I am delighted with my guest post today as it comes from one of those still rare – or is it just shy? – species, the male expat spouse. I know their numbers are increasing, but it’s still the women we think of when we imagine what life is like for the non-working partner. Anyway when Neel (who lives with his wife in Qatar) offered to write a guest post for me, I jumped at the chance. Here he talks about what life has been like for him and his partner since arriving in Doha at the end of last year.
Me and my wife were born in London and lived there our whole lives. My wife was interviewed for an exciting new role in recruitment in Doha before the summer of 2014 and eventually was given a start date just before Christmas of last year. We both decided it would be a fantastic opportunity for her and there was potential for me to find work (as I am a qualified teacher) and for us to have an adventure and travel before settling down and having children . I decided to come and visit for a month, the week after my wife arrived so I could help her settle in and have some face to face interviews here. It’s transpired that I have ended up staying and have a permanent role starting in September.
I am glad that I decided to come over as soon as I did as Doha can be a lonely place. Particularly for women as the area we live in is permanently under construction and populated full of male labourers, although I believe it is safe, it is not the most comfortable environment to be around. We weren’t given a great deal of support in terms of figuring things out, where to go to get various documents signed etc etc.. so I did a lot of the initial exploring. My wife does comment sometimes that if I hadn’t arrived when I did then the first month would have been much more difficult and she would have ventured out far less than she did and potentially even come back home.
Job searching and the VISA system
One of the things you notice about Qatar and perhaps this is true of most of the Middle East, is that it is a male dominated culture. Subtle things such as responses being directed at me rather than my wife who asked the question. In almost all the interviews I had, the first question I was asked was how much money my wife was earning and what package she was on. My situation was bemusing to many employers who could not understand why she would be earning more than I would, despite the fact she is a successful and ambitious private sector employee and I am merely a teacher.
A big issue for me as a trailing spouse was the VISA arrangement. Although I have stayed on a tourist VISA with regular airport runs until now, there were two options for me. Either I could be employed but under the sponsorship of my wife or I could be sponsored by a school. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Being sponsored by a school means I could be eligible for a housing allowance which would make my salary package more lucrative but most schools would be unwilling to transfer your employment to someone else. So if you end up working at a disreputable school then you are either stuck there or if you do leave, you wouldn’t be eligible to work anywhere else in Qatar for 2 years. Under my wife’s sponsorship I would have the freedom to move but my pay would take a big hit because I wouldn’t be able to get a housing allowance.
Another issue was that if I was to work under my wife’s sponsorship, I could not transfer this sponsorship to my employer for at least 12 months. All of these things considered, I decided to decline the job offers I had been given until I was satisfied I would get a job in a school I would be happy with as it would be far better for us both in the long run.
In the meantime I have been tutoring and working part time to keep myself busy and doing some voluntary work which has actually led to a full time position for September. I do get teased by friends and my in-laws for being a bum and not working which I can laugh about most of the time but occasionally it does grate as I’ve taken a long term decision and not taken a job that I would be unhappy in. My wife has been very understanding of the situation but she probably takes the piss the most!
The Doha social scene caters very well to women, mothers and children. It is a great place for families and there are lots of support groups and social activities for them. Perhaps it’s a nature of the place that many expat wives are able to look after their children full-time and have more free time to devote to leisure time but I don’t think that’s always the case. For men it’s a different story. As a single guy, Doha can be difficult. Many public places are only open to families on certain days and times. We were fortunate to know a few people who lived here before we came over and they have been fantastic for us and really helped us out. Although we have made lots of acquaintances, we still don’t know that many people outside of our workplaces. I am quite sporty so I have played football with friends of friends and have got chatting to people at our local gym. There are lots of opportunities for this in the city. When I start work in September I hope to join the tennis club and play some golf which I’m sure will be a nice opportunity to meet people. You really can do all sorts here, there are meetup groups happening all the time. Learning Arabic would also be an excellent way to do this and integrate yourself into the culture.
My advice for trailing spouses
- Take your time deciding on a job offer. It’s better to come here, see where you are going to live and settle in first
- Keep yourself active and busy in the meantime, look for volunteering opportunities, networking events and social activities
- Be proud of your wife. An opportunity for her can still be an opportunity for you. It’s worth weighing up your options to see if it makes sense for both of your careers
- Enjoy the experience, if you have kids it’s a safe place for them to grow up and Qatar is a travel hub where you can explore so many places
- Ask me a question. Feel free to come by to my blog and read about my experiences or to ask me anything, I’d be happy to try and help
Thank you Neel – I love your advice (especially to be proud of your wife 🙂 ). You can read more about Neel’s adventures in Qatar at his website Dohabitation. And if you too are a male trailing spouse please let me know – I contribute to a number of expat blogging link-ups and twitter chats and it would be great to see more of the guys there!