Destination Gulf: Which state should I choose?

Most Irish people end up in the United Arab Emirates, but there are opportunities elsewhere too

There are six Gulf Co-operation Council states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Irish expats heading for the Middle East typically end up in one of these.

With tax-free salaries, they are an attractive location. HSBC's Expat Explorer league table, for example, placed Bahrain in ninth position in terms of attractiveness for expats out of 45 countries, followed by the UAE (12), Oman (18), and Qatar (29).

Non-citizens account for more than half the workforce across the Gulf states, while in four of the six, non-citizens also make up more than half the population. Emirati citizens make up just 20 per cent of the population across the UAE – the rest have come from nearby India, Pakistan, Europe or America.

And it’s hot. Temperatures during the summer average 41 degrees celsius – but can approach 50 degrees – and can be very humid, which is why many families come back to Ireland for an extended break during the summer, where possible.


"It is a five-star lifestyle and is like living in a bubble," says Dearbhalla Baviera, who spent three years living in Abu Dhabi in the UAE before returning home, but still travels to the region as an executive coach with Clearbird Coaching.

United Arab Emirates
The largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi has a population of 2.78 million. The UAE has seen its Irish population expand considerably in recent years, with an estimated 10,000 Irish citizens now living there.

Bernard Creed, vice president of finance with Dubai Duty Free and chairman of the Irish Business Network, has spent more than 10 years living in Dubai and still loves it.

“There are many countries close by that can be visited easily such as Oman, Lebanon, India and Nepal to name a few. Besides the extreme heat in the summer months the weather is fantastic, there are great restaurants, sporting clubs and entertainment.”

An archipelago of islands in the Arabian Gulf, Bahrain scored particularly well for quality of life in HSBC's 2016 survey, with respondents pointing to a better social life and working culture and environment than is typical in the Middle East. About 600 Irish live there.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is one of the strictest Islamic regimes in the Gulf, and Irish expats heading there will likely take some time to adjust, given that there are no bars, night clubs or cinemas. There are plenty of restaurants but these are typically segregated, except those found in the compounds. It is currently home to about 3,000 Irish citizens.

Noel Scanlon, who moved to Riyadh in 2012 to work in project management, was a fan of desert hiking and dune bashing during his time there, and notes that many people “arrange regular trips to Manama (Bahrain), Doha (Qatar), or Abu Dhabi and Dubai (UAE) for the odd weekend where there are bars, clubs and a more open culture and social life”. He says flights are typically “decent value”, but the cheapest option for a holiday is a five-hour road to trip to Bahrain via the King Fahd Causeway.

One of the wealthiest countries in the world thanks to its oil reserves, Qatar lies between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and is mainly desert. It has attracted some controversy of late due to its planned hosting of the World Cup in 2022. The Irish population now numbers about 1,500.

Officially known as the Sultanate of Oman, Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world and is ruled by the Sultan of Oman. It has a population of about 4.4 million - with expatriates accounting for about 1.9 million, about 300 of whom are Irish.

Situated on the Gulf of Oman, “the country is beautiful with spectacular mountains, greenery and white sandy beaches,” says Andrea Linehan, who spent almost 10 years in Oman before returning to Ireland to take up a role as head of sales and marketing with Grid Finance last year. She says that “the way of life and the people are second to none . . . the people are very warm and welcoming and have a strong affinity for Irish people”.

Additional reporting by Gráinne Loughran

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan is a writer specialising in personal finance and is the Home & Design Editor of The Irish Times