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Moving to the Middle East - Here are five frequently asked questions and the answers

The Middle East

When people are considering relocating to the Middle East, they often have various questions and concerns. While the specific questions can vary depending on individual circumstances, here are five common questions that people frequently ask:

  1. What is the cost of living in the Middle East? Cost of living can vary significantly from one Middle Eastern country to another and even within different cities. People often want to know about housing costs, transportation expenses, healthcare, and the overall price level.

  2. Is it safe to live in the Middle East? Safety is a top concern for expatriates. Potential expats inquire about the political stability and safety conditions in the country they are considering. They may also ask about local laws and customs to ensure they can abide by them.

  3. What is the process for obtaining a visa and work permits? The visa and work permit requirements can be quite complex and differ between countries in the Middle East. People want to know about the visa application process, eligibility criteria, and any restrictions associated with work permits.

  4. What is the healthcare system like? Access to quality healthcare is an important consideration when relocating. Questions about the healthcare system, the availability of hospitals, and whether expatriates need health insurance are common.

  5. What is the cultural and social environment like? Cultural differences play a significant role in an expatriate's experience in the Middle East. People often ask about local customs, languages, social norms, and the overall cultural environment to ensure they can adapt and integrate successfully.

These questions can serve as a starting point for individuals considering a move to the Middle East, but it's essential to research and consult with professionals who can provide specific information based on the destination country and your unique circumstances. At SA-Recruitment we have extensive experience in the Middle East after placing teachers there for over twenty years and we strive to provide our teachers with the most up to date ad important information to consider for the countries we place them in.

Additionally, it's a good idea to seek advice from expatriates who have already experienced living in the Middle East, you can connect with some other teachers on our facebook page to hear directly from them about their experiences.

Read on to explore each question above in more detail.

Understanding the Cost of Living in the Middle East

Dubai coast line

The Middle East, a region known for its rich cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, and economic opportunities, attracts individuals from all over the world. Whether you are considering a move for work, adventure, or a change of scenery, one question that invariably crosses the minds of potential expatriates is: What is the cost of living in the Middle East?

Variability Across Countries and Cities

The cost of living in the Middle East is not a one-size-fits-all answer. It can vary significantly from one country to another and even within different cities. This variability is influenced by several factors, including the country's economic development, currency exchange rates, local regulations, and market forces. Ex-pat teachers teaching in the Middle East at International Schools earn tax-free salaries which goes a long way towards affording a good lifestyle and allowing travelling and saving.

Housing Costs

One of the most significant expenses in the Middle East is housing. In some countries, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Qatar, renting a comfortable apartment in a major city can be quite expensive, often comparable to major Western metropolises. However, in less affluent Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan or Egypt, housing costs tend to be more reasonable.

The type of housing also matters; expatriates can choose between luxurious apartments, villas, or more budget-friendly accommodations. Many companies offer housing allowances to expatriate employees, which can significantly ease the financial burden of finding a place to live. SA-Recruitment places teachers at schools where free accommodation is part of the package, which is a huge saving for teachers as they don't need to worry about paying rent.

Transportation Expenses

Dubai city scape

Transportation costs can also vary. In countries with well-developed public transportation systems like the UAE or Saudi Arabia, getting around can be relatively affordable. Car hire (long term) is a popular option for many ex-pats living in the Middle East - the process is quite straightforward and petrol is very affordable. Many of the schools we work with at SA-Recruitment offer transport (shuttle busses) to and from the provided accommodation and the school or the accommodation is within walking distance of the school.


Access to quality healthcare is another crucial consideration. In some countries like the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, world-class healthcare facilities are readily available, but they can come with a high price tag. Expatriates often rely on private health insurance plans to cover medical expenses. SA-Recruitment works with schools that offer medical cover as part of the package for international teachers, saving them the financial cost and giving them that piece of mind.

Overall Price Level

The overall price level for goods and services can also differ substantially. In countries with a high expatriate population, you might find that imported products and international cuisine are readily available but come at a premium. However, in countries with a lower cost of living, you may need to adapt to local products and cuisine, which can be an exciting part of the expatriate experience.

Safety in the Middle East: Navigating the Concerns of People Moving to the Middle East

Mosque in the middle east

For individuals contemplating a move to the Middle East, safety is often a paramount concern. While the region boasts a tapestry of cultures, stunning landscapes, and economic opportunities, questions about safety invariably arise. Prospective expatriates inquire about the political stability, security conditions, and local customs. So, is it safe to live in the Middle East? The answer, like the region itself, is nuanced.

Political Stability and Security

The Middle East encompasses a vast and diverse area, with each country and even regions within those countries presenting a unique security landscape. Most nations in the region, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Oman and Qatar have a long history of political stability, low crime rates, and a strong emphasis on security. These countries often rank high on global safety indexes, and expatriates residing there typically report feeling safe and secure. Even regions such as Saudi Arabia, although ruled by more conservative regulations, allow for freedom of movement, personal safety and far more freedoms than one might initially believe. SA-Recruitment will connect you with teachers currently in these regions to get real-time facts and information.

Local Laws and Customs

Understanding and respecting local laws and customs is vital for expatriates to ensure their safety and comfort. The Middle East is known for its conservative values and adherence to Islamic traditions in many areas. As a result, expatriates should be aware of and respect local customs, particularly with regard to dress, public behaviour, and religious practices.

It's essential to research and familiarise oneself with the laws and regulations in the specific country of residence.

Seeking Accurate Information

SA-Recruitment STRONGLY recommends doing your research, even before contacting us about possible teaching opportunities. Making an informed decision based on facts and not assumptions is vital so seek reliable information from multiple sources. SA-Recruitment has lots of useful information to share and our blog posts and the testimonials on our website are a great source of information from teachers we have worked with that are actually teaching in these international locations.

Navigating the Visa and Work Permit Process for South Africans in the Middle East

Travelling to the middle east

For South Africans seeking to embark on an exciting journey to work and live in the Middle East, understanding the intricacies of obtaining a visa and work permit is of paramount importance. The process can be complex and varies from country to country, making it essential to familiarise oneself with the specific requirements and procedures. Here, we shed light on the key steps and considerations for South Africans.

1. Visa Application Process:

Choose Your Destination:

The Middle East is a diverse region comprising countries with varying visa and work permit requirements. Begin by selecting your destination country, as the process will differ significantly between nations. Popular choices for South Africans include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Employer Sponsorship:

South African teachers working in the Middle East are sponsored by their schools. This means your prospective employer will initiate the visa and work permit application process on your behalf once you have provided the required documentation - here SA-Recruitment is of huge importance as we are fully aware of the documentation required.

2. Eligibility Criteria:

Employment Offer:

To secure a work permit, you'll need a job offer from your new school in your destination country. The school's HR will typically be involved in the visa application process, but again SA-Recruitment will offer essential guidance as to what these documents are.

Health Screening:

Some countries may require health screenings, including blood tests and X-rays, to ensure you don't carry infectious diseases. Vaccination records might also be requested. SA-Recruitment will highlight these in our initial screening so that teachers are fully aware of any potential medical red flags that might prevent the issuing of a work visa.

Background Checks:

A formal, valid SAPS Criminal Clearance Certificate is required in order for a school to obtain the necessary work visa. These certificates are valid for 6 months and do take several weeks to obtain so SA-Recruitment does recommend bearing this in mind when planning and researching teaching overseas. Click through to our Teachers Lounge page where there is a detailed document with advice and links related to obtaining this Clearance Certificate.

3. Restrictions and Considerations:


Work permits for teachers in the Middle East are generally valid for 2 years and (as you are sponsored by your school) only valid while you are employed by that particular school. Extensions or renewals may be possible, but these will require agreement from both parties when your initial contract comes to an end.

Family Sponsorship:

SA-Recruitment works with schools that only look to employ single teachers - why is this? Schools offer accommodation (that they source, pay for and maintain) so they will only offer these facilities to teachers working for them - nobody not employed by the school is allowed to stay there. New teachers will also have a LOT to deal with when they first arrive to their new international schools: new language, new country, new school, new colleagues, new curriculums and ways of teaching, a new life to begin and settle into and schools need teachers to be fully focussed on this. Schools do not want a new teacher's employment with them to be based on whether their spouse can get a sponsored work opportunity or not and are frankly not prepared to take this risk.

Cultural Awareness:

Be mindful of the local customs and laws of your chosen destination. Understanding and respecting the culture is not only essential for a smooth transition but also for the visa and work permit process.

Navigating Healthcare Systems in the Middle East: A Primer for Expatriates

Healthcare in the middle east

When considering a move to the Middle East, healthcare is a crucial factor to contemplate. Questions about the quality of healthcare, the availability of hospitals, and the necessity of health insurance are common among prospective expatriates. To help shed light on these concerns, let's explore what the healthcare system in the Middle East is like.

Quality of Healthcare:

The quality of healthcare in the regions of the Middle East that SA-Recruitment works is generally high. These nations attract skilled healthcare professionals from around the world and boast state-of-the-art hospitals, clinics, and medical technology.

Availability of Hospitals:

Major cities in the Middle East typically have a range of hospitals and clinics, both public and private. These healthcare facilities can cover a wide spectrum of medical services, from general practitioners to specialised treatment centers. It's advisable to research the availability of healthcare institutions in your chosen destination to ensure you have access to the services you may require.

Health Insurance:

SA-Recruitment works with international schools that offer Health Insurance to international teachers they employ from around the world. Generally this insurance is along the lines of a hospital plan covering any and all procedures requiring hospitalisation; but it does not generally cover general doctor's visits, medication or dental appointments. Expatriates can opt for additional private health insurance to 'top-up' the insurance they are offered by their employers.

Considerations regarding healthcare for Expatriates:


While English is often widely spoken in the healthcare industry, especially in urban areas, it's helpful to have some understanding of the local language to navigate healthcare procedures more comfortably.

Cultural Sensitivity:

Respect for local customs and norms is essential when seeking healthcare in the Middle East. Understand the cultural nuances, such as modest dress codes and conservative behavior in healthcare settings.

Emergency Services:

Know the location of the nearest emergency room and contact information for medical services in your area. Keep your health insurance information readily available.

Preventive Care:

Consider preventive healthcare measures, including vaccinations and regular check-ups, to maintain your well-being in your new environment.

Embracing the Rich Cultural Tapestry: Navigating the Cultural and Social Environment in the Middle East

Men walking camels on the beach

Embarking on a journey to the Middle East is not just about a change of scenery; it's a transformative experience that immerses you in a world of rich traditions, diverse cultures, and unique social norms. Understanding and adapting to the cultural and social environment is pivotal for a successful expatriate experience in the Middle East.

Local Customs and Traditions:

Local customs are a cornerstone of life in the Middle East. From the hospitality of Arab nations to the distinct customs of Persians and the cultural practices of North Africans, every region boasts its own set of traditions. Greetings, family values, and rituals, such as tea ceremonies and communal dining, are an integral part of daily life. Learning and respecting these customs is not only a sign of appreciation but also an essential element of harmonious integration.


The Middle East is a linguistic mosaic, with Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and various other languages spoken across the region. While English is widely understood, particularly in urban areas and professional contexts, learning some local phrases can go a long way in building rapport and navigating daily life. Many expatriates find language classes or language apps valuable for this purpose.

Social Norms:

The Middle East upholds conservative social norms in many areas. Dress codes, public behavior, and gender roles can differ markedly from what expatriates may be accustomed to. Modesty in clothing, particularly for women, is often expected in public spaces. It's advisable to familiarise yourself with local expectations and adhere to them respectfully.

Cultural and Religious Celebrations:

The Middle East is a region that celebrates its culture and religion with enthusiasm. Festivals like Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Nowruz are significant occasions and provide opportunities to engage with local communities and understand the culture on a deeper level. Attending or participating in such events can be a rewarding experience.

Cultural Integration:

To adapt successfully to the Middle East's cultural and social environment, it's essential to approach it with an open mind. Make an effort to connect with local residents, engage in cultural activities, and seek opportunities to learn about the customs and history of your chosen destination. Many cities in the Middle East offer cultural centers, museums, and events that can provide insights into the local way of life.

Respect and Patience:

Respect is the cornerstone of cultural integration. Being aware of and showing respect for local customs and social norms is a sign of cultural sensitivity. Patience is equally important, as adjusting to a new cultural environment can take time.

Final thoughts on relocating to the middle east

Bahrain skyline
Bahrain skyline

When contemplating the prospect of relocating to the Middle East, many considerations come to mind. The cost of living does vary slightly between the various regions, understand the visa process and documentation required, be mindful of cultural differences and sensitivities and do your research!

If you're an education professional considering relocating to the Middle East, our recruitment agency specialises in assisting educators like you in finding rewarding opportunities in this diverse region. Whether you seek assistance with visa and work permit processes, understanding the local healthcare system, or navigating the cultural and social environment, our team is here to guide you through every step. Feel free to contact us to begin your journey towards a successful and enriching experience in the Middle East. Your adventure awaits.


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