Interview with Nadia Matin – what is it like to be a female expat in the Middle East?

By Andrew Vinell

By Andrew Vinell

Introduction

The tax profession in the Middle East has been in extreme growth mode for a number of years now, and as such, I wanted to allow people to understand what it’s really like to move to the Middle East within the tax profession and what life might look like, especially for a woman as there can still be a stigma, which in my opinion is unfair to this wonderful part of the world.

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Nadia Matin a few years back by helping her to secure an opportunity with her current firm, and she was kind enough to share with us her experience in what life has been like since moving to the Middle East.

Nadia currently works at EY in Dubai within the International tax and transactions team and this is what she had to say about her move!

How was the transition from working and living in London to Dubai?

Overall, I have to say it was really smooth. I was offered a great opportunity within my old firm, knew Dubai had a great expat community, and so I thought why not?! As I moved on my own, I was nervous at the outset, especially as I didn’t know anyone here. However, it’s been easy to settle in.  I’ve had some really supportive colleagues and Dubai is full of great people! The expat community especially is very welcoming and are always willing to introduce you to their friends, so it’s been a lovely experience.

What is it like to work in the Middle East?

In the two years I’ve been here so far, it’s been great. I’ve had an interesting experience as I’ve been able to work amongst such a diverse and eclectic collection of people. I’ve had the opportunity to work with local colleagues from Lebanon and Jordan for example, as well as individuals from across the globe, including Europe, Africa and Australasia. Working with people from different walks of life can be an eye opener, but it’s allowed me to adapt my working style as a result from learning from different people; it’s been a very good experience.

The variety of the work I get involved with now is great, and I personally haven’t felt a drop in quality. It’s an emerging market, so you aren’t as siloed in specialisms as you would be in London for example. As such, you get to work with people from all over the firm making it much more collaborative and allowing for a lot more internal networking. I’ve also had exposure at every level which has been fantastic for my development.

How would you describe the potential for progression and new opportunities, especially for women?

It would have to be the same as in London. My personal experience has been good, but it’s important to note it’s all relative. There is a big push on diversity and inclusion in the Middle East, and it’s at the top of the agendas for many corporates, and the Big 4 – which you can see and feel. It’s actually a really good time to be a woman in the Middle East.

Have you had any challenges from a cultural and language perspective?

Not really, it’s all been quite easy and I haven’t come across anyone who struggles to live here. It’s certainly not a requirement to learn Arabic, but of course it’s appreciated if you try. This could be different if you worked for the Government for example, but in the private sector it’s very common for everyone to speak English, so it’s very easy to settle in at work and in life.

From a cultural perspective, I know there is this stigma that it’s difficult for women, but I’ve really not felt that. There are no specific dress requirements or anything in particular people need to know. The main take home is that it’s important to be respectful of others.

How expensive is it to live in the Middle East?

It’s not as bad as people think! Again, it’s all relative but I feel that the quality of what you are paying for here, especially with regards to accommodation, is better than what I experienced back home.

Groceries, food and general socialising can be expensive, and sometimes you feel the pinch more on socialising simply because there is so much to do and more opportunities to do things with friends.

However, your remuneration does reflect the fact that things are more expensive than in the UK, and it also takes account of the fact that as an expat I no longer pay into a pension, so you are able to save for that. In addition, I am also provided with Healthcare which has always been really simple and straightforward to use, not that I’ve needed it much.

What sort of lifestyle do you live now?

I’m having a really good experience where my lifestyle is concerned. What I get up to at the weekend depends on what time of year it is, but typically it involves being outdoors. Whether that be wakeboarding, hiking, boating, cycling in the desert, playing tennis, or meeting friends for a bite to eat, there are so many fun outdoor activities to do. It’s also really easy to arrange to meet friends, and everyone is in the same boat and are always up for doing something. We also have a lot of bank holidays here so it allows for you to do much more.

In addition, I find the Middle East a fantastic travel hub. There are so many places you can go to for a long weekend which you wouldn’t be able to from the UK – like the Maldives! If you’re into travelling, then it’s a great place to base yourself.

I also know a few families who have a lovely lifestyle, so it suits people at many stages in their lives.

What preparation did you undertake to ready yourself for the move?

There wasn’t a great deal to do being perfectly honest. However, I did do some research into what I might not be able to get out here that I can get back home, but there wasn’t much! When I moved over with my previous employer, they sorted my visa and also arranged for me to stay in a hotel for a while until I found a place to live. Also, finding somewhere to live is not an issue, especially as I had an agent that my employer provided who helped me find a home. You find that firms are incredibly supportive of you and want to make the move as smooth as possible.

What would be your top tips for someone making the move?

  1. Research! Speak to people and ask for advice on things where needed.
  2. Be patient. Dubai can be quite admin heavy, so you must prepare yourself to deal with that – for example, setting up a bank account or having internet installed is not as easy as it is in the UK.
  3. Most important tip would be for you to be open minded. You will learn so much, appreciate more and be ready to experience new things.

What would be your top 5 benefits of moving to the Middle East?

  1. Experiencing new cultures both in and out of work.
  2. Working across different services lines.
  3. Taking on new hobbies I didn’t even realise I was interested in until I moved here.
  4. The weather is great, it never rains!
  5. Affordable luxury.

Any final thoughts?

The Middle East is actually a very progressive place to live and having lived here now for just over two years I struggle to see where the stigma, especially with regards to women, comes from.

It’s a great place to live, it’s fun, diverse, and open-minded. Overall, I’m having a really good experience.

Summary

As you may have picked up on from Nadia’s experiences, the Middle East is a fantastic place to extend your career, and there is lots fun to be had along the way. It’s also worth noting that new rules have recently been released under the UAE government to attract foreign tourists and create more investment, so it really is a great time to consider the move.

We work extensively with firms in the Middle East who are looking to recruit into their tax teams. Therefore, if you’d like to discuss this further and also understand what your options may be, please get in touch.

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