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Working in Dubai

Find out how to get a job and work in Dubai

Expats working in Dubai make up roughly 80% of the emirate’s population. Want to join their ranks? Then make sure to get a good idea of what Dubai’s business world is like! Our InterNations GO! article on working in Dubai can help you with info on the economy, job search, and a lot more.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats, we understand what you need, and offer the the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us today to jump start your move, and begin the preparations with our free relocation checklist.

Employment in Dubai

  • Local businesses often prefer to hire UAE nationals so look into international corporations.
  • New laws, such as the laws introduced in 2016 which outline contract regulations, inform expats of their working rights and protect them.
  • Free Trade Zones give international businesses 100% ownership.

Dubai has more than recovered from the financial crisis of 2009. The property and construction sector went into decline, but the tourism, retail, and trade sectors remained decent. To re-stabilize the local economy, the Dubai government kept up attempts to make the emirate an attractive location for its citizens, international businesses, and expats working in Dubai, and now the economy’s stronger than ever. In 2020, it will host the World Expo and there was uncertainty over the economic value of the event. In total, it is estimated to cost Dubai around 7 billion USD but the opportunity has proved itself to be invaluable for Dubai’s infrastructure projects. This will include the construction of a new district, in the area now separating Dubai from its neighbor Abu Dhabi. Though Dubai seems to have come out the other side of the financial crisis slump, there are signs to the contrary with rising living costs and an overheating property market.

Dubai also lets you experience a multicultural, yet traditional society with over 200 nationalities living side by side. Those who are interested in working in Dubai will find not only a close-knit expatriate community but also employment opportunities and tax-free salaries.

Dubai’s Thriving Economy

Dubai’s economy has grown significantly in the past 10 years, creating new job opportunities for people working in Dubai. Small and medium-sized businesses in particular receive a lot of support from the government. Dubai’s ideal location between the European and Asian markets offers particular advantages.

While in the past, Dubai’s biggest source of income used to be exports of oil and gas, the government is now making efforts to become more independent from this sector, investing in a variety of industries and services. The tourist industry in particular has experienced a huge boost in the recent years as new jobs for Emiratis and foreigners working in Dubai have been created. Many expats have found positions in trade or the service sector, especially in finance.

Dubai’s free trade zones attract investments from abroad. In these areas, the laws concerning ownership have been slightly changed. While in the rest of Dubai at least 51% of all businesses have to be under Emirati ownership, in the free trade zones, 100% of business ownership can be in foreign hands. Expats working in Dubai are often employed by international companies in the free trade zones, falling under a different set of labor laws than their UAE colleagues.

Finding a Job in Dubai: Sponsors and Agencies

You need a sponsor in order to receive a work permit. This sponsor can be a company or an individual assisting them with their paperwork. For most international employees, their company is their sponsor.

Expats in Dubai are often working on a certain project or in an UAE branch office. Those who come to Dubai looking for work on their own may stand a good chance of finding the right job by checking the classifieds section in local newspapers.

Contacting recruitment agencies is another possibility when it comes to looking for a job in Dubai. However, it is important to make sure that you choose registered agencies which do not overcharge their clients. As an individual, you should not have to pay any fee, and companies are only charged in case of a successful placement.


The disadvantage of working in Dubai for an Emirati company (or one outside the free trade zones) is that your job may fall prey to “Emiratisation”. Emirati nationals are placed in professional and leadership positions for important projects, a measure supported by the government to increase the number of UAE nationals in top positions.

In the course of Emiratisation, expats may be entirely replaced by Emiratis and hence lose their jobs (and their visa with it). Therefore, expats will probably have more luck finding steady employment in international or globalized companies when working in Dubai.

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Jobs and Free Trade Zones in Dubai

Public Sector Jobs

Despite its Emiratisation measures as well as investments in jobs for local citizens, Dubai’s government prides itself on welcoming expats from all over the world. Those with the right qualifications can find work in the private, semi-private or government sectors, enjoy tax-free salaries and often successful careers.

The government indeed offers job positions for skilled expats. Their online job portal lists all vacancies for work in the government sector. Expats can even apply online. However, even though this may seem like an attractive alternative to working in the private sector (provided you have very good Arabic skills), government jobs can also be subject to Emiratisation.

Know Your Rights

To regulate labor relations between employer and employee, Dubai follows the UAE federal law no. 8 of 1980. Every now and then, the regulations of this law are expanded with cabinet decisions and ministerial announcements.

In 2006, for instance, Dubai saw the implementation of a landmark HR measure, regulating code of conduct, work environment, recruitment and employment policies as well as compensation and benefits. Another ordinance, which was issued in 2011 by the Ministry of Labor, limits the establishment of private employment agencies to UAE citizens. Only if every partner and signatory is an Emirati is the agency eligible to receive all the necessary licenses. Then at the beginning of 2016, new laws were introduced to ensure all contracts followed the same guidelines and principles.

Hence it is essential for foreign businesses and expats alike to keep themselves informed. New ordinances and regulations may very well affect them and their life in Dubai.

Dubai’s Free Trade Zones: Expat Heaven

The free trading zones in Dubai function as neutral areas, where foreigners may work, trade or establish their business under more relaxed laws than those which apply in the rest of the UAE. These free zones are, of course, one of the main reasons why many foreign companies view Dubai as the right place to invest and open their branch office.

Each of the free zones in Dubai is run by an independent free zone authority (FZA), which issues operating licenses and assists companies with establishing their business. Foreign investors can register their company as a Free Zone Establishment (FZE) or open a branch or representative office instead. FZEs are run as limited liability companies and are subject to the rules and regulations of their respective free zone.

For foreign companies, there are many advantages to setting up their business in these free trade zones:

  • 100% foreign ownership
  • 100% import and export tax exemptions
  • no corporate taxes for 15 years
  • no personal income taxes
  • assistance with recruitment, sponsorship, and housing

Local Free Zones

There are free trade zones all over the UAE, most of them in Dubai. The Jebel Ali is the most famous and, having been established in 1980, also the oldest free trade zone. With its international port (the biggest man-made one in the world) and its giant international airport Al Maktoum, the Jebel Ali free zone is one of Dubai’s economic assets.

Other free trade zones and business parks include:

  • Dubai Airport Free Zone
  • Dubai Biotechnology & Research Park
  • Dubai Gold and Diamond Park
  • Dubai Healthcare City
  • Dubai International Financial Centre
  • Dubai Internet City
  • Dubai Knowledge Village
  • Dubai World Central
  • Dubai Maritime City
  • Dubai Media City
  • Dubai Outsource Zone
  • Dubai Silicon Oasis
  • Dubai Studio City
  • International Media Production Zone

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: December 06, 2018

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