Millions of Filipinos are now working overseas. Most of the Filipino workers choose to work in Asia with Middle East (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) as the top destination followed by Singapore and Hongkong. The number of OFWs in the Middle East increased from POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) statistics. The Middle East is a place that has given greater opportunity to live and work for our Kababayans (fellow Filipinos). Every year Filipinos leave the Philippines to seek for a greener pastures. 1,844,710 left in 2014 according to the Philippine president’s state of the nation address. Filipinos dream of providing a better life for their family. According to the POEA, there were 1,123, 676 deployed land based Overseas Filipino Workers in year 2010 and it reached to 1,430, 842 in year 2014. There in fact a growing number of Filipinos who choose to work in other part of the world like Middle East.
If you are someone who wishes to work abroad, consider the “pros and cons”. I have been working in the Middle East as a registered nurse for almost 5 years now. Sultanate of Oman became my second home away from the Philippines. It was a grueling process and I have to weigh so many things before coming up with my decision. I know there are many aspiring Kababayans who wish to work abroad. If you are interested in working in the Middle East, here are some points to remember & consider:
Summer temperature can reach 40 – 50 degrees Celsius! It is expected to last for about 6 months that starts from the month of May until October of the year. Literally it may feel like you are inside an oven. The humidity is another factor as well. I don’t even think someone can tolerate the heat during mid of the day. Be prepared to confine yourself indoor for months. Most people here go out at night when it is bit cooler. Small shops are usually closed from 2pm until 5pm and reopen 5pm until 10pm. Most of the buildings are air-conditioned. Air-conditioning is a necessity in the Middle East and not a luxury. Shades/sunglasses are like your best friends to prevent redness and irritation of the eyes from the UV rays of the sun.
Winter/cold season starts from the month of November until April of the year. The temperature ranges from 25 degree Celsius to around 35 degree Celsius. It is cooler at night, ranging temperature from 15 degrees to 20 degrees Celsius. There will be times it will reach to 10-12 degrees Celsius early in the morning. It is the best time in Oman to walk around and enjoy outdoor activities like trekking , camping, sand dune bashing, swimming, snorkeling or boating.
Tropical storm is quite common in the Philippines. Oman is occasionally affected by tropical storm. It may hit the country 1-2 times a year. If it rains more than an hour, it will result to severe flash flooding.
In the Middle East, it is common to experience sandstorm. It is a storm caused by strong wind, sand or dust. It is dangerous to be out due to reduce visibility so staying at home is the best option.
Other Nationalities Wear their Traditional Clothes
We Filipinos are used to seeing each other wearing normal clothes like pants and T-shirts. In Oman and the rest of the Gulf countries, local men wear “Disdasha” / Thobes and women wear “Abaya”. “Disdasha” is usually white in color worn with an embroidered cap or turban. “Abaya” is an outer robe like dress that covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet of a Muslim woman. Some other nationalities like Indians & Pakistanis wear their traditional clothes too.
Modesty when it comes to Clothing
Oman is an open country. Non- Muslim women and men are allowed to wear any clothes provided it is modest. Women can go out without wearing Abaya. It applies to country like UAE (Dubai) , Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia, Muslim or non-Muslim are required to wear Abaya. On some malls, it is normal to see some sign / or posting –“wear appropriately”. Any clothes that are too revealing, transparent, low cut or short should not be worn on public places for women. There will be times the security will approach and reprimand you for not dressing up properly.
As for men, no tank tops, fitted shirts or shorts that are higher than the knee should be worn on public places. If you will be in a hotel, private beach or pool, wearing swimsuit attire or shorts for men are allowed without restrictions.
My daily attire here include long sleeve shirts, t-shirts and long pants. I wear a long dress when I am out in the public. I have lot of shawls too!
Exposure to Different Nationalities
In the Philippines, we are used to working with mostly Filipinos only. It is seldom we are exposed to foreign nationals. Right now, I work with at least 5 other nationalities (Indians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and locals). Accents, languages and cultural differences are some of the things that you will encounter. It is normal to hear other languages such as Arabic or sometimes Hindi in daily conversation in and out of work.
Not all of the locals speak the English language. It is necessary to learn basic Arabic in Oman. It will go a long way. After years of working here, I Iearned a few words. Think of learning a new language as exciting.
Living in a new country means trying new food too! I like Arabic food. I have learned to eat local food such as Shuwa (Omani delicacy usually beef/ lamb roasted in a pit dug on the ground for 24- 48 hours), Kebab and Omani bread with Chai/Karak tea. Laban (yogurt drink) is just common. Most of the Omani cuisine are loaded with herbs and spices and I love it.
Alcohol and Pork Consumption is Limited
Drinking of alcohol in public areas is strictly prohibited. Muslims are forbidden to drink . It is considered a sin to drink alcohol in the Holy Quran. However, it is a misconception that alcohol is completely banned in the Middle East. In countries like Oman, non-Muslims are allowed to enjoy alcohol in premises with special licenses such as hotels, bars or clubs. Alcohol is expensive compared in the Philippines and other Asian countries. If you wish to buy alcohol at licensed retail shops, you must have a valid liquor permit approved by the ROP (Royal Oman Police). In order to get a permit, you have to comply with all the requirements including No Objection Letter from the company you are working. The value of the permit is determined by the salary and is usually 10 % of the basic salary. The only allowed alcohol allowed to enter a Middle Eastern country (except Saudi Arabia) is from a Duty Free shop and is limited to a maximum of 2 bottles and is strictly for non- Muslims.
In Oman they have licensed shops that sell pork products for non- Muslims. Prices are 2 to 3 times than the prices back home. Better than nothing!
All bars or clubs are closed during the time of Ramadan (Holy month for the Muslims). No alcohol consumption is allowed for the entire month.
Salary wise, it is better . When I was working back in the Philippines, I was earning a basic salary of 8,000 pesos per month. It is one of the reasons pushing some Filipinos to work abroad. Working in the Middle East is tax free. You get your entire salary, plus free health insurance, allowance for housings, paid holidays and free airfare once a year or twice a year depending on your company.
In the Philippines, we are used to getting our salary twice a month. Working in the Middle East , you get your salary at the end of the month.
Being away from family is one of the battles one will continuously face living abroad. One should be prepared for homesickness. This is an important consideration if you are not used to being far from your family and cannot imagine life to away them. Working abroad means celebrating Christmas away from home. It means missing all the important events of your family and traditional Holidays that we celebrate.
The good thing there is growing number of expats or fellow Filipinos everywhere. It doesn’t feel like you are really away from home. Technology is amazing to stay in touch with the family and friends no matter where we are in the world.
Culture and Religion
Mostly of the people you will encounter are locals or expats living in the Middle East. Oman is fairly liberal country. Omanis are very open to different views and opinion of other nationalities. However, as an expat, one should be aware of the rules, laws, customs and cultural practices of the country. Religion plays a major part in the Middle East, tolerance and respect are big factors to survive.
Muslims pray 5 times a day. When you are working with them, it is to be inculcated praying is an integral part of their life. Muslims stop from their work to pray and should be respected.
During Ramadan, All Omanis are obliged to fast for a month. During this month, all restaurants are closed. It only open by the time they will break their fast around evening time. Nobody is allowed to eat nor drink on public areas.
Public display of affection is not illegal but should be avoided. Unlike in Saudi Arabia, men and women in Oman can walk or mix up.
Doing Everything Yourself
If you are used to having a comfortable life in the Philippines with your family on your side or a helper who helps you to do everyday chores you will be in for a shock! You will do everything by yourself. You will be totally independent. After work, preparing food, doing the laundry and cleaning your place will be part of your normal daily routine. Be ready!
Slow Pace of Life
The pace of life in Oman is slow. People are relaxed. If you are used to getting everything done in one sitting expect here to take it days or even weeks. If you are used to an urban kind of life where everything seems so fast, here it is totally the other way around. Nobody rushes here. I considered it as an advantage since I am used to living in a province back home in the Philippines. During Ramadan, working hours are shorter too.
Cost of Living
The overall cost of living in Oman varies if you are living in the city or interior. In general, expect food to cost more compared in the Philippines. Most of the food are imported from other countries but some vegetables and fruits are locally grown. It is best to know where to buy to get good price. There are Filipino stores almost everywhere but prices are double.
Fuel and cars are quite cheap in Oman. Most of the people own cars. Some expats prefer to buy a car for convenience. Oman has minimal public transportation. For someone like me who doesn’t know how and is afraid to drive, I go through the difficulty of getting a cab. Taxis don’t have meters in Oman, you should be aware of the right charge and have an Omani driver to contact every time you need to go out for easy and hassle free transport.
Electricity is also cheap in the Middle East. A whole day of air conditioning at home will not cost a lot. If you forget to pay your bill for months, the company will not easily cut off the electricity. Even though, it is better to pay the bill on time.
Oman is a safe place to live with a low crime rate. You leave your valuable items on public places and nobody will dare to take it. Though crime is very rare, it is advisable to take usual precautions wherever you are. Avoid going out at night in unfamiliar places if you are alone. Be aware of the police number for emergency purposes.
Purchasing Power When You are Out of the Country
It is quite pricey in Oman if you want to stay in a hotel, eat out or go on a bar. When you travel out of the country and have vacation in your home country like Philippines and to its neighboring countries everything may seem so cheap.
Living and working in the Middle East is a challenge. I considered it as a big leap and a major step out of my comfort zone. I have had my happy and sad moments.There were adjustments and sacrifices made. I experienced culture shock. Limitations were tested. It opened my eyes to new discoveries about myself and to the unfamiliar other side of the world. No doubt, staying in the Middle East gave me lessons in life that i will never forget and forever i will keep in my heart and mind wherever i will be.Are you going to be positive or negative? Will you take the risk and adjust yourself to something new? What do you think of working and living in the Middle East? Well, the decision is all up to you…
Have you ever worked & lived in the Middle East? Do you have any dream or plan of working abroad? Share your experiences, plans and dreams with us on the comments below.