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Employment in Abu Dhabi

Due to its strong economy and modern cityscape, expats often get the impression that working in Abu Dhabi is a lucrative option. However, expats from Western countries often earn less in Abu Dhabi than they would in their respective home countries. Only those with special skills in the technical sector or management may indeed be able to receive a generous salary when working in Abu Dhabi.

That being said, average salaries increased by 5.3 percent across the UAE and they are predicted to increase by 5.9 percent in 2014. Abu Dhabi is the second most popular city for expats; 20% of expats currently residing in the UAE in a city other than Abu Dhabi express a desire to relocate there.

The city’s free trade zone, the Industrial City of Abu Dhabi HCSEZ, especially welcomes international investment and business, thus creating new jobs. International companies or branch offices of foreign businesses are among the top employers for expats working in Abu Dhabi.

The Economic Climate

Foreigners working in Abu Dhabi enjoy the benefits of the growing economy in the one of the wealthiest emirates in the UAE and strongest contributor to the UAE’s total GDP.

The economy relies mostly on income from natural resources like petroleum, with the petro-chemical industry offering plenty of employment options for those working in Abu Dhabi. It owns 95% of the UAE’s oil production. At the same time, the importance of newly emerging sectors such as real estate, business services, construction, and tourism is increasing.

To boost the tourism sector and create new job opportunities, hotels and entertainment facilities offer visitors all kinds of luxuries. A branch of France’s Louvre, a Ferrari theme park, and numerous shopping malls do not only provide an additional source of income but are also major leisure-time attractions for foreigners working in Abu Dhabi.

Expat Employment in Abu Dhabi

In the past few years, many large corporations and international companies have relocated their business to Abu Dhabi. Expats with specialized knowledge and good language skills often find work with these companies.

However, thorough research is a necessary prerequisite for working in Abu Dhabi. Embassies and consulates can provide further information and advice to prepare you for your job search abroad. As both Arabic and English are spoken in business, expats need to be fluent in at least one of these languages beforehand.

Looking for a Job

A good place to start is the job site of the government of Abu Dhabi, where companies can recruit employees. If you are hoping to work in Abu Dhabi, you can also make use of this resource to find open positions in the emirate and conduct a comprehensive job search.

In addition to that, different government entities advertise open positions directly on their websites. The Ministry of Presidential Affairs’ website offers an e-recruitment service (in Arabic) for submitting applications.

If you feel that your Arabic is not sufficient to use this system can apply the old-fashioned way and turn in their CV and application documents (passport, family book, academic and educational certificates, work experience) at the local Reception Office.

Recruitment Agencies

Private recruitment agencies in Abu Dhabi which specialize in recruiting international personnel are an alternative to the traditional job search. Here, applicants submit their documents via email and will be contacted for an interview when the agency has found a suitable job opening. The recruitment agency charges companies a fee for the successful placement of a candidate. For applicants, however, the service should be free of charge.

Unfortunately, some agencies take the unprofessional route and try to make some extra cash on the back of those eager to work in the number one expatriate destination in the world. Therefore it is important to be alert if a recruitment agency tries to collect additional fees. You should report this agency to the labor department immediately.

Working Conditions in Abu Dhabi

Labor Laws

To become a long-term resident, expats need to make sure that they will be working in Abu Dhabi throughout their stay. Employment in general and the relationship between employer and employee in particular are regulated by the Ministry of Labor in Abu Dhabi.

The details of all occupations are based on the UAE Labour Law of 1980, which clearly states the duties and responsibilities of employers and employees including details on holidays, worker’s compensation, and employment contracts. According to this law, UAE nationals have the right to work. Only if UAE nationals are not suitable or unavailable for a certain position may a company hire foreign workers. In this case, the employer has to prefer Arab nationals over applicants of other nationalities.

All in all, about 85% of the overall labor force in the UAE are expats or migrant workers. This shows that, despite preferential treatment of UAE nationals under the “Emiratisation” measures by the government, Abu Dhabi is open to welcoming foreign residents to its workforce.

Contract and Duration

The Ministry of Labor issues and attests every employment contract in Abu Dhabi. These contracts have to be written and submitted in Arabic or English and abide by the UAE Labor Law. The Ministry of Labor keeps a copy of each employment contract to refer to in case of employment disputes or redundancy. Employer and employee can always review their contract details online if disagreements arise.

It is common to include a probation period in the contract. It should be between three to six months and cannot be extended. During this time period, both employer and employee have the right to end the employment without prior notice. If an employee is dismissed during their probation period, they are not entitled to redundancy benefits. For expats, this situation is an especially problematic one, as loss of employment automatically leads to a loss of their residence permit.

Some expats enter the country on a spousal visa, with their spouse functioning as their sponsor. In this case, they will need a No-Objection Certificate from him or her before they can sign an employment contract. Only then can their employer take care of further paperwork and provide them with a labor card.

Further Advice

Although it may seem unnecessary to give this kind of advice, expats should be aware that their employment contract is a legally binding document, even if it is signed on the spot. Unfortunately, not every employer is interested in fair play. Rushing into an employment in order to secure a work visa can result in a rude awakening. It is therefore important to use the probation period mentioned above to make sure that one has not fallen victim to foul play.

If you are not fluent in Arabic, you may receive an English translation of your work contract. Make sure that the English translation is congruent with the Arabic original. In case of a legal dispute, the Arabic version of their contract will be the one the Ministry of Labor refers to.

Language and Religion

Abu Dhabi is famous for the diversity of its international workforce. That is why English is commonly spoken at the work place, together with Arabic, the UAE’s official language. However, legal documents must be written or translated into Arabic, including university diplomas or marriage certificates, before submitting them to official government agencies.

Any official translation centre in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere can translate such documents. They also have to be verified by the expat’s embassy and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The official religion of the UAE is Islam. However, Abu Dhabi does allow the practice of other faiths. The influence of Islam is still prevalent in social and in professional contexts. That is why non-Muslim expats have to show special sensitivity when they are doing business in Abu Dhabi in order not to violate any rules or upset their business partners and colleagues.

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  • Antoine Mariaux

    Thanks to InterNations, I've received very useful tips about the Emirates and expat life in Abu Dhabi.

  • Maria Loura

    The idea to connect expatriates in Abu Dhabi is just fantastic! Have been looking for such a platform for a long time.

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