The Middle East is keen to recruit experienced healthcare workers from overseas, and nurses who have trained and worked in the UK are among the most highly sought-after candidates. If you’re considering working abroad, read on to discover the benefits of nursing in the Middle East, what the recruitment process involves, and what to expect once you’re there.
Hospitals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates regularly recruit British nurses, allied healthcare professionals and doctors. To be considered for a nursing position you will need to have at least two years post-registration experience. Those with advanced qualifications and experience within a specialist area can demand a higher rate of pay.
Nurses working in the Middle East are considerably better off thanks to tax-free salaries and low outgoings. Added to that, nursing salaries have increased between 15 -30% in the past six months, according to Ann Griffin- Aaronlahti, Managing Director at Professional Connections international nurse staffing agency.
‘The rates and benefits are now so attractive you may even end up on a waiting list for a post. Vacancies are like a “revolving door” at many hospitals. Nurses come and go all the time, so if there is not a post available immediately the wait is usually only a month or two,’ says Ann.
Non-taxed salary combined with free accommodation and a low-cost of living (food and other goods are cheaper), makes working in the Middle East appealing for many nurses.
Free accommodation is provided within gated compounds located within or near the hospital grounds. These state-of-the-art living complexes come with luxurious recreational facilities, shops and restaurants. Free transport is provided if the accommodation is not within walking distance of the hospital, and is also provided for shopping and organised excursions.
‘Compounds are air-conditioned, very clean and comfortable. Life within hospital compounds is less strict, with a relaxation of restrictions around dress code for Westerners,’ says Ann.
‘There’s also great social life on offer for ex-pats in the Middle East – from formal embassy parties to casual compound gatherings. You might be surprised to find that your social life notches up a gear!’
Other benefits include a generous holiday allowance, as much as 54 days per year – and with Africa, India, Asia and Australia all within reach, many nurses take the opportunity to travel during their time. You will also receive free medical and dental insurance.
The recruitment process
You can apply directly for vacancies advertised by hospitals or through a recruitment agency. Recruitment agencies don’t charge a fee for their services and have the advantage of offering you individual guidance and support through the recruitment process. From submitting your online application, to preparing fully for interview, right through to organising documentation and travel.
Ann comments ‘With more than 20 years’ experience of successfully placing nurses around the world, we can offer nurses roles of an exceptionally high quality in leading hospitals. We have a nurse-centred approach to ensure a positive recruitment experience.’
Most contracts are for one or two years. Nurses are generally hired on single-status contracts. Doctors and senior managers are usually offered family-status contracts which comes with an education allowance for up to four dependent children.
Saudi Arabia has built a reputation as a leader in research and is home to some of the most sophisticated and respected hospitals in the world. English is the working language in the Middle East and all hospital documentation is produced in English. Translators are available to ensure good communication with patients.
Nurses work in a multicultural environment, with a diverse team of staff. Most patients are of the Muslim faith.
Rain falls just a few days a year and temperatures at the height of the summer can soar to more than 50 degrees. This makes a welcome change for Western nurses, who may be more used to rain and cold.
The crime rate in the Middle East is low and you should have no problems as long you respect the laws of the land. Most nurses quickly adjust to the cultural differences. European clothing is acceptable for Westerners within hospital compounds as long as they are modest – no tight-fitting clothes, no sleeveless tops, short skirts or shorts for both men and women.
When venturing outside the compound, all women in Saudi Arabia wear an abaya, a cloak-like covering garment.
In Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to drive a car or travel with a man who is not their husband, father or brother unless they are in a taxi. There is also a segregation of the sexes in public areas, which is enforced by the “mutawa” or religious police. Alcohol cannot be sold or consumed in Saudi Arabia, though is available in hotels and golf clubs in Qatar and the UAE.
Is it for you?
If you’re not sure whether working in the Middle East is for you, it’s worth asking the recruitment agency if you can chat with nurses already working out there. A quick online search should also reveal nursing forums where you can ask questions and learn more about day-to-day life.
‘The nurses we place love working in Saudi Arabia as it gives them the chance to experience the expat lifestyle and make friends with people from all walks of life,’ says Ann.
‘As well as providing career progression opportunities, many nurses find that working in the Middle East allows them to pay off debts or save a considerable sum of money in just one or two years.’