This year was all about emerging markets after the sudden implosion of Dubai at the end of 2009. Despite this crash, with work in the UK looking so limited, firms have continued to look overseas over the past 12 months for lucrative, if often risky, opportunities.


The 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Olympics, a construction market that is expected to grow 40% by 2014 and 67% by 2020, and £350bn of government investment in logistical and social infrastructure over the next three years … it is easy to see the attraction of Brazil. McBains Cooper, Buro Happold, Arup, Vinci and Gensler are already operating in the country. But the fact that the country already has a mature construction market of its own means local firms can be wary of foreign expertise, making Brazil a tough nut to crack.

North Africa

When problems arose in the ME part of MENA, the NA part was the first place many people looked to as an alternative. And with good reason. Egypt and Morocco will be among the world’s top 10 fastest-growing construction markets from 2009 to 2020. The market in Egypt is worth £15.3bn and is expected to grow to £28.6bn by 2020, with infrastructure and affordable housing the key areas for development. According to research by Global Construction Perspectives, the population of North Africa is expected to grow by 50% by 2050, to 321 million.


It’s always been extremely difficult for UK firms to win work in China thanks to the market’s already strong capabilities. But following a trade mission led by David Cameron in November, things are looking up - for some UK firms at least. UK architect Benoy is to open an office in China after securing £4m of work while on the trade mission and engineer Arup and masterplanner David Lock Associates also picked up work during the trip. A happy end to the year in terms of UK-Chinese relations - that was until the emergence of Chinese identity fraudsters cloning UK firms’ websites …

Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria

They say that fortune favours the brave. But just how brave are firms prepared to be to win work in the downturn? This year Vinci, Galliford Try and Metro Design Group all highlighted Nigeria as a possible area to expand into in time, joining the likes of Davis Langdon and Sheppard Robson - firms that already operate in the country. Nigeria is set to be the fastest-growing emerging market in the world by 2020 as its population is urbanising faster than any other country. Its 150 million people are desperately in need of decent infrastructure. It has oil - and at the moment it spends a mere 3.2% of its GDP on construction.

Rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, though risky, also offer construction companies attractive rewards. A UK site manager in Iraq or Afghanistan can expect to earn a minimum of £3,720 a month, while a project director’s salary is up to £8,680 a month.