Lawyers working in the Middle East— specifically the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries— are able to enjoy a number of exceptional local advantages that they might not find at home. These include low tax regimes, the ready availability of high quality international commercial work and the lifestyle that accompanies working and living in one of the most exciting, expansive and fast moving regions on the planet.

From a professional perspective, western firms with offices in the Middle East usually have smaller legal teams than they do on home turf, facilitating early responsibility, promotion and an abundance of opportunities to play an active role with clients.Indeed, for the savvy and entrepreneurially minded individual, there are few places that encourage and facilitate business quite like the GCC. That said, there are a number of considerations to be made by any lawyer seeking to make the move to the Middle East, including addressing the often perceived cultural differences.

What you need to work there

The nature of one’s stay must be determined before being able to live and work in the Middle East. Business visas can take time to arrange especially in some states, Saudi Arabia being an example, where they are issued at the discretion of Foreign Ministries or their equivalents. Generally, visa requirements vary depending on the state but advance applications must usually be made for both entry visas and work permits (which must be renewed periodically), alongside sponsorship by the company.

Though Arabic language skills are an advantage in GCC countries, it is far from a necessity. English is the working language and the language of international business done in the region. This is obviously great news for British lawyers considering a move.

What is it like outside of work?

Despite the stereotype appeal for the single individual, the GCC has much more to offer besides; this includes the highly family-orientated societies the GCC countries are often home to, especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Crime rates are very low and the state apparatus provides a secure environment for raising a family. With year round sunshine, there is no excuse not to make the most of the ever expanding beaches, sports and social amenities as well as an ever varying range of bars, restaurants and nightclub, which offer a taste of western liberal culture for the ever-growing expat communities.

Indeed, Dubai is infamous as the ‘shopping capital’ of the Middle East given its dizzying shopping malls catering to every consumer demand. Complementing this, the private practice salaries on offer in the Middle East usually easily equate to, or exceed those, on offer in London or New York— particularly once the lower tax rates are taken into account.

The Dubai skyline view from a HarbourThose who enjoy a glass of wine after work need not be put off the entire region, which has a restrictive reputation when it comes to alcohol. Although there are prohibitions on the consumption of alcohol in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the other GCC countries merely require an easily obtainable alcohol license for a worker to obtain the freedom to drink at home or in licensed venues such as hotels and clubs. It should be noted, however, that it is illegal to consume, or be under the influence of alcohol, in public.

With a rich cultural heritage, it remains the case that the GCC countries evidently retain much of what was, and in many ways still is, a socially conservative culture; especially in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. For instance, the application of Sharia law is universal and, despite there being an amount of rule-waiving in private compounds/apartment complexes, all foreign nationals living and working in Saudi Arabia are expected to follow the dress code when out in public.

Furthermore, consideration must be given to the cultural-social rules of etiquette. These may take time to adapt to for the western lawyer, especially the preference for face-to-face communication, the importance attached to body language, and the generally slower decision-making process.

A unique career experience

If you are interested in working in the Middle East, there is much to offer beyond the office. Firms are actively looking for experienced lawyers prepared to relocate to the GCC countries and so individuals with a sense of adventure have an opportunity to experience a truly unique work and social culture.

For further information about private practice roles in the Middle East contact Zahrah Suleman at EJ Legal in London zahrahs@ejgroup.co.uk or telephone 0207 400 2020