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Moving to Pakistan

Bordered by the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman to South and sharing land borders with India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest and China to the northeast, the south Asian country of Pakistan is home to an assortment of cultural influences introduced through the various kingdoms, empires, and dynasties that have ruled Pakistan throughout its history.

Renowned for its love of cricket and breathtaking snow-capped mountains, Pakistan is a historically rich country that has shown considerable economic progress since its independence. Officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the name Pakistan translates to 'Land of the Pure' and is the fifth most populous country in the world. 

Pakistan is one of the largest producers of natural commodities, and its economy is semi-industrialised. Due to the political instability and other hindering factors the country has faced, the economy is still developing. Export forms a major part of the economy, and expats may be able to find work opportunities in sectors such as manufacturing, tourism, and technology.

Expats will be pleased to know that the cost of living in Pakistan is relatively low, especially when compared to more prominent expat destinations. Accommodation is likely to be the biggest monthly expense, but even very affordable accommodation is available if expats know where to look.

Safety will be a major concern for expats, as Pakistan has often been the target of terrorist attacks. The best way to stay safe is to keep up to date with the political situation in the country and avoid going to very crowded places. 

Public schooling is free and compulsory for all children in Pakistan. Despite this, the country battles with widespread illiteracy and a massive gender disparity. While the standard of public education is often lacking, there are numerous international schools located in the capital, Islamabad, and other main cities popular with expats.

Pakistan has both public and private healthcare facilities, but the standard of public healthcare is often low, and most expats opt for private care instead. It is of paramount importance that expats are in possession of a full comprehensive health insurance plan that covers them for repatriation, if necessary. 

The country faces a number of challenges including political instability, corruption and illiteracy. The government has implemented numerous plans to combat the issues and the country's economy shows much promise. In addition, Pakistan has seen an increase in tourism in recent years, as more and more travellers start to see the potential of this historically diverse country has to offer. Though not the easiest expat destination, those who move to Pakistan with an open mind are sure to have a vibrant and memorable experience. 


Fast facts

Official name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Population: 202 million 

Capital city: Islamabad

Largest city: Karachi

Neighbouring countries: Bordered by Iran to the southwest, Afghanistan to the west, China to the northeast, and India to the east, Pakistan also has a southern coastline on the Arabian Sea. 

Geography: The country has a diverse landscape and can be broadly split into three main areas: the highlands of northern Pakistan, the Indus River plain in central Pakistan and the Balochistan Plateau in southeast Pakistan. Due to the country's location, parts of Pakistan are prone to earthquakes.

Political system: Federal parliamentary constitutional republic

Major religion: Islam

Main languages: English, Urdu

Money: The Pakistani Rupee (PKR) which is written as Rs.  

Time: GMT +5

Electricity: 230 volts, 50hz. Plugs have two or three round pins.

Internet domain: .pk

International dialling code: +92

Emergency contacts: 15 (police), 115 (ambulance), 16 (fire brigade)

Transport and driving: Pakistan has decent public transport infrastructure in its larger cities. Cars drive on the left-hand side.

Weather in Pakistan

Pakistan has a continental climate and experiences extreme fluctuations in temperature both seasonally and daily due to variations in elevation across the country.

Broadly speaking, Pakistan is a hot country. This is especially true for the central plains, with the high temperature worsened by a hot wind known as the Loo that blows through during summer. Although southern coastal areas are still stiflingly hot, the temperature is moderated and cooled by sea breezes. On the other hand, the high altitudes of the mountainous northern region are prone to ice and sub-zero temperatures.

The length and onset of the seasons can vary throughout the country, but the seasons generally consist of a cool and dry winter from December to February, a dry and hot spring from March to May, a summer monsoon period from June to September, and a retreating monsoon season beginning in October.

Apart from monsoons, other natural phenomena to be aware of are tropical storms and violent dust storms which are prone to occur in summer. Heat stroke and dehydration are a concern, especially for expats living in the central regions of Pakistan and those who are used to cooler climates. Expats should ensure they stay hydrated by drinking bottled water, and should try to avoid being outside during the hottest hours of the day.

 
 

Embassy Contacts for Pakistan

Pakistani embassies

  • Embassy of Pakistan, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 243 6500

  • Pakistan High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 207 664 9200

  • Pakistan High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 7881

  • Pakistan High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 26 273 1114

  • Pakistan High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 4072

  • Embassy of Pakistan, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 261 3032

  • Pakistan High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 479 0026


Foreign embassies in Pakistan

  • United States Embassy, Islamabad, Pakistan: +92 51 208 0000

  • British High Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan: +92 51 201 2000

  • Canadian High Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan: +92 51 208 6000

  • Australian High Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan: +92 51 835 5500

  • South African High Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan: +92 51 265 5304 

  • Honorary Consulate of Ireland, Karachi, Pakistan: +92 21 3589 1181

  • New Zealand Consulate-General, Karachi, Pakistan: +92 21 3564 4740

Public Holidays in Pakistan

 

2021

2022

Kashmir Day

5 February

5 February

Pakistan Day

23 March

23 March

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Eid-ul-Fitr

10–15 May

2–5 May

Eid-ul-Adha

20–22 July

9–12 July

Independence Day

14 August

14 August

Ashura

18–19 August

7–8 August

Eid Milad-un-Nabi

18–19 October

7–8 October

Quaid-e-Azam Day

25 December

25 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to change based on sightings of the moon.

Safety in Pakistan

Safety in Pakistan is bound to be a concern for expats. There is a threat of terrorism throughout the country, mainly due to the presence of an anti-state and anti-Western organisation known as Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP). Other terrorist organisations believed to have a presence in Pakistan include Al-Qaeda and ISIS. 

While opinions differ, a number of embassies – including those of the USA and the UK – warn their citizens to avoid anything but essential travel to most parts of the country. Expats already in the country should minimise the time spent in public locations.


Crime in Pakistan

There is a high level of crime in Pakistan, especially in large cities such as Karachi and Islamabad. Muggings are frequent and are sometimes escalated to kidnapping. Carjacking and robberies are common too, so new arrivals should avoid travelling alone at night and always remain aware of their surroundings. It's best to be as inconspicuous as possible, keeping valuables out of sight, so as to avoid attracting any unwanted attention.

When it comes to abiding by local laws, expats should be aware that homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan, as is importing pork or alcohol products. In addition, it is illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Possession of illegal narcotics is punished harshly and offenders may even be sentenced to death.


Terrorism in Pakistan

The country has experienced a number of terrorist attacks of varying violence. These attacks often target local government officials as well as foreigners. Previous targets include embassies, international schools, hospitals, government buildings, religious shrines and airports.

Expats can keep themselves safe by avoiding areas with large crowds, particularly any political gatherings, rallies or demonstrations. The period leading up to national and provincial elections can be a particularly dangerous time.


Earthquakes in Pakistan

Pakistan is a major earthquake zone. In the event of an earthquake, there is also the threat of aftershocks, landslides and flooding. The last major earthquake that hit Pakistan measured 6.1 on the Richter scale and affected various parts of the country including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.  

Expats need to ensure they have plans and provisions in place for this kind of emergency which may result in an emergency evacuation from the country.


Health safety in Pakistan

There are a few issues to note when it comes to healthcare in Pakistan. It is one of two countries in the world where polio is still a threat.

Expats should make sure their vaccinations are up to date for polio, hepatitis and measles before departing for Pakistan. The country also experiences malaria and dengue fever, and the necessary precautions should be taken, especially for those who may be travelling to more rural parts of the country.

It is important to note that while private hospitals can be found in major Pakistani cities such as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, the standards are not nearly as good as most expats would likely expect. Therefore, we would advise expats to ensure they have a fully comprehensive health insurance policy that covers them for evacuation to neighbouring countries and repatriation, if necessary. 

Working in Pakistan

In recent years, Pakistan has experienced a pretty impressive economic boom and it looks to become a major Asian investment hub in the near future. Karachi is Pakistan's most prosperous economy and is the country's financial hub. With the presence of many foreign companies, Karachi offers some excellent career prospects for new arrivals. Being the capital and diplomatic heart of Pakistan, Islamabad is where expats who are relocated by their own national governments or international NGOs will likely be based. 

With factors like nepotism and corruption remaining a constant in Pakistan, finding a job can be a difficult process. Much of working in Pakistan rely on social connections and who one knows, rather than experience, talent or qualifications. Expats will be pleased to know that salaries will provide a good standard of living, as the cost of living in Pakistan is low. Currently, the economy of Pakistan is going through economic liberalisation, which includes the privatisation of many of the government sectors, in order to attract foreign investors.  

Expats will need the correct visa and work permit to work in Pakistan, and will not be eligible for these documents unless they have already secured work with a local employer.


Job market in Pakistan

The economy of Pakistan is semi-industrialised, with the Indus River at the forefront of its growth. Urban areas such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore are also economic drivers for the country. The main industries in Pakistan are construction, electricity, textile manufacturing and technology.

Most expats living in Pakistan move to the country with a job in hand. Those working for a prominent international company or at a diplomatic mission will likely have much of the bureaucracy associated with their relocation, such as visa-processing, making provisions for healthcare and finding accommodation, all taken care of by their employer. 

For those who haven't secured a job offer prior to relocation, it is important to note that networking and word-of-mouth references form the basis of the employment procedure in Pakistan. Expats who have some proficiency in Urdu will find it to be an advantage, despite the fact that the language of business is commonly English.


Work culture in Pakistan

In some sense, Pakistani work culture can be quite conservative and formal. Hierarchy is important and one is expected to display respect towards their seniors in the workplace. Contact between the sexes is limited, and most positions of power are still held by men. 

On the other hand, networking and relationship building is really important in the workplace. Expats should make an effort to engage in small talk and get to know colleagues on a personal level before getting down to business. Although Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, English is most commonly spoken in the workplace and most Pakistanis speak English fluently. 

Doing Business in Pakistan

Expats working in Pakistan will find that the business world is governed by hierarchy. Respect is very important and those who are older, more experienced and in a higher position should be greeted and addressed first. 

Pakistan was ranked 108th out of 190 countries rated in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. The country did well in the categories of protecting minority investors (28th) and resolving insolvency (58th) but fell short when it came to ease of paying taxes (181st), enforcing contracts (155th), and registering property (151st).


Fast facts

Business hours

8am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Business language

English is the language of business. Urdu is also commonly spoken.

Dress

The dress code is conservative. Smart suits are appropriate

Gifts

If invited to a Pakistani household, flowers or chocolates are acceptable and should be given with two hands.

Gender equality

Gender disparity exists in the workplace, and women are seldom in senior positions.


Business culture in Pakistan

Greetings

Men shake hands with each other and often hug when a relationship is formed. Men should not attempt to shake a woman’s hand unless she extends hers first. In Pakistani business culture, people are rarely addressed by their first names. Instead, refer to an associate by their title and surname.

Communication

Trust is important in the Pakistani business world, and non-business related conversations usually precede a meeting. Avoid any controversial topics about politics, religion or terrorism. It is common for colleagues to ask about an expat’s family and other personal matters.

Meetings

Meetings are best planned for the late morning or early afternoon. Deadlines are seen as flexible and business may take longer than usual, so expats should be patient and work around this. Ramadan is an important part of the year for Pakistanis, and expats should not schedule any meetings over this period.


Dos and don’ts of business in Pakistan

  • Don’t feel uncomfortable if colleagues stand very close as this is common

  • Do accept business cards with the right hand or both hands

  • Do be punctual for meetings, but don’t be surprised if meetings are cancelled at the last minute

  • Don’t maintain constant eye contact. This can seem threatening, especially for seniors.

Cost of Living in Pakistan

The cost of living in Pakistan is relatively inexpensive. In Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey for 2020, the capital city, Islamabad, was ranked 200th out of 209 cities. In comparison to this, Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and another popular expat city, was ranked 205th. The cost of living in both cities is very affordable for expats. 


Cost of food in Pakistan

The cost of food in Pakistan is affordable. Expats will find that groceries are relatively inexpensive, and eating out – especially at local places – is also not a costly expense. There are plenty of markets selling local produce, though expats should be cautious about washing food items carefully in order to prevent getting sick from the water.


Cost of public transport in Pakistan

While getting around in Pakistan is very cheap, expats should note that the public transport system lacks in safety measures, and the roads can be quite dangerous. That said, bus and train fares are very affordable, and expats who choose to buy a car will be pleased to know that the cost of petrol is low too. 


Cost of education in Pakistan 

Schooling is free (and compulsory) for all children aged five to 16. However, expat parents will find that the standard of education at public schools is considerably lacking, and therefore will likely send their child to one of the international schools located in Islamabad, Karachi or other main cities. 

School fees for international schools can be very pricey, and there may be additional costs for extras such as uniforms, stationery, extra-curricular activities and school transport.  


Cost of living in Pakistan chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Islamabad for June 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent in good area)

Furnished one-bedroom apartment 

PKR 39,000

Furnished three-bedroom apartment 

PKR 60,000

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

PKR 112

Milk (1 litre)

PKR 98

Rice (1kg)

PKR 125

Loaf of white bread

PKR 62

Chicken breasts (1kg)

PKR 330

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

PKR 170

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

PKR 650

Coca-Cola (330ml)

PKR 40

Cappuccino

PKR 220

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

PKR 1,500

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

PKR 2.50

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

PKR 2,800

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

PKR 8,500

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

PKR 30

Bus/train fare in the city centre

PKR 20

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

PKR 100

Healthcare in Pakistan

Healthcare in Pakistan varies considerably, depending on a number of factors. Those living in larger cities will find that the healthcare available is adequate, whereas in rural areas it can be of an extremely poor standard.

Efforts to upgrade the healthcare system in Pakistan have been put into place, with plans to establish a universal healthcare programme by 2025 underway. This is yet to show significant progress though. 

Emergency response is unreliable, with limited numbers of ambulances. In the event of an emergency, taking a taxi or driving to the hospital can often be a wiser option.


Public healthcare in Pakistan

While Pakistan offers both public and private options, most expats opt for the latter. In fact, most expats employed by international companies or diplomatic missions operating in Pakistan will have a comprehensive health insurance plan set up for them so they won't need to consider using public facilities while in the country. 

There are government-run hospitals that are low-cost and offer basic medical treatment, but the standard is often quite low and not in line with what most expats, especially those from Western countries, would be accustomed too.


Private healthcare in Pakistan

Pakistan has a number of expensive private medical facilities, mostly located in the urban areas of Karachi and Lahore. It is highly recommended that expats take out comprehensive private health insurance if this isn't provided by their employer. Medical insurance should also include provision for the possibility of emergency medical evacuation to a nearby country with superior facilities.

Below is a list of private hospitals in Pakistan.

Doctor’s Hospital

www.doctorshospital.com.pk
Address: 152-G/1, Canal Bank, Johar Town, Lahore

Farooq Hospital

www.farooqhospital.com.pk
Address: 262-263 West Wood Colony, Thokar Niaz Baig, Lahore

Indus Hospital

www.indushospital.org.pk
Address:  C-76, Sector 31/5, Korangi Crossing, Karachi

ITTEFAQ Hospital

www.ittefaqhospital.com
Address: H Block, Model Town, Lahore

Saifee Hospital

www.saifeehospital.com.pk
Address: ST-1, Block-F, North Nazimabad, Karachi


Pharmacies in Pakistan

Pharmacies are readily available in urban centres but outlets are often understaffed when it comes to qualified personnel. Anyone travelling to outlying rural areas for extended periods should pack basic medications. Those living in rural areas may need to travel to larger towns to fill prescriptions.

There have been some improvements in recent years. Online services have reduced the need for people to physically visit a pharmacy and people can instead have their medication delivered to them, in urban areas at least. 

It is important to note that some medications may be known by a different name in Pakistan and it is, therefore, wise to bring ample supply when moving to the country and to speak to a general practitioner about alternatives that may be available. 


Health hazards in Pakistan

Malaria is a risk in rural areas, and polio and dengue fever are common too. Expats should take the necessary precautions, including being vaccinated before leaving for Pakistan, and should avoid drinking tap water. 

Education and Schools in Pakistan

Education in Pakistan is compulsory and free for children between the ages of five and 16 years old. The education system in Pakistan is usually divided into six levels: preschool, primary, middle, high, intermediate and university

The country suffers from a high illiteracy rate and gender disparity, and ex-pats moving to Pakistan are likely to find that public education is not really an option for expat kids.

The education system in Pakistan is not as nuanced and pragmatic as Western expats might be accustomed to. Special needs education is an area that is grossly neglected in Pakistan and children with disabilities are stigmatised rather than accommodated for within the system. 

Expats looking to provide their children with additional academic support may struggle to find suitably qualified tutors in Pakistan. Although they may be able to approach advisors from their child's international school for some direction, often the best bet is to find some support online. 


Public schools in Pakistan

Even though there is nothing stopping expat children from attending public schools in Pakistan, most expat parents don't pursue this option for various reasons but mainly because of the poor quality of education and lack of decent facilities. There are also cultural differences to contend with as well as the approach to learning and discipline. 

Both English and Urdu are often the languages of instruction at public schools in Pakistan. Many schools follow a curriculum inspired by the British system, with strong religious influences.

Therefore, in almost all instances, expat parents usually send their children to one of Pakistan's private or international schools.


Private and international schools in Pakistan

There are a number of private and international schools in Pakistan following various curricula. Most of these schools are located in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

Many of the private schools are prestigious boarding schools. The standard of teaching and the quality of facilities tend to be far superior than those found at Pakistani public schools. Private and international schools are also equipped to deal with a broader range of learning needs and the teachers are able to give each student more individual attention. These institutions also offer students a range of extracurricular activities such as sport, music and drama.

For expats moving to Pakistan for a short time, it makes sense to have their child attend an international school that follows the curriculum of their home country or the International Baccalaureate (IB) as this would allow the student a smoother transition when moving from one school to the next. Another benefit of having one's child go to an international school is that it allows them to mix with other expat children who may be facing similar challenges in adjusting to life in a new country. 

School fees for both private and international schools are very expensive. Expats relocating to Pakistan to take up a lucrative job offer should certainly negotiate a sizeable allowance to cover the cost of school fees when discussing their employment package with the hiring company. 

Below are some of the international schools located in Pakistan.

Canadian International School Pakistan

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Canadian, British, Pakistani
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.cisp.edu.pk

The International School 

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages:3 to 18
Website: www.tis.edu.pk

The International School of Islamabad

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.isoi.edu.pk

Roots International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels, International Baccalaureate, Pakistani
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.rootsinternational.edu.pk

Transport and Driving in Pakistan

Although there has been some improvement in Pakistan's public transport infrastructure in recent years, safety remains a major concern when it comes to getting around. Not only have there historically been terrorist attacks aimed directly at public transport, including trains and buses, but traffic congestion can reach epic proportions in Pakistani cities, and the country's drivers have a reputation for being reckless.

Expats moving to Pakistan should use public transport with extreme caution or ideally avoid it altogether, if possible. Most opt to hire a car with a driver instead, which is usually arranged and paid for by their employer.


Public transport in Pakistan

Trains

Trains operate within and between Pakistani cities, and are a popular means of getting around the country. While Pakistan's train network does function to an adequate level, it is by no means on par with systems in Europe or North America, so train travel may be a frustrating experience for expats from those parts of the world that are accustomed to a higher standard of transportation.

It is important to note that trains have been the target of terrorist attacks in the past and expats should avoid train travel where possible.

Buses

Buses are the most popular means of intercity transport and most cities also have domestic bus services. Bus travel is relatively cheap and it’s not necessary to book ahead as passengers usually pay the bus driver directly upon boarding the bus.

Again, there are some concerns when it comes to bus travel: not only are they often overcrowded, but many have been the target of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Expats would do well to avoid bus travel.

Auto-rickshaws

Auto-rickshaws are a popular option for getting around in Pakistani cities. However, it’s best to negotiate a fare before getting into the rickshaw to avoid being overcharged or disputing the fee later. Due to the pollution caused by auto-rickshaws in Pakistani cities, the government has clamped down on their operations, and some older models have been banned and replaced with more modern, less noisy and more environmentally-friendly models.


Taxis in Pakistan

Taxis are available in all cities. Expats should be wary through: some drivers have been known to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners, so it’s best to negotiate the fare and ensure that the driver switches the meter on before embarking on a journey. Female expats should avoid travelling in taxis on their own, especially at night. It is safer to arrange a taxi ahead of time via the telephone rather than hailing one from the street.


E-hailing services in Pakistan

E-hailing services such as Uber are beginning to take off in Pakistan's bigger cities such as Islamabad and Karachi. The network of vehicles isn't that large at present and, because of traffic congestion, users should expect fairly long waiting times for their ride. It is possible, however, to book in advance to save a little time. 

The advantage of using e-hailing services is that users can track the whereabouts of their vehicle using the app on their smartphone. There are also plans to extend the e-hailing service to encompass rickshaws as has been the case in a number of other South Asian countries.  


Driving in Pakistan

Due to safety concerns, the majority of expats in Pakistan choose not to drive themselves and prefer to hire a car with a driver. This is a prerequisite for many foreign executives and diplomats in Pakistan. Many are even accompanied by an armed escort. 

Carjackings are common and expats should avoid travelling at night when the danger is increased. Hijackings have also been linked to kidnappings of foreigners in Pakistan.


Air travel in Pakistan

There are daily flights between all major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. The main airlines include Pakistan International Airlines, Shaheen Air and Airblue. Due to the safety and security concerns surrounding Pakistani public transport, air travel is the recommended option for intercity travel.