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Updated 18 Dec 2020

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 among 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, among other things.

The UAE offers some of the most attractive packages to expat employees; two-thirds of expats in the UAE earn more there than they do back home, while they're also able to save more than they would've in their home countries. But by far the most lucrative salaries are currently being offered in Qatar and Bahrain.


Expat salary guide for the Middle East

The table below shows the average annual 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 December 2020.

Job description

UAE

Saudi Arabia

Oman

Kuwait

Qatar

Bahrain

CEO/MD of Multinational Corporation

208,000

170,000

207.000

150,000

250,000

240,000

HR Manager

46,000

46,000

44,000

45,000

38,000

50,000

Finance Manager

56,000

55,000

38,000

39,000

80,000

47,000

Construction Project Manager

65,000

46,000

38,000

72,000

109,000

66,000

IT Manager

58,000

40,000

44,000

59,000

56,000

31,000


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. 

Salary

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 such as 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.

Additional benefits

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. 

The majority of expats in the UAE report 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.

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