September 2010: Show Me the Money

One of the many reasons that prompt people to call us about a position in the Arabian Peninsula is money, especially tax-free salaries. And generally, because they think that the oil-rich countries of the Middle East are awash in money, individuals expect the salaries to be much higher than they in fact are.

We are given specific salaries for staff-level positions for nurses, technologists, therapists, and other allied health professionals. These salaries are not negotiable. And they will be the same for a person with the minimum level of experience (which is generally two to three years) or for a person with 10 or 20 years of experience. Depending on the US state or Canadian province in which you currently work, the total compensation will usually be pretty close to your gross (i.e., before tax and other deductions) salary earned. The exceptions to this are travel nurses, and individuals working in high-income and high cost-of-living areas of the United States, such as New York City and Los Angeles. Of course, we stress the tax-free income, the free housing, the 7+ weeks of vacation, and the opportunity to live in a dramatically different culture and working with colleagues from throughout the world. And I usually say that if you are motivated totally by money, the work involved in applying and relocating, and risking that you may miss your home comforts, is not worth it. The main benefits of working in Saudi Arabia are, I believe, being able to save money and having a life-altering adventure.

The compensation for medical doctors is also often set (within a certain range), and is different for different specialties. However, there can be a little bit of negotiation for a particularly hard-to-get subspecialty or for a doctor who has particularly strong credentials. In most specialties, the salaries are significantly lower than the gross salaries in the USA or Canada. But if you consider the tax-free benefit and the paid housing, in some specialties a doctor will save more in the Arabian Peninsula than s/he would save in North America.

Salary negotiations for senior management and senior administrative positions are usually a little more flexible. Our clients usually give us a specific salary for a position and, if it is in keeping with North American compensation for the position, I will present it to interested candidates. Before I do so, however, I will usually ask you about your current salary category and about what salary you would need to go abroad. I do this, because some people will consider a compensation less than their present earnings, while others ask for a salary that is higher. (Sometimes significantly higher, such as the salary they received in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War.) Believing that having detailed bottom-line financial information is the first thing a potential candidate should know, I also ask about the number and ages of the children, whether the spouse has (or needs) a position and if so, how much s/he earns, etc. This way, I can make a judgment about the financial advantages (or disadvantages) of an individual taking a position abroad. It also gives me leverage to justify lobbying for a higher compensation for a particular individual.

What most disturbs people about compensation rates is the fact that you are paid according to your citizenship. For example, if you were born in Britain or Australia, but have lived in the USA or Canada since age two, acquired all your education and experience in the USA or Canada, but have never obtained US or Canadian citizenship, you will be offered the UK/Australia compensation, which is somewhat lower than the USA/Canada compensation. Many people, including me, find this unreasonable.

Many of you will argue with us about the compensation. But for the past 30 years, the hospitals of the Arabian Peninsula (particularly Saudi Arabia) have invited foreigners (i.e., us) to work in their countries. (As a result, many people have gained new insights about healthcare, better information about Islam, and have made friends from throughout the world.) But Saudis have now trained their own doctors, technologists, therapists, etc., and soon they won't need staff from outside their country. So, to those of you who are toying with the idea of working in the Arabian Peninsula, I say: Don't wait too long!'

Also see: Most Frequently Asked Questions

Helen Ziegler

September 2010

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