Are the Middle East and North Africa growing as expat destinations? What are the main things that draw people to work there?
The MENA region and Dubai specifically, is still an appealing area for expats who are considering relocating, but definitely not to the same extent as before.The cost of living is also very high in Dubai and days of the dazzling expatriate salaries and relocation packages are diminishing. 10 years ago there was less of a talent pool to compete with but today there are a vast number of highly skilled and experienced workers already on the ground. Companies have become savvier on how best to tap into this already existent network of talent, making it harder to attain those big expatriate benefits. Many organizations are also being more conservative in their spending due to the turbulent economic climate of late. They are less willing to spend the money relocating people, so their focus is less on sourcing more costly talent from abroad.
What are some of the challenges with relocating to these regions, and how can they be addressed?
There are a number of common challenges associated with relocating to the region.
Firstly, there are the new cultural practices that you have to allow for and accustom yourself to. Local business etiquette, customs and norms all need to be observed by expats when they enter the working world over here. Things like customary reduced hours during Ramadan and even the different structure of the working week (standard work week is Sunday-Thursday) are things that expats coming into the region need to be aware of.
The administrative side of relocating also needs to be taken into account. Visas, paperwork and ensuring the legal side of the process is taken care of can all prove lengthy tasks.
Relocating to the area will be quite a costly experience as both housing and renting are expensive.
My best advice would be to do your research, speak to friends or connections you may have that are already on the ground here; they will be able to advise you on some of the things they learned from their own experience with the relocation process. Look online for information and reach out to your online network. If you are moving with a company, they will provide assistance. If you are coming here in search of work and new opportunities, then contact a recruitment company in the area. They will be able to provide you with local knowledge and expertise. Being respectful, adaptable and open minded is the key.
Tell us about some of the rewards expats generally look for when they're relocating for work.
One of the biggest attractions for expats in the area is the benefit of a tax free salary. Combine this with the warm climate and the dynamic lifestyle and it’s very easy to see the draw.
For me in Dubai, it is a central hub for travel. There are fantastic opportunities for and access to explore more of this side of the world. Not to mention the fact that Dubai is such an exciting city itself, everything is new and clean, there is always a new attraction or sporting event and there is unlimited choice for food and entertainment.
Working abroad can also add strength to your CV and highlight your ability to adapt and overcome new challenges.
Another major reason many expats choose to work in the region is the potential to fast track their career. Due to the transient nature of many of the top cities, such as Dubai and Qatar, there is the possibility to progress quicker than in a more mature market like the UK.
Do you have any advice for people who are moving abroad for the first time?
My advice would be to grab it with both hands! Always adopt an open minded policy, be culturally aware and be adaptable. It’s also important to be prepared to work hard. They days of really high salaries for little work are well and truly gone. It is so competitive over here now, but there are still great rewards to be reaped if you are willing to put in the work.
As I said above, educate yourself and do your research so that you have as much information as possible about what to expect. There are a lot of great and well established networking groups set up to connect expatriates, both online and offline, so take advantage of the readymade opportunities these represent.
Oh, and make sure to bring the sun cream.
In your opinion, how important is salary to business people who are considering relocation? Are there other aspects that are more important?
Salary is always an important factor to consider, and many people relocate with the hope and prospectus of attaining a higher, tax free living. There are a lot of other benefits, outside of basic salary, that can add to the attraction of relocating to the area though. Many companies provide housing allowance, family medical cover and schooling all of which are a massive added bonus to families.
Tom Southgate is Regional Business Manager of Randstad MENA, who have recently conducted a salary survey of expats in the Middle East. View the results and find out more here.