America has a complicated and sometimes contemptuous relationship with the Middle East. Recently, that relationship has become even more fragile in the wake of renewed tensions between the U.S. and Iran, following a January 3 drone strike that killed Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani. It remains to be seen how the situation will play out, and whether it will affect industries such as overseas travel.
Of course, it’s not the first time that the U.S.-Iran relationship has experienced heavy strain. In late 1979, a group of Iranian college students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and 52 Americans were captured during the revolt. The so-called Iranian hostage crisis persisted for 444 days, and in some ways, the crisis helped shape the modern perception of the Middle East, even though it was an isolated incident.
However, despite current and/or historical political tensions, there’s no denying that the Middle East is a prime destination for overseas work as well as tourism opportunities. If you have been tasked with a work assignment abroad, you need to be prepared for anything. And your preparations should expand far beyond making sure your travel documents are in order: prior to your departure, it may be prudent to learn as much as you can about how to stay safe while traveling abroad, as well as customs and social expectations in your destination country.
History, Culture, and Political Tension
It’s no secret that travel is good for the soul, so don’t let the fear of a particular location stop you from pursuing your dreams. When we travel abroad, our world becomes a little smaller as we step out of our comfort zone, effectively expanding our worldview. Overseas travel can also serve as an interactive history lesson of sorts — the Middle East, in particular, is a historically rich region that was home to the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures.
Today, the Middle East encompasses 17 countries across Northern Africa and Asia, and most of those nations are part of the Arab world. Some, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have only come into their own in modern times, evolving into virtual hubs of innovation, business, and technology. Others have a lengthy and more troubling history, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.
For its part, Saudi Arabia is finally beginning to embrace modern cultural standards even as it remains deeply entrenched in the past. However, it’s important to note that Saudi Arabia is deeply religious and conservative, and more free-spirited Americans may have difficulty adjusting to the tradition-based culture. For example, you cannot wear shorts in public, and men and women are often segregated, even in public gathering spaces, restaurants, and coffee shops. Cultural etiquette as exemplified in Saudi Arabia should be a primary consideration among those looking to live and work abroad.
The Decision to Take on a Work Assignment Abroad
Few major life decisions are straightforward and easy, and the choice of whether or not to accept an overseas assignment is no exception. Working abroad can be somewhat of a leap of faith, as you’re leaving behind a familiar, comfortable life for the unknown. And you have plenty of preparation ahead of you, from applying for a work/travel visa to getting the required inoculations and ensuring that you have healthcare coverage.
When you’re preparing for an international job assignment, your work begins well in advance of your departure date. Along with developing a basic understanding of cultural expectations in your destination country, you’ll also want to hone your business etiquette skills. For instance, you may need to practice a different style of negotiation than you’re used to, or change your views on punctuality and gift-giving.
For example, in Dubai, the largest city in the UAE, businesses tend to adhere to a modest dress code, consisting primarily of business suits. In addition, women are expected to have their arms and legs covered at all times in business environments. Punctuality is also a cornerstone of Dubai business culture, and appointments should be made several weeks in advance, preferably during the morning hours.
Logistical Considerations for Those Moving Overseas
Once you’re well versed in cultural expectations and business etiquette, there’s still work to be done. You’ll need to move yourself and your possessions a distance spanning thousands of miles, and you may not know where to begin. Depending on your work arrangement in the Middle East, your employer may handle a large chunk of the logistics. According to InterNations, “UAE companies will not only sponsor an employee’s residence visa, but they will also process all of the paperwork as well.”
And while that’s good news, the relocation process is much more complicated for the majority of those moving overseas. For starters, you’ll need to consider what to do with your possessions. You may opt to leave larger items and keepsakes behind in a storage unit or with a family member, and hire an international moving company to handle the rest. Since you’re traveling virtually across the world, however, always keep your most important items on your person or carry-on luggage, such as medical and travel-related documents.
Living and working abroad may ultimately be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. And you can still stay connected and safe, no matter if your final destination is in the Middle East or elsewhere. Make sure to do your research beforehand and get your paperwork in order well in advance to avoid any road bumps or hassles.
Guest Author Bio
Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book.
Blog / Website: Magnolia Potter