Expat Salaries in the Middle East
Healthy economic prospects thanks to its rich-oil reserves, accompanied by tax-free salaries and generous employment packages, have continued to attract expats to the Middle East over the past few decades. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are amongst the most popular for highly skilled expats, particularly in the engineering, management, accounting and healthcare sectors.
Although employment packages are not quite as lucrative as they used to be, the countries of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) continue to offer some of the highest expat salaries globally. These oil-rich nations have attracted highly skilled expats to their shores, not only offering high salaries, but also generous bonuses and allowances for housing, healthcare, schooling and transport, amongst other things.
The UAE offers some of the most attractive packages to expat employees; according to the 2016 HSBC Expat Survey, two-thirds (66 percent) of expats in the UAE earn more there than they do back home, while 62 percent are able to save more than back home.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to the HSBC survey, ranked as the top two countries for expats to progress faster towards their financial goals. Likewise, according to the Gulf Business 2015 Salary Survey, an expat CEO/MD of a multinational corporation in Saudi Arabia has the highest earning potential in the region, earning around $46,960 a month. Overall, the average monthly salary of an expat in the GCC countries is US$12,478. The survey also found that, on average, Western expats earn 6.96 percent more than Arab expats and 26.91 percent more than their Asian counterparts.
Expat salary guide for the Middle East
The table below shows the average monthly salaries for some of the most popular expat jobs in the Middle East. Salaries are shown in US Dollars, and data was compiled by a number of different sources in November 2016.
|Job description||UAE||Saudi Arabia||Oman||Kuwait||Qatar||Bahrain|
|CEO/MD of Multinational Corporation||
|Construction Project Manager||14,050||15,800||11,430||13,857||14,594||11,900|
|Sales/Marketing Account Manager||7,808||9,500||7,560||8,000||8,370||7,000|
Negotiating an expat contract for the Middle East
While salaries might be generous for expats in the Middle East, this is not the only consideration. There are a number of other factors that expats need to consider when deciding on a move there and negotiating a contract.
Many countries in the Middle East offer tax-free salaries, leaving expats a more generous take-home portion than they might be used to back home. But this should be weighed against the high cost of living in these destinations and other expenses that might need to be paid out of pocket. The costs of accommodation, utilities, healthcare, transport and schooling can quickly eat into one’s savings.
There has been talk in some Middle Eastern countries about imposing income tax on expats, including in Saudi Arabia and Oman, but nothing has been confirmed as yet, largely due to fears that this would discourage foreigners from bringing their much-needed skills to the region.
Bonuses are often included as part of the package, with a number of GCC governments requiring employers to offer their expat employees indemnities and end of contract bonuses; this is especially the case for those employed by the state.
The hardship factor
Many destinations in the Middle East have been considered hardship destinations in the past, but this is not the case for many of these today, especially countries like the UAE, which offer expats a superb lifestyle. But there is still some leverage for expats moving to countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to negotiate this into their contracts. High earning potential must be weighed against the prospects of a good lifestyle, the cultural barriers and opportunities for one’s spouse and children.
Expats should not only consider the cash portion of their package but it’s important to consider what other benefits are included. These can go a long way to not only easing the transition, but also account for significant savings, making the move successful and worthwhile.
According the HSBC’s Expat Survey for 2016, 93 percent of expats in the UAE reported that they get benefits as part of their employment package – these include allowances for things such as healthcare and airfare allowances for visits back home. This is the norm for most expat executive packages in the Middle East.
Finding affordable accommodation may be one of the toughest parts of the move to a new destination and housing is likely to take up the biggest chunk of an expat’s salary, if this is not covered by their employer. Generous housing allowances are a thing of the past, but many companies do still sponsor accommodation in some way.
Schooling is another major expense to consider. Expat children are not allowed to attend local government schools in most Middle Eastern countries, and parents will therefore have to fork out thousands of dollars on international school fees. This may come as quite a shock for those expats who are used to free education back home.
Leave is another element which should be discussed. Being far away from home, expats will likely want time to return home for visits to the family. Airfare allowances for returning home are an added benefit that expats should negotiate.