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Working in the Middle East

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My background - I have a little over 2 years of experience specializing in transportation working for a big huge full service engineering company in a US West Coast metropolis. Recently (within the past 3 months) I've been contacted by recruiters from two other big huge full service engineering companies and in person by the principal of a boutique transportation firm about job opportunities in their Middle East offices, namely in the UAE and Qatar (I have no interest in being in Saudi Arabia).

I'm pretty happy with my job, company, team, and city at the moment and I have no immediate plans to make a move but these are opportunities I think about pursuing in the short to medium term (maybe after this coming New Year's). Working in the Middle East sounds appealing to me for a few reasons - the scale and innovation in development there seems to be of a different order than the sometimes very small changes my team is working with on transportation networks here in the US, and I think I might have great professional experiences. Aside from that, it's appealing in a "what do I want to do with my life" sense - I've lived in the same state for most of my life and haven't traveled outside of North America too much. The idea of spending a few years in a radically different part of the world, meeting people from all over the place, and spending vacation time travelling to parts of the world that are hard to access from where I currently live while I'm relatively young and untethered sounds cool.

Then again, it's easy to romanticize the expat life. There seem to be a million different blogs and books covering expat life in Dubai, etc. but none from the perspective of someone in the planning industry.

Is there anyone here who's worked in the UAE or Qatar? What's it like working in the planning industry in this part of the world? How does the pay compare to say, California or the PNW? Projects? Hours? Culture at the offices of the big huge full service engineering companies? Any info or stories would be appreciated. Don't hold back.

One other thing - I'm aware that working conditions for blue collar expat workers in these countries are bad and exploitative. I don't think it's prima facie immoral to work on projects where this abuse exists, but it does make me feel kind of queasy about working out there. What are your thoughts?

Since I know these factors will heavily influence my experience (just as it does in the States) I'm white, male, straight, and cisgendered. Thanks!
 
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Dan

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Bumping this thread, because I'd be interested in knowing about working in the Middle East, too. Not that I plan on doing it, but during the Great Recession, the thought crossed my mind -- there were a lot of jobs in Abu Dhabi, from what I recall. (Check out that emirate's Web site -- there's a lot of good materials in English about urban design, and an online "build your own street profile" app.) There were a couple of obligations here in the US that kept me from making the plunge, but I wonder about working and living conditions, pay, healthcare, if you're able to save money while you're overseas, and the like.
 

glutton

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APA's International Division has, in the past, always held a session on Living and Working Abroad featuring at least one person from AECOM or similar engineering companies who went to Dubai/Qatar/Saudi, etc. Try joining and reaching out to people through the division? https://www.planning.org/divisions/international/

I had also seen some postings like those a few years ago during the recession but it seemed like they always wanted someone very senior with 10 years of experience (ironic, because people in that age range probably have kids and aren't looking for an adventure abroad).
 
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Thank you for the bump Dan and for the links Glutton. I'll check out the APA international division. (Maybe the APA will finally be worth the few hundreds of dollars I've given it).
 

glutton

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Also, for people that are interested, a lot of engineering firms like AECOM and Michael Baker International do federal planning work on military bases - that often takes people all over the world. In addition to the International Planning Division, you may want to poke around in the Federal Planning Division.
 
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