Living and Working in the Middle East

Many people approach us here at AirlinePrep in the knowledge that our team have lived and worked in the Middle East. Our experiences differ slightly, but the information that follows remains important and should be considered prior to any move to this part of the world.


The basic advice is to do your homework and research what you are letting yourself in for - failure to do this, could result in a very unhappy existence for both you and your family. We hope that you find the following a balanced account of life in the Middle East, and as ever the choice is yours and your opinions on life may well be quite different from ours! Our initial advice would always be to try and visit the country you are considering living in, and to speak to the pilots AND their families who live there. Don’t just read the gossip on the internet, actually speak to people and see for yourself.

Considerations before you go

Before you embark upon applying for a position in the Middle East we recommend you do your research. Your airline will have expected you to have done this, and for you to be well aware as to what you are letting yourself in for. It’s a very different place to living in Europe, the USA and Canada, and some of the biggest challenges people face are as follows;
  • You and your family being away from family and friends
    You and your family will likely be moving away from everything you know, and you may be faced with taking children away from their grandparents, friends, aunties, uncles etc. They will have to live in the Middle East while you spend significant time flying around the world. Whilst visiting the Middle East is an exciting proposition for many, realistically how many times can you expect your family and friends to do this? What is the staff travel arrangement - what are the passenger loads like back to your home city, is regular staff travel a reasonable expectation?
  • The Heat
    It’s difficult to describe the heat - it’s quite something! Just being outside for even a few minutes is a struggle in the summer time, when temperatures will average well into the 40’s. The humidity is a factor as well, so give this some consideration. Winter time is generally pleasant, with summer being difficult to exist outside for any length of time. This means that much of your time will be spent indoors, in an air conditioned environment.
  • The Culture and Religion
    The way of life in the Middle East is very different to that of the European world. We're sure that’s obvious to you, but the biggest problem people face is just how different things are. Whilst on the face of it, the Middle East is fairly liberal, the UAE and Qatar are definitely more liberal than some other areas, whilst they all subscribe to Sharia Law. You must be aware of the implications of this - and much of it is described later on in this guide.
  • The differences in Employment Law
    What surprises a lot of people is how significantly intertwined your employment is with your existence is in the Middle East. You are there because the company sponsors you to be there. If they want to restrict your movement in and out of the country they can do this - easily. You also should be aware that you are not represented by a Union, so if things go wrong you only have yourself to fight your corner. Mistakes are not as well tolerated as you might hope, so you must bear that in mind. Equally, leave and days off are often changed, as is your roster. Your flexibility is expected, and this can often disappoint those who have come out to live with you.
  • Your family being alone in the Middle East while you are away flying
    This aspect is quite possibly the biggest reason people fail to settle long term in the Middle East. If you are joining an airline as a long haul pilot, you can expect to spend only half the month at home while your family has to spend all of the month there, battling the school run, enduring the heat etc. Ensure your family is as much on board with the plan to move to the Middle East as you are. In fact, they need to be looking forward to it MORE than you! Don’t forget though, there are many things that are available to them that may not be in their home country. The environment in the Middle East is extremely social between other ex-pats, and you and your family will quickly make many friends. There will certainly be others in the same situation as you and your family. If you can, take a visit and see how your family might settle in. Discuss both your future and theirs with people that are living out there, and make sure it’s right for you all.
  • Your reduction in rights
    This is an interesting one. People often naively assume that the rights you enjoy in your home country are an assumed right in your new country. This is definitely not the case, and will not be apparent until you have spent some time living abroad. When you arrive and almost certainly when you visit, the country you plan to live in will look friendly and welcoming. On the face of it, it may even look better than the country you are coming from. However, it’s only when you have been living somewhere a while do you see things for what they really are. Again, talk to people who have lived in the Middle East. What have been their experiences? Think about the new law you will be living under, how will that affect you? What happens if you have a car accident - do you think it will be treated fairly? What happens if you aren’t happy with the accommodation your employer has provided for you - do you think they will listen in the same way as a UK employer might? What about if you have an incident at work, can you be sure there will be a process in place that will treat you fairly? Now, we aren’t saying that because of all this you shouldn’t embark upon a career in the Middle East, we are just saying that you need to be commencing your time there with your eyes well and truly open!
  • Your employment and the associated administration
    When you first join a new company in the Middle East, much of your time will be spent dealing with administrative matters. None of the processes you are used to will be in effect here. In a UK company, much of your joining paperwork will have already been completed, however in the Middle East you will be expected to do this when you arrive. Everything from getting a new driving licence to converting various documents and filling in forms. Much of the processes are extremely labour intensive from an administration point of view - so be prepared! A top tip is to have many passport photos for yourself and your family taken in the approved local way. This way you can hand these out to all the agencies that require them and you won’t have to worry when you get there.
All of the above aspects, and of course any others you can think of, should be given plenty of consideration before you choose to leave your UK employer. But, you might not have a choice. Perhaps your company has just gone out of business, or you have been made redundant? The Middle Eastern airlines are virtually always recruiting given their significant order book of aircraft.
You shouldn’t allow yourself to be put off by the list of considerations above, but it’s good to be prepared for them.

The Tough Selection Process

Whilst it’s true that the Middle Eastern Airlines require many pilots to join them over the coming years, they still demand very high standards, and have often very restrictive experience requirements. You are likely only to be able to join a Middle East based airline if you’ve got a reasonable amount of flying experience already, and this of course means that you are likely to be leaving a relatively established lifestyle.
When it comes to the actual selection, you can expect some of the most challenging selection processes in Aviation. Some are up to 4 days in length, with a pass/fail approach at the end of each day - if you don’t pass something, you can expect to not make it through to the next day of selection. You can also expect many variations of group exercise, competency based interview, simulator assessment and indeed many variations of testing.
The general advice is that you must prepare well and be prepared to arrive in the Middle East having done your research. Here at AirlinePrep we are in a great position to be able to help you prepare, having successfully prepared many clients before for these tough assessment processes. Please feel free to get in contact with us to discuss your options. We also have our product - AirlinePrep “The App”, to assist you. Within The App you can download specific briefs for the airline you are attempting to join, which will target your preparation and make it much easier for you to prepare. Members of the AirlinePrep team have also worked within the Middle East, so we are available should you wish to discuss your options, please just get in contact with us.
We can help you.
Don’t forget that we can help you prepare - have a look at our training options here.

Financial Implications

Money is often one of the biggest attractions when it comes to relocating to the Middle East due to the tax free living that you can currently enjoy. However, it’s not so much the tax free element that can make this a financially attractive option for you, more the fact that often, your accommodation is provided. This immediately removes all of the costs associated with living in the UK - mortgage/rent, council tax, bills etc. If you can sell your UK property, or rent it out, then this is when you will really reap the financial benefits of living and working in the Middle East.
If you plan on becoming a non UK resident, then it’s essential you obtain your own professional tax advice. Tax law is complicated and often rules change. For example, you will potentially have to prove you have actually left your home country, and proving this can be harder if you continue to have ties within your home country. It’s essential that correct planning goes into this area, because the repercussions of poor advice regarding your tax position could become quite costly later on.
Returning to your home country earlier than you expected to is often not as easy as you might like because of tax. You may have to remain outside of your home country longer to prove to the tax office that you are actually not a resident of your home country. Failure to prove this could result on you having to pay additional tax.
Having said all that, and providing you do your financial research, you can enjoy a relatively wealthy existence within the Middle East. You can certainly expect to earn more money than you would in an equivalent European position, however your outgoings could be quite variable. Many aspects of the Middle East are fairly expensive, and if you expect to continue to enjoy the imported brands you are used to, then this will come at a premium. You may also face an increased travel bill to your home country, to visit friends and relatives.
Salary scales are likely to be flat, and you are unlikely to receive a Pension fund, however there may well be an alternative in place. You may well have to fund your own retirement, and it’s our recommendation that you solicit a professional financial advisor to help you do this.
Typically, you are often provided with company accommodation, or indeed an allowance to help you rent your own home. This is likely to be great value to you and an apartment or villa with shared leisure facilities is the likely provision. It can be an extremely social existence, with many people who are in the same position as you living close by. This can have benefits for your family while they remain in the Middle East, while you go to work.

Working and Living in the Middle East

Much of your time will be spent working - there’s no doubt that in whichever country you decide to move to, you will be working hard. Scheduling agreements are non existent, and you will be rostered right up to legal limitations, which may be significantly different to what you are used to. You would be forgiven for thinking that you don’t mind working hard, but you must give consideration to the prospect of your airline “back to backing” trips, with little time off between. This might be ok for you, but what about your family who are looking at perhaps a week to 12 days without you while you fly? It’s important again that they are as keen as living in the Middle East as you!
When it comes to time off, there is an abundance of things to do. Many major sporting events are now held in the Middle East, and getting tickets to these is much easier than in Europe. Equally, music acts are common and popular. The Middle East is very social, with lots of ex-pats being in the same position as you - with social events being extremely common. You are likely to enjoy a relatively high standard of living, with regular visits to nice restaurants, shopping malls and night venues being common. For families, the situation is the same with there being so many as you in the same position, meaning you are rarely short of people to meet up with. With the weather being hot the year round, providing you can stand the heat, you will be a regular visitor to the pool!
Sport is common in the Middle East with many families choosing to join sports or beach clubs where they can take their families to relax. This gives the impression of quite a luxurious lifestyle, and offers something to the families who accompany you. The locations normally are extremely well maintained, and modern.
The weather is a huge factor when it comes to living in the Middle East. The weather in Winter is similar to our Northern Europe spring/summer with temperatures reaching the mid 20’s. This is a lovely time of year and is very pleasant when you compare it to Winter in Northern Europe! However, the summer is a different situation altogether! Temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius are not uncommon! This makes even leaving your accommodation a challenge, let alone sitting beside the pool! Whilst it could well be sunny, you may struggle to spend much of your time outside with temperatures like this.
When it comes to driving, you will have to get used to the fact that people drive differently in the Middle East! You will have to learn patience or already possess lots of it, as there are simply so many nationalities on the roads, that consistency is a challenge! Expect the unexpected on the roads and you won’t go far wrong!
The shopping mall is likely to be somewhere you frequent perhaps more regularly than in Europe, with these being locations of choice when it comes to socialising in the day time. All of the brands that you are used to will be available, and when on the inside of these malls you would be forgiven for thinking that you are in Europe, as all the brands are recognisable. Because the retailers have to import their stock, pricing is a little higher than you are used to but not significantly so.
If you have children then finding a suitable school will be high on your list of priorities. Many options are available to you, and most people who send their children to school in the Middle East are happy with the education they are receiving, given that most of the teachers are brought in from abroad and follow education systems that you would be familiar with. Our advice would be to visit schools and speak to parents who have children there to get a good feel of the education system. It is not necessary to find a school prior to your arrival in the Middle East because you do not know where you will be living within these large cities. Finding a school relatively close to your accommodation after you arrived could save a lot of time spent in traffic jams!
Healthcare is variable in the Middle East, with healthcare professionals coming from all over the world. More and more money is being invested in this area, with facilities being generally good. Certainly if you are coming from the UK, you are likely to be leaving behind a very robust, and professional healthcare system and replacing it with one that is generally good, but not always so. Private healthcare schemes are common, and often allow you to take your healthcare provision all around the world. Most practitioners are privately registered and it would be worth checking their credentials before accepting treatment.
In terms of the flying environment, this too is variable. How the Middle Eastern airlines tackle incidents is variable, so always make sure you follow the company SOPs as best you can. The environment on the flight deck could challenge your CRM skills on occasion, and the language barrier could prove an issue at times. However, once you have prepared for this it is easily overcome. Be aware that these airlines are very rule bound, so following company procedure is the easiest way to ensure a long and happy career in the Middle East!

The Law and Religion

When it comes to law and religion, on the face of things you may not notice much difference. However, be aware that Sharia law is in place. How much of it is enforced is the only variable across the Middle Eastern countries. You must always remain respectful of the cultures and beliefs, and if you do that you will not run into trouble. However, expect to be challenged if you choose to go outside of what is deemed acceptable in the Middle East. Kissing in public, revealing your shoulders or knees as a female is likely to attract attention, and be challenged. To save embarrassment, ensure you stay on the correct side of religious law and you will exist in the Middle East easily.
You must be aware that failure to comply with Sharia law is taken seriously, and a “slap on the wrist” is unlikely to be the punishment you will receive. Prison sentences are a possibility, although rare.
Providing you go about your life in a normal, respectful manner you are unlikely to find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Generally, people are friendly and very family orientated. However, something that is not tolerated is when it appears you are trying to disrespect someone or something that they believe in. This is likely to generate trouble for you. Our advice is to remain respectful, even if you disagree and don’t try to change the system.
Generally speaking, it’s straightforward to exist in the Middle East from a law abiding point of view, just be well aware of the differences in the Law and you won’t go wrong.

The Challenge of returning to the UK

What we mean by this is what is your long term plan? Do you plan to spend a few years in the Middle East, and then retire? Or perhaps you want to move on? Should you decide to leave a career position in the UK, you may find this difficult to return to given that you could end up joining the bottom of a long seniority list. Do you want to be an ex-pat forever? You may well find that that financially, you are unable to return as you cannot match your salary again in Europe? What about pension arrangements - are you making provision for this?
All of these questions, and more need to be thought about, along with tax advice. Our advice in this regard is to get professional tax advice, as the law often changes. Make sure you stay on the right side of the law in this regard, as failure to do so could prove very costly.
When it comes to physically moving back, you are likely to have to go through quite an in-depth process - we recommend following this and leaving on “good terms”. You never know when you might want to return!
We will leave you with one final piece of advice: those who exist best in the Middle East simply go to work, do their job well, take the money, go home to their families and don’t try to change the system!
We hope you’ve found this guide useful.
Don’t forget that some of the AirlinePrep team have lived and worked in the Middle East so if you’ve any questions don’t hesitate to ask us.