Expat Happiness Survey in the Middle East

Published 2021-11-17 15:39:17
Barhain at night - Photo on Pixabay

The latest survey states Bahrain ranks very well compared to other gulf countries like Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The main value of such surveys is in the investors and growth potential that they attract to countries featured.

The InterNations Expat Insider 2021 survey took many factors into account with the Covid 19 crisis and its impact being one of the prominent points for expats. Other key indices surveyed were related to aspects like the general quality of life, medical care and cost of living.

Covid 19 and Expat life

Globally, 63% of expats who responded to the survey said that the pandemic had not disrupted any of their relocation plans. However, in the Gulf cooperation countries (GCC - comprise of: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) that value is much lower with the expats planning on returning home higher (between 9% and 12%) than the global average of 5%.

Expats in Kuwait indicated a threefold likelihood they were considering a relocation back home sooner than what they had planned, or to another destination. Another 17% of Kuwaiti expats changed their plans to relocate compared with the 8% globally due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Oman and Saudi Arabia scored higher than the global average with expats planning a move from those countries to other expat destinations after the pandemic.

Conversely, expats in the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain have changed plans and chose to prolong their time in these particular countries because of the pandemic.

Results of the survey per country


Ease of settling in

Bahrain scored a healthy 12th position out of a total of 59 countries worldwide (although it was outranked by countries like Mexico and Malaysia). Most expats find Bahrain easy to settle in because you can get by with not speaking the local language, which is Arabic. A staggering 77% of respondents say that they feel very much at home in Bahrain compared with the 63% for other global destinations; 70% said it was easy to settle down in Bahrain compared with the global value of 62%.

Interestingly, 55% of Bahrain expats have mixed social circles comprising both locals and other expats versus 48% of global respondents. Furthermore, a high share of the remaining expats mostly socialise with other expats (40%) in Bahrain compared with the global value of 32%. This may be possibly attributed to the high numbers of expatriates calling Bahrain home.

Good Career Opportunities

Expats in Bahrain are happier with local career prospects by over ten percentage points compared with the global value of 54%. In Bahrain most expats work in the healthcare, energy, education and hospitality industries and generally, job satisfaction is almost equal to the global average of 68%.

Environment Quality & insufficient Incomes

However, Bahrain ranks poorly in the Quality of Life index. The natural environment causes about 24% of expats unhappiness compared with only 8% globally. There is a lack of leisure and outdoor options.

Bahrain ranks somewhere in the middle in the Cost of Living and Personal finances indices. 31% of expats said their income was insufficient to cover all of their expenses. And a paltry 8% reported an income over USD 25K compared with the global average of 20%.


This gulf country ranked poorly consistently over the past seven years in the Quality of Life and Ease of Settling in indices. There are no leisure options and there are low levels of personal happiness as indicated by survey respondents. 

A whopping 50% said the hot summer temperatures compelled them to rate Kuwait negatively. 46% of expats did not settle in well and do not feel at home compared with the 20% global average. 62% found making friends very challenging, particularly with locals compared with the global average of 36%.

Kuwait also scored last in friendliness of the local people with 44% feeling particular unfriendliness towards foreigners. A higher than average number of respondents noted work dissatisfaction and work-life imbalances. Sectors that employ the most expats are: education, energy and healthcare.

Workers tend to stay longer hours in Kuwait compared with the global average. Low income was another negative point discovered in the survey. 35% of respondents said their income was not sufficient to cover living expenses compared with the global value of 23%. Cost of living and high rent prices were cited as particular problems for expats.


Oman scored high in the rankings for friendliness of the locals towards foreigners, 83% versus 67% globally. Expats find making friends with the locals easy and most expats have social circles that include other expats and locals. Expats feel at home in Oman and find it very easy to live there without speaking Arabic.

Majority of expats work in the education, construction and finance sectors. Expats rated peacefulness in Oman very highly, 97% versus the global average of 80%. On the downside, only 24% are happy with career opportunities available in Oman. Respondents were also not happy with the income which was insufficient to cover household expenses.

Saudi Arabia

The oil-rich country generally ranked poorly compared with other GCC countries. 20% of respondents were unhappy about the local leisure facilities and personal happiness. Respondents claimed that there was not much to do socially and the weather also factored in negatively.

Approximately 44% of expats were happy with career prospects but one quarter were unhappy  with the work-life balance. Expat workers tend to work longer hours  per week than the global average.

Almost 50% of expats stated they did not settle down and feel at home but they feel that they can get along well without speaking Arabic. 41% of expat workers find friends among the locals and two thirds of respondents find the population friendly towards foreigners.


Almost all respondents feel safe living and working in the UAE. They find it a peaceful environment and politically stable. They rate the transport infrastructure and other travel opportunities high, 90% compared with 84% global average.

Expats tend to settle in quite easily and have no difficulty communicating if they do not speak Arabic. Expats feel at home in the UAE but have difficulty making local friends. Surprisingly, only 2% make friends with locals and a massive proportion of expats socialise only with other expats.

Almost a third of expats are unhappy financially and feel that they cannot adequately cover all expenses, i.e the cost of living is high (42% versus 34% globally). Expats in the UAE tend to work longer hours than the global average and this is reflected by a quarter of residents being unhappy with their hours of work.

Previously, working in the Middle East may have been an attractive prospect but the Covid-19 pandemic, introduction of VAT in some GCC countries and changing attitudes towards foreigners could see that change.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for EasyExpat.com

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