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10 things you need to know before moving to the Middle East

Since the day I moved to Kuwait, a lot of people ranging from friends to mere strangers have asked me about my journey. Some of them expressed the desire to also come and expand the crowd of expats already living in the Middle East.

My experience was a tad different. It wasn’t planned at all and everything happened so fast that I only realised I was going away once I set foot on Kuwaiti soil.

If you have already talked about moving to the Middle East to your friends and family, I bet the reactions were closer to “Oh my God, isn’t it a war zone over there?” or “Aren’t you scared of terrorists?” or again “You know, women’s rights in muslim countries…” However, I’m still alive and kicking and being a woman never kept me from doing anything, soooo…

Long story short, I just thought I would make a post about things you might want to know before you decide whether or not you want to join the desert crew.

1. It’s a jungle out there

Your first instinct should be to check out the market. The Middle Eastern economy went into recession after the oil prices dropped drastically and consistantly in the past months. Many top liners companies have let go a lot of their workforce to minimise their losses. Not to discourage anyone but it is a vital information you need to take into consideration. However, if there is nothing to stop you, check out Bayt. It’s the region’s first employment web portal. LinkedIn is a good bet as well and if you know anyone already living and working there, it’s also a good place to start.

2. Work hard, play later

Work conditions can be drastic! Depending on your line of work, you might have to endure long days or nights, particularly during Ramadan. The pressure in saturated markets, mainly Dubai is not for the faint hearted!

3. Arab money🤑🤑🤑

Dinars, dirhams and rials make your eyes light up with $$ and I get that perfectly! However, you need to know the cost of living is higher here than home. Everything is imported hence a price increase that could leave you wondering sometimes.

But you won’t pay taxes! Points for effort?

4. Are you ready for temperatures from hell? 🔥

The Middle East is dry and arid, no surprises here and temperatures vary whether you live in Riyadh, Dubai or Oman. If Kuwait is dry, Dubai is pretty humid. For example, we reached a maximum of 57° during last summer. For summer 2016, meteorologists forecast a 65° peak! Lovely, isn’t it? Rest assured, AC is blasting arctic temperatures EVERYWHERE.

It also means you spend a lot of time indoors. If you like galavanting, it might not be the life you want for yourself.

5. Ramadan Kareem 🕌

You’ve heard of it all your life and until now it was some kind of exotic yearly event your two muslim neighbours talked to you about while you were not paying attention. It’s a serious matter here. No drinking and no eating in public from sunrise to sunset for a whole month. Sounds like nothing, but more than a few couldn’t stand it and left. So brace yourself!

But the compensation is worth it! Shorter working hours and three days off for Eid. I would trade food for a daily 9 to 3 any time!

6. How much patience do you have in you?

You think you know slowness. No, you don’t. I swear to you. You have no idea. I’m not joking when I say Kuwait taught me patience. Things will get sorted out in their own good time and inshallah (God willing). So if two weeks is not a problem for you to have a fridge delivered to your doorstep (true story), you won’t have any problems adjusting here.

7. The mall culture

Malls are everywhere, almost at every corner. If you like strolling around, forget about it unless it is inside a mall. Anyway, it’s too hot outside, so to avoid the continuous summer hellfire, stores and restaurants are all concentrated into the billion malls you will find in the region.

8. Hello roomies

Living alone is nearly impossible. Your best move is to find flat mates to share your expenses. Luckily, finding a complex with pool and gym included is fairly easy and not that expensive in the end.

You’re too lazy to do your laundry yourself? Cleaning services are common and affordable for pretty much anyone.

Nota: men and women cannot share a flat unless they are married or belong to the same family.

9. When in Rome

Of course, I cannot stress enough that you have to abide by the country’s laws. Deportation is quick and easy for the hot-headed rebels thinking they’re above the rules and regulations. Just educate yourself about the dos and don’ts of the country of your choosing.

Is speaking Arabic an absolute necessity? No. English is the official business language and almost everybody speaks it even if it’s broken English. But knowing a few words of Arabic can always help.

Also, there is real hierarchy based on nationalities ans it’s perfectly assumed, so deal with it or stay home.

10. Middle eastern expansion

In Kuwait we call it the Kuwait Kilos. 5 to 10 kilos, it’s the burden all expats share when moving to the Middle East. Why? Because eating is the main activity! And because we spend more time in a taxi or a car than strolling around, sneaky fat rolls start accumulating…

But if you’re keen on exercising, gyms are literally everywhere.

Wasta, the magic word

If there is one word and one word only you should know in Arabic, it’s wasta. It refers to a connection or any influence you can use to get things done ranging from paperwork to getting a job.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to leave them in the comments. You can also email me at, poke me on Facebook or tweet me @freddie_lethis.

Steve Petrucelli
Khaleel Haidar
Lindsay Silveira
Francisco Anzola

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