cities.