Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in the UAE
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- Peter B. Krehmer
There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together.
Before the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the UAE job market was driven primarily by nomadic farming, fishing, pearling, and seafaring. Since the discovery of oil, the UAE has seen rapid progression and growth, putting its hyper modernity on par with countries such as Japan and Singapore. Unfortunately, when the 2009 global financial crisis hit, the UAE was one of the highest-profile victims.
Although the UAE job market bounced back from the 2009 recession, once again solidifying itself as a lucrative expat haven, recently it is seeing yet another slight decline as oil prices drop and its real estate market softens. Expats wondering how to find a job in the UAE are no longer swamped with opportunities. Instead, expats will find job vacancies more competitive and often the position being awarded to the lowest bidder. However, the average salary in the UAE is still a couple thousand USD a month, leaving expats with plenty to enjoy a comfortable, desert lifestyle.
The UAE is a Muslim country and strictly adheres to the teachings of Islam. Because of this, working days are Sunday to Thursday in observance of the Muslim holy day: Friday. The average work week is also between 47 and 48 hours, rather than the standard 40 that some expats may be used to.
As you prepare for your relocation, use this guide as a resource to answer all your questions about working in the UAE. We cover topics such as maternity leave, working as a self-employed expat, and social security, so that you can learn all you need to make your move seamlessly and stress-free.
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How to Get a Job in the UAE as a Foreigner
If you want to know how to get a job in the UAE as a foreigner, the answer will both please and disappoint. On the one hand, expatriates make up 84% of the UAE’s 9.2 million population, so hiring foreigners is a common practice. On the other hand, dropping oil prices have forced companies in the desert country to slash salaries and cut many positions. This means the once luxurious expat lifestyle is becoming increasingly more competitive and harder to come by.
Despite this downward decline, the UAE job market is predicted to rise slightly in 2019 with certain job sectors, such as advisory and legal, expected to rise by 10 to 15%.
How to Apply for a Job in the UAE
With a slowing job market and increasing competition for jobs, making yourself standout as an employee in the UAE is more crucial than ever. According to expats who have been living in the UAE for years, “it’s an employer’s market.” The UAE is an attractive destination for expats around the globe. Because of this, employers know they can be very selective when hiring candidates.
So how do you apply for a job in the UAE and make yourself standout?
Start by crafting a top-notch resume. Know that you may be competing with thousands of other applicants for just one position. It is important to have a resume that is polished, concise, and highlights your best assets.
A UAE-style CV is similar to most standard western CVs: a brief bio of yourself and your relevant work and education experience. Where UAE-style CVs differ is that many companies may also want you to include the following:
In such a competitive and progressive job market, the best way to search for a job in the UAE is online.
Some of the best sites are:
- Efinancial Careers
- Gulf News Careers
- Khaleej Times Jobs
Online Job Fairs
The UAE hosts several job fairs. These fairs provide job seekers with the opportunity to meet organizations face-to-face and learn about job vacancies within. Job fairs also offer networking opportunity for jobseekers.
Popular job fairs are:
- eFair (online job fair in Abu Dhabi)
- Careers UAE
- Fujairah International Career and Education Fair
- National Career Exhibition
Online and print publications often post job vacancies in their classifieds section. You can find these publications in Arabic and English.
- Khaleej Times
Companies in the UAE will often post job vacancies only on their own personal website. If there is a company you are particularly interested in working for, go to their website and see if there is a Jobs or Career section. Do not be afraid to contact hiring managers directly, but also do not be surprised if you do not get a response.
In Dubai, many businesses hire through headhunters. With such a competitive job market, this creates less hassle for companies and helps them narrow down candidates to only the best ones.
Working with an agency is a common way to get a job in the UAE. Some of the best reviewed agencies include
- Jivaro Partners: marketing and communications jobs;
- ESP International: conferences, events, and hospitality jobs;
- MCG & Associates: PR, publishing, marketing, and communications jobs;
- Robbert Murray: development, construction, engineering, and public sector jobs;
- BAC Middle East: engineering, marketing, and management jobs.
If you decide to use an agency, look for companies that take a commission from the employer end, not from you. Be wary of recruiters that collect high fees from job-seekers as these tend to be scams.
Just like your CV, it is important to make yourself standout during the interview process in the UAE. Companies know they can afford to be selective, so the interview is your opportunity to make the best impression possible.
- Do your research beforehand. It is important to know about the company and position you are interviewing for.
- If going in person for an interview, be sure to look into the company culture so that you dress accordingly. The UAE is a conservative country so expats, especially women, should keep this in mind when dressing for the interview. Dubai is more liberal than the other emirates, but dressing modestly is still advisable.
- Because of the strict adherence to Islamic culture throughout the UAE, relations between men and women can be tricky for expats to navigate. If you are an expat woman interviewing with an Emirati man, or an expat man interviewing with an Emirati woman, wait for them to extend their hand for a handshake. If you are able to handshake, always use your right hand as using the left can be considered an insult.
Networking is an important part of business culture in the UAE, especially in the epicenters of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Networking in the Gulf country is similar to networking anywhere else in the world, but with a few minor alterations to compensate for the Islamic culture.
- The Handshake: Just like during the interview process, if you are introduced to an Emirati national of the opposite gender, wait for them to extend their hand for a handshake. It is especially crucial that an expat man not touch a Muslim woman without her consent as doing so is taboo and could cause great offense to not only the Muslim woman, but nearby Emirati nationals.
- Business Cards: Handing out business cards in the UAE is common practice. Be sure to always have a stash on you. Only hand them out using your right hand. Using your left is seen as an insult.
- Senior Level Connections: Many enterprises in the Middle East are considered “top-down,” meaning those in senior positions hold a tremendous amount of sway and respect. Keep this in mind if you meet anyone in a senior/leadership position. Even if you meet someone whose senior position is not in your desired department, the connection could prove beneficial.
- Dress: Even though the emirate state of Dubai is considered ultra-modern and contains more expats than Emirati nationals, it is still a conservative city-state. Keep this in mind when dressing for business networking events. Always dress modestly, professional, and stick to subdued colors. You can read more about dress code expectations in our Living section.
- Arabic: Expats would be wise to learn a few Arabic words and phrases. This is seen as a sign of respect towards the Arab nation.
General Tips for Landing a Job in the UAE (as per the UAE Government Website)
- Start with an impressive cover letter and an honest CV.
- Keep your CV updated.
- Be diligent and regular in searching—do not give up mid-way.
- Check for the email ID from which you receive job offers. It should reflect the domain name of the organization.
- Do not pay. If the hiring company or the agency asks you for money to process the visa or medical test, it is not a genuine company.
- Learn Arabic. Knowledge of Arabic (at least speaking) would be an advantage.
- Keep yourself updated about your field of work.
- Be realistic about your earning potential.
- Grow your network.
- Increase your general knowledge about the region and its social and cultural value system.
The last point is especially crucial. Keep in mind that although the UAE is known for extreme modernity and innovation, it is still a conservative country dictated by religion. Expats would be wise to learn the customs and traditions associated with Islam so as to avoid any grievous faux pas.
Requirements for Working in the UAE
Working in the UAE as a foreigner requires you to have a residence visa and a work permit. The work permit will be listed in your residence visa. You will also need to pass a mandatory medical exam upon your arrival in the UAE. Failing the medical exam will result in deportation.
It is illegal to work in the UAE while on a tourist visa. If you arrive in the UAE and get a job during your visit, your company will need to change the status of your visa before you can begin work. Working while on a tourist visa is a serious offense that can result in jail time or a fine and deportation.
For more on visa requirements, see our Visa and Work Permits page.
Job Opportunities in the UAE for Foreigners
While salaries and job opportunities in the UAE may be dropping slightly, the desert country is still one of the Top 10 relocation destinations for expats. There are many jobs for foreigners to apply to. Just be aware that you will not be alone.
There are some professions in the UAE that can only be obtained by an Emirati national. One such profession is a lawyer who must appear before a judge and carry out a defense.
Minimum Wage and Average Salary
The average salary across each emirate is fairly high and made to feel even higher because of the absence of an income tax. Unlike most other countries, the salary that employees are quoted when interviewing for a job is the full amount that they will take home. There is no minimum wage, but companies are required to pay employees a wage suitable enough to cover the basic needs in each emirate.
What is a Good Salary in the UAE?
In Dubai, the minimum salary a family of four can live on comfortably is 15,000 AED per month (4,083 USD). Given the UAE’s recent downward trajectory of decreasing salaries, it may be difficult to obtain the exorbitant pay the UAE is usually known for. However, those with at least a university degree should expect to receive a minimum salary of at least 12,000 AED per month (3,270 USD).
In 2019, UAE salaries are expected to rise between 2.5 and 4.5%.
Average Annual Salary by Job Title
Accountant 136,7120 AED 37,220 USD Architecture 180,110 AED 49,030 USD Nurse 166,220 AED 45,250 USD Teacher 162,170 AED 44,150 USD UX Designer 133,100 AED 36,240 USD Web Developer 178,990 AED 48,730 USD
Average Annual Salary by Job Sector
Banking 227,640 AED 61,970 USD Engineering 179,110 AED 48,760 USD Marketing 235,900 AED 64,220 USD Human Resources 205,280 AED 55,890 USD IT 194,890 AED 53,060 USD Legal 221,230 AED 60,230 USD Executive and Management 273,140 AED 74,360 USD
As of April 2019, these are the most in-demand jobs and how much they pay monthly, on average:
Banking 227,640 AED 61,970 USD Finance 60,000 AED 16,335 USD IT 42,500 AED 11,570 USD Legal 45,000 AED 12,250 USD Marketing 178,660 AED 48,640 USD Sales 55,000 AED 14,970 USD
When looking at the chart below, keep in mind that Dubai is the most expensive emirate in the UAE. Abu Dhabi is a close second. However, when it comes to the average salaries of these two emirates, the numbers do not fluctuate too greatly and favor Abu Dhabi.
Position Average Salary in Dubai Average Salary in Abu Dhabi Engineer 211,290 AED (57,520 USD) 249,220 AED (67,850 USD) Human Resources Manager 371,520 AED (101,140 USD) 551,000 AED (150,000 USD) General Manager 500,000 AED (136,120 USD) 324,000 AED (88,200 USD) Project Manager 500,000 AED (136,120 USD) 320,000 AED (87,120 USD)
The UAE makes self-employment easy. Expats need only to register themselves in one of the free zones that allow self-employment/freelance visas. See our Visa and Work Permits section for more details.
Once expats have met the necessary steps to secure a self-employment visa they can start working.
How to be Self-Employed in the UAE
Once expats have secured their residence visa and work permit, they can start work within one of the prescribed free zones. No matter if you choose to be self-employed in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, these are the general steps you will need to take to become fully self-employed:
Step One: Apply to a Free Zone
You will have to apply to work in one of the free zones. Your application should contain:
- Your passport
- A CV listing your relevant qualifications
- Typed business plan
- No Objection Certificate illustrating your visa change from a residence visa to a freelance visa
- A bank statement demonstrating adequate funds
Step Two: Obtain a Freelance License
In order to freelance in the UAE, you must also obtain a freelance license. You will apply for one within the same free zone where you intend to work.
The steps to procure a license are as follows:
- Submit an application
- You will receive a customer confirmation letter. This must be signed and returned.
- Pay all required clearance payments
- Collect a certificate, which will be approved by the free zone
The license should only take 7–10 days to issue.
How to Find Freelance Work in the UAE
As a freelance in the UAE, the best way to find work is online. As such a high-tech and progressive country, most of the UAE’s job force communicate via the web.
Freelancing expats in the UAE find these to be the most useful sites for job postings and general advice:
In Dubai, only two sectors allow freelancing: education and media-related sectors. This means actors, screenwriters, journalists, public relations managers, education advisors, researchers, and other related fields are able to be their own boss within certain free zones. You can search through the database of free zones to find the one that is right for you.
Top Self-Employed Jobs in the UAE
- web development and designing
- writing and copywriting
- creative design
- sales and marketing
- graphics designing
- mobile app development
- search engine optimization (SEO), Search engine marketing (SEM)
- 3D modeling and computer-aided design (CAD)
- translation and interpretation
- legal services
Self-Employed Benefits in the UAE
While being self-employed has many obvious benefits, such as a more flexible schedule and creative liberty, in the UAE self-employment is becoming especially lucrative. It is cheaper for UAE companies to higher freelancers rather than employ full-time, salaried workers. Because of this, many UAE companies are turning to freelancers to fill in work gaps.
Dubai, in particular, is encouraging self-employment and seeking out freelancers who will help contribute to the economy and ever-growing business sector. Abu Dhabi announced at the beginning of 2019 that freelancers will be exempt from paying for business licenses for at least two years.
Expat freelancers looking to call the UAE home should have no problem finding ample work opportunities.
For more on what it is like to be self-employed in the UAE, see our Visa and Work Permits section.
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UAE business culture is much like everything else in the country: a blend of modern and traditional. Still a relatively young business market, the UAE is known for hyper-progressive business plans, while still adhering to the rules and cultural norms of Islam. Expats should familiarize themselves with the customs of Islam, and how that pertains to workplace culture and dress code, so as not to offend any of their Emirati business partners.
The dress code in the UAE can be summarized with one word: modest. Even in the UAE’s most liberal emirate, Dubai, expats should dress modestly for work, business meetings, and all business-related events. Men should expect to wear a suit and tie within most business sectors. Women will wear either a pantsuit or a skirt that falls below their knees. Women should be conscious to not have bare shoulders at work, nor low-cut tops. Non-Muslim women are not expected to wear a headscarf unless visiting a religious building or site.
Men and women should also avoid bright, flashy colors. Keep in mind that if an Emirati national deems your wardrobe inappropriate they will probably say something. If this happens to you, simply apologize and wear something more modest.
When you greet your colleagues, you should start by greeting the most senior person first. The UAE is a “top-down” culture and to greet the most senior person first is a sign of respect. Avoid touching others of the opposite sex unless they put out their hand for a handshake. Keep in mind that in Islam, unmarried men and women cannot touch so do not be surprised if Emirati business partners do not initiate this. Expat men should be especially conscious of unconsented contact with a Muslim woman.
Business cards are commonplace in the UAE. People distribute and receive them often. It is polite to have one side of your business card in English and the other side in Arabic.
Be careful about asking too many personal questions of your Emirati colleagues, especially as it pertains to female family members. Western expats may think nothing about inquiring about the well-being of a coworker’s wife, but, in Muslim culture, this can be seen as incredibly invasive.
Status is also important when talking to colleagues. Be sure to use correct titles when speaking to Emirati business partners. For example, Sheikh (chief) for a man or Sheikha for a woman; Sayed (Mr.), Sayeda (Mrs.). Arabs generally address people by their first names. If you have a coworker named John Smith, you will refer to him as Mr. John rather than Mr. Smith.
Business Meetings and Negotiations
If you need to criticize or correct someone in a meeting, do not do it in front of a group. Instead, pull that person aside after the meeting and have a private face-to-face talk. Make sure you are not accusatory. Causing someone to lose face in the UAE is considered extremely rude.
Also, be aware that Middle Eastern culture is generally very relaxed. Do not expect meetings to begin on time. However, as the foreigner, you should always be punctual. Also be aware that verbal agreements are often more common, and more strictly adhered to, than written contracts.
Because observant Muslims do not drink alcohol, alcoholic drinks are rare throughout the UAE. You can find drinks at most hotels, but not in many local restaurants. Chances are high that your Emirati coworkers will not drink and, when you are in a business situation, you should not either. Getting drunk is especially verboten and can result in jail time.
Always take food or drink that is offered to you. It is seen as rude to refuse. Likewise, when accepting or offering food or drink, always do so with your right hand as the left is seen as unclean.
Like alcohol, do not consume pork products in front of Muslim colleagues.
In accordance with Islam, the working week is generally Sunday to Thursday as Friday is the Islamic day of worship. People in the UAE also work 47–48 hours per week and normal workday hours range anywhere from 7:30 to 21:00 While this may seem grueling to expats used to 40 hour work weeks, you will be happy to note that you will receive about 30 calendar days of leaves, which accounts for vacation and sick days. All public holidays are paid and do not account for an employee’s time off.
Social Security and Benefits
A UAE social security number is only applicable to Emirati nationals. Some expats working in the UAE for a long time can often be entitled to a lump sum payment at the end of their contract, acting like a social security package, but this is not the same as social security. Because expats cannot take advantage of the free public healthcare, they do not benefit from social security.
Expats were only recently allowed to become permanent Emirati citizens with the release of the new Gold Visa. It is not yet known whether this will change the status of expats and social security. You can read more about the Gold Visa in our Visa and Work Permits section.
Maternity and Paternity Leave
Maternity leave in the UAE fluctuates depending on what emirate you reside in. For the most part, women should receive 30–60 days of maternity leave plus reduced hours for nursing once they resume work.
How Long is Maternity Leave in the UAE
Maternity leave is a federal law in the UAE. Women in a permanent, full-time position will receive at least 60 days paid maternity leave. Extra days are dependent on the emirate and the employer.
Women receive full-paid maternity leave for 60–90 days depending on their company. New mothers can also add their own paid leave allowance to these allotted days for a total of 120 days of paid maternity leave.
Women are entitled to three months of fully paid maternity leave.
New mothers are allowed 90 days of paid maternity leave and 30 days of unpaid leave.
When new mothers return to work, they are allowed to reduce their working hours by one to two hours for nursing. Mothers can either arrive to work late or leave early. Nursing hours are reduced during Ramadan.
Depending on the emirate, mothers can enjoy this nursing benefit for six months or up to one year.
- Abu Dhabi: the mother is allowed to reduce her working hours for one full year beginning on the date of her return.
- Dubai: the mother may reduce her hours until the date of her child’s first birthday.
- Sharjah: new mothers are allotted six months of reducing hours beginning on the date of their return.
Paternity Leave and Benefits
UAE federal law mandates that fathers will receive three days of paternity leave during the birth month. This only applies if the child was born in the UAE. Any extra paternity leave is up to the employer, but, on average, most UAE companies stick to the three-day allotment.
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- Peter B. Krehmer
There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together.
- Suzanne Payne
Dubai is such an overwhelming mixture of tradition and modernity that I was very grateful for all the support from other expats.