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Gulf employment checklist or Nightmare Avoidance Questionnaire

Many people see working in the Gulf living a dream lifestyle, a way of escaping the humdrum existence and depressing weather conditions in their home country, and earning a small fortune at the same time. But the reality of working in the Gulf is often different, and disappointing. Before accepting any job in the Gulf countries, think very carefully indeed

I worked in two jobs in the Gulf and both of them turned out to be disappointing in various ways. In my second job, a financial problem occurred in the second year and our employer stopped paying our salary, leaving us stranded and penniless. Full story in preparation.

Still, on balance, my Gulf experience was worth it, but only just.

Use this checklist to assess the practicalities of your prospective job and lifestyle in the Gulf. If necessary quiz the employer and make sure they provide you with definitive answers. Shop around for jobs, there may be better options available.

Work out your basic salary and convert it into your own currency at commercial exchange rates, not the mid-market rates used on www.xe.com It may seem attractive but then...

Work out any additional contributions which would have been made by your employer in your home country, for example UK National Insurance, social security, pension contribution and other benefits. Subtract these amounts from your Gulf salary

Investigate the extra benefits your Gulf package offers, for example: Are flights to and from the Gulf paid for? One set of flights per year? Two? Are the flights of all your family members paid for?

What accommodation is being offered as part of the package? Where is it and to what standard is it? Are utilities bills included? Does it have properly maintained air conditioning?

What other allowances are being offered? Medical insurance? What is and is not covered? If you are ill which hospital are you likely to be treated in? Are school fees paid for in full?

What support will your employer be able to offer if you run into legal problems? Is liability insurance or any other type of insurance provided as part of the package? For instance, if you're driving at night and accidentally collide with a camel, you may be arrested and required to pay a large sum of money to the owner. (I'm not joking, this actually happened to a colleague).

How many days work will you be required to do over the year? And how many days vacation will you have? Some employers have an unusual way of working out the number of days vacation which includes the weekends. Check this out carefully.

What type of visa will your employer obtain for you? If it's only a visit visa you may need to exit and re-enter the country to renew it. Will your employer hold your passport? How easy will it be to exit the country, say for a weekend trip? Will an exit and re-entry visa be required (When I was in Saudi: Yes; UAE: No)

What is the real cost of living in the country you plan to work in? If you factor in the real cost of living as compared to your home country, you may well find that a substantial portion of your earnings are going on food and groceries, or restaurant bills, you wouldn't have to pay for if you were in your home country.

Who is your employer? Are they likely to go bust? Do they have a good track record? Are you working for a local firm or government department, or are you working for an international company? Generally the latter offer better conditions and take better care of employees (though not in my case)

What vacation periods will you have? When are they likely to be? When do the two religious holidays fall? What hours will you be required to work during Ramadan? The same as normal or reduced hours?

What is the climate like in the place you will be spending most of the year? Remember in coastal regions, humidity levels rise to very high levels in the summer months, as does the temperature. In the winter months it can be cloudy and sometimes it can rain. Yes, it does rain in the Gulf. Dust in the atmosphere can be a problem in some areas. Are you happy to live in A/C most of the time?

How you will be spending your vacation periods? Returning to your home country? Visiting other parts of the world? Bear in mind flights purchased in the Gulf countries tend to be more expensive than those bought in the UK, Europe or North America. Work out the cost of a typical trip home. You will probably spend a substantial proportion of your earnings in order to see the people and do the things you would have been doing at home.

How easy will it be to return to your country of origin and find employment there? How much will it cost to relocate yourself and your dependents and set up again back home? This may well be a substantial and easily overlooked expense that should be added to all the other deductions from your earnings. Some people are unable to return to their home country, even though they'd like to, and become permanent Gulf expats by necessity.

The upshot of all this is that jobs in the Gulf vary enormously in quality and remuneration and in many cases...

You may well be better off staying in your home country.

Don't believe the hype broadcast by services offering you an escape from your humdrum existence, promising a land of milk and honey with high salaries and a carefree lifestyle. In many cases it's an illusion, and once you've been lured onto a bad contract in a less favourable location, you may realise your existence wasn't as humdrum as you thought.

If however, your salary and conditions are good, and all the other important aspects of your work and lifestyle are satisfactory, then...

Working in the Gulf may well be an enjoyable and fruitful experience.

If you have any questions about working in the Gulf, please don't hesitate to contact. Learn from my experiences and mistakes! Your questions will help me to formulate useful information for the benefit of the internet community.

For an insight into the daily practicalities and frustrations of working in the Gulf, read my Letter from Saudi Arabia 1992. Most points are still valid today.

Aidan O'Rourke worked in Saudi Arabia from 15 July 1991 to 5 June 1992, and in the United Arab Emirates from 5 September 1991 to 15 July 1996. During that time he amassed a great deal of experience in the practicalities of employment in that part of the world, especially in his own field teaching English. In 1994 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, his employer ECS ran into financial difficulties and stopped paying his salary and the salaries of 200 other teachers. Four months later, after going through what he described as 'a living nightmare', he was rehired to the same job on an improved contract. To recoup lost earnings, he ended up having to serve an extra year in the Gulf. Six thousand pounds (10,700 US dollars) in unpaid salary and benefits remain outstanding to this day.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-08-18

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