From work culture and labor laws, to recruiters and fairs, this helpful guide provides everything you need to know about finding a job in the United Arab Emirates.
Finding a job in the United Arab Emirates is a unique proposition. While there may be many similarities to your home country on the surface, it’s important to remember that this is an Islamic country with its own culture and traditions. Being aware of these nuances will make working there much easier.
The guide covers the following topics:
- Work in the United Arab Emirates
- Work culture in the United Arab Emirates
- Labor laws and labor rights in the United Arab Emirates
- Requirements to work in the United Arab Emirates
- Tips for finding a job in the United Arab Emirates
- Self-employment and freelancing in the United Arab Emirates
- Traineeships, internships, and volunteering in the UAE
- Applying for a job in the United Arab Emirates
- Support while looking for a job in the United Arab Emirates
- Starting a job in the United Arab Emirates
- Useful resources
Work in the United Arab Emirates
The job market in the United Arab Emirates
The UAE has experienced significant growth over the last decade, therefore there are plenty of work opportunities to be found. In fact, at just 0.5%, Dubai has the world’s lowest unemployment rate in the world. Most residents are employed in just a few sectors, including IT, finance, petroleum and petrochemicals, construction and tourism. More recently, startups and fintech companies have flourished. Many of the world’s biggest companies – in various sectors – have offices in the UAE, including DHL, Microsoft, Omnicom, Hilton and Marriott Hotels, BP Shell, Standard Charted, and HSBC.
Job vacancies in the United Arab Emirates
Given its rapid growth and the government’s focus on building a truly 21st-century country that looks to the future, it should come as no surprise that the industries currently recruiting in the UAE include IT, finance, property, energy, and tourism. Candidates with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills are highly sought after; those with accountancy training, who can help manage the financial and business side of things, are also in demand. With the recent introduction of VAT in the UAE, tax specialists are greatly in demand at the moment.
Salaries in the United Arab Emirates
Salaries can vary wildly in the UAE, as they are greatly dependent on a range of factors; some of them very arbitrary. Generally speaking, the more qualifications and experience you have, the higher your salary will be. That said, you will need to master the art of negotiation; the right salary and benefits package will largely depend on your ability to talk your way into it.
It’s important to bear in mind that there is no minimum wage in the UAE. In the last few years, however, the country has implemented certain rules so that employers can’t pay university graduates less than AED12,000. This means that any offer you receive has room for negotiation.
Average salaries are about on par with those in the EU; also bear in mind you won’t be paying tax, so you will take home everything you earn. Like anywhere else, salaries vary depending on your job; below is a list of some average salaries in the UAE – just remember, though, as an expat, you can generally expect more:
- General Manager: AED 30,500/month;
- Attorney: AED 24,000/month;
- Civil Engineer: AED 15,300/month;
- Architect: AED 15,000/month;
- Developer: AED 15,000/month;
- Accountant: AED 11,300/month
Work culture in the UAE
Your day-to-day work life in the UAE probably won’t differ too much from your home country. You will generally work eight or nine hours a day, five days a week; this is shortened to six or seven hours a day during Ramadan. The main thing to note is that weekends in the UAE are observed on Friday and Saturday, not Saturday and Sunday. In the private sector, you will usually get 30 days paid annual leave after your first year of employment, along with 9 to 11 public holidays.
When it comes to finding a job in the United Arab Emirates, it is important to remember that the culture is likely more conservative than you are used to, and this applies to the workplace, too. Your best bet will be to brush up on cultural norms by asking people in the know.
Remember to dress and act appropriately (i.e. conservatively) and be restrained and polite in your demeanor. Attitudes towards punctuality, however, are a little more laid-back, so don’t bring that “time is money” attitude here.
Labor laws and labor rights in the United Arab Emirates
Expats have it pretty good when it comes to being employed in the UAE. As previously mentioned, you will usually be entitled to at least 30 days of annual leave, plus public holidays. If you do have to work during a day off, you are entitled to have a day in lieu, plus 50% of your daily wage. And if you work on a Friday, you are entitled to full pay.
You won’t be able to take sick leave during your probation period, however afterward, you will have up to 90 days in total, 15 of which will be at full pay and require medical certificates. Women can have a minimum of 45 days of maternity leave at full pay after one year on the job. For up to 18 months after delivery, they are entitled to two 30-minute additional breaks during the day, to nurse their child.
Employment contracts in the UAE come in two forms: two-year renewable or unlimited. Salaries are, of course, the heart of every contract, but most expatriates get a range of other benefits, too. Depending on your company, these may include company housing or a housing allowance, return flights to your home country at least once a year, and education for your children.
As part of your contract, employers are also required to provide medical insurance. You will also have to serve a six-month probation period where either party can terminate the employment without notice. A unique feature of employment in the UAE is gratuity pay. As long as you have been with a company for at least a year, you are entitled to receive a pro-rata portion of your salary when you leave the company.
Requirements to work in the UAE
Work visas in the United Arab Emirates
All foreigners are required to have a visa if they want to work in the UAE. You will need to be sponsored by your employer (or the free zone you will be working in). If you are coming from overseas, you will get a preliminary visa from the Ministry of Human Resource and Emiratisation (MoHRE). You will then have two months on arrival in the UAE to complete formalities like health checks.
You will need to have your qualifications (i.e. university degrees) authenticated by both the UAE embassy and your home country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those in specialist jobs like teaching or nursing may also need to take qualification exams and get a letter of approval from the relevant local competency body.
Language requirements to work in the UAE
English is widely used in the UAE and there are plenty of work prospects for English speakers. A high level of fluency in English will be required for any job. Many employers will also prioritize candidates who speak Arabic, and even a basic knowledge of the language will give you an edge in your job search.
Qualifications to work in the UAE
Jobs split across five skill levels in Dubai, ranging from the top tier of highly specialized professional jobs to low-skilled labor positions. The top three tiers all require qualifications in the UAE, which essentially means you will need a degree to do any type of white-collar professional job there; ranging from medical and legal to marketing and finance.
International qualifications are generally very well received and understood in the Emirates, especially those from schools and universities in the UK. You will usually need to have an equivalency evaluation performed by the Ministry of Education to ensure your qualifications are valid in the UAE.
Tax and social security numbers in the UAE
The UAE does not have a personal income tax, so you won’t have to worry about any tax requirements or social security numbers while you are working there.
Other requirements in work in the UAE
You will need to have health insurance while in the UAE, and it is mandatory for employers to provide this. If you have your family with you, however, you may need to get personal health insurance for them. You will also need a police clearance certificate from wherever you have lived in the five years leading up to your move to the UAE.
There may also be some minor differences in work and visa arrangements between the different emirates (i.e. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah), and the “free zones” like the Dubai Design District and Abu Dhabi Airport Business City.
Tips for finding a job in the United Arab Emirates
Public and private sector jobs in the United Arab Emirates
- A range of federal jobs can be found on the UAE government website
- For government jobs in Abu Dhabi, click here
- For public sector jobs in Dubai, click here
Recruitment agencies in the United Arab Emirates
If you are an experienced professional looking to move to the UAE, it might be easier to go through one of the country’s many recruitment agencies. This is especially true if you are searching for work in the UAE from overseas. The world’s biggest recruitment firms all have offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including Michael Page, Hays, and Robert Half, so it’s worth reaching out to them.
Job fairs and networking in the United Arab Emirates
As with most other countries, getting a job in the UAE can be made much easier if you know the right people. If you are already in the country and looking for work, make it a priority to attend the numerous job fairs so you can meet the right people. By going to things like the National Career Exhibition, Abu Dhabi International Education Recruitment Fair, and DIAC Annual Career Fair, you will be interacting directly with people who have the ability to give you a job. There are also plenty of online job fairs, such as eFair which focuses specifically on Abu Dhabi, and Careers UAE which is a country-wide platform.
Self-employment and freelancing in the UAE
The world at large is seeing a massive turn towards freelancing and the gig economy, and the UAE is no different. However, freelancers are limited to working in very specific industries. Therefore, make sure yours is on the list before you embark – writers, creative designers, and web or app developers should all be fine.
If you are looking to freelance, the first thing you will need to do is apply for a freelance license within the free zone you want to work in. The application will also require a passport copy, resume, bank reference letter, and copies of your qualification; however, you will have your license in less than a month.
As a freelancer, it is also your responsibility to make sure you have the appropriate visa and health insurance lined up. And keep in mind that if your income exceeds AED 375,000/year, you will need to register for VAT. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to hire any employees or sponsor dependents.
Traineeships, internships, and volunteering in the UAE
If you’re not quite ready for full-time work, the UAE may still be a good choice for some professional development; or perhaps a do-gooder career break. Traineeships and internships are, on the surface, quite similar to what you will find anywhere else; the main differences will be cultural. All the big-name companies in the UAE offer some type of internship program, including Google, Accenture, GE, Hyatt, Marriott, and Ernst & Young. The only caveat is that these are usually only open to UAE nationals. If you are eyeing the hospitality, tourism, or retail industries, however, you will usually be able to find short-term traineeships and internships quite easily. Try AIESEC or IAESTE to find something that is right for you.
With so much emphasis on work, volunteering takes a back seat in the UAE – but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. There are plenty of organizations that rely on volunteers to function, including the Emirates Red Crescent, Operation Smile UAE, and the Dubai Volunteer Centre. You can also search for opportunities at volunteers.ae or on the government portal.
Applying for a job in the United Arab Emirates
The hiring process in the UAE is quite similar to what you will find anywhere else. You will send in a CV and cover letter; go through some interviews, perhaps an initial telephone screening with HR, before going in to meet the managers. Then a decision and job offer will be made, and you will negotiate the details of your contract. You can expect the whole process to take about five weeks, on average.
When you are preparing your CV, you will want to make sure it is appropriate for the UAE. You will need to include your photo, nationality, and date of birth along with the usual personal details such as your name, email, phone number, and current location. The CV should be about two pages long and cover your work experience and educational background. Everything is done on a grand scale in the UAE, so don’t be afraid to point out your achievements – just don’t lie. Specify your proficiency in different languages, but remember, you don’t need to give any references at this stage.
When you do meet your potential employer for an interview, remember to prepare properly. Be culturally sensitive – dress and act appropriately – and research the company and its UAE operations. They may ask why you want to be in the country; therefore, think about that and have a good answer prepared. There are no anti-discrimination laws in the UAE, so potential employers may ask you all types of questions.
Support while looking for a job in the United Arab Emirates
There is no social welfare available to expatriate job seekers in the UAE; you will need to be prepared for this. If you are already in the UAE, you will need to be very sure you are capable of supporting yourself financially while looking for a job.
While you are waiting for a job, you can still be productive. If you want to improve your chances of finding a job in the United Arab Emirates, start by improving your language skills; take a course in English or Arabic to make sure you are proficient in the two main languages there. You may also find it useful to improve any skills that may be relevant to your career. For example, if you are in marketing, get certified in SEO marketing, or take a course on leadership; Udemy and Skillshare have a wide range of courses available.
Starting a job in the United Arab Emirates
So you’ve finally found your dream job in Dubai and are ready to head off on your new adventure? Great. Just make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row. Make sure your employer sorts out your work visa before your first day on the job; also, don’t forget to get your police clearance certificates and health screenings. There are no pensions for expats in the UAE, but your company should set up your health insurance.