A Comparison of Expat Salaries in the Middle East

Expat salaries in the Middle East : How much will I earn?


Over the last couple of decades a huge amount of expats have relocated to the Middle East, drawn there primarily by the promise of tax-free expat salary packages, exciting and dynamic job markets and the promise of a high quality of life and big savings.

This article will provide a survey of the most popular expat destinations in the Middle East, the most common jobs that expats work in the Gulf Region, and the average salaries they can expect to earn. It will conclude by drawing attention to a number of pertinent factors that should be  considered when deciding whether a move to the Middle East is right for you or not.

Popular Expat Destinations in the Middle East

The most popular expat destinations in the Middle East all belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Of these countries, Saudi Arabia is the most popular; followed by (in order) the United Arab Emirates (containing both Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

As an indication of why these countries are so popular for expats, consider the following statistics:

  • 98% of expats in Saudi Arabia claim they have more disposable income than they ever did back home; while 94% say the same thing about Qatar and 87% of the UAE.
  • 92% of expats in Qatar say they save more money at the end of every month than they did back home; while expats in Saudi Arabia (89%), Bahrain (88%) and the UAE (80%) are in strong agreement with this idea. 
  • 94% of expats in the UAE say they pay less tax than in their country of origin – and the figure is above 85% for all the other GCC nations as well.


Expat jobs in the Middle East

Expat_salaries_Middle_eastBy far and away, the majority of expats working in the Middle East are employed in the private sector (83%), by large multinational companies (27%) or large local companies (21%).  The backbone of the Gulf Region's wealth is its energy resources, and so unsurprisingly most expat jobs will be in some way related to the oil, gas or mining industries.

By job position, the most widely-held expat jobs in the Middle East are (in descending order of popularity): accountant, manager, engineer, executive, coordinator, civil engineer, senior executive, director, salesperson, mechanical engineer, analyst and junior executive.

In terms of job industries, the current job market – not taking into account all job industries, but just the most popular ones for expats in the Middle East – looks most promising for those working in the following disciplines (the percentage of the advertised jobs as compared to the overall job market is noted in parentheses) : engineering (22%), sales and marketing (20%) management (18%), accounting/banking/finance (12%), IT and communications (9%), healthcare (6%), administration (6%), education (4%), and arts/design (3%).

Expat Salaries in the Middle East

The following table illustrates average expat salaries for a variety of jobs in the Middle East region. Please note that while a great deal of research has been undertaken to ensure the validity of these figures, earnings will vary, and are affected by such factors as nationality, years of experience and relevant qualifications. Note further that salaries are increasing in the Gulf Region at an average rate of 6.6%, and within individual countries as follows: Qatar at 6.8%, Saudi Arabia at 6.7%, Oman at 6.4%, Kuwait at 5.7%, the UAE at 5.2% and Bahrain at 4.9%.

Also note that, while it may be unfair, in the Middle East western expats generally earn more than their eastern counterparts. The figures given below are for western expats working in the Middle East.

(Basic salaries quoted in US$ per month; these salaries are paid to you tax-free and largely without deduction)

Middle East Expat Salary Survey
Job Description Bahrain Saudi Arabia Kuwait UAE Oman Qatar Middle East Average
General Manager (Multinational Company) 12,500 15,000 15,000 15,000 12,500 12,500 13,750
General Manager (Local Company)
10,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 10,000
Head of Information Technology
7,500 9,167 9,167 9,167 7,500 7,500 8,334
7,500 8,000 8,500 8,000 7,500 7,500 7,833
Business Development Manager 9,000 10,000 10,000 10,000 8,500 9,000 9,417
Banking –  Head of Operations
10,833 16,250 13,452 10,833 10,833 10,833 12,187
Banking – Branch Manager
9,700 15,000 12,750 9,700 9,700 9,700 11,092
Creative Arts Director
6,618 11,904 8,303 8,662 6,447 7,592 8,254
Sales Manager
7,000 9,000 8,000 8,000 7,000 7,000 7,667
Construction Project Manager/Chief Engineer 10,000 11,667 11,667 11,667 10,000 10,000 10,834
Executive Secretary/PA
4,000 5,700 5,500 5,000 4,000 4,000 4,700
ESL Teacher
2,000 3,000 2,500 2,000 2,500 2,600 2,433
Country Averages for Expat Employees 9,651 12,730 11,478 10,904 10,048 9,727 10,696

Further Considerations for Expats moving to the Middle East

  • Expats are urged to keep up-to-date with the current economic climate in the Middle East before deciding on relocation.  The Gulf Region's heavy dependence on oil revenues, coupled with the weakening US Dollar, has seen the cost of living in most GCC Countries rise at a far greater rate than salary increases in recent years.
  • Middle Eastern countries are trying to curb their dependency on foreign labour and have started to hire locally wherever possible, and to offer increasingly less attractive expat salary packages.
  • Bear in mind that although the prospect of earning and saving lots of money is indeed appealing, expats must also factor in the quality of the life they will lead in the Middle East. For some western expats, the need to adopt a different mode of behaviour in the Islamic states of the Gulf Region is not worth the salary they receive at the end of every month. (On this note, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman are certainly the most 'open' of the GCC countries, and offer the most comfortable transition for western expats.)
  • With these considerations in mind, many analysts have identified Asia as the new hot destination for expats looking to live and work abroad. A quarter of expats currently living and working in Asia earn more than US$200,000 per annum.

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