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How to build your expat life as a woman in the Middle East

Choosing to move to the Middle East is a big decision.

As a woman, the decision may feel particularly daunting. The culture and customs — particularly regarding the attitudes towards, and the rights of, women — are commonly accepted as very different to those in countries outside the region.

There are also many misconceptions about expats living in the Middle East. For a start, 37% of expats in the Middle East are women. And, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, more expat women than ever are taking on business leadership roles and positions of influence in the region.

To help you start your new adventure, we've put together a four-point guide women can use if they're keen to start, and to build, a successful life in the Middle East:

  1. Finding a job

    It may be that you're moving for a role you've already accepted. But this isn't always the catalyst for a move abroad. It may be that you have family living in the Middle East already, or perhaps you just want a change of scenery. Either way, you'll need money to live on.

    There's no secret to finding a job in the Middle East. It's simply a case of research and determination. The best approach is to contact employment agencies that specialise in the Middle East and set up job alerts on relevant websites. You could also try directly contacting companies that you know employ expats or that match your knowledge and skill set.

  2. Finding a place to live

    Once you've found a job, you’ll need to find a house. If you're being employed from your home country by a large company, it's likely that they'll offer you a moving allowance as a benefit. This will give you an idea of budget.

    If you don't have a housing allowance provided for you, then you may need to dip into your savings or sell your current house to fund your move. Your budget will be dictated by where you're planning to move to in the Middle East and the size of property you need.

    You should be able to search for properties online and create a shortlist. If you can, visit the country you're moving to and check out the houses in person. If this isn't possible, or if you don't want to commit to buying, renting is likely to be your best option.

  3. Looking after yourself

    It's essential to look after your health and well-being when you're abroad. Most countries in the Middle East have some public health services, such as government-funded emergency care, and private medical centres. However, as an expat, in many countries in the region you should expect to need private medical insurance to cover the cost of any health care and in order to qualify for a residence visa.

    If your employer isn't providing you with health care insurance, or you want additional cover, you should think about buying international private medical insurance (iPMI) or extending the reach of your current plan to ensure you're covered in the region. That way, you won't be shocked by a large medical bill next time you need antibiotics.

    Although most care in the Middle East is comparable to quality standards in global medical centres of excellence, there are some cultural differences to bear in mind. As a woman, for example, you must be married to legally give birth in a Middle Eastern hospital.

  4. Adopting local customs

    Part of expat life is embracing the customs of the country you're moving to. However, for some women, the rules about what they can and can't wear is a worry. There is a misconception that all women should be covered from head to toe in the Middle East. It does vary from country to country. In some countries, you will need only to cover your shoulders and from the knees up, and only in public places. While in others, such as Dubai, UAE, the law is more relaxed with swimwear permitted on public beaches. Etiquette around head scarves varies greatly from country-to-country, urban to rural, and public to private spaces. It's worth doing some research to ensure that you're comfortably in-the-know and following local customs at all times.

At Aetna International, a number of our plans include access to cultural and country intelligence reports to help ensure that your move abroad is a success. And if you have health care needs or concerns, our pre-trip planning service will help you thrive while you're overseas. So whether you're independently moving abroad or an employee being sent on assignment, our expert sales consultants are here to help. Similarly, if you have a globally mobile workforce, our sales consultants can help you find the peace of mind that comes from a comprehensive employee benefits strategy.

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