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Living and Working in the Middle East

Table of contents

The UAE 

  1. The Country in Brief
  2. Health and Living
  3. Culture and Lifestyle
  4. Travel and Transport
  5. Finance and Banking
  6. Good to Know

Saudi Arabia

  1. The Country in Brief
  2. Health and Living
  3. Culture and Lifestyle
  4. Travel and Transport
  5. Finance and Banking
  6. Good to Know

Qatar

  1. The Country in Brief
  2. Health and Living
  3. Culture and Lifestyle
  4. Travel and Transport
  5. Finance and Banking
  6. Good to Know

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The United Arab Emirates

1. The Country in Brief

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Located on the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates sits to the south-east of the Persian Gulf and the north-west of the Gulf of Oman. The nation is a federation of seven emirates; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah.

Since its formation in 1971, the country has thrived thanks to the high levels of oil in the region and now prides itself on being one of the wealthiest nations in the Arab world. Tourism has also contributed massively to the country’s wealth.

The country offers a high standard of living, political stability and freedom from natural disasters. A desert climate provides year-round sun with very little rainfall and iconic cityscapes featuring sci-fi-esque buildings litter the skyline of urban areas.

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Language

Given that the UAE is home to over 7.8 million expatriates, the number of languages spoken is very broad. Arabic remains the country’s official language, however, English binds all other expatriates and is widely used throughout the nation.

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2. Health and Lifestyle

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Healthcare

The UAE offers a wide range of medical facilities throughout the country, all of which are very well-organised and offer a high standard of care. Healthcare licencing and regulations is managed by four organisations; Health Authority Abu Dhabi now known as DOH (Abu Dhabi), the Dubai Health Authority (Dubai), Dubai Healthcare City Regulatory (Dubai Healthcare City) and the Ministry of Health (Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah).

There are two tiers of care available in the UAE; public and private.

Public healthcare is free but only open to UAE nationals.

As a foreign worker, you must opt for private healthcare, which is of a similar standard to that in Europe and the USA. Medical staff are generally well-trained and often multi-lingual.

As healthcare costs are so high, foreign workers are required to hold valid health insurance. This is always provided by your employer.

Childcare

Private childcare services are open to expatriates. Most services offer a high level of care and excellent education which allows children to seamlessly enter compulsory education at the age of four.

The demand for childcare in the UAE is high, there are waiting lists for some providers, particularly those that offer the very best services. With this in mind, it is advisable to book your child’s place well in advance. Some providers may require copies of your passport and visa in order to complete the registration process.

Many foreign workers prefer to hire a nanny. In addition to providing care, nannies can also be called upon to help out around the house. If you prefer this option, it is advisable to hire a nanny through a licenced recruitment agency.

Education

The education system in the UAE has greatly evolved over the last few decades. The country’s government has outlined its vision to equip students with the highest level of modern education possible. Their focus is on improving the standard of curriculum, the use of technology and delivering first-rate learning environments for all.

Public education is compulsory in the UAE and is free to all UAE nationals. Non-UAE nationals are still eligible to attend government schools but as fee-paying students.

The UAE operates a four-tier, 14-year education system.

Education Level Age Group
Kindergarten 4-6
Primary 6-12
Preparatory 12-15
Secondary 15-18

Private schools are also available and prove very popular amongst UAE nationals. The majority of establishments are located in either Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Sharjah.

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Finding Accommodation

Some clients provide hospital accommodation for the first 30 days after arrival to the UAE. The hospitals usually cover the cost of the accommodation and later an accommodation allowance is provided. 

Property in the UAE is available to both buy and rent; either option can be carried out through an estate agent.

If you opt to buy, you will be required to submit a formal offer and, if necessary, apply for a mortgage. Should this offer be accepted, you must pay a deposit of between five and 15 per cent in order to secure the property. Additional transfer fees and agent fees will also be added to the final sum.

Another option is to rent. Usually, apartments are leased on an annual basis, meaning you must renew your contract every year.

Estate living is another option that is popular with expatriates. Residential estates are gated communities that are secure, well-maintained and have access to shops, beauty salons and other facilities. Some complexes will even have shared swimming pools and tennis courts.

Whether you choose to buy or rent, it is important to select a location that suits your lifestyle. Areas such as Dubai are decentralised cities; this means that there are multiple smaller centres connected by multi-lane highways rather than one larger city centre. It is worth considering this when planning your daily commute and location in relation to local amenities.

Cost of Accommodation

The UAE is home to some of the most stunning properties in the world. As such, the cost of accommodation can range in price depending on the location and community, regardless of whether you are buying or renting.

Cost of Living

In addition to mortgage/rent payments and utility costs, there are other expenditures to factor into your monthly budget. 

The cost of groceries can vary wildly and is dependent on whether you prefer local produce or international brands. The price of a weekly shop can range from 250 AED to 500 AED. 

If you are looking to eat out, fast food is available and is fairly cheap whilst good restaurants range from around 100 - 250 AED per person not including alcohol. 

Travelling also needs to be taken into consideration, even though the price of fuel is relatively inexpensive. You do have the option to lease a car, which will cost around 2,000 AED per month; this includes fuel and insurance. Public transport is also reasonably priced with some journeys costing as little as 3 AED.

Depending on your budget, you may want to hire domestic staff. Hiring a maid or nanny can cost around 30 AED per hour on a part or full-time basis.

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3. Culture and Lifestyle

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Dining, Tipping and Service

Traditional dishes include Al Harees, Shawarma, Al Machboos and Hummus. Dubai has an excellent selection of street food vendors as well as a variety of high-end restaurants offering delicious local dishes.

However, if you fancy something a little more mainstream, fast food can be easily sourced throughout the country, as can eateries serving food from other nations around the world.

Tipping at restaurants is considered polite and a sign of appreciation, but does depend on the service and quality of the meal. Some establishments may automatically add an additional 10 to 15 per cent service charge, but this is usually noted at the bottom of your receipt, along with any taxes.

Entertainment

When it comes to entertainment, the UAE has plenty to offer. Whether you enjoy visiting landmarks like the Burj Khalifa or attending captivating shows at the theatre, this is a country bursting with character that is just waiting to be explored.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the states that draw the most attention from expatriates. While Abu Dhabi offers attractions such as Ferrari World (a theme park celebrating the famous F1 team) and Yas Waterworld (a Florida-style water park), Dubai houses amazing aquariums, stunning gardens and even indoor skiing.

Dubai is also a nirvana for shoppers. The Dubai Mall, part of a breathtaking $20 billion complex which includes restaurants, cinemas and a virtual reality park, is home to over 1,200 stores from around the world selling the very latest designer goods.

Sports and Culture

Sport plays a major part in UAE culture and the country is home to numerous world-class sporting facilities for use at professional, semi-professional and amateur levels.

Football is by far the most popular sport with many natives following both domestic and international leagues closely. Polo, sailing and golf are also widely observed.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai regularly host major sporting events including the Dubai Tennis Championships, golf’s Dubai Desert Classic and the glorious climax of the Formula 1 season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

A number of traditional sports are also very popular amongst locals and expats. These include falconry, camel racing and equestrian events.

Climate

The UAE has a desert climate and is generally hot and sunny with very little rainfall.

July and August are the warmest months, with temperatures reaching around 42°C.

The cooler months are from December to February and do provide a respite from the searing summer sun. Winter temperatures tend to be in the mid-20s, while rainfall, although minimal, is more likely to occur during this time.

UAE Law

Recreational drugs are banned and some prescription medications like codeine are taboo.

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4. Travel and Transport

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Visas and Migration

In order to apply for a UAE work visa, you will need a valid passport (this must not expire in the next six months), extra passport-style photographs, health certificate, copies of your employment contract, CV of educational degrees and work experience and a Dubai sponsor with a valid trade license.

Submitting this information will grant you entry into the UAE and allow you to live and work until your employer has filed for your Labour Card.

Visas are valid for two to three years and must be continually renewed. Unfortunately, permanent residency and UAE citizenship are not available to foreign workers.

If you intend to bring your family, they must also apply for temporary residency. Any child born to non-UAE nationals must apply for a residency permit through their parents within three months of birth.

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Getting Here

The UAE is serviced by a number of international airlines. These include:

  • British Airways
  • Qantas
  • Air India
  • Emirates
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Etihad Airways

Driving in the UAE

Both new and used cars can be bought across the UAE.. Depending on the make and model you desire, prices tend to range from around 40,000 AED to over 500,000 AED. Used cars are considerably cheaper, though, it is worth checking that the dealership you are buying from is trustworthy. Vehicles are also available to rent.

It is worth noting that drink-driving in the UAE is a criminal offence, no matter how little alcohol you consume. Offensive hand gestures and foul language are also punishable by law.

You must drive on the right-hand side of the road and speed is measured in kilometres.

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Driving Licence

Some foreign workers are able to swap their current driving licence for a UAE licence without having to take a test. These include residents of Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. If your licence is not in English, you will need to have it translated through a translation service such as translationservices.ae.

If you are unable to swap your driving licence or you are a new driver, you will need to complete a test with an authorised driving school.

All drivers must undergo an eye test before they are allowed to drive in the UAE. This can be carried out in any hospital.

All drivers must be over the age of 18.

Public Transport

The UAE’s public transport network is vast and reliable. Taxis are the most popular way to travel and are relatively cheap when compared with other city locations around the world.

Buses are also an excellent method of getting around city centres and between the Emirates. The busiest networks are in Abu Dhabi, which offers 75 routes, and Dubai, which has 112. You can use Nol (Dubai), Hafilat (Abu Dhabi) or Sayer (Sharjah) cards to pay for buses, all of which are available to purchase from ticket offices, customer service centres or online.

Dubai also operates a metro and tram system and is the only state to offer such services.

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5. Finance and Banking

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Money

In 1973, the UAE adopted a dirham and fils system of decimal currency. There are 100 fils to one dirham. 

Notes are in denominations of 1,000 AED, 500 AED, 200 AED, 100 AED, 50 AED, 20 AED, 10 AED, and 5 AED.

Coins are in denominations of 1 AED, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils, and 5 fils.

Currency Conversion

One UAE Dirham roughly equates to:

  • £0.22 (UK Pound)
  • €0.24 (Euro)
  • $0.27 (US Dollar)
  • ₹19.76 (Indian Rupee)
  • ¥1.88 (Chinese Yuan)

Applying for a Bank Account

Opening a bank account in the UAE is quite simple and there are plenty of banks to choose from, so always ensure you are getting the best deal.

To apply for an account, you will need to organise a meeting with a representative from your chosen bank. You will need to take your passport, extra passport-sized photographs and a letter of no-objection from either your sponsor or employer.

You may also require a copy of your visa, your Emirates ID card and documentation showing your employer’s name and the amount of your salary.

As you are required to sign your application, you must be present in order to open an account. Unfortunately, this means that the process cannot be completed prior to your move or online.

Tax

There is no income tax in the UAE. Taxes are imposed on the import of goods and entertainment, although these are incorporated into the final price.

As a foreign worker, you may still be liable to pay tax in your home country if:

  • You remain a tax resident of your home country
  • You lease property in your home country

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Pensions

The retirement age for UAE nationals is 49, while expatriates must work until they are 60. Some foreign workers are permitted to work until they are 65, but must seek approval from the Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

Expatriates are not entitled to a pension but are eligible for end-of-service benefits such as gratuity or severance pay.

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6. Good to Know

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Mobile Phone Operators

The cost of owning and operating a mobile phone varies depends on your monthly plan, for more information on post-paid plans you can visit the three mobile operators available in the UAE
If you’d prefer to keep your existing phone, SIM cards are available from most retailers throughout the country as well as at the airport.

Top Mobile Phone Operators:

  • Etisalat
  • Du
  • Virgin Mobile

Internet

Internet connectivity in the UAE is amongst the fastest in the world. Download speeds can reach 300 Mbps depending on the plan selected.

Top Internet providers:

  • Etisalat
  • Du

Utilities

There are four major utility providers in the UAE:

  • Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA)
  • Department of Energy (formally Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority - ADWEA)
  • Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA)
  • Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA).

Useful Information

  • Electricity: 240v, 50Hz AC
  • Plug type: C, D and G

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Public Holidays

Gregorian calendar

  • New Year’s Day (1 Jan)
  • Commemoration Day (30 November)
  • National Day (2 December)

Islamic year

  • Al Isra’a Wal Mi’raj (Ascension Day) - Rajab
  • Eid Al Fitr - Shawwal
  • Arafat Day - Dhu al Hijjah
  • Eid al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) - Dhu al Hijjah
  • Al Hijri (Islamic New Year) - Muharram
  • Birthday of the Prophet - Rabi al Awwal

*Islamic holidays are determined according to moon sighting.

Emergency numbers

  • Police: 999
  • Ambulance service: 998
  • Fire: 997
  • Coast Guard: 996
  • Electrical Failure: 911
  • Water Failure: 922

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Saudi Arabia

1. The Country in Brief

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Located between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s largest sovereign state and fifth biggest country in Asia.

As an oil-rich nation, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on its vast reserves. The Kingdom is the world’s largest exporter of petroleum and has seen its economy blossom ever since ‘black gold’ was first discovered in 1938. In fact, over half of the country’s GDP is generated by the oil industry.

In addition to picturesque landscapes and highly valuable natural resources, Saudi Arabia also possesses a rich culture and fascinating heritage.

The country has embraced expatriates with around one-third of the Saudi population hailing from foreign shores. Many flock to the country in order to enjoy a high standard of living, political stability and freedom from natural disasters.

Language

Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia and spoken throughout the country. There are various dialects including Najdi Arabic, a variation spoken in the central regions of the country, Hejazi Arabic, predominantly heard in western areas, and Gulf Arabic, which is often used by those living around the Persian Gulf area of Saudi Arabia.

English is also widely spoken in business and day to day conversation. Official signage and businesses present in both Arabic and English.

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2. Health and Lifestyle

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Healthcare

Both public and private hospitals operate in Saudi Arabia, with the standard of healthcare not too dissimilar to that on offer in Western Europe and North America. Saudi hospitals employ well-trained, English-speaking doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals and are equipped with the latest in healthcare technology.

Health insurance is mandatory for all foreign workers and helps to maintain the country’s healthcare infrastructure. Health insurance and malpractice insurance are provided by your employer.

There are around 2,000 primary healthcare centres across the country and 240 hospitals.

Childcare

Childcare is widely available in all major towns and cities across Saudi Arabia and is especially popular in areas that house large numbers of expatriates.

Education

At six years of age, children must enter primary education for six years. This is followed by middle, then secondary education, both of which last for three years.

The school year begins in September and concludes in July. Male and female students are separated throughout all stages of education.

During secondary education, students are given a choice; either continue with general education or switch to specialised secondary education at a technical secondary institution. The latter provides vocational education and training in a number of fields including agriculture, commerce and industry.

Tertiary education is available at 24 government universities across Saudi Arabia. Degrees in humanities and social sciences take four years to complete, while courses studying medicine, pharmacy and engineering take a further two.

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Finding Accommodation

Most foreign workers choose to live in western compounds. Compounds offer an excellent range of facilities including swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts and shops.

Free accommodation is provided by the hospitals, while the cost of utilities and transport to work may also be covered.

If you do opt to find your own property, you will be provided with accommodation allowance.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Saudi Arabia is relatively cheap. Basic ingredients for cooking are inexpensive (milk, bread and a dozen eggs can be bought for less than R20), while a basic lunch in the city can be picked up for less than R40.

Lulu Hypermarket, FARM Superstores and Carrefour KSA are amongst the most popular supermarkets in the Kingdom, with Lulu Hypermarket and Carrefour KSA recommended for imported goods.

Travel costs must also be taken into consideration. Public transport, available in larger towns and cities, is generally cheaper than in any other Gulf state, while taxis can be hired for R2.50 per kilometre. If you choose to drive, petrol is available for a very reasonable price.

Depending on your budget, you may want to hire a cleaner to take care of domestic duties. Housemaids often charge by the hour and are available to hire for around R30.

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3. Culture and Lifestyle

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Dining, Tipping and Service

Typical Saudi ingredients include chicken, lamb and seafood, as well as dates, potatoes, rice, wheat and yoghurt. Traditional dishes include kabsa, saleeg and hininy.

The country boasts a superb selection of restaurants serving delicious Middle Eastern delicacies.

However, if you fancy indulging in a little fast food, internationally recognised eateries are available in cities across the Kingdom, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut.

If you are invited to dine with locals, there are a number of customs that you must observe. Firstly, guests must wash their hands and say ‘Sahtain’ (equivalent to Bon Appetite) or Bismillah (in the name of God) before beginning their meal.

Once a meal is finished, guests are invited to say ‘Daimah’, which translates to ‘may there always be plenty at your table’.

When dining out, tipping ten per cent of the total bill is considered polite and a sign of appreciation.

Entertainment

Saudi Arabia has plenty to offer when it comes to entertainment. From sensational cityscapes to amazing outdoor experiences, the Kingdom has something to cater to any taste.

The colourful city of Najran on the Yemeni border is often described as one of the most beautiful regions in the Kingdom. It is widely considered to be the most tourist-friendly destination in Saudi-Arabia.

Alternatively, around 700km from Riyadh lies the Wahba Crater, a volcanic crater that offers amazing scenery including lava fields, an oasis and salt pans. The area can be easily explored by foot and provides an incredible backdrop for camping out under the stars.

However, if history is more to your liking, the northern towns of Buraidah and Unaizah in the Qassim region offer a rich cultural heritage. Unaizah has ancient farmlands, beautiful unique mosques, historical sites and a vibrant traditional marketplace.

Sports and Culture

Sport is deep-rooted in Saudi culture and plays a key part in the Kingdom’s educational system, with children encouraged to take part throughout their academic life. Sports facilities are also available in most cities.

Horse racing is a sport that has entertained Saudis for centuries and remains a firm favourite in modern day society. The country is famed for producing the Arabian horse, one of the most sought-after breeds in the world, and is home to a number of stylish racetracks, however, gambling is outlawed.

Other traditional sports including camel racing, falconry and hunting are also much-loved by locals and expatriates alike.

While traditional sports still remain a huge part of Saudi life, modern sports have successfully infiltrated the culture. Football (soccer) is by far the most popular of these sports and regularly entertains vast numbers of fans. The country’s league is widely followed and attracts huge audiences across the country. International leagues like the English Premier League are also watched with great interest.

Swimming, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics are all keenly played and observed, while water sports are accessible in the regions close to the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.

Climate

Saudi Arabia has a desert climate characterised by high temperatures during the day and much lower temperatures at night.

June, July and August are the warmest months, with daytime temperatures averaging 36°C, but the heat can regularly exceed 40°C in inland areas. Coastal regions can be slightly cooler with summer temperatures rarely reaching 38°C.

December to February are the coolest months when temperatures drop to around 22°C.

Annual rainfall is infrequent, though heavy cloudbursts and thunderstorms can occur at least once or twice a year.

The Asir province, which sits on the country’s west coast, is an exception to this rule. The mountainous area receives around 60 per cent of the country’s annual rainfall between October and March, a figure which equates to around 300mm. As such, the region is blessed with luscious greenery and cool breezes.

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4. Travel and Transport

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Visas and Migration

In order to apply for a Saudi work visa, you must be able to produce a valid contract of employment, proof of academic or professional qualifications and results of a full medical examination from your home country.

Once processed, you will receive a visa number which must be submitted to the Saudi embassy. You will then be issued with a stamped residence visa. This will become your residency permit once you arrive in Saudi Arabia, a document which must be carried at all times.

The process of applying for a work visa can take a couple of months.

Getting Here

Saudi Arabia is serviced by a number of international airlines. These include:

  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Air India
  • Gulf Air

Driving in Saudi Arabia

Many Saudis love their cars and regularly purchase brand new models. This route is open to expatriates too and is certainly cheaper than importing your own car from home. A standard saloon costs around R80,000, luxury models can be upwards of R200,000 and top of the range sports cars command seven-figure price tags.
A cheaper alternative is to lease a car from an authorised dealership. This can cost around R50 per day, although it is advisable to compare prices.
Saudis drive on the right-hand side of the road and speed is measured in kilometres.

Driving Licence

You can drive for up to three months in Saudi Arabia on the license from your home country or on an international license. Some licenses, including those from the UK and US, are convertible to a Saudi license without a driving test. In order to transfer your license, you must provide the following documentation:

  • Two copies of your original driving license
  • An official translation of your license into Arabic
  • Your iqama card (residence permit)

Women are legally allowed to drive and have been since September 2017.

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Public Transport

Around 2,000 Saudi Arabian public buses operate in the country and connect the larger cities. In general, buses are reasonably-priced, comfortable and fitted with air-conditioning.

Taxis are available for hire, although hailing a cab is not permitted, meaning all journeys must be booked in advance. Most of the country is accessible via taxi, making it far more efficient than other forms of public transport. Saudi taxis are not fitted with meters, so all prices must be agreed in advance.

It is worth noting that expatriates rarely travel by public transport and instead rely on rented cars and taxis.

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5. Finance and Banking

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Money

Ever since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932, the country has used a riyal and halala system of decimal currency. There are 100 halalas to one riyal.

Notes are in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 10 and 5 riyals.

Coins are in denominations of 2 riyals, 1 riyal, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 halala/s.

Currency Convertor

One Saudi Riyal roughly equates to:

  • £0.21 (UK Pound)
  • €0.24 (Euro)
  • $0.27 (US Dollar)
  • 18.86 (Indian Rupee)
  • ¥1.80 (Chinese Yuan)

Applying for a Bank Account

There are plenty of banks available in Saudi Arabia including Western Union, Samba Financial Group (SAMBA) and The Saudi British Bank, which are widely considered to be the best options for foreign workers, while Al Rajhi and Riyad Bank offer dedicated ladies banking options across the Kingdom.

To open an account, you will need to apply in person at your local bank. You will be required to complete an application form and provide a proof of address, a letter from your employer (also known as a ‘No Objection Certificate’), and your passport and iqama.

Most Saudi banks are able to offer online and telephone banking services.

Tax

There is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia. This accounts for the high cost of government services such as healthcare.

However, expatriates may be liable to pay tax in their home country depending on their personal circumstances and home country taxations laws. Therefore, it is recommended that expatriates seek advice on the relative tax situation in their home country.

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Pensions

The retirement age in Saudi Arabia is 62, however, expatriates are rarely recognised by the Saudi government when it comes to receiving a pension.

Some organisations will enrol foreign workers on their own private pension scheme which is often included as part of their salary package. Should your employer not offer this service, you must make other arrangements regarding your pension.

If you already contribute to an existing pension fund in your home country, it may be possible for you to continue paying into that account, rather than establishing a new fund in Saudi Arabia.

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6. Good to Know

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Mobile Phone Operators

The cost of owning and operating a mobile phone varies depends on your monthly plan. Basic handsets can be purchased for around R60 while the latest smartphones can cost upwards of R3,000.

If you’d prefer to keep your existing phone, SIM cards - sometimes referred to as a ‘chips’ - are available to buy from the airport and authorised retailers. You may be required to show your visa when purchasing a SIM card.

On average, coverage is good in populated areas with 2G, 3G and 4G services available.

Top Mobile Phone Operators:

  • STC
  • Mobily
  • Zain
  • Virgin Mobile KSA
  • Lebara KSA

Internet

Fixed-line, wireless broadband and mobile internet are all available in Saudi Arabia, as are instant messaging applications such as Skype and WhatsApp. Many coffee shops offer free wifi.

The average download speed is 21.66 Mbps, while upload speeds come in at 9.25 Mbps.

Internet providers:

  • Integrated Telecom Company
  • Mobily
  • Zain

Utilities

Many Saudi Arabian properties offer a mix of power supplies with both 110 and 220-volt wiring throughout.

Electricity in the country is supplied by Saudi Consolidated Electricity Companies (SCECOs) and gas is provided by Saudi Aramco. Due to the rapid economic development of Saudi Arabia, the country’s consumption of electricity and gas has risen sharply over the past few decades.

Useful Information

  • Electricity: 110v and 220v, 60Hz AC
  • Plug type: A, B, C and G

Public Holidays

  • 1-3 Shawwal – Feast of the End of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) – Observed officially for ten days (3 to 7 for private institutions)
  • 9-12 Dhul-Hijjah – Feast of the End of Hajj (Eid al-Adha) – Observed officially for ten days (3 to 7 for private institutions)
  • Saudi National Day – 23 September

*Islamic holidays are determined according to moon sighting – holiday dates in the Gregorian calendar vary.

Emergency numbers

  • Police: 999
  • Fire service: 998
  • Car accidents: 993
  • Public ambulance service: 997
  • Natural disasters: 966
  • Coast Guard: 994
  • General emergency: 112

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Qatar

1. The Country in Brief

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Deep in the very heart of the Middle East sits the sovereign and independent State of Qatar, a rapidly developing peninsula that has quickly become one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Sharing a border with Saudi Arabia, the small nation extends almost 200 km into the Persian Gulf and is dominated by low lying hills, shimmering salt pans, vast sand dunes and beautiful beaches. At an average of just 28 metres above sea level, the state is one of the lowest lying countries on earth.

The state is rich in oil and has thrived thanks to its fuel exports. This has allowed the government to significantly improve living conditions for the 2.6 million people who call Qatar home, 90 per cent of whom are expatriates.

The country enjoys high levels of security, incredibly low crime rates and is widely considered to be one of the safest nations in the world.

The nation’s capital, Doha, is safe, family-friendly, and houses over 50 per cent of Qatari residents. Blessed with the style and sophistication of a modern metropolis, the coastal city boasts futuristic skyscrapers that tower above vast, multi-lane highways and massive shopping malls. However,

Doha’s heritage and traditional ways remain clear to see in the form of charming souqs that are scattered throughout the streets.

Language

Arabic is the official language of Qatar and is spoken throughout the country. There are two variations of the language which are ‘standard’ Arabic and ’Gulf’ Arabic, a dialect that is similar to that spoken in other Middle Eastern countries.

As a former British protectorate, English is widely spoken in the state and is strongly encouraged as a second language amongst Qatari nationals and non-Arabic speakers. Foreign workers are also invited to attend classes to learn French and German.

Due to the large numbers of expatriates living in the state, other languages such as Farsi (spoken by residents with Persian roots), Urdu and Hindi are also common.

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Religion

Religion plays a pivotal role in Qatari life and is deep-rooted in modern culture. Islam is the country’s main religion with the vast majority of natives practising the faith.

Followers of other major religious groups have places of worship for their congregations to gather.

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2. Health and Lifestyle

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Healthcare

The state is able to offer a high standard of service in public healthcare facilities, similar to that available in westernised cultures, and boasts a range of superb, high-tech facilities.

The country’s private facilities are of an exceptionally high standard and amongst the most cost-effective in the Gulf.

Childcare

Presided over by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Qatar’s childcare industry is well-regulated with special attention paid to health and safety. Unfortunately, the price of care is not regulated, so it is advisable to compare prices from different providers.

Children typically attend nursery between the ages of four months and four years, although some facilities may take children up to the age of five. Most facilities offer an international education, generally in English.

Expatriate toddler groups are also very popular in Doha and run throughout the year. These are an excellent way for both parents and children to socialise.

Education

The vast majority of expatriates opt to send their children to private international schools. Following different curricula (American, British, Indian, etc.), these schools offer exceptional levels of education.

Homeschooling is also an option. Doha Home Educators (DHE) plays a vital role in improving the standard of education received by children whose learning opportunities are significantly enhanced through regular lessons, activities and events.

The Qatari school day typically runs from 7:30 to 14:00. The academic year starts in September and concludes in June. The term times run September - December, January - March and April - June. Summer holidays run throughout July and August.

Finding Accommodation

If you would like to rent your own property, apartments can be found online prior to your move, in local newspapers or by visiting a letting agent directly.

In order to rent accommodation, you will require your residence permit, Qatari ID card and a copy of a sponsor’s ID card (this is generally provided by your employer).

Prices vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood with costs ranging from about 6,000 QR to 18,000 QR per month for a two-bedroom apartment or 10,000 QR to 30,000 QR for a five-bedroom villa. Some employers are able to provide accommodation and/or a housing allowance as part of a contract, so it is advisable to confirm this ahead of your move.

Expatriates are also able to obtain freehold ownership in certain areas of Qatar. The Pearl, West Bay Lagoo and Al Khor are all popular areas for purchasing property. In most cases, a deposit of 20 per cent of the asking price is required to secure any deal. Any remaining money must then be paid in instalments of five per cent.

Foreigners who purchase property in Qatar are immediately granted residency for the duration of ownership. This also extends to the owner’s immediate family.

Cost of Living

Basic ingredients for cooking are reasonably priced (a litre of milk, a kilogram of rice and a dozen eggs can be bought for less than 40 QR), while a three-course meal for two can be enjoyed for around 200 QR.

Carrefour Villaggio, Lulu Gharafa, Megamart Ain Khalid are amongst the most popular supermarkets in Qatar and are all fairly priced. Lulu Gharafa and Megamart Ain Khalid are highly recommended for purchasing imported goods.

Depending on your location, you may need to factor transportation costs into your budget. At around 1.90 QR a litre, petrol is very cheap, while travelling by bus is also economical as a city centre ticket costs just 5 QR. Taxis provide a convenient method of transportation too and charge just 2.50 QR per kilometre.

Domestic utilities can cost around 250 QR every month, although it is worth checking whether water and electricity charges are included in the cost of your accommodation. Accessing the internet can be slightly higher at 300 QR per month, and domestic help can be hired for an hourly rate of just 33 QR.

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3. Culture and Lifestyle

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Dining, Tipping and Service

Typical Qatari ingredients include chicken, beef, lamb, camel and seafood, as well as dates, potatoes, rice, wheat and yoghurt. Traditional dishes include machboos (spiced rice cooked with a meat of your choice), thareed (similar to a pot stew and packed with meat and vegetables) and harees (a mix of cracked wheat and meat, usually resembling the consistency of porridge).

For food aficionados, Doha offers a plethora of world-class eateries that are certain to please any pallet. Whether you prefer traditional Middle Eastern delicacies or tempting treats from North America, the Mediterranean or the Orient, Doha’s bustling city streets are lined with outstanding restaurants serving delicious cuisine from around the globe.

When dining out, a service charge is often included in the bill, however, this is rarely passed on to the waiting staff. If this is the case, an additional tip of around ten per cent may be necessary in order to show your appreciation.

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Entertainment

Qatar truly is a unique part of the world and has plenty to offer in terms of entertainment, from towering cityscapes to incredible rural retreats.

For history enthusiasts, the Doha fort, known as Al Koot Fort, is a historical military fortress in the nation’s capital. Located in the midst of the famous Souq Waqif of Doha and the site of the old town, it was originally built in the 19th century and served as a police station before being converted into a museum.

Katara Cultural Village (often referred to as the Valley of Cultures), is a fascinating place to visit, especially for those interested in traditions, theatre, art and architecture.

Animal lovers may enjoy the delightful Doha zoo, one of the most exciting and family-friendly places to visit in the state. Situated about a 30-minute drive from the city centre, the zoo represents a miniature animal kingdom and offers a great opportunity to see traditional zoo animals and some of the region’s desert creatures.

City life is a huge part of modern Qatari culture and there are plenty of modern shopping malls to browse. Visiting the bustling metropolis of Doha also gives you the chance to view the incredible Barzan Towers that dwarf the neighbouring landscape and provide a wonderful place to gaze out across the glistening sea.

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Sports and Culture

Sport is a huge part of Qatari life and is celebrated annually on ‘National Sport Day’. This nationwide event, occurring on the second Tuesday of February, celebrates sport and healthy living and offers people the chance to take part in a variety of activities including running, football and golf.

Sport is adored on a daily basis, too. Horse and camel racing have long been part of Qatari culture and are still well-observed in modern society. Camel racing events in particular, are fascinating spectacles that offer a unique blend of colour, noise and excitement that keeps fans captivated throughout the winter season.

Qataris are also renowned for their participation in falconry, fishing and pearl diving, the latter being the country’s main source of revenue before the discovery of oil.

In terms of modern sports, football is by far the most popular. As the host nation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Qatari government has assembled an impressive array of facilities that have significantly improved the country’s sporting infrastructure, a move that has revolutionised the standard of football, as well as other sports, for generations to come.

The country is also able to boast an 18-hole championship standard golf course, as well as a 9-hole floodlit academy course, complete with putting greens and regular coaching sessions. Cricket, tennis, basketball and swimming are also very popular in the state.

Climate

Qatar enjoys year-round sunshine and minimal rainfall, courtesy of its desert climate.

June to September is by far the warmest time of the year, when temperatures rarely drop below 30°C and regularly exceed 40°C, especially in inland areas.

The months of December to February provide respite from the searing heat, with temperatures dropping to around 24°C.

Rainfall, which occurs in the form of brief, heavy downpours, is infrequent and can be as little as 75 millimetres each year.

Strong desert winds (also known as a Shamal) can occur between the months of March and August. Often hot and laden with dust, these winds can generate sandstorms that drift into towns and cities from rural deserts.

Qatari Law

Recreational drugs are banned, as are some prescription medications. Expatriates are advised to establish which medicines are permitted in Qatar prior to their move. The same applied to users of e-cigarettes.

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4. Travel and Transport

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Visas and Migration

Before applying for a work visa, expatriates must first secure a job in Qatar. Once secured, an initial visa request must be submitted, after which the employer is responsible for furthering the application by applying for a business entry visa from the Ministry of the Interior. Your employer may require additional notarised documentation and will communicate any requests with you prior to your move. This step of the process can take around six to eight weeks.

Residency permits can be applied for once you are in Qatar. You will be expected to provide a number of documents from home, including documentation confirming your qualifications, a minimum of two passport photographs, police clearance and proof of employment. You will also be expected to undergo a medical examination; this is usually organised by your employer.

Following your medical, you must report to the General Directorate of Civil Defence or the Civil Investigation Department for fingerprinting. This is a mandatory stage of the application process.

Once these components are complete, all your documentation will be submitted for approval, a process which can take up to six weeks to complete.

Your agency and employer will guide you on this step by step.

Getting Here 

Qatar is serviced by a number of international airlines.

Driving in Qatar

Driving a car is one of the most convenient ways to travel around Qatar and allows you to explore the country in your spare time. Petrol is relatively inexpensive.

Cars can be purchased quite easily and vary in price, depending on the make and model you choose. A basic hatchback can be picked up for around 40,000 QR, whilst more luxurious cars cost upwards of 200,000 QR.

Alternatively, you can lease a car. You must be over the age of 21 and prices vary depending on your needs. It is also possible to hire a car with a private driver.

Motorbikes and bicycles are rarely seen on Qatari roads due to the extreme heat.

The road networks in Qatar have improved dramatically since 2007. However, due to the sheer number of vehicles utilising the new highway infrastructure, congestion is common, especially around the capital.

There are three major road types that cover a total of 8,000 kilometres of the peninsula; main roads, which are three-lane highways that link Doha with other larger regions; minor roads, which connect main roads with smaller areas of the country; and access roads, which are designed to ease traffic flow on the main roads.

In Qatar, you must drive on the right-hand side of the road and speed is measured in kilometres.

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Driving Licence

In order to drive in Qatar, you will require an international driving permit which is valid for six months. Once your permanent residency visa has been confirmed, you will need to apply for an official Qatari license.

Some licenses, including those from the UK and US, can be converted to a Qatari license. To convert your license, you must submit the following items:

  • Temporary Driving License (TDL)
  • Two passport photographs
  • A copy of your passport
  • A copy of your resident permit
  • Processing fee

Drivers from other nations must take a test to obtain a licence. The test commands a nominal fee and comprises of four parts – oral (for road traffic signs), L-parking, pocket parking and road. It is worth registering with a driving school before attempting the test.

The minimum driving age in Qatar is 18.

Public Transport

The rapid growth of the state’s road networks has seen the standard of public transport improve too. Regular bus routes operate around Doha while other services connect the capital to the rest of the country. Public buses are rarely used by tourists.

Mowasalat Karwa, the nation’s public transport provider, offers a Faresaver card for regular bus users. A card can be picked up for 30 QR, 20 QR of which is instantly converted into credit. The remaining 10 QR becomes credit once 300 QR has been added to the card. Journeys around Doha cost around 4 QR while travelling outside of the city costs upwards of 5 QR.

Mowasalat Karwa also operates a fleet of taxis in Qatar. All taxis are metered and charge an initial fare of 4 QR with around 2.50 QR added for every kilometre travelled.

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5. Finance and Banking

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Money

Qatar uses a riyal and dirham system of decimal currency. There are 100 dirhams to one riyal.

Notes are in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 10, and 1 riyal/s.

Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 dirham/s.

Currency Converter

One Qatari Riyal is roughly equivelant to:

  • £0.21 (UK Pound)
  • €0.24 (Euro)
  • $0.27 (US Dollar)
  • 19.60 (Indian Rupee)
  • ¥1.86 (Chinese Yuan)

Applying for a Bank Account

Qatar offers a mixture of both local and international banks. All major Qatari banks are well-regulated and offer a range of services to Qatari nationals and expatriates alike. Interest rates and charges can vary, so it is wise to compare banks before opening an account.

To open an account, you will need to apply in person at a branch of your choice. In addition to holding a valid residence permit, you must submit a photocopy of your passport, your residence visa, and two passport photographs. You will also require a letter from your employer detailing your salary and when payments will be made into your account each month (otherwise known as a ‘no objection letter’).

Once your application has been processed, you will be issued with a debit and/or credit card and have access to the bank’s range of services. Prior to receiving your card, you may use an internationally recognised credit card, many of which are accepted in Qatar.

Tax

There is no personal income tax, value-added tax, sales tax or capital/wealth tax in Qatar.

Taxes payable in Qatar include:

  • Corporation tax, applied to foreign companies
  • Import duties, charged at four per cent on the most valuable item
  • Service tax, charged at 10 per cent
  • Government levy, charged at five per cent on restaurant and hotel bills

It is worth noting that self-employed foreign workers may be taxed on their income. Expatriates may also be liable to pay tax in their home country depending on their personal circumstances and home country taxations laws. Therefore, it is recommended that expatriates seek advice on the relative tax situation in their home country.

Retirement and Pensions

The retirement age for workers in the public sector is 60. However, there is no retirement age for those working in the private sector, allowing expatriates to carry on working well into their 60s and 70s. It is worth noting that foreign workers are required to renew their working visa should they wish to remain in employment beyond the age of 60.

Foreign workers are not entitled to a pension from the Qatari government and must manage their own funds for use in later life.

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6. Good to Know

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Mobile Phone Operators

Once you have moved to Qatar, remaining with your current mobile provider can prove costly. Instead, it is advisable to switch to a local SIM card to take advantage of premium plans. Qatari phone companies offer some of the best prepaid SIM deals in the Middle East, allowing you to save money on calls, texts and data.

Ooredoo and Vodafone are the two main telecoms operators in Qatar and both compete to offer customers the very best deals. Ooredoo is the most popular network and has the best coverage and speeds while Vodafone offers the best prices.

SIM cards can be purchased from official telecom stores, supermarkets, corner shops and service stations. Ooredoo even has a kiosk at Doha airport, allowing you to switch your SIM upon arrival. It is advisable to have your phone with you when making the switch, to be sure your device is compatible with your new SIM card. If there is a problem, a member of staff should be able to help.

Coverage is very good in more populated areas with 2G, 3G and 4G services available.

Top Mobile Phone Operators:

  • Ooredoo
  • Vodafone

Internet

Internet access is available in most areas of Qatar and the country is able to boast some of the fastest speeds in the world. Ooredoo and Vodafone each offer attractive packages which vary in price depending on the services included (internet and landline connection, TV packages, etc.). Both prepaid packages and annual subscriptions are available.

Internet cafes can be found in larger towns and cities such as Doha. Connection rates vary but tend to be around 5 QR - 10 QR per hour.

The average download speed is 59.05 Mbps, while upload speeds come in at 16.06 Mbps.

Internet providers:

  • Ooredoo
  • Vodafone

Utilities

Provided by the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (QEWC), domestic electricity and water supplies in Qatar are efficient and reliable. Both utilities are metered with residents receiving bills throughout the year based on usage. Gas is not generally used in Qatari homes.

Water is safe to drink straight from the tap, although many expatriates still prefer to purchase bottled water.

Useful Information

  • Electricity: 240v, 50Hz AC
  • Plug type: D and G

Public Holidays

  • New Year’s Day – 1 January
  • National Sport Day – Tuesday of the second week in February
  • March bank holiday – First Sunday in March
  • Eid al-Fitr – 1-3 Shawwal*
  • Eid al-Adha - 9-12 Dhul-Hijjah*
  • Qatar National Day – 18 December

*Islamic holidays are determined according to moon sighting – holiday dates in the Gregorian calendar vary.

Emergency numbers

  • Police: 999
  • Fire: 999
  • Ambulance: 999

Please note, all emergency calls are handled in Arabic/English.

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