Today you’re going to learn exactly how to find a job abroad (in the Middle East or Gulf) from your home country, even if you do not have a CA or CPA degree.
Transfer pricing positions are not limited to Chartered Accountants. There are many international transfer pricing jobs abroad for expats in the Middle East.
Let’s get started.
Why did I decide not to become a chartered accountant?
I am a Punjabi by ethnicity and a Sikh by religion. I was born and raised in the capital city of Malaysia. My grandparents had moved over from Punjab to Malaysia a long time ago, and as such, my parents are also Malaysians.
While growing up, I was an above-average student.
I graduated from HELP University in Malaysia and had a 3+0 affiliation programme with the University of East London, which means I have a degree from the UK but I have completed my studies locally in Malaysia.
Coming from a below-average middle-class family, I lost my dad when I was 16. Being raised by a single mom thereafter was not easy.
I had to make decisions early in life to support myself and my mom financially.
I sacrificed a lot of my personal goals (i.e., wanting to study abroad, wanting to train to play badminton professionally, wanting to travel, etc.) in order to be where I am today.
What kept me going was the desire to be financially independent so that I could have the freedom to live the life I wanted without depending on anyone.
This fact motivated me to attain a stable working life and become financially independent without having to do something I disliked.
After graduating, I got an opportunity to experience a glimpse of the corporate world by securing an audit internship at one of the “Big 4” companies in Malaysia.
During my internship, I met a lot of Chartered Accounting students who were preparing for long examination routines and juggling between long working hours, all while maintaining excellent performance at work.
Initially, even I wanted to become a chartered accountant, but looking at all of this made me rethink my decision to pursue CA.
I asked myself, “Would pursuing CA take me closer to my dreams?” and the answer was no.
That’s when I knew auditing and assurance were not my cup of tea. At the end of the day, some things are only worth the struggle if you enjoy doing them.
How I learned about transfer pricing in my career
I discovered a career in transfer pricing after ruling out the possibility of earning a CA or CPA degree.
Once I made up my mind that CA was not for me, I started looking for other opportunities that were available.
Considering my burning desire to find a job abroad, I knew I would be interested in something that I could leverage in the future in the form of international work experience.
I expressed my concerns to one of my final semester lecturers, who had been mentoring me.
Since she taught me four subjects during my accounting degree, I was confident that she knew my strengths and weaknesses.
She also had experience working in both the Big 4 and commercial firms prior to her lecturing career.
Considering my intention to someday seek an opportunity outside of Malaysia and pursue a career outside of auditing, she introduced me to international taxation.
And her insight led me to discover transfer pricing as a subdivision of international taxation.
I personally found it very interesting as it required a lot of reading, researching, and application.
I did my due diligence thereafter on all the available sub-divisions of tax departments available primarily in the Big 4 firms.
I also searched for international job opportunities in the transfer pricing market, just to be sure that I had career opportunities waiting for me when I travelled abroad.
Since I am not an exam-based person and always understood things better via application and having a hands-on experience, transfer pricing seemed perfect.
From there on, I made the decision to learn, grow, and pursue a career in international tax, specifically in the transfer pricing division.
I applied to EY Malaysia and got into their Transfer Pricing team.
Why I moved from Malaysia to the Middle East
After a successful 4-year transfer pricing job with EY Malaysia, I decided to move from Malaysia to the Middle East.
I needed a change of scenery, partly because I was desperate for an international job in transfer pricing.
Also, I needed to be more financially secure, and I knew that pursuing a transfer pricing career in another country would provide better financial incentives.
Middle-East was my main preference, as I had connected with a lot of people who had worked there.
Everyone had been encouraging me to move to the Middle East, mainly because one is able to save a lot more in the Middle East because of the non-taxable income (saving up the same amount in Malaysia would take me years).
After speaking to a few people, I actively started looking out for transfer pricing job opportunities in the Middle East.
Luckily, I secured employment with PwC Middle East in Qatar.
The whole process took 2-3 months, and I cannot thank my loved ones enough for the incredible emotional support throughout this journey.
I am currently employed as a senior consultant with the regional team of PwC based in Qatar.
However, I am required to travel frequently to the UAE to work with the transfer pricing team there.
How I Found a Transfer Pricing Job Abroad (in the Middle East)
Because I enjoyed my transfer pricing job in Malaysia, I wished to continue working in the transfer pricing sector in the Middle East, but then I had to keep my options open.
The first thing I did was update my CV and make the introductory point that I am open to pursuing opportunities for exposure in different jurisdictions and working cultures.
So there are no particular, exact steps that I took; I just:
- updated my CV/resume
- LinkedIn profile
- looked out for recruiters and available opportunities out there.
In my case, a recruiter from PwC reached out to me via LinkedIn to understand my relocation needs.
That conversation with HR landed me an interview with the team leader of the Middle East transfer pricing team.
I was also approached by other recruiters from recruitment agencies in the process.
I received the offer letter from PwC Qatar in May 2018, which I accepted and signed on June 3 (it was my birthday, and I thought that would be a big gift to myself).
I had requested to start in August 2018 with PwC Qatar.
Thereafter, I had to serve my notice period with EY Malaysia and mentally prepare myself to relocate.
The entire process from me accepting the offer letter to joining PwC Qatar took about 2-3 months.I believe this process may vary from person-to-person depending on their relocating needs or notice period to serve.
Moving to Qatar from Malaysia
Although I had already gotten a job abroad in Qatar, moving to the Middle East from Malaysia was a very scary and bold move for me.
I was enthusiastic about working abroad—a dream I had nursed for a very long time—but the mere thought of leaving my home and starting life afresh in a new country was so scary.
However, I knew if I could just push through the first month or so, it was going to be worth it thereafter—and that is exactly what I focused on.
Despite relocating with an open mind, the first day I landed in Qatar felt odd.
I had never been to Qatar or any other Middle Eastern country before. I only read about the region and saw beautiful pictures of it on the internet. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that this was going to be my permanent residence.
The first day was very difficult emotionally; hence, I tried to keep myself occupied by connecting with people from home to make me feel better. However, as I started working and interacting with coworkers, things started becoming a bit easier with each passing day.
Initially, I felt lonely and almost depressed, but once I got used to the environment and had lots of support from people around me, I began to feel better about living in this country. I am extremely thankful to be receiving incredible emotional support from my loved ones back in Malaysia.
How I found an apartment in Qatar
For most job opportunities for expats in the Middle East, the firm provides accommodation, at least for the first month of your stay.
In my case, PwC arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport and transport me to a hotel near the office, where I would stay for the first month.
Leveraging on this generosity, I had one month to look for a place to live in Qatar.
In the process of my search, I came across the website Qatar Living, and it was on this website that I got a shared-accommodation somewhere close to the office, just a walking distance away.
I found this apartment within two weeks of being in Qatar.
This website was also very helpful in giving me an overview of everything that I needed to start a new life in Qatar.
Cost of living in Qatar
If you’re looking to get a job in the Gulf region, you should know that paying for rent is one of the things that would take up the bulk of your monthly expenses.
You can try to follow a salary ratio for your expenses in the Middle East or customise it with your priorities:
- 30% – rent
- 20% goes toward living expenses (food and transportation).
- 50% in savings
Besides the rent, I feel everything else is not too expensive in Qatar, as long as you don’t spend extravagantly on unnecessary things.
As for Malaysians like me, it is very easy to attain a driving licence in Qatar. It only costs 250 QAR for a 5-year validity, and car rentals are sustainable with the kind of income you earn here.
People with driving licences from the UK, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Korea, and Malaysia are now eligible to get a Qatari driving licence without any tests.
For more information, click here.
Benefits of working in Qatar
Moving to the Middle East from Malaysia has been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Apart from the career growth I have attained by this move to Qatar, I have also grown and improved in so many other aspects.
Living away from family has made me a better person. It has taught me to appreciate things that I may have taken for granted in the past.
Being a jovial and social person, it didn’t take me long to make good friends. I made myself very approachable to anyone who needed anything from me, and this helped me establish good networks and friendships along the way.
I also had decided to stay in that shared apartment to avoid feeling lonely, and that definitely helped—thankfully I have amazing housemates!
1. Consider alternatives to Chartered Accountancy.
- I think many students with accounting and finance degrees out there restrict their options to only venturing into chartered accounting.
- Thus, they are only exposing themselves to the world of audit and assurance, limiting their experiences as compared to what other job options may offer them.
- I would encourage students to widen their interests outside the scope of accounting and discover divisions like tax and advisory.
- It’s better for a graduate to fully do due diligence on all the options available than to just get into chartered accounting without fully understanding what other opportunities are available to them.
2. Do you need to be a chartered accountant to get into transfer pricing?
- In my opinion, anybody can learn and master transfer pricing, no matter their professional or academic background.
- I say this because transfer pricing is not really taught extensively in schools or universities. It is really something you can pick up and learn if you have a genuine interest.
- Now, five years into my career, having worked with leaders from various backgrounds, I can attest that it is not compulsory for one to be a chartered accountant in order to climb up the corporate ladder in transfer pricing.
- Naturally, in some countries it is highly preferable or advantageous, but as far as Malaysia or the Middle East are concerned, it isn’t a must.
- I personally think it is best to move to the Gulf or anywhere abroad when you know someone there who can share and guide you with their experience.
- Those out there who are genuinely interested in securing a job abroad should try to build a network with as many people as possible who are already there.
- Before I came here, apart from networking with people already living in the Middle East, I also consistently kept an eye out on the career pages of potential companies that I would consider working with and submitted my applications accordingly.
- This process can be very draggy and exhausting at times, but as you already know, good things don’t come easy. Don’t give up on your search. Rest assured that it would definitely be worth it.
4. Have a strong support system.
- Having a supportive mom who I can call and talk to anytime has definitely helped.
- Having a partner who has been away from home himself and knows what it feels like and what it takes to get through such a journey helped me greatly.
- He always knew the right things to say and had always been there and reachable at any time of the day to address my emotional struggles of moving to Qatar and being away from home.
- Having supportive friends who have been very encouraging and proud of me and who also make themselves available whenever I need someone to talk to has also helped me feel better.
- And from this I learned that sometimes you just need the right kind of support and motivation from the right people to be able to achieve your best potential, live your dream, and be the best version of yourself.