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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

GCC States: Easy to Settle In, but Lacking Job Security

2019 brings a mixed bag of results for the Gulf States: Bahrain (7th) loses its top spot, while Qatar climbs an impressive 20 places to 18th. Kuwait ranks last for the fifth time.
  • 50% of expats in Qatar consider the state of the economy excellent.
  • Oman is the number one worldwide for safety and security.
  • The UAE, Oman, and Kuwait all rank in the bottom 5 for job security.
  • Bahrain has fallen 17 places to 18th in the Working Abroad Index.
  • 82% of expats in Bahrain say it is easy to settle down in this country.

Oman Number One for Safety and Security

Across the Quality of Life Index, most GCC States offer distinctly average results, with the UAE ranking highest in 21st place out of 64 countries. The one exception is Kuwait, which continues to rank in the bottom 10 (63rd). However, Oman boasts an outstanding result for safety and security, climbing nine places to claim the number one spot worldwide. The UAE also joins Oman in the top 10 for this subcategory (6th), with Qatar just missing out on it (11th). Peacefulness is a particular highlight in these Gulf States, with over nine in ten expats in Oman (96%), Qatar, and the UAE (both 93%) being pleased with this factor.

The Digital Life subcategory continues to provide rather mixed results in the GCC States, with Bahrain (17th out of 64) and Qatar (18th) receiving above-average results, while Kuwait remains in the bottom 10 (58th). The UAE ranks impressively for the availability of government services online, claiming fourth place worldwide, only behind Finland, Singapore, and Estonia. In fact, close to half the expats in the UAE (48%) say these services could not be any better, and one Palestinian expat praises how “easy it is to use government services in the UAE through online and smart technology”. Conversely, all GCC States seem to struggle with unrestricted access to online services such as social media; only Bahrain (49th) finishes outside the bottom 10 for this factor.

There’s a lack of interesting things to do in my free time in Kuwait.

There seems to be plenty of room for improvement in the Leisure Options subcategory for the Gulf States: The UAE finishes highest in 37th place out of 64 countries, while Kuwait comes last (64th). Close to three in ten expats (27%) say their socializing and leisure activities in Kuwait could not be any worse, almost six times the global average (5%). One British expat laments the “lack of interesting things to do in my free time, including outdoor activities”.

Polar Opposites for Settling In

The GCC States display a vast range of results for the ease of settling in, with Bahrain claiming second place overall and Oman finishing sixth, all while Kuwait is last again (64th out of 64 countries). Expats in Bahrain are particularly happy with how easy it is to settle down in this country: over eight in ten expats (82%) rate this factor favorably, compared to just 30% in Kuwait. Oman has climbed eight ranks to finish in first place in the Friendliness subcategory, claiming its best-ever result in the process.

It’s easy to communicate in Bahrain.

Four of the Gulf States also perform well in the Language subcategory, with only Kuwait failing to make the top 10. In fact, Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar are the three countries it’s easiest to live in without speaking the local language. Over nine in ten expats in Bahrain (94%) say it’s easy to live there without local language skills, followed by Qatar and the UAE (both 86%). One Nepali expat in Bahrain stresses that “it’s easy to communicate”.

In terms of finding friends abroad, Bahrain (5th) leads the way again, with Kuwait in the bottom 3 in 62nd place. Close to seven in ten expats in Bahrain (68%) say making new friends is easy, and one Swiss expat praises “the friendly environment and the easy way to make friends”. Oman seems to be a good destination to make local friends: almost six in ten expats (58%) think this is easy, 16 percentage points above the global average (42%). At the other end of the scale, locals in Kuwait seem extremely difficult to befriend: a staggering 34% of expats say making local friends could not be any harder, almost three times the global average (13%).

No Longer Number One for Working Abroad

In one of 2019’s most surprising results, Bahrain has lost its crown in the Working Abroad Index to Vietnam (1st), falling 17 places to 18th and behind Qatar (15th) in the process. One of the biggest contributors could be the Work & Leisure subcategory, where Bahrain has dropped 19 ranks to 21st. In contrast, Qatar has made great improvements in this index, climbing 20 places to rank 15th, now the leading Gulf State for working abroad.

Qatar’s success could well be due to the state of its economy; exactly half the expats (50%) say it could not be any better, over double the global average (24%). In fact, one Sri Lankan expat even names “the growing economy” as one of his favorite things about Qatar. The other Gulf States show distinctly average results for this factor, with Bahrain ranking lowest (32nd).

Job security seems to be an area of weakness across the region, with the UAE (60th out of 64 countries), Kuwait (61st), and Oman (62nd) all ranking among the bottom 5. In fact, an Iranian expat living in the UAE explicitly points out the “lack of job security”. Exactly one-third of expats in Oman (33%) are disappointed with this factor, compared to 21% globally.

Despite falling out of the top 10 for this factor, Bahrain still offers the best work-life balance out of the Gulf States, ranking 13th out of 64 countries. Close to seven in ten expats (68%) are pleased with their work-life balance, with 27% even saying it is very good (vs. 20% globally). Conversely, Kuwait offers the worst work-life balance for expats worldwide (64th): over one-third of expats (36%) are unhappy (vs. 21% globally).

Out of all expats who are generally happy with their life across the region, an above-average percentage cite being satisfied with their job as one of the main reasons. Qatar has the largest share (58%), followed by Kuwait, Oman (both 54%), then the UAE (46%), and Bahrain (45%), compared to 38% globally.

Bahrain Leads for Family Life

While Kuwait is not included in the Family Life Index due to a lack of responses from parents, Bahrain (13th out of 36 countries) ranks as the best Gulf State for family life, followed by the UAE (23rd), Qatar (25th), and Oman (33rd). In terms of childcare options, Bahrain (4th) and Qatar (9th) rank in the top 10, whereas Oman (28th) is among the worst. Over three in ten expat parents in both Qatar (33%) and Bahrain (31%) even say that childcare options in general could not be any better.

Affordable education seems difficult to find, though: Oman (28th), the UAE (31st), and Qatar (32nd) all feature in the bottom 10 for this factor. With over six in ten expat parents in the UAE (61%) disappointed by the cost of education, it is hardly surprising that one South African expat complains: “Education for my children is ridiculously expensive.”

When it comes to the quality of education, Bahrain (9th out of 36) performs well, whereas Oman is in the bottom 10 again (32nd). Exactly eight in ten expat parents (80%) are pleased with the quality of education in Bahrain, compared to 50% in Oman. Several Gulf States also receive strong results for children’s safety, with both the UAE (6th) and Qatar (8th) in the top 10, and Bahrain (13th) not far behind. Seven in ten parents in the UAE (70%) agree their children’s safety could not be any better, and one Greek expat exclaims: “It’s a great place to raise young children — very safe!”

Financial Struggles in the UAE

Qatar is the biggest climber in the Personal Finance Index in 2019, moving up an impressive 16 places to rank 14th out of 64. However, the UAE (61st) languishes in the bottom 10 for the second consecutive year. Expats in Qatar are particularly pleased with how well their income covers their daily expenses (9th): almost six in ten (59%) think they have more than what they need, compared to 49% globally.

Qatar also has the highest share of expats satisfied with their current financial situation (73%), followed by Bahrain (69%), Kuwait (62%), Oman (58%), and the UAE (54%) (vs. 64% globally). The Gulf States have no outstanding performers for cost of living, though: Bahrain finishes highest (29th out of 64), with Oman two places behind (31st). Kuwait makes another appearance in the bottom 10, coming in 58th place, while the UAE ranks 52nd regarding expenses. Over six in ten expats (61%) are unsatisfied with the costs of living involved in Kuwait, almost double the global average (34%).

It’s now getting very tough for average-salaried expats to survive in the UAE.

Before moving to the UAE, 61% of expats considered the cost of living one of their biggest concerns (vs. 32% globally), and now 50% are actually unhappy with this factor. One Pakistani expat in the UAE bemoans that “it’s now getting very tough for average-salaried expats to survive”.

Further Reading