Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Ask My Readers: Expat Positions

I have no idea how to answer this one, but I'm curious, so anyone with knowledge is invited to comment:

I am a university administrator(classified staff) at a large university.
I have a unique role in that I offer student services to our distributed campuses including
one in the Middle East. Recently, I was asked to apply for a position in the United Arab Emirates,
where I have been traveling and working in Education for two years. What are the big issues to
consider in taking on a new position of this kind? How would I know what the actual pros and cons
to becoming an expatriot are? What are the pitfalls?

Wise and (literally) worldly readers – what say you?

There are lots of expat sites out there on the web, and you could also try places like the Thorn Tree on the Lonely Planet website, where there are expats with experience in the ME that you could actually chat with. The UAE has some particular challenges, especially if you are a woman, so it is wise to investigate not just the work environment but the living environment as well. Traveling in the ME is one thing, living there is quite another I understand. Best of luck!
You won't have to pay US income tax.
Anonymous said...
You won't have to pay US income tax.

On the first $86000 or so...
Regarding the UAE:
If the US or Israel attacks Iran, most analysts (and past and present US military) expect Iran will counterattack in Qatar and the UAE, particularly Dubai, since they cannot reach the US directly. This is the main reason you see the SecDef and the Chief of Staff publicly opposed to the sort of action that Cheney and others support. Read Hersch in The New Yorker for details.
The first con would be learning to spell "expatriate." :)

Many pros, I think, if you are the adventurous sort.
To the first and second anonymous...

Yes, you can exclude about 80 grand of foreign earned income, but US citizens still MUST file US income taxes every year. Filing in two countries is a real pain. Oh, and there's form TDF 9022-1 that goes to the US Treasury (not the IRS). Find an accountant and pay them to file in both countries.

You're already a traveller, so you'll already have a decent picture of your lifestyle there. Make the best guess you can as to how difficult it will be to move, deal with bureaucracy, adjust to a new culture. Then assume it will be twice as difficult and twice as expensive. (To be trite: expect the unexpected.)
Everything I say here is based on what I have heard from Phillipino health care workers who took similar assignments in Kuait and other similar states.

They will likely take your passport when you arrive and may not return it to you until your contract is over. You will likely live in a compound for "foreigners". If you are a woman, you will have to comply with the same rules other women in the country live with, whether that be wearing a bhurka or head scarf or not driving. The flip side is that there will be drivers and maids and all sorts of cheap help. If you bring books and magazines, they will be altered or censored as the local government authorities see fit. You will have no rights and little recourse should things go wrong.

That said, the folks I know that did somehing like what you're talking about doing were happy with the results - they were in it for the money and didn't mind not seeing their families for a couple of years. I know of only one person who got out of their contract early and that was someone whose wife couldn't stand living in the compound with the kids all day and insisted on going home. He was severely penalized per the terms of his contract.

I don't think this is a bad option but it's not something to take lightly as well. And if you're not Muslim, don't plan on dating or seeing anyone of the opposite sex outside of the compound.
Interesting discussion on Expat HR issues at
Please discard Ivory's answer. I lived in the UAE for 8 years teaching ESL and I loved it. I only came back to the US because my husband returned to school.
First of all, you will not have your passport taken away. You do not have to wear a head scarf and, as a matter of fact, you can wear whatever you want outside of the classroom. Most schools require that you cover your shoulders and knees. That's it.
You will find many of the same conveniences as the US and some. It is a foreign country though so there will be some differences. Do read the expact website (and there are many!). I think the most important thing will be your contract. A standard expact contract includes (on top of your tax free salary) free housing and air fair home once a year. This is considered the bare minimum. There may be other perks and this will depend on your position.
Another thing about the UAE is that it is very central. You are close to Asia and Europe and you can get many holiday package deals.
As far as personal safety is concerned, I felt safer there then I do in the US. There is very very little violent crime.
I hope this helps.
I would also like to disagree with Ivory's response, which to me, seems inaccurate for two reasons.

Firstly, the conditions for educated Westerners in the Middle East are very, very different from the conditions for people of colour from poorer nations who work in service or labour type industries. This is not pretty, but it is true. My partner spent his teenage years in UAE where his father worked as an engineer. However, because they are Pakistani, they were often treated disrespectfully in schools, in stores etc. This should definitely be considered if you are a person of colour, although speaking English with a North American accent will mitigate much of this treatment once someone speaks to you.

Secondly, Ivory's comment sounds much more like Saudi Arabia, than like the Emirates. Yes, foreigners often live in compounds or apartments that are provided by employers, but the situation as far as passports and rights is better than in Saudi Arabia. The UAE is also more Westernised than other areas of the Midddle East, and while there are some restaurants etc. where women don't go or where they have a male section and a female/family section, the clothing and driving restrictions are nothing like Saudi Arabia.
I've spent a good part of my adult working life as an expat. As others have noted, there are good sites for finding details about the particulars of the country you would live in.

What others haven't said, that I've seen, is that expat life can be psychologically tough. The further the host culture is from your own, the more challenging it can be.

There is absolutely also a question of spouse/children - if you have either, be aware they may have a harder time than you.

All of that said, I loved the years I spent abroad, and think everyone should at least try it. Worse comes to worse, it doesn't work out, and you have a really interesting line item on your CV, and some great photos.
Glad to hear that white North Americans get a better deal than my co-workers did. Not sure I'd want to go to a place like that, even if I was one of the chosen few who gets treated well.
Hi Ivory, I'm sorry if you felt that my response above dismissed the experience of your co-workers. That wasn't my intention. I just wanted to make clear to the person who asked the question that the experience of Phillipino health care workers in Kuwait would be very different from the experience the person who asked the question might have in the UAE.

The question of whether you would want to live in a rairly overtly racist society is an important one though, and something the person who asked the question should also consider.
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