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Iraq

The housing sector in major Iraqi cities has been severely affected by the devastation and damage caused by ongoing conflict since 2003. The UN and various NGOs have responded to the crisis and supported construction of new houses.

As a result of security concerns in Iraq, expats tend to be housed in secure military-controlled compounds for the duration of their stay in the country. While expats moving to Iraq may have limited choice in terms of the type of accommodation available to them, most find their housing arrangements to be safe, comfortable and modern. Furthermore, hosuing is fully furnished so expats won't need to worry about purchasing furniture.

Those relocated to Iraq will have their employer provide housing in a compound safe to the expat’s place of work. The advantage of this arrangement is not only that the employer pays for the housing but also takes the burden of finding a home away from the expat. Those who’ve lived elsewhere in the Middle East will understand that finding a suitable home in a new country where one doesn’t speak the local language is often difficult.

The expat community is Iraq is small and those moving to the country are advised not to bring spouses and children with them. Therefore expat life in Iraq can be testing. A major benefit of living on an expat compound in Iraq is that it allows one to interact socially with other new arrivals, people who they can identify with more easily. There are also numerous facilities available to keep residents entertained such as swimming pools, gyms and cafes. 

Moving to Iraq

Iraq may not be the destination of choice when it comes to embarking on an expat assignment. However, many might be surprised by the opportunities available as a result of the country’s post-war revival. If expats can get past the negative images of Iraq in the media, they are likely to find life in Iraq to be interesting and financially rewarding.

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.

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 foreign children.  

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. 


Fast facts

Population: Approximately 38 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. However, 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. Three-pin rectangular blade plugs are common, but two-pin plugs are also used.

Internet domain: .iq

International dialling code: +964

Emergency numbers: General 122, fire 115, police 114 

Transport and driving: Drive on the right-hand side

Weather in Iraq

The climate in Iraq varies depending on which part of the country one lives in. The bulk of Iraq, including Baghdad, is made up of mostly desert. This makes the climate hot and dry. Conversely, northeast Iraq is mountainous. Its higher elevation allows for cooler temperatures and more rainfall. 

The desert regions of Iraq really only experiences two seasons. The summer months are from May to October. These months are characterised by high temperatures, clear skies, low humidity and very little rainfall. Average temperatures are around 90°F (32°C) but can reach as high as 118°F (48°C). Winters are milder with some rainfall. Winter temperatures range from 36°F (2°C) to 60°F (16°C). The temperature during the coldest winter nights is often below freezing. 

In the northeast, the summer lasts from June to September. Summers are generally dry and hot but far cooler than those in the desert region. Winters are long, cold and wetter than in other regions. Temperatures range between 24ºF (-4ºC) and 63ºF (17ºC).

A notable weather condition found in Iraq are dust storms that occur throughout the year. The storms vary in intensity and can reduce visibility considerably.

Embassy Contacts for Iraq

Iraqi embassies 

  • Embassy of Iraq, Washington DC, USA : +1 202 742 1600

  • Embassy of Iraq, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7590 7650

  • Embassy of Iraq, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6286 2744

  • Embassy of Iraq, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 2048/9

  • Embassy of Iraq, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 9177


Foreign embassies in Iraq

  • American Embassy, Baghdad: +964 760 030 3000

  • British Embassy, Baghdad (also accredited for Canadian citizens): +964 790 191 2684

  • Australian Embassy, Baghdad: +964 780 923 7565

  • French Embassy, Baghdad: +964 1 719 6061

  • South African Embassy, Amman, Jordan (responsible for Iraq): + 962 6 592 4364

Public Holidays in Iraq

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January 

Armed Forces Day

6 January

6 January

Nowruz

21 March

21 March

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Eid Al-Fitr

24-26 May

13-15 May

Republic Day

14 July

14 July

Eid Al-Adha

31 July - 3 August

20 - 23 July

Islamic New Year

20 August

10 August

Ashura

29 August

19 August

Independence Day

3 October

3 October

Prophet's Birthday

29 October

19 October

Victory Day

10 December

10 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to the sighting of the moon, and dates can change on the Gregorian calendar.

Safety in Iraq

Insurgent and military activity in Syria and throughout northwest Iraq has destabilised the region, meaning that safety is a major concern for expats relocating to Iraq. Employers invest huge amounts to ensure that work premises and expat housing compounds are secure. Despite this, expats should consider the safety concerns involved in living in Iraq.


Terrorism and insurgency in Iraq

There is a continuing threat of terrorism throughout Iraq. Suicide bomb attacks, roadside bombs, car bombs and rocket attacks occur frequently.

Attacks can occur without warning throughout Iraq. Terrorists, extremists and both pro- and anti-government militia conduct frequent attacks on a range of targets in Iraq, including targets inside the International Zone in Baghdad. 

Both civilian and military aircraft approaching or departing from Baghdad International Airport have been attacked in the past. 

Attacks have also occurred against the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN, various NGOs, journalists and foreign contractors, as well as against Iraqi civilians. Although it is almost impossible to predict terrorist attacks, expats living in Iraq should be

Working in Iraq

Due to ongoing tensions, expats moving to Iraq are those with secure job offers already in place. Expats often place emphasis on salary when looking for work abroad. The money offered to Westerners in Iraq will certainly make this country more of an attractive option. Many contractors from the United States are involved in the country’s infrastructure rebuilding, and Westerners will often have jobs prior to arriving in Iraq.  

As the country is being rebuilt, there are many great investment opportunities. Business people from across the globe are expressing the desire to capitalise on the potential of the Iraqi economy.


Industries in Iraq

One of the most prominent industry in Iraq has always been oil. The industry naturally took a blow from the effects of the war. However, Iraq has been receiving new contracts from major oil companies in recent years. Therefore, there is a lot of scope for the country to expand its oil revenue.

The country’s construction industry is where the highest number of expat jobs can be found. Other sectors, such as healthcare, offer a range of jobs. As in many countries, English teachers are also sought after. Interpreting is a viable option for expats who are fluent in Arabic, Kurdish and English.


Finding a job in Iraq

Expats working in Iraq arrive in the country having secured an employment contract beforehand. All foreigners require a visa to enter Iraq. Expats should not arrive in Iraq with the intention of trying to find work.

There are a number of websites focused on employment for expats in Iraq. A good starting point is sites like expatcareers.com and GulfTalent. Newspapers such as the Kurdish Globe and Iraq Today, the latter of which is in English, may also be useful resources.

Doing Business in Iraq

The Iraqi economy has been severely affected by war. Much of the country’s business infrastructure has been destroyed. However, in recent years there have been signs of recovery. Businesses and entrepreneurs from across the world are beginning to recognise Iraq's investment potential.

Iraq still fairs poorly when it comes to international rankings for doing business. It is ranked 171 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey 2019. This is testament to the bureaucratic and legal difficulties that are faced by businesses that want to set up operations in the country. Iraq scored particularly poorly when it comes to trading across borders (181).

While this doesn’t present an enticing picture for potential investors, there are still a number of foreign businesspeople who are establishing operations in the country. Those wishing to do business in Iraq will need to make an effort to gain some objective understanding of the Iraqi people. It’s only by operating with a degree of cultural sensitivity that international businesspeople will be able to enhance their business experiences in Iraq.


Fast facts

Business hours

Sunday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm.

Business language

The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish. English is widely spoken in business circles.

Dress

Business dress should be smart and conservative. Suits are standard but wearing a tie is not necessary. Women should be particularly careful about covering up their arms, legs and hair in public.

Gifts

Gifts are not necessary in business proceedings. If invited to a colleague’s home then flowers or chocolates are a good choice of gift. Do not give gifts that contain alcohol or pork.

Gender equality

Women are gradually beginning to enter the business world in Iraq. However, progress towards workplace gender equality is very slow. The attitude towards expat women in business in Iraq remains conservative.


Business culture in Iraq

As a result of tensions in Iraq, there may be some hostility towards foreigners. It is therefore important that businesspeople in Iraq take the time to understand the local culture and etiquette and make efforts to build trust with Iraqi associates.

Those from countries that operate on egalitarian structures may find the hierarchical nature of Iraqi business difficult to deal with. It will be important to show respect to seniors if one wishes to be successful in Iraqi business.

Meeting and greeting people

Business dealings in Iraq are a formal affair. Only once a relationship has been established and counterparts begin to address expats by their first name, is it okay to do likewise. Otherwise, it is best to address business associates using formal titles.

When meeting business associates, expats should greet them with a formal handshake. Men must wait for a woman to extend her hand before making any gesture. If she doesn’t extend her hand, a simple nod of the head and a smile will suffice. 

When first making acquaintance, Iraqi business people can be blunt and will often ask probing questions when trying to establish trust with a new business colleague.

Communication and language

Arabic is the official language in Iraq, but English is widely spoken in business circles. It is wise to learn some common Arabic greetings such as ‘Asalaamu Alaikum’ (peace be with you) and its response of ‘Wa Alaikum Salaam’ (and peace be unto you).

The concept of saving face and protecting honour are valued in Iraq. Consequently, showing emotion is viewed negatively. Voicing disapproval should also be avoided and if it becomes necessary this should only be done privately, quietly and with tact.

Expat entrepreneurs should understand that Iraqis take a person at their word, so they should never make a promise that cannot be kept. In order to show commitment without making firm assurances, use terms such as ‘I will do my best’ or the local term ‘Insha’Allah’ (God willing).

Business negotiations

Due to the hierarchical nature of businesses in Iraq, the most senior person will take the leading role and manage a business meeting. Subordinates are expected to corroborate information, provide technical assistance and give advice to their senior in those meetings.

Expats should ensure that business agendas and information is translated into Arabic and sent to Iraqi business associates ahead of time.

Decisions are usually made by the most senior person after consulting with the relevant stakeholders and technical advisors who will be present at business meetings.

Expats may find business proceedings in Iraq to be both slow and frustrating as interruptions are common. It is also common for Iraqi business people to take phone calls during meetings. This should not be seen negatively and expats should learn to be patient. 

Visas for Iraq

Because of Iraq's volatile security situation, most governments advise their citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq. Expats who move to Iraq do so for lucrative short-term employment contracts. In this case, the employer takes responsibility for applying for a work permit.


Visitor visas for Iraq

Most foreigners need to secure a visa before arriving in Iraq. This is also true for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Visas for Iraq can be applied for at the Iraqi embassy within the expat's home country. Travellers must be in possession of a passport valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry in Iraq.


Work permits for Iraq

Expats moving to Iraq to take up a job offer will have their employer carry the burden of applying for their visa. The employer will act as sponsor for the expat and will need to provide a motivational letter to the Iraq Ministry of Foreign affairs.

The work permit needs to be applied for before the expat arrives in Iraq. Work permits are usually issued for a period of three months after which they can be extended. Workers who plan to stay for longer than six months are advised to apply for a residency permit.


Exit visas for Iraq

Foreigners who remain in Iraq for more than 10 days will require an exit stamp to leave the country. The expat's sponsor, who is usually their employer, must apply for an exit visa through the Residency and Immigration Office. A letter will be required stating the start and end date of employment in Iraq. 

Culture Shock in Iraq

Expats moving to Iraq should expect to experience elements of culture shock. Expat life can be isolating as socialising may be limited to a small community of expats, all of which are in the country on short-term assignments. The transitionary nature of the Iraqi expat community frustrates the task of forming meaningful relationships.

Religion plays an important role in everyday life in Iraq. Expats need be sensitive to Iraqi cultural norms and adjust their lifestyle to best accommodate their interactions with the local population. While expat assignments in Iraq tend to be fairly short, those who make the effort to learn about local culture and engage in a meaningful way with Iraqis will find their time in Iraq to be a more fruitful experience.


Language barrier in Iraq

Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages of Iraq. While Arabic is the official language of business, expats will find that English is also widely spoken. In some cases, expats might want to consider arranging an interpreter to facilitate important communication. It is wise to always have any official documents and agendas translated into Arabic to ensure that communication is transparent.

Expats who make the effort to learn some basic Arabic greetings will find that their efforts are appreciated.


Religion in Iraq

Regardless of the ethnic groupings in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqis are Muslim. The position of Islam in Iraq has altered quite markedly as the country has gone through political transitions. Although Saddam Hussein's regime was characterised as secular, the current Iraqi state has used Islam to legitimise its rule and actions. The transition to the current regime has also resulted in a shift in power from the Sunnis to the Shias.

Regardless of denomination, Islam informs Iraqi society by governing political, legal and social behaviour. Most Iraqis look to the Quran for moral instruction. Expats will become familiar with the sound of the call to prayer, which signals the five times a day that Muslims are expected to pray. The country comes to a standstill on Friday, as it's a day of congregational prayer. Accordingly, the weekend for most companies falls on Friday and Saturday in Iraq.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. This also means that Iraqi businesses operate on a reduced schedule.


Family and honour in Iraq

Family is of paramount importance in Iraqi culture. The extended family, or tribe, is both a political and social force. Families hold their members responsible for their conduct and any wrongdoing is thought to bring shame upon the entire family. Loyalty to the family comes before other social and business relationships. 

Accommodation in Iraq

The housing sector in major Iraqi cities has been severely affected by the devastation and damage caused by ongoing conflict since 2003. The UN and various NGOs have responded to this crisis by supporting new housing construction.

As a result of security concerns in Iraq, expats tend to be housed in secure compounds for the duration of their stay in Iraq. While expats moving to Iraq may have limited choice in terms of the type of accommodation available to them, most find their housing arrangements to be safe, comfortable and fully furnished.

Those relocating to Iraq will have their employer provide housing in a compound near to the expat’s place of work. The advantage of this arrangement is that the employer pays for the housing. It also takes the burden of finding a home away from the expat. Those who have lived elsewhere in the Middle East will understand that finding a suitable home in a new country is difficult due to language barriers. 

The expat community in Iraq is small. Those moving to the country are advised to not bring spouses and children with them. This makes expat life in Iraq challenging. A major benefit of living in an expat compound is the proximity to other expats, which eases social interactions. There are also numerous facilities available to keep residents entertained such as swimming pools, gyms and cafes. 

Healthcare in Iraq

Healthcare in Iraq was once among the most developed systems in the region with a large number of medical schools, a variety of advanced resources and largely accessible care. The impact of the war and ongoing conflict in Iraq has had devastating effects on the country’s healthcare system. Iraq’s primary healthcare delivery, disease control system, and health research infrastructure have been shattered by the conflict.

Attempts to resurrect Iraq’s healthcare system remain hindered by the fragile national security and lack of basic utilities such as water and electricity.


Public healthcare in Iraq

The public healthcare system in Iraq struggles to meet the needs of its citizens. In most urban centres, medical facilities have been rebuilt. These are much more likely to be adequately staffed with doctors and nurses than those in rural areas.

Treatment through the public healthcare system is free of charge. Iraqi-produced medical supplies are also offered to residents at a subsidised cost. Sadly, the system faces a host of challenges including unreliable electricity, outdated equipment and lack of qualified staff. Hospitals are also often the target of insurgent attacks.

Other governments and international-aid organisations are working closely with the Iraqi government to restore basic services. Depending on where patients live and the severity of their condition, those requiring complex procedures might be taken to facilities managed by international organisations.


Private healthcare in Iraq

There is no formal private healthcare insurance system in Iraq. In some instances, wealthier Iraqis may pay out of pocket to receive speedier treatment at a public facility. Others opt to go to a neighbouring country for treatment. Private clinics do exist, but they tend to be small and primarily provide for childbirths or surgeries and not general care.


Healthcare for expats in Iraq

Expats moving to Iraq tend to do so on short-term contracts. They therefore rarely need to concern themselves with long-term medical care. In serious circumstances, expats may be able to get treatment at a facility managed by an international organisation or a local hospital. However, in most cases, they will be evacuated by air ambulance to a nearby country where they can receive better care.

Hospitals in Iraq expect payment before treatment and this can be costly. Expats moving to Iraq therefore must have a fully comprehensive health insurance plan that covers them for treatment overseas and repatriation. This is generally provided by employers as part of an expat’s employment contract.  


Pharmacies in Iraq

Expats on chronic medication should ensure they visit their doctor prior to relocating to Iraq in order to get an advance prescription for the duration of their assignment in Iraq.

If travelling with prescription medicine, ensure that all medicine is in its original container. Also carry a signed and dated letter from your doctor detailing the medicine's brand and chemical names, its purpose, as well as confirmation that the medicine is for personal use. 

As the Iraqi health system is developing, many drugs are in short supply. This means expats may only have access to the most basic medicines in Iraq.


Health hazards in Iraq

There are significant health hazards in Iraq and expats should take adequate precautions to protect themselves. The sanitation systems are not well developed and there is a high risk of contaminated water and food sources.

Routine vaccinations should be kept up to date, and additional vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A are recommended.

Education and Schools in Iraq

Due to the volatile security situation in Iraq, expats rarely bring their children into the country. In fact, many companies now have policies against it. Expats will either leave their families at home to continue their schooling or send their children to boarding school in a neighbouring country with a more stable education system.

Most wealthy Iraqis have now moved overseas and choose to educate their children abroad.


Schooling in Iraq

Schooling is compulsory for children between the ages 6 and 12. As a result of the country’s struggles, it has been very difficult to provide Iraqi children with a decent standard of education.

Schools in Iraq are poorly resourced and buildings are in desperate need of repair. Attendance rates are low and children drop out of school due to safety concerns and the need to support their families.


International schools in Iraq

Before the outbreak of war in Iraq, there were a number of international schools. However, with a significantly smaller expat population in Iraq, the majority of these schools have now closed. The handful that remain offer foreign curricula including that of the UK and the US, as well as the International Baccalaureate.

Although a few international schools can be found, the region's instability makes it ill-advised for expat children to attend school in Iraq. It's best that they either remain in their home country to continue schooling or opt for a boarding school in a neighbouring country. 

Transport and Driving in Iraq

As a result of the volatile security situation, expats relocating to Iraq should not expect to travel unless it is deemed absolutely necessary by their employer. In this case, expats can expect to be transported by helicopter or armoured vehicle.


Public transport in Iraq

Public transport in Iraq is very limited and should not be used by foreigners because of the security risks involved. Much of the transport infrastructure was destroyed during the war. In some parts of the country buses and shared taxis are used by locals but these systems are not formalised.


Driving in Iraq

Expats living in Iraq do not often drive themselves and are typically transported by armoured vehicles or by a local driver. Travelling at night is to be avoided, especially in city centres.

Military checkpoints are in operation and if the vehicle is stopped expats may find that they are regarded with suspicion. To avoid conflict or misunderstandings, expats should follow any orders given by officials. 

Banking, Money and Taxes in Iraq

Iraq’s economy is still recovering from the effects of war. Consequently, the banking infrastructure in Iraq is poorly developed. Services such as internet banking, ATMs and credit card facilities are rare which has resulted in a cash-based economy. Expats might initially find the system difficult to deal with. However, most expat employers provide support for navigating Iraq's financial landscape.


Money in Iraq

The Iraqi Dinar (IQD) is the official currency in Iraq. The Iraqi Dinar is subdivided into 1,000 fils, although inflation has rendered fils obsolete.

  • Notes: 50 IQD, 250 IQD, 1,000 IQD, 5,000 IQD, 10,000 IQD, and 25,000 IQD

  • Coins:  25 IQD, 50 IQD and 100 IQD

Coins are rarely used in Iraq.


Banking in Iraq

Iraq’s banking system is highly undeveloped and may not meet the standards that most expats are accustomed to. Despite this, there are signs of improvement which are demonstrated by the re-emergence of private banks and the reopening of the Iraq Stock Exchange.

As part of attempts at national economic rehabilitation and development, the Iraqi government have worked to encourage the presence of international banks in the country. A number of international banks have obtained licences to open branches in Iraq. Others have formed partnerships with Iraqi banks.

Iraq is mostly a cash-based society. Although large vendors have traditionally accepted US dollars and euros, they are increasingly only accepting the Iraqi dinar. Credit and debit cards are rarely accepted anywhere except at facilities found on expat accommodation compounds.

Due both to the challenge of opening an Iraqi bank account and the short-term nature of most expat contracts in Iraq, most employers pay their employees' salaries into their foreign bank accounts. 


Taxes in Iraq

Taxable income in Iraq exists on a progressive tax scale. Employers generally handle taxes for expats working in Iraq. Most expat contracts in Iraq operate under a PAYE (pay-as-you-earn) system. This means that expats generally receive their net wage with their income tax automatically deducted.