Living and Working in the Middle East: Part 1

in association with

But what does this decision really mean for your work conditions, your lifestyle and your family? In the first of a series of articles, two pilots who have lived and worked in the Middle East offer their advice

(Writers’ disclaimer: Many people approach us here at AirlinePrep in the knowledge that our team have lived and worked in the Middle East. Our experiences differ slightly, but the information that follows remains important and should be considered prior to any move to this part of the world.)


The basic advice is to do your homework and research what you are letting yourself in for – failure to do this could result in a very unhappy existence for both you and your family. We hope that you find the following a balanced account of life in the Middle East, and as ever the choice is yours and your opinions on life may well be quite different from the authors’! Our initial advice would always be to try and visit the country you are considering living in, and to speak to the pilots AND their families who live there. Don’t just read the gossip on the internet, actually speak to people and see for yourself.

Considerations before you go

Before you embark upon applying for a position in the Middle East we recommend you do your research. Your airline will have expected you to have done this, and for you to be well aware as to what you are letting yourself in for. It’s a very different place to living in Europe, the USA and Canada, and some of the biggest challenges people face are as follows:

– You and your family being away from family and friends

– You and your family will likely be moving away from everything you know, and you may be faced with taking children away from their grandparents, friends, aunties, uncles etc. They will have to live in the Middle East while you spend significant time flying around the world. Whilst visiting the Middle East is an exciting proposition for many, realistically how many times can you expect your family and friends to do this?

– What is the staff travel arrangement – what are the passenger loads like back to your home city, is regular staff travel a reasonable expectation?

The Heat

It’s difficult to describe the heat – it’s quite something! Just being outside for even a few minutes is a struggle in the summer time, when temperatures will average well into the 40s. The humidity is a factor as well, so give this some consideration. Winter time is generally pleasant, with summer being difficult to exist outside for any length of time. This means that much of your time will be spent indoors, in an air conditioned environment.


© Michael Theis

The Culture and Religion

The way of life in the Middle East is very different to that of the European world. We’re sure that’s obvious to you, but the biggest problem people face is just how different things are. Whilst on the face of it, the Middle East is fairly liberal, the UAE and Qatar are definitely more liberal than some other areas, whilst they all subscribe to Sharia Law. You must be aware of the implications of this.

The differences in Employment Law

What surprises a lot of people is how significantly intertwined your employment is with your existence is in the Middle East. You are there because the company sponsors you to be there. If they want to restrict your movement in and out of the country they can do this – easily. You also should be aware that you are not represented by a Union, so if things go wrong you only have yourself to fight your corner. Mistakes are not as well tolerated as you might hope, so you must bear that in mind. Equally, leave and days off are often changed, as is your roster. Your flexibility is expected, and this can often disappoint those who have come out to live with you.

Your family being alone in the Middle East while you are away flying

This aspect is quite possibly the biggest reason people fail to settle long term in the Middle East. If you are joining an airline as a long haul pilot, you can expect to spend only half the month at home while your family has to spend all of the month there, battling the school run, enduring the heat etc. Ensure your family is as much on board with the plan to move to the Middle East as you are. In fact, they need to be looking forward to it MORE than you! Don’t forget though, there are many things that are available to them that may not be in their home country. The environment in the Middle East is extremely social between other ex-pats, and you and your family will quickly make many friends. There will certainly be others in the same situation as you and your family. If you can, take a visit and see how your family might settle in. Discuss both your future and theirs with people that are living out there, and make sure it’s right for you all.

Your reduction in rights

This is an interesting one. People often naively assume that the rights you enjoy in your home country are an assumed right in your new country. This is definitely not the case, and will not be apparent until you have spent some time living abroad. When you arrive and almost certainly when you visit, the country you plan to live in will look friendly and welcoming. On the face of it, it may even look better than the country you are coming from. However, it’s only when you have been living somewhere a while do you see things for what they really are. Again, talk to people who have lived in the Middle East. What have been their experiences? Think about the new law you will be living under, how will that affect you? What happens if you have a car accident – do you think it will be treated fairly? What happens if you aren’t happy with the accommodation your employer has provided for you – do you think they will listen in the same way as a UK employer might? What about if you have an incident at work, can you be sure there will be a process in place that will treat you fairly? Now, we aren’t saying that because of all this you shouldn’t embark upon a career in the Middle East, we are just saying that you need to be commencing your time there with your eyes well and truly open!

Your employment and the associated administration

When you first join a new company in the Middle East, much of your time will be spent dealing with administrative matters. None of the processes you are used to will be in effect here. In a UK company, much of your joining paperwork will have already been completed, however in the Middle East you will be expected to do this when you arrive. Everything from getting a new driving licence to converting various documents and filling in forms. Much of the processes are extremely labour intensive from an administration point of view – so be prepared! A top tip is to have many passport photos for yourself and your family taken in the approved local way. This way you can hand these out to all the agencies that require them and you won’t have to worry when you get there.
All of the above aspects, and of course any others you can think of, should be given plenty of consideration before you choose to leave your UK employer. But, you might not have a choice. Perhaps your company has just gone out of business, or you have been made redundant? The Middle Eastern airlines are virtually always recruiting given their significant order book of aircraft.
You shouldn’t allow yourself to be put off by the list of considerations above, but it’s good to be prepared for them.

The next article in this series will cover the tough selection process, the financial implications of relocating to the Middle East, plus options for your free time, as well as the challenge of returning to the UK. This article first appeared on


(Edited) Click here to read Part II.

Dubai cockpit

© Frans Zwart