Top 10 Middle East Countries For Expats

Drawings of the most famous Middle East buildings

The Middle East is a magnet for expats with high salaries balanced by a cheap cost of living and low taxes, here’s a rundown of the Top 10 expat destinations and they might not be where you think

The combination of quality living standards, demand for skilled professionals, near-perfect weather, and beautiful landscapes have combined to make the Middle East a lucrative and enticing place to go.

Even 10 years ago, few UK nationals would choose to move to the Emirates or Bahrain – yet now, images of influencers reclining on some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world are commonplace in these desert countries.

The Middle East isn’t just about tourism and luxury yachts. It’s a desirable part of the world for expats looking to settle down with their families or to seek career opportunities.

When you factor in tax advantages, a diverse culture, and a vast array of cuisines that tempt foodies, it isn’t hard to see why the sparkle of the Dubai nightlife or warm shores of Turkey trump much of what is on offer elsewhere.

That said, there are parts of the Middle East that remain politically turbulent, and so it’s wise to do your homework before starting work on that shortlist.

Here we’ll make that task a little easier, with a run-down of the best ten countries for British expats to live in throughout the Middle East – and why they’re worth considering.

Don’t forget you can follow the Middle East category to stay up to date with the latest news.

United Arab Emirates

Around 55,000 Brits live in the UAE, with the majority in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. However, there are other emirates to explore and a wide range of places to live.

Dubai has more expats than any other part of the UAE, with incentives such as:

  • Ease of social integration, with expat clubs, international immigrants and most locals speaking excellent English.
  • A great social scene with world-class entertainment, amenities, shopping malls and restaurants.
  • The safe environment, with international schools for children and plenty of family-friendly parks and pedestrianised residential districts.

To take a closer look at life in Dubai, make sure to read our Expat Guide to Living In Dubai article.

The weather is excellent, with sunshine and little in the way of rain for eight months of the year, and this prosperous region offers high salaries for the Middle East along with appealing job prospects.

Workers in the UAE don’t pay any income tax, so while living costs can be high, it remains affordable with the bump in wages owing to the lack of national taxes.

Many of the major cities are also becoming cheaper, with developments around the outskirts to accommodate more housing. So you can choose between elegant villas, often in gated communities, to slick city apartments in one of the many high-rises.

United Arab Emirates in figures:

  • Population: 9.7 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £608 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
  • Average monthly net income: 10,210 AED / £1,971.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 4,542 AED / £877.

On average, the UAE is 17% cheaper than the UK, although rent can be up to 20% higher depending on where you live.

Kuwait

Kuwait is an authentic blend of tradition and contemporary living, with sprawling deserts and highly modern cities.

Some of the most popular activities to enjoy at the weekends while living in Kuwait are:

  • Camel racing – a massively popular hobby in a country with a year-round warm climate and plenty of camels.
  • Local machboos, the Kuwaiti national dish made with lamb or chicken.
  • Visiting The Grand Mosque, an extraordinary building with a capacity of 11,000. 
  • Travelling to Failaka Island, with a different climate from the mainland and a hub for water sports and relaxation.

Kuwait is one of the wealthiest countries worldwide, producing around 6% of the global oil demand, so the economy is stable.

There are around 7,100 British expats in Kuwait and many more of other nationalities.

You’ll find lots of clubs and societies, festivals, and given the low fuel prices, lots of sizable American brand cars filling the vast highways.

Kuwait in figures:

  • Population: 4.2 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £504 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Salmiya and Kuwait City.
  • Average monthly net income: 573 KWD / £1,350.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 275 KWD / £648.

While Kuwait isn’t known as a cheap country, it’s certainly affordable. Living costs are around 31% lower than in Britain, and rent is around the same, just 2.5% cheaper.

Qatar

Qataris home to around 8,100 British expats and reliant on foreign professionals to supplement the local workforce.

It’s easy for skilled workers to find employment here since 95% of the workforce and 90% of the population are foreign nationals.

In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in 2022, the nation has been criticised for employment laws and has taken steps to offer better working conditions. Some of these changes include:

  • Introducing a national minimum wage across all nationalities and positions.
  • Abolishing the Kafala system to liberalise the local employment sector (therefore, expats looking to switch jobs don’t need approval from their current employer).
  • New rules managed by the Ministry of Labour whereby expats moving for work must have employment contracts.

As the government becomes more progressive, Qatar is likewise becoming more popular. The geography here is stunning, with iconic cityscapes contrasting with relaxed beaches.

Many of the jobs for expats in Qatar are in the oil and gas industries.

Read our guide to living in Qatar to get a full picture.

Qatar in figures:

  • Population: 2.8 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £612 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Doha.
  • Average monthly net income: 10,848 QR / £2,112.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 5,344 QR / £1,041.

Rent in Qatar can be high, with prices up to 44% more expensive than in the UK. However, accommodation is sometimes offered as an employment perk, and the general living costs are just under 13% lower.

Turkey

Home to 34,000 British expats, Turkey, is perhaps a more familiar place and a long-standing tourist destination where millions of UK holidaymakers travel to top up their tan.

However, Turkey is a fascinating country with a considerable amount on offer in addition to those glittering beaches and beautiful hotels.

Like much of the Middle East, the weather is nothing short of idyllic. You can travel to the mountains, visit the famous salt flats, or live in the historic Old Town in Mardin.

While Turkey can be conservative, the country feels closer to Europe than much of the Middle East. 

The cities are full of shopping malls, supermarkets and global coffee chains, yet you’re a step away from the depths of a culture with a strong heritage.

Expat families love the outdoor lifestyle in Turkey, with families tending to spend their weekends at the beach, sailing, having barbecues or socialising. 

The food is also worth a mention, with a staggering amount of local produce available at the markets – including fruit, vegetables, cheese, meats and local bread.

Costs in Turkey depend on where you live. Istanbul is the most popular city but is also the most expensive. However, you can live in a coastal town such as Fethiye, which is more affordable by around 20%.

It’s growing in popularity to buy property in Turkey, either as a home or investment.

Turkey in figures:

  • Population: 82 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £265 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Istanbul.
  • Average monthly net income: 3,260 TL / £277.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 1,544 TL / £131.

You’ll need a work permit to take up a job offer in Turkey, and be aware that the market is competitive with a young population. 

Businesses do tend to prefer to hire Turkish nationals, so you’ll need a skill or professional qualification to edge your way into securing a higher-level role.

Bahrain

In the heart of the Persian Gulf, we come to Bahrain. This country has long been a hotspot for expats, with more foreign nationals than locals, including 11,000 Brits.

Bahrain is the cultural and commercial hub of this part of the Gulf and the fourth-most densely populated country globally.

The country is well known as a luxurious region, with world-class Formula One sporting events such as the renowned Bahrain Grand Prix, iconic landmarks and incredible Islamic sites.

Many expats in Bahrain are professionals and enjoy benefits such as:

  • High average salaries for professional roles.
  • No income taxes.
  • Low living costs but high standards.
  • More significant properties on a smaller budget.

Many people work in Qatar or Saudi Arabia across the border but choose to live in Bahrain

As a result, you’ll find great schools, a more liberal social culture, and friendly people with Islam still the majority faith, yet observed with less strict conservative values than in some parts of the Middle East. 

Bahrain in figures:

  • Population: 1.64 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £560 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Bahrain Island, Muharraq Island and Riffa.
  • Average monthly net income: 581 BHD / £1,094.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 344 BHD/ £648.

Overall, rent in Bahrain is around 10% cheaper than in the UK, and living costs are 21% more affordable.

Oman

Around 7,800 Britain Expats live in Oman, another Middle Eastern country with a reliance on foreign workers to prop up the demand for skilled professionals.

There have been several schemes intended to drive up expat immigration, such as:

  • Reduced application fees for work permits through the Omani Ministry of Labour.
  • More flexible permits, including temporary work placements and part-time roles.
  • Regulations permitting foreign workers to change employers.

In 2020, as many expats returned home amid the Coronavirus pandemic, employment in Oman fell by over 14%, indicating the strong demand for skilled employees.

Oman is a diverse country, with everything from deserts and mountain hiking to beautiful beaches and modern shopping malls. However, summer can be sweltering, particularly on the coast.

Most expats live in Muscat, but you will need to hire a car or use public transport to get around since the city isn’t very pedestrian-friendly.

Oman in figures:

  • Population: 4.97 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £461 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Muscat and Salalah.
  • Average monthly net income: 645 OR / £1,188.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 222 OR / £409.

Living costs in Oman are just under 33% lower than in the UK, with rent a whopping 47% less expensive.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is an ancient nation with a long history – and yet is progressive and has a booming economy that makes modern life easy and accessible.

There is a contrast between traditional buildings and modern architecture, with metro transport systems and low living costs that make it relatively easy to settle in.

Around 26,000 Brits live in Saudi Arabia, many working in the oil industry that is the backbone of the Saudi Arabian economy. 

Low taxes and living costs, coupled with relatively high salaries, mean living in Saudi Arabia is very affordable for most foreign nationals.

However, Sharia law is active in Saudi Arabia, so it is vital to understand local laws and customs before moving.

The government abolished much of the most conservative laws in 2017, and women can now work, play sports, and drive. 

Note that alcohol is strictly illegal in Saudi Arabia, as are immodest clothing, loud music and graffiti.

Saudi Arabia in figures:

  • Population: 34.27 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £496 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Riyadh and Jeddah.
  • Average monthly net income: 6,317 SAR / £1,195.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 1,428 SAR/ £270.

The costs of living in Saudi Arabia are much lower than the UK average. Rent is 63% cheaper, and general living costs 31% lower.

Jordan

Of the 7,200 British expats in Jordan, the majority live in Amman, where you’ll find international schools, cycle paths, green spaces and friendly people.

Jordan is seen as a haven of peace, with minimal troubles in its history. Expats are advised not to travel within three kilometres of the Syrian border, but elsewhere in Jordan, life is very calm.

People living in Jordan can visit Petra, the ancient rock city, and the Dead Sea, where the high salt content means swimmers float on top of the waves.

The country is also known for having generous refugee policies and taking in millions of families from Syria and Palestine when these areas have been hit by violence and war. 

That attitude is reflected across Jordan, with people keen to help and offering incredible hospitality to help foreign nationals find their feet.

Jordan in figures:

  • Population: 10.1 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £478 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Amman.
  • Average monthly net income: 414 JOD / £414.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 225 JOD / £225.

Jordan is 29% cheaper than the UK in terms of general living costs, with rent almost 70% lower.

Yemen

Right at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen isn’t an obvious expat destination but is the second-largest Arab sovereign state in the region.

While the country is still developing, there are plenty of employment opportunities, primarily in the service sector.

There are no less than four UNESCO World Heritage Sites here, including the old cities Sana’a, Shabim and Zabid, which are incredible places to visit or live.

Some parts of Yemen remain poor, and there is little safe water in the rural regions. The economy has also been hit hard, so many aid agencies and NGOs are working to support people and provide healthcare services.

However, the challenges of a country where electricity shortages can be frequent are offset by an astonishing natural beauty and welcoming and friendly people, with a real sense of community.

Yemen in figures:

  • Population: 29.16 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £476 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Sana’a and Aden.
  • Average monthly net income: 66,354 YR / £188.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 45,982 YR / £130.

Living in Yemen is considerably cheaper than in the UK. However, a lot depends on whether you have a professional employment income or are earning local average salaries.

Many expats in Yemen work with an aid organisation or charity, such as Oxfam, and therefore have assistance with finding accommodation. 

Rent here is 81% lower than UK averages, with overall living costs almost 30% lower.

Armenia

Armenia is a beautiful country. The capital Yerevan is the largest city but remains small, with just over a million residents. 

The language here is Armenian, with most people speaking Russian, although English is used frequently in towns and cities. You’ll find lots of American Armenian expat social clubs and activities.

You can travel across the country via cheap public transport and use the subway and trolley trams in the city at a small cost.

Many expats choose Armenia to travel a little off the beaten path – but it remains highly accessible and is a member of the Council of Europe, so it acts as a gateway between the EU and the Middle East.

You can be in Zurich in three hours, and while there was a conflict in Azerbaijan over the border back in the 1990s, Yemen is a peaceful and safe country where crime is almost unheard of.

Armenia in figures:

  • Population: 2.96 million.
  • Average monthly living cost per person: £318 excluding accommodation.
  • Most popular destinations: Yerevan, Dilijan and Goris.
  • Average monthly net income: 196,978 AMD / £268.
  • Rental cost per month for a one-bed city apartment: 188,307 AMD / £256.

Living costs in Armenia are around 56% cheaper than in Britain, with rental prices around 67% lower.

Middle East Frequently Asked Questions by Expats

Is the Middle East safe for expats?

Most of the Middle East is safe, with tens of thousands of expats living in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Saudi Arabia is also safe and one of the more secure nations in the Middle East.
 
However, there are countries with a history of civil war, violence and political conflicts, and so it’s best to do your research before you travel.

Do I need to learn Arabic to move to the Middle East?

Not necessarily, although it’s recommended you try to learn at least a bit of Arabic to get around.
 
In popular expat destinations, such as Dubai, you’ll find that most businesses use English as a standard business language.
 
However, in more rural areas or away from commercial zones, you’ll likely need to pick up a second language to communicate.

Is it easy for women to relocate to the Middle East?

Much of the Middle East is conservative, so you need to cover your shoulders in public and cannot sit on the same seats on the bus as men.
 
Most mosques also have separate entrances and rooms for men and women.
 
However, much of the Middle East is also becoming more relaxed, and women can find jobs, drive cars, and socialise as they would at home.

Which is the most popular Middle East country for expats?

In terms of the number of expats, the most popular Middle East countries are:
 
United Arab Emirates: 55,000 British nationals.
Israel: 44,000 UK expats.
Turkey: 34,000 British residents.
Saudi Arabia: 25,000 foreign UK expats.

Can I drive in the Middle East as an expat?

Each Middle Eastern country has different rules, but most will allow expats to drive on a foreign license, or with an international driver’s license, for around three months.

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