Sunday, December 23, 2007

Staying in the M.E. Longer than Planned

Work in the Middle East for a few years, then retire?

Possible, if you are lucky.

When I was offered a job in the oil rich Middle East, I thought that it was a quick path to early retirement. Hey, save some 40K a year, after three four- years it is 120-160K, put it in the bank at some 7% interest than just kick back and relax somewhere on a tropical island.

It works in theory and probably works for some lucky people, but the following things happened after the offer: upon my arrival at the destination I learned that the contract was only good for six months, even though I had signed a two year contract. So, six months later, we were all laid off. We were also not issued a “Letter of Non Objection” by our company- a document without which you cannot work for another employer in that country for as long as three years. We were then sent out of the country. At home we would be liable for income tax on our income because we had not fulfilled the 335 day overseas residency requirement to be exempt from US taxes.

So, one looks for a new job, and then, heads for another Middle Eastern country. If one is lucky and gets hired immediately, well, then it is not a problem. If it takes time to find another job, then one needs to spend time and money while one looks for it. Not all salaries are the same and some countries pay less than others. Some companies in some countries require that you pay for your ticket to go for an interview, then, they do not reimburse you. In some other countries, like Oman, it is very difficult to live without a car and a car needs to be rented if you want to get around. It all eats into your savings budget.

In short, various administrative and contract snags, layoffs, broken promises, arbitrary firings, acts of God and gaps in contracts result in you spending longer time saving your big sum of money than you had originally planned. Add to this family emergencies such as disease and death of relatives back home, and you having to fly back in case you need to have your driver’s license renewed, and before you know, you spend another year and then another year in the Middle East.

There are other, not so negative factors, as well that may make you stay in the Middle East longer than you had originally wanted. One is the generally high status that you have here- you are a somebody; at least, more of a somebody than you were back home. You have people coming and cleaning your room, you can even have a cook/driver if you wish and if will cost you very little. A huge bag of laundry which includes slacks and shirts is only some $10 for everything. Also, one does not work very hard and one is not taxed. That means one never really has to worry about not having enough cash in your pocket. The money that you used to spend on taxes are now burning a hole in your pocket, so you start spending. Vacations are long and one can live like a rich man in all those cheaper countries. Soon, on one extended trip to such a cheaper country, one acquires a girlfriend/wife/concubine to whom one now sends money regularly. One also buys property back home, and now has mortgage payments to keep up with. And as one gets older it becomes harder and harder to leave as one’s employability diminishes.

One of my coworkers who had gotten a job in Iraq and saved as much as 150K in a very short time, went back home and then headed back to Iraq again

To summarize, quite a few people who initially planned to come and work in the Middle East for a few years stayed much longer, sometimes as long as decades. So, please be aware of that as it can happen to you, too. And, it may not be such a bad thing , after all.


Anonymous said...

Great to have you back! I thought you had finally run out of things to say.

I've been a reader for some time, but commented just once (twice?) as I can't come close to adding anything. Please don't feel that your efforts aren't appreciated though!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reading. I was traveling so did not get around to writing stuff.