Planning a move to the Middle East? Here’s everything you need to know

Tax-free salaries are a huge draw, and there’s plenty of work from teaching to construction

 

Little more than a decade ago, it would have been rare to hear about an Irish person moving to the Gulf States in the Middle East. But over the past few years, the Irish population in the region has soared.

In the United Arab Emirates, the number of Irish people living there has increased from 4,000 to an estimated 11,000 in the past five years alone. Another 2,700 Irish are based in Saudi Arabia, 2,000 in Qatar, and more than 1,000 are scattered between Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

A construction boom in the Gulf countries has provided lucrative job opportunities for thousands of Irish construction professionals whose experience is highly sought after. Rapidly expanding expat populations in these regions have created a need for workers across a range of other industries too, from finance to education and healthcare.

Tax-free salaries are no doubt the biggest incentive for Irish workers, with most employers offering packages which also include an accommodation allowance, health insurance, school fees, and a return flight home every year.

And it has never been easier to get there from Ireland; Emirates and Etihad now operate 28 direct flights a week between Dublin and the two main cities in the UAE.

But Irish people have to be prepared for an extremely different way of life there. First off, there’s the heat - rain falls just a few days a year, but temperatures at the height of the summer often soar to more than 50 degrees, forcing many Irish to return home for an extended holiday in July and August.

Sale of alcohol and pork products is restricted. Women are not afforded the same social standing, so work opportunities can be limited in some industries and regions, and conservative dress is essential. Expat accommodation is often in gated compounds, with restaurants, shops and other services all on site. Irish societies have sprung up in all the main cities, organising cultural and networking events for the community and providing vital support for new arrivals. The 13 GAA clubs in the region have also been enjoying a boost in numbers, with Abu Dhabi hosting the first ever GAA World Games in 2016.

This guide gives an overview of the main points to consider when planning a move to the Gulf, with links to useful online resources where you can go for more detailed information, or to get in touch with other expats for advice. Click on the links below to jump to each chapter.

Which state? The most popular locations for Irish people, and what they offer in terms of jobs and lifestyle

Culture and lifestyle: Prepare yourself for a very different way of life, from socialising tohandling the heat

Finding a job: What skills and occupations are in demand and where, what remuneration packages usually include, and advice on how to jobsearch

Finding a place to live: The types of accommodation available, and what you can expect to pay

Cost of living: Tax-free salaries are a huge draw but education and rent is pricey

Health and Education: What health services and schools are like, and what you can expect to pay

Visa guide: Overview of the visa process, with input from Irish people who’ve been through it

Directory: Contact details for Irish organisations, sports and culture clubs, online social networks and other useful support groups

Which Gulf State should I choose?

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

With tax-free salaries, they are an attractive location. The Internations Expat City Rating , for example, placed Bahrain as the number one destination in terms of attractiveness for expats out of 45 countries in 2017, followed by Oman (17) and the UAE (26).

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 2.9 million. The UAE has seen its Irish population expand considerably in recent years, with an estimated 11,000 Irish citizens now living there, according to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

Bernard Creed, vice president of finance with Dubai Duty Free and chairman of the Irish Business Network, has spent almost 20 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.”

Bahrain An archipelago of islands in the Arabian Gulf, Bahrain scored particularly well for quality of life in Expat City Rating 2017 survey, with respondents pointing to a better social life and working culture and environment than is typical in the Middle East. It also ranks first for being able to get by without the local language, and a quarter of expats surveyed said they started to feel at home straight away. 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. Out of a population of 32.5 million, almost 60 per cent are under 30, and about one- third are foreign nationals. It is currently home to about 2,70000 Irish citizens.

Noel Scanlon, who lived Riyadh in 2012 working 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.

Qatar 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 2,000.

Oman 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 4.8 million - with immigrants accounting for almost 45 per centof the total population), about 300 of whom are Irish. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with just nine people per square km.

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. 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”.

Culture and lifestyle

If you are moving to the Gulf, culture is the one area where you will need an open mind and have to take time to adjust to, says Noel Scanlon, a project manager who lived in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia for two years.

According to Nora McCarron, who has been working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia for the past 18 years and is president of the Riyadh Irish Society, most people adapt to the cultural differences in time. “The most important thing about coming to any Middle Eastern country is to understand the culture,” she says. “As long as you have respect for Islamic values, the Saudis are the loveliest people. The Irish are particularly popular, because they know we are very family-orientated.

“The way of life varies depending on where you live. In the city of Riyadh, there is every shop or restaurant chain you could imagine. But for those living outside the city it is different. I live on a British aerospace compound 60km from the city, which is beautifully maintained with all the facilities you would need, but once you step outside the gate you are in the middle of the desert.”

Religion Religion is at the heart of life in the Gulf States. Prayer times are strictly observed five times a day in Saudi Arabia, “which in everyday life means that shops and retail business close for this time period (for about 30 minutes),” Scanlon says, while a religious police (“Hay’ah” or more informally “Muttawa”) essentially enforce compliance with Islamic and Wahabi norms in the kingdom.

“They wear traditional Thobe and sandals, and are often accompanied by regular police as they no longer have the power of arrest. They ensure businesses are closed on time, that people are attending to their prayers and that women and men are dressed appropriately. In general, they are to be avoided at all costs. They generally leave westerners alone, however there have been some incidents over the years when things have escalated,” notes Scanlon.

It took him about four to six months to adjust to life in Saudi Arabia. “There’s no point trying to ignore it, it’s a question of coming to terms with it,” he advises.

Business environment Doing business can also be a culture shock across the region.

“It is a difficult and frustrating region to do business in,” says Dearbhalla Baviera, who spent three years living in Abu Dhabi. “As an expat you are very aware that you are a guest in that country. If things are going well, everything is great. But if something goes wrong it can go wrong very quickly. One thing that we had to adapt to was that ‘temporary’ feeling.”

Bernard Creed, vice president of finance with Dubai Duty Free and chairman of the Irish Business Network, agrees there are “cultural sensitivities that one needs to be aware of”. He says the start of a business meeting is very much a social part, which will take much longer than it would in Ireland where it is down to business pretty early.

“Relationships are important and taking the time to get to know who you are meeting is important and is considered polite,” he says.

But there are similarities between Ireland and the region.

“Doing business here I find very satisfying; the Arabic way is similar to back home: very friendly, welcoming and helpful,” says Jacqueline Platt, who moved to Abu Dhabi from Waringstown, a small village in Co Down. She now runs estate agent Pink Property, a sales and letting agency.

Alcohol and pork Alcohol is restricted, but the strictness of this depends on where you live. In Qatar, the only place you can buy alcohol is the Qatar Distribution Company, which has two outlets, one in Doha. In the UAE and Oman, many hotels and golf clubs will serve alcohol, but it is extremely difficult to come by in Saudi Arabia.

Remember also that you are unlikely to find pork in the Gulf States - and you are not allowed bring it in either - although some outlets, such as the Qatar Distribution Company, stock it.

Women An important element of life in the Islamic Gulf States is how women are treated, and this tends to vary depending on the strictness of the regime in each of the states.

He has also noticed “women-only” check-outs in the larger supermarkets, equipped with screens that allow Saudi women to work as cashiers.

Saudi Arabia is known as one of the most restrictive places in the world for women, but there has been remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time. The long-standing law forbidding women to drive has been abolished, and women can now join the military, visit sports grounds and cinemas, with other reforms in the pipeline. Scanlon says “real progress” has been made in sectors such as health and education, where it’s common now to have female nurses, dentists, and teachers.

After 10 years in Oman, Andrea Linehan found the culture very much embraced women.

“I can unequivocally say I was always treated with the utmost respect and never did I feel I had to change to be accepted by the locals. I did not have to cover my face or my hair. I never felt restricted in my choice of clothing. I would always be respectful and mindful of what I wore but no differently than I do when in a professional environment here (in Ireland),” she says.

As a woman in Abu Dhabi, Baviera found it “absolutely fine” in terms of driving, dressing and freedom of movement. However, she notes that if you move out as an “expat wife”, it will mean you are on your husband’s visa and he is responsible for you.

“For example, I was not able to have a debit card or account in my name as I was not working. If I did anything wrong, my husband would have been held accountable,” she says, recalling how her husband was notified by airport security one time when she was leaving the country.

Quality of life But quality of life is typically high, and several years after coming home, Baviera still misses aspects of life in Abu Dhabi.

“I miss that for half the year, the weather was perfect. Outdoor activities, play dates by the (outdoor) swimming pool . . . People are open to meeting new people, doing different things (for example camping in the dessert) and having the disposable income to do the fun things and be a little adventurous,” she says.

Creed agrees the quality of life in nearby Dubai is “very high and there is never a shortage of things to do”. Irish community organisations including the Irish Business Network, the Dubai Irish Society, Dubai Irish Golf Society and the Dubai Celts (GAA) all organise regular social and networking events.

There are 13 GAA clubs in the region, with teams for men, women and children.

How and where to find a job in the Gulf

WORK
Most Irish work in the construction, education and healthcare sectors

Across the Gulf States, Irish people are finding work in education, construction and engineering, tourism, agriculture, finance and the medical professions.

Richard Walsh, science and engineering manager with Sigmar Recruitment, says qualified and experienced western expats are typically seen as having good potential for management roles. Salaries are attractive, but it’s typically all about the “package” if you head to the Middle East.

“Salaries across the Gulf States for comparable construction or engineering roles are typically 50 to 60 per cent higher, and are higher again in real terms as the salary income in all of these countries is tax free,” says Walsh, noting that school fees are sometimes included. Companies almost always offer some type of accommodation assistance in the form of accommodation or a monthly allowance approximate to the local cost of accommodation.

In Oman, Andrea Linehan found that even when you disregard the tax-free element, salaries for expats were still better than in Ireland. Roles for expats in Oman offer salaries of about 50 per cent more than in Ireland, she says. “Having a very healthy disposable income is guaranteed,” she says. “It is easy to save in Oman while still enjoying a very comfortable lifestyle.”

Geraldine McTigue, associate director with CCM Recruitment (ccmrecruitment.com), agrees that the package can be very attractive for Irish workers. “The major advantage for staff working in the Middle East nowadays is the free accommodation and utilities - they don’t have to worry about water charges, household charges, electricity bills, refuse collection or any of the mundane expenses that come with living in Ireland,” she says.

Construction For construction jobs, the main destinations are the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The main types of roles on offer are in project management, quantity surveying and design engineering.

Qatar is expected to spend up to US$200 billion (€187 billion) on transport, stadiums and facilities before it hosts the 2022 Fifa World Cup, while the estimated investment in construction, infrastructure, power, water, IT and agriculture projects in Saudi Arabia could be as high as $1 trillion by 2020. The UAE also has construction projects worth hundreds of billions under way, with even more money being pumped into oil and gas, petrochemicals, energy and water projects.

Irish engineering and construction companies, such as Sisk, Kentech and Laing O’Rourke, have established themselves in the Middle East and won significant contracts in recent years, and some are bringing Irish employees and their families out on overseas packages. English is the established business language in much of the region, and design and innovation standards are high.

Health Medical professionals will also find a lot of opportunity in the Gulf States. CCM Recruitment (ccmrecruitment.com/category/middle-east) continues to be active in the Middle East, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and according to McTigue, while nursing skills across the board are in demand, emergency and intensive care skills are of particular interest.

“Nursing skills across the board are in demand but, if you have an emergency room and intensive care unit background, these skills are of particular interest. Midwifery, med/surg and operating room nurses will also always find it relatively easy to locate work in the Middle East if you have the right mix of skills and experience in your specialist area,” she advises.

Education Teachers are also in high demand to work in the international English-speaking schools. For decades the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser extent Bahrain or Saudi Arabia - has been a top destination for teachers from Ireland and the UK. Formerly, they would find work teaching the children of western workers from such countries as the US, the UK and Ireland. Now, however, growing numbers of local people - particularly those with money - want their children educated in international schools through the medium of English.

Tony Boswell of UTeach says in the Middle East you can expect to earn $2,500-5,500 (€2,360-€4,700) per month. Salaries tend to be tax-free and teachers can also get such benefits as insurance, housing, and about eight weeks of holidays per year.

Promotional opportunities are much better than in Ireland, according to Boswell, with salary increases common.

“In the Irish context, promotional opportunities are currently limited or non-existent. A teacher could sit for 10 or 20 years at the same level. This has an impact on finances. But in the UK or Middle East, they could be head of a department within three to five years and a senior school leader in 10 years.”

There are also more full-time contracts on offer, which will appeal to the estimated 50 per cent of Irish teachers under the age of 35 who are on contracts of less than full hours.

Some schools work off the British system, which can help in securing your newly-qualified teacher status back in Ireland.

Be aware that there is a big variety in the quality of schools looking for English-speaking subject teachers. Due diligence is advised; ask a lot of questions before committing to a job.

Visa and qualification requirements vary from country to country, but any good recruitment firm or school will advise on the step-by-step process, and they usually have contacts in consulates or visa agencies.

Jobsearching While you might secure a job from Ireland through Skype or recruitment fairs, it helps to get on an aircraft if you are looking for a job in the region.

“There are jobs in Dubai but it is easier to get them if you are on the ground here,” says Bernard Creed, who has been living in Dubai for 10 years, where he used to be chairman of the Irish Business Network.

McTigue says that Skype is an option for some candidates. “We have been using Skype for years but more so for the second interview than an initial introduction, although it can be used on the odd occasion for a first interview if it is not physically possible for the candidate to make it to an interview when the client is over on a recruitment drive,” says McTigue.

Getting a job can take some time. Walsh says it can take at least one to two months, sometimes longer.

“Project changes and delays are common in the Middle East so recruitment plans are subject to change. Candidates can increase the speed of the process by travelling to their chosen destination for a week having done some groundwork previously in terms of applications.”

One point to note about the recruitment process is that companies often look for candidates of a certain age and gender - and explicitly so, unlike in Ireland.

Once in situ, networking can be a route to finding another job. In Dubai, the Irish Business Network came to life through the Dubai Irish Society which started over 40 years ago. With 150 members, it is now the formal platform for the business community to share knowledge and do business with one another.

“Networking in Dubai is easier than in Ireland, in that everybody is here to work and pretty much has a common story of arriving in Dubai alone. There is a commonality of story that bonds everybody here,” says Creed, noting that for job seekers, the IBN has a dedicated jobs portal set up just for Irish jobseekers. See irishbusinessnetwork.me.

If you’re seeking work as a teacher, perhaps the best way to find that job is to check international teacher recruitment agency websites, where vacancies are often listed. Expat Teaching Recruitment (expatteaching.com) are currently advertising for primary and secondary school teachers in the UAE. Applicants are asked to fill out an application form or, if they simply want to be contacted about future opportunities, to submit their CV. Expat Teaching also run TeacherPort.com which helps teachers find suitable opportunities abroad - it currently has 16 vacancies advertised, from Vietnam to Kazakhstan. Other websites to try include UTeach (uteachrecruitment.com), TicRecruitment.com which hass a wide selection across 70 countries, and TeachAndExplore.com. Many of these companies run recruitment fairs in Ireland throughout the year.

Finding a place to live

HOUSING
Accommodation aimed at expats is high quality but expensive and often in gated compounds

Given the expense of life in the Gulf States, you can expect to pay very high rent. Andrea Linehan, who lived in Oman for 10 years, says rent there “mirrors that of Dublin”.

In the United Arab Emirates the property market boomed following the financial crash, but it is now becoming a buyer’s market with more properties available - although that still doesn’t mean prices are cheap.

“We have seen declining rents and sale prices throughout this year brought on by job cuts as the government tries to adjust to falling oil prices,” says Ben Crompton, managing partner at Crompton Partners Estate Agents, based in Abu Dhabi.

“Demand is always high for apartments for rent but at the moment there is quite a bit of inventory to be taken up . . .”

In Dubai, for example, a surplus of supply has led to a significant drop in rental prices. In 2017 there was a 12 per cent decrease in the cost of renting, and with 20,000 new homes being built in the city in 2018, the downward trend looks set to continue.

The average price for a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre is AED13,341 (€3,076). For a one-bedroom apartment, expect to pay roughly half that.

If thinking of buying, you will need considerable funds. According to Crompton, banks will lend 75 per cent of the value of the unit, so you will need to have 25 per cent of the cost in cash. Fees for buying usually work out at about 5 per cent, between registration and broker fees.

Expat accommodation across the Gulf is often in gated compounds located outside the city centres. They have shops and other facilities such as gyms, crèches, beauty parlours and restaurants all on site, and dress codes and other rules concerning gender segregation don’t apply. Most villas in the compounds come furnished. The downside is the cost - rents are usually higher here. Some people also find them claustrophobic.

Cost of living

Tax-free salaries and low-cost petrol are a huge plus, but rent and education are pricey

The good news is that if you move to Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Oman, you won’t have to pay any taxes on your income. Yes, you read that correctly. It may be hard to imagine in a world of universal social charges and property taxes, but if you earn €60,000 in one of these states, you get to keep €60,000.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Qatar and UAE expats don’t pay either income taxes or social security taxes; in Saudi Arabia a 2 per cent social security levy applies but is typically paid by employers (it’s 20 per cent for SA nationals); and in Bahrain, the social security levy is 1 per cent and is paid by expats.

This means that a single person earning €35,000, will get to keep all of their money in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while in Bahrain, net income would be €34,650. In Ireland, your net income for the same salary would be about €28,620.

On a salary of €100,000, you get to keep about €61,199 in Ireland or €99,000 in Bahrain or €100,000 elsewhere, while a married couple with one income and two children will get to keep the same amount of income, compared with just €64,649 in Ireland (including child benefit).

Expensive cities The price of this tax-free munificence is a higher cost of living. According to the 2018 Worldwide Cost of Living survey published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Dubai is the 66th most expensive city in the world. Abu Dhabi is 62nd, Bahrain is 93rd, Doha in Qatar is 101st, Muscat in Oman is 107th, and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia is 117th.

Dearbhalla Baviera, who spent three years living in Abu Dhabi, says groceries, cars and petrol were all inexpensive, as was domestic help, which most people have. But accommodation and education were “hugely expensive and need to be an important part of contract negotiations”, she says, noting that these expenses are akin to an indirect tax.

Another consideration is that many families head back to Ireland for the hot summer months, which can mean costly flights. “Flights during school holidays skyrocket!” says Baviera. There may also be the additional cost of a short-term rental at home.

Andrea Linehan, who lived in Oman for 10 years, also found the country expensive, especially for rent, alcohol and eating out in restaurants.

“However, cars are cheaper, utility bills are very reasonable and there are a number of services that you do not pay anything for, such as rubbish collection,” she says.

In Riyadh, the cost of living is “considerably lower” than Ireland, “anything from 30 to 60 per cent depending on your requirements”, according to Noel Scanlon, who lived there for two years.

“Groceries and eating out are significantly lower in Saudi Arabia, and also less than neighbouring Gulf countries, and there are lots of good supermarkets like Carrefour, Lulu and Tamimi,” he says.

This, combined with fewer outlets at which to spend your money, means you save a lot of money or pay off debts, he adds.

According to Bernard Creed, who has lived in the UAE for more than 15 years and is chairman of the Irish Business Network, Dubai is expensive but costs can be mitigated by commuting longer distances and availing of cheaper accommodation.

Opening a bank account can be a painful experience. In Bahrain for example, you will need to have your visa, as well as a lot of paperwork. Opting for a branch of an international bank, such as HSBC or Citibank, may make it easier to transfer money home. You may also be able to open a euro-denominated account, which helps to protect against currency fluctuations.

Health and education

Fees for private international schools can cost upwards of €10,000, but many employers will pay as part of a salary package

Education If you have children, paying for their education is likely to be the biggest expense in moving to the Gulf States. According to the HSBC Expat Explorer, for example, the vast majority of expat parents in the Middle East opt for private schooling: Qatar (84 per cent), Bahrain (80 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (77 per cent).

“Private education is the only option and it is very expensive,” says former Abu Dhabi resident Dearbhalla Baviera, noting that there are British, American and international schools to choose from and most kids transition very well.

“It is an amazing experience for them to have friends from all over the world,” she says, but adds that the transient nature of the place means “making new friends and saying goodbyes frequently”.

Gems Wellington Academy in AL Khail in Dubai, for example, which follows the British curriculum, costs from €11,900 to €19,600 a year, while after-school activities are also hefty.

In Bahrain, free public school education is available, but private international schools are another option. Primary school fees at AMA International School in Bahrain for example start from about €3,000 a year.

In Saudi Arabia, the British International School in Riyadh will cost between €12,684 and €20,337 a year for secondary school education.

 

Health

The majority of expats heading for the Gulf States will have private health insurance, typically paid for by their employer.

In Oman, Andrea Linehan found the care “no different to Ireland”, with friends having good experiences of the medical system.

In some states such as Qatar, free emergency treatment for everyone who registers - expats included - is available.

How to get a visa to work in the Gulf States

To work you will need a visa, which is usually organised by a sponsoring employer

Broadly speaking, to work in any of the Gulf States you will need a visa - and to get a visa you will need a job.

“A worker has to be sponsored for a visa rather than applying themselves,” says Richard Walsh, science and engineering manager with Sigmar Recruitment, noting that while the waiting time for visas can vary among the Gulf countries, it normally takes about a month.

“There are quite a few documents required such as educational qualifications but in general employers will provide helpful advice about this as it is in their interests that there are no unnecessary delays to the process,” he says.

Geraldine McTigue, associate director with CCM Recruitment, says the process has got a lot more complicated in the last couple of years and has become more “drawn out”.

Tourist visas, which are often given to Irish passport holders on arrival in the Gulf, can be obtained for up to 30 days (renewable up to 60 days in the UAE), which will allow you to travel there and find a job before making a move.

The requirements and application process for work permits vary depending on the country, but generally, foreign workers must be sponsored by an employer, who usually assumes responsibility for completing the paperwork.

Travel within the Gulf States may soon become easier, with the planned introduction of a Schengen-style visa. Originally planned for mid-2014, this visa has yet to emerge, but if it does, it will allow Gulf-based expats to move easily across the borders of the six-member bloc.

In August 2017 Qatar waived visa restrictions for 80 countries to encourage tourism amid an air, sea and land blockade imposed by its neighbouring countries. As things currently stand, Irish citizens need only produce a valid passport to gain entry for up to 30 days.

Contact information for Gulf State embassies in Dublin, with more information about visa requirements, can be found by clicking on the following links (though note some of the websites are not official - please contact the embassy directly for the most accurate and up to date information):

United Arab Emirates: embassypages.com/missions/embassy22997

Saudi Arabia: Contact: 6-7 Fitzwiliam Square East, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 676 0704

Oman: Contact London Embassy: omancao.org.uk/en

Qatar: Contact London Embassy: london.embassy.qa/en/services

Kuwait: kuwaitcultural.ie

Bahrain: Contact London Embassy: mofa.gov.bh/Default.aspx?tabid=3256&language=en-US

Permanent residency Gaining permanent residency in the rich Gulf States has its benefits. In the UAE, for example, holding a UAE passport gives you access to free education, cheaper utilities, and heavily subsidised property purchase schemes.

Also, given that you may have to leave the country within 30 days should you lose your job, it offers protection against this, and also means you can spend your retirement in a country where you might have spent much of your working life.

However, it is difficult (in Saudi Arabia you have to meet certain qualifications such as fluent Arabic), if not impossible, for an expat to become a permanent resident across the Gulf States at present. While it’s an issue of constant debate, it is not yet clear whether the situation will ever change, as Gulf States continue to spread their riches among their citizens, rather than embracing expats.

Jacqueline Platt, who moved to Abu Dhabi from Co Down more than 16 years ago, now calls Abu Dhabi “home”, but notes she knows of only three families from Ireland who have put down permanent roots there.

After more than 10 years spent in Oman, Andrea Linehan says,”It is absolutely a place that you can stay for a long time.”

“Many expats of all nationalities have made it their ‘forever’ home including a strong cohort of Irish,” she says. But staying forever was not for her.

“Working with a semi-state organisation meant career progression is limited for expats due to the job nationalisation policy,” she says. The standard of education can’t compete with Ireland and she wanted to do a full-time MBA. Wanting to be close to family was another reason she decided to move back to Ireland.

Irish organisations in the Gulf

Life in the Gulf may be very different but there are many ways to connect with other Irish people there.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs recently published The Global Irish Diaspora Directory, a great resource for people looking to connect with Irish communities around the world.

General

Department of Foreign Affairs: dfa.ie

Middle East GAA: middleeastgaa.com

UAE

Dubai Irish Society: https://www.facebook.com/Dubaiirishsociety/

Irish Business Network, Dubai: http://www.irishbusinessnetwork.me/

Abu Dhabi Paddy: abudhabipaddy.com

Abu Dhabi Irish Society: https://www.irishsocietyabudhabi.com/

Dubai Celts: dubaicelts.com

Abu Dhabi Na Fianna: abudhabinafianna.com

Abu Dhabi Irish Wolfhounds (soccer): facebook.com/adwolfhounds

Irish Embassy United Arab Emirates: embassyofireland.ae

Dubizzle (property search): dubai.dubizzle.com/property-for-rent

Pink Property: pinkpropertyuae.com

UAE government portal for visitors, with information on healthcare, driving, transport, finding a job, getting an Emirates ID card, etc government.ae/web/guest/visitors-services

Al Ain GAA Club: https://www.facebook.com/alaingaaclub/

Irish Society Club: https://www.facebook.com/Dubaiirishsociety/

Jumeirah Gaels: https://www.facebook.com/Jumeirah-Gaels-753277528111990/

Ruwais Gaels GAA: https://www.facebook.com/ruwaisgaels/

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain GAA: arabiancelts.com

Irish Embassy Saudi Arabia: embassyofireland.org.sa

A Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan blog (by Noel Scanlon, about life in Saudi Arabia): longwaytogoforasuntan.blogspot.de

Irish Business Network Saudi Arabia: http://www.ibnsa.org/

Kuwait

Kuwait Harps GAA: https://www.facebook.com/Kuwait-Harps-GAA-Club-475587009123212/

Kuwait Irish Society: https://irishsocietykuwait.wordpress.com/

Qatar

Qatar Irish Society: qataririshsociety.com

Qatar GAA - Oryx na hÉireann: qatargaa.com

Irish Qatari Business Council: https://sites.google.com/a/iqbc.org/www/

Bahrain

Bahrain Irish Society: bahrainirishsociety.com

Arabian Celts GAA: http://www.arabiancelts.com/

Bahrain Irish Business Network: https://www.facebook.com/BahrainIrishBusinessNetwork/

Oman

Oman GAA: facebook.com/groups/omangaa

Oman Irish Society: https://www.facebook.com/Oman-Irish-Society-396065597131585/

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