Expat Quality of Life in GCC – Bahrain is best, Kuwait is worst

First overall in the Expat Insider 2018 survey, Bahrain is the stand-out performer. Despite stronger-than-average personal finances, expats in the Gulf States struggle with poor job satisfaction and high costs.
  • Expats in Bahrain settle in seamlessly and enjoy working abroad.
  • Oman is the most peaceful nation among the GCC States.
  • Five out of six GCC States are in the bottom 10 for online freedom.
  • Kuwait and Saudi Arabia slip to the last two places in the overall ranking.

In terms of quality of life, the Gulf States represent a truly split picture. Bahrain and the UAE offer an above-average quality of life, ranking 20th and 25th, respectively. However, at the opposite end of the spectrum are Saudi Arabia (67th) and Kuwait (68th), which provide the worst quality of life among all 68 countries included in the survey.

The region struggles to perform well in the Health & Well-Being subcategory: the best-performing country is Bahrain, ranking 25th overall, while Kuwait comes second to last. The best and most affordable healthcare in the region can be found in Qatar, where 64% of expats say that the healthcare is affordable, and seven in ten attest to its high quality. These results are tempered by Qatar’s 50th rank for the quality of the environment, though. Oman is the GCC States’ standout performer for this factor, with more than eight in ten (81%) rating the environmental quality well.

Safety & Security is undoubtedly the Gulf States’ strongest subcategory, although there is again a big disparity between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the other countries in the region.0

The UAE (9th) and Oman (10th) both rank in the top 10. An impressive 61% of expats in Oman give the political stability the best possible rating, while an almost unrivaled 94% of respondents attest to the peacefulness of the country. In the words of an Indian expat in Oman: “It is a peaceful and easygoing country, with tremendous natural beauty and super friendly people.”

These results stand out against the respective global averages of 30% and 78%. Similarly to Oman, expats in the UAE rate the political stability very highly (10th), but the UAE stands out particularly for personal safety, with 97% of expats feeling safe. Both Bahrain and Qatar also rank comparatively well in the same subcategory, placing 23rd and 21st, respectively.

In the Family Life Index, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait place 49th and 48th out of 50 ranked countries, while Oman doesn’t do much better, ranking 42nd. Bahrain (7th) is the only Gulf country to make it into the top 10, while Qatar (27th) and the UAE (31st) perform slightly below average.

Bahrain (3rd) leads the way in the Quality of Education subcategory, followed by Qatar in a respectable 14th place. Parents rate the quality worst in Saudi Arabia (48th), where almost two in every five (39%) are dissatisfied, compared to 16% worldwide. Similarly, only 36% of expat parents are satisfied with education options in the country in general, compared to a global average of 67%. In Kuwait, this figure is even lower with 33%. The same can be said about childcare options, with just 39% satisfied in Saudi Arabia and just 36% in Kuwait.

Across the region, performance is similarly split regarding family well-being. Bahrain (8th), the UAE (21st), and Qatar (23rd) are all found in the top half, with parents there particularly appreciating the local attitude towards families with children (87–95% satisfied vs. 83% globally) and the safety of their children (57–65% give the best possible rating).

In all six Gulf States, finances were among the three most important reasons for expats to move there. Bahrain and Oman lead the GCC States, ranking in 22nd and 24th place out of 68 countries. Qatar (30th) and Saudi Arabia (31st) do not fare too much worse, and certainly much better than Kuwait, which comes in 50th.

The UAE ranks only 59th and is as such in the bottom 10. Only 57% of respondents there are satisfied with their financial situation, compared to 67% globally, and more than a quarter (26%) say that their disposable household income isn’t enough to cover everything needed for daily life. An expat from the Philippines adds that in the UAE, “the salary is not really enough to sustain daily living”.

Expats in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait find it harder to settle down than anywhere else, with the countries ranked 67th and 68th in the Ease of Settling In Index. Qatar also performs poorly in 41st position. In the Feeling at Home subcategory of this index, Saudi Arabia is the worst-performing country overall. Not even a quarter of expats (24%) believe that it is easy to settle down there, compared to a global average of 59%, and over half (51%) say that it is difficult to get used to the local culture. This is a significantly larger share than the global average of 21%. The same problems are evident in Kuwait, where just a quarter of respondents say they feel at home in the local culture, compared to 60% of respondents worldwide.

The process of settling in can be helped by making new friends and being surrounded by friendly people, two factors which expats in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have extreme difficulty with. Almost two-thirds of respondents in Kuwait (65%) say that making local friends is difficult, while 44% are not satisfied with the opportunities to make new friends in general. Respondents in Saudi Arabia attest to the same difficulties, albeit to a lesser extent, with 57% and 35%, respectively. The significance of these figures becomes clear when compared with the respective global averages of 36% and 25%.

The results of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which slip down to the last two places in the Expat Insider 2018survey, couldn’t contrast more with those of Bahrain, which places first overall in the Ease of Settling In Index, followed by Oman in 16th and the UAE in 26th place. Bahrain ranks first or second in all of the subcategories of the index. “Bahrain is a good median between eastern and western cultures,” shares a British expat.

When it comes to learning and/or getting by without the local language, four of the six states place inside the top 15: Bahrain (1st), the UAE (6th), Qatar (13th), and Oman (14th). Although not spectacular, Kuwait (43rd) and Saudi Arabia (49th) perform markedly better in the Language subcategory than in many other subcategories of the survey.

Globally, 40% of expats cite work or their partner’s career as the main motivation for their move abroad. However, in the Gulf States, 50% or more expats in each individual country say the same. Apart from Bahrain, which places first in the Working Abroad Index, there is clear dissatisfaction among expats in the Gulf States regarding their working life, though. Qatar (35th), Oman (39th), and the UAE (46th) all perform below average, with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia once more at the back of the pack in 64th and 66th place, respectively.

Over a third of respondents in Saudi Arabia (35%) are dissatisfied with their jobs, compared to 18% of expats worldwide, while satisfaction levels among expats in Oman (62%), Qatar (59%), the UAE (57%), and especially Kuwait (46%) all fall below the global average of 65%.

Overall job satisfaction across the region is low, however, overall job security is even worse: Bahrain remains the only haven of job stability in the region, with seven in ten expats saying that they feel secure in their job compared to 59% worldwide. All five remaining Gulf States rank inside the bottom 15 countries for this factor.

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