Iraq is mostly desert, but it does have regions of alluvial plains and mountains situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The country is made harsh not only by its volatile political climate but also by its unforgiving and extreme weather. The fact that it was recently ravaged by war is also dissuading any prospective expats.

However, while Iraq may not be at the top of expats' lists, many might be surprised by the opportunities available as a result of the country’s post-war revival.

Living in Iraq as an expat

Expats living in Iraq tend to be working either on a lucrative short-term expat contract in the oil and natural gas industries or as an NGO employee. Foreigners need to secure employment before relocating to Iraq.

Most expats will find themselves relocating to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris River. Expats living in Iraq are generally housed in secure compounds. Although these living arrangements tend to restrict one’s freedom, most expats report feeling relatively secure. The general standard of accommodation in these compounds is comfortable and includes facilities to keep residents entertained such as gyms, swimming pools, restaurants and shops.

Cost of living in Iraq

The cost of living in Iraq is not too high and expats are generally well remunerated. Despite this, leisure activities tend to be expensive and expats may also find themselves paying large sums towards utilities such as water and electricity. While rent, transport, groceries and general shopping are not necessarily expensive in Iraq, they are not exactly cheap either.

That said, the short-term work contracts that most expats move to Iraq for generally include many of the everyday costs of living, such as accommodation and transport. On top of being well paid for their work, expats will therefore not have to worry about high expenditure on living costs during their stay in Iraq. 

Expat families and children

As a result of ongoing security issues in Iraq, the expat community tends to be small and self-contained. In recent years, most governments and employers have discouraged employees from relocating to Iraq with their spouses and children. In some cases, expat families opt to live in nearby countries such as Kuwait or Jordan.

While education is highly valued in Iraqi society, there are very limited schooling options available for expat children. The vast majority of international schools that once existed in Baghdad have closed. Local schools, which are now under-resourced and overcrowded, are unsuitable for expat children.  

Climate in Iraq

Expats who haven’t previously lived elsewhere in the Middle East may struggle to adjust to the climate of Iraq. The country is mostly desert where winters are cool and summers are hot, dry and cloudless. The mountainous regions along the Iranian and Turkish borders experience cold winter with occasional heavy snowfalls. 

Expats considering moving to Iraq will have to consider the safety risks involved, as well as the possibility of having to leave their family behind. If expats can get past the negative images in the media, however, they are likely to find life in Iraq to be interesting and financially rewarding.

Fast facts

Population: Approximately 39 million

Capital city: Baghdad 

Neighbouring countries: Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. 

Geography: Located in the Middle East, Iraq is geographically diverse. There is desert in the west and southwest; rolling upland between the upper Tigris and Euprates Rivers, the mountainous highlands of the north and northeast and alluvials plains through which the Tigris and Euphrates flow. 

Political system: Federal Parliamentary Representative Democratic Republic

Major religion: Islam

Main languages: Arabic and Kurdish

Money: Iraqi dinar (IQD)

Tipping: Not expected, but a small tip is always appreciated as wages in the service industries in Iraq are low. 

Time: GMT+3

Electricity: 220/230 volts, 50 Hz. Type C, D and G plugs are used. 

Internet domain: .iq

International dialling code: +964

Emergency numbers: Ambulance 122, fire 115, police 104 

Transport and driving: Drive on the right-hand side of the road.