Working remotely from Iraq as a Software Developer

Published on Saturday, October 8, 2022

Disclaimer: I am writing about my personal experience here. Your mileage may vary.

I have been working remotely for a European company since the beginning of the year. I have been through a lot of ups and downs since then, I want to document some of the insights I learned.

Working remotely among the tech community is getting more and more common right now in Iraq. I have several friends who work for companies in Europe and other places. Most of the pre-requisites of working remotely are available in Iraq and Kurdistan, even though they are not as convenient as one might hope, so I think more software developers should consider it as an option.

Finding a remote job

The first step of working remotely, is to find a job opportunity that's a good fit for you. Things that would help you get a job are:

  • The most important requirement is being good at what you do. Whether you're a Software Developer, A DevOps Engineer, A QA Engineer, A Product Owner, A designer, etc. Being able to show how you benefit your potential employers helps you a lot. But don't let your imposter syndrome stop you from achieving your goals. Never filter yourself out of opportunities in life.
  • English language. Your English should be good enough to conduct your day to day tasks without problems. Communication is really important in remote jobs and sometimes more difficult than on-site jobs. Having a good English language level is very helpful.
  • Try to participate in online communities, contribute to open source projects, and make friends online. I have gotten all of my jobs (including my current one) through friends. While LinkedIn is known for professional networking, don't ignore Twitter and GitHub.

When looking for job opportunities, try to focus on Europe. Because US companies are much more hesitant about hiring from Iraq and they have complicated tax requirements. Also, Europe's time zone is very close to Iraq's time zone, so you don't have to sacrifice your social life. But take that as a guideline not a rule, there are always exceptions. I know people who have joined companies from other parts of the world too.

Where to find a remote job:

Go search through the above websites and see which tech stacks and positions have the most positions. Maybe by changing your tech stack you can increase your chances of getting a job.

During the interview process, it's good to consider these points:

  • Working hours. Do they want you to follow a specific working schedule? Or can you work flexibly? Or maybe something in between. I asked my current company to work on Sundays and take Fridays off so that I can spend Fridays with my family. The point is, you can talk to them about your preferences and try to find a good common ground.
  • Are they willing to go through some hoops to pay you? A lot of the services that companies use to pay their employees don't work for Iraq. So they have to be willing to make an exception for you.
  • Management's attitude towards working remotely.
  • Optional: Visa Sponsorship. If you're interested, some companies are willing to sponsor you for a work visa in order to go and live in their country.

In terms of employment, you'll probably be hired as a "subcontractor". Which means you won't become an official employee and that's because of Tax reasons. If they make you an employee it complicates their taxes and they will have to open an office in Iraq. I am okay with that even though it means you don't get some of the benefits like health insurance. But make sure there is a contract between you and your potential employer, because you'll need it for opening a bank account and also it lowers your chance of getting scammed.

Getting Paid

Unfortunately most payment services (PayPal, Wise, etc) don't work for Iraq. These are some of the available options:

  1. Bank transfer: The most reliable option in my experience.
  2. Money transfer services like Western Union: They have limits on the transfer amount and if based on what I have heard, you get flagged if you use them regularly.
  3. Crypto currencies: I don't like them so I haven't tried them..

I personally use Bank Transfer so I am going to focus on that here. From experience the reliable options in Erbil are:

  • Doesn't open personal accounts anymore
  • I had a very negative experience with it and they didn't open an account for me in the end. But a friend of mine uses it for receiving his salary and it seems to work for him. If you did decide to go with them visit their 60m branch, not their 100m branch.
  • Special thanks to Akam Foad for confirming that it also can be used for international transfers.

Opening a bank account requires:

  1. A support letter from your employer. A contract between you and your employer having your name, your passport number, and your salary also works. But because working remotely is still in its early days, some of the bank employees might have difficulty understanding your use case.
  2. A passport or National ID
  3. A deposit. This varies from bank to bank. Usually it's somewhere between 200 USD to 1200 USD.
  4. One or more photos.
  5. A ton of signatures.
  6. And other documents depending on the bank.

It can take a couple of hours or a couple of days, depending on the situation and the bank. You usually get a debit card (and optionally a credit card) that you can use to withdraw money from ATMs. Withdrawing money from the same bank's ATM is free. Ask your bank about the limits of your debit card. It can range from 1000 USD/day to 5000 USD/day.

After opening the account you will get a SWIFT code (the bank's unique identifier in the global banking system) and an IBAN (your unique identifier). Ask your bank for transfer instructions. It contains the list of of intermediary banks that your employer's bank can send the money through. International money transfer is very similar to computer network routing where each bank is a router. Unfortunately, most of the Iraqi banks are not very well known internationally and you have to provide the specific intermediary banks to make sure your transfers are successful. Also, make sure you open your account in USD and also receive money in USD. Euro is slower and more expensive and most banks here don't support it.

From my experience your first transfer take some time (a couple of weeks to a month). And sometimes the bank asks you to provide them with an invoice for the transaction. I use a simple google sheet (that I got from a friend) to create the invoices. I don't stamp them. Some banks require you to sign and scan them when you send it to them. After the first transfer, subsequent transfers should take less than a week.

The transfer fee depends on the sending bank, the receiving bank, and the intermediary banks. My current employer pays the transfer fee so this might be something you can ask your potential employer.

Finding a space to work in

You have a lot of options when it comes to working remotely:

  • Working from home: You can invest in building a home office for yourself. I tried this option first and it didn't work out for me. After a couple of months I was gaining weight and my social life was next to zero.
  • Co-working spaces: There are several co-working spaces in Iraq. And they provide your with a desk, a Wifi, and some common area. You pay them monthly or daily. You can go work there for a day and see if it suits you. My problem was I couldn't do my meetings which was a deal breaker. Especially because in the beginning you'll have a lot of meetings to onboard you.
  • Renting an office: I am not sure if individuals can rent an office in Iraq. Because they ask you for your company papers or you have to be a member of some specific syndicates (Lawyers for example).
  • Cafes: I haven't tried this option.

Overall, you can experiment with different options and see which one fits your needs and preferences best.

I wish you luck in your journey and don't hestitate to reach out if you have any questions. However, when asking questions please follow these simple guidelines:

I wish you best of luck!

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