Working in the United Arab Emirates
What are your chances of getting a job?
More than three-quarters of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) workforce is expatriate, making it a significant employment destination for people with the right skills. However, employers are currently cautious about hiring due to the economic climate, and there is a move to create more opportunities for nationals.
Concerns about dependence on oil and growing inflation mean that diversification is top of the UAE’s agenda for its long-term strategy for success and stability. You may therefore find increasing opportunities in sectors such as tourism and hospitality.
English is the language of business but being able to speak and write Arabic will give you an advantage.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: petroleum and petrochemicals; fishing, aluminium, cement, fertilizers, commercial ship repair, construction materials, some boat building, handicrafts, textiles.
- Recent growth areas: education,healthcare, tourism, hospitality, logistics, export.
- Industries in decline: production/manufacturing, automotive.
- Shortage occupations: healthcare workers.
- Major companies: Microsoft Gulf, Marriott, FedEx Express, THE One, DHL, Ericsson, Omnicom Media Group MENA, Securities and Commodities Authority, Bayt.com, EMC.
What’s it like working in the United Arab Emirates?
- Average working hours: 8 hours, with the working week being from Sunday to Thursday. Many companies operate a two-shift system.
- Holidays: Holiday dates shift each year according to the sighting of the moon. Most employees are entitled to two days’ annual leave per month of service and there are 10 national holidays in UAE, although the exact amount of holiday given depends on whether Eid falls during the working week or on the weekend.
- Tax rates: individuals pay no income tax in UAE and the only corporate tax paid is by foreign banks and oil companies. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Most expats apply for positions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through recruitment agencies, online, or via international companies that have branches there. Applications are made either through an online application form or by CV. Labour laws in the UAE do not prevent companies from outlining the gender, age, and nationality that they want for a particular role. This is not classified as discrimination.
It is recommended that you secure employment before travelling to the UAE. Speculative visits are occasionally successful, but rarely lead to an offer of employment unless you are extremely lucky or have good networks in the country. You will be expected to undergo a medical (which usually includes an HIV test) before you receive a final job offer.
The UAE deals with expats in a fair but controlled way and there are specific jobs available to non-UAE nationals, which are fairly well paid and exempt from tax.
Chronological, functional and combined CV formats are acceptable in the UAE. You should state your nationality, date of birth, email address and whether you hold a driving licence. A personal profile may also be useful on your CV. Attach a covering letter, with a passport photograph and an explanation of why you want the job.
Get more applications and CV advice.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.
- Gulf News – lists job vacancies on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- Khaleej Times – lists vacancies on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.
- Jobseekers should check specialist journals for their professional area. There are local and Middle Eastern publications, as well as those available in the UK.
- Teachers and other education specialists should refer to Times Educational Supplement (TES), Times Higher Education and directly on educational institutions websites.
- The Employer provides job adverts as well as career advice in the UAE.
Your chances of obtaining a job through speculative applications in the UAE are limited; however, it is not unheard of. You may be more successful with this approach if you have specialised postgraduate qualifications and work experience.
Networking can be beneficial, so having a contact in the particular organisation you are applying to is often advantageous.
Work placements and internships
There are few schemes available for providing work experience for international graduates. This is because in order to gain a residency work visa, a company must sponsor you for a minimum of 12 months.
The universities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offer the opportunity for students to take part in exchange programmes.
Check AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) and IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) to see if they have a branch in the location and institution you are interested in.
There are no teaching schemes for international teachers. It is general practice for individuals to be trained up in their own countries and apply for jobs in English-speaking schools based in the UAE.
It is difficult to get casual work due to the visa requirements in the UAE. See the visa section for more details.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
There are limited opportunities for voluntary work in the UAE but openings may be posted on the Idealist website.
Do you need a visa?
Whatever your reason for travelling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the end of your intended stay.
UK citizens do not need to get a visa for entry into the UAE before travelling. You will be issued with a (free) visit visa on arrival, which allows you to stay in the country for 30 days. This can then be extended if required by making an application to the local General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs three days prior to the expiry date. A fee is payable for visa extensions.
If you are not a UK national, contact the United Arab Emirates embassy in the country where you are currently residing about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to the United Arab Emirates Embassy in London.
How do you become a permanent resident?
In order to get a residence permit in the UAE, you will need to have secured a job so that the employer can sponsor you. Once a job offer has been made, the employer completes the residence visa paperwork. The company will then arrange for your visa application to be sent to the airport at the time of your arrival, where they will stamp a residency visa in your passport.
If you are bringing your spouse or any dependants with you to the country, then you will require a family residence visa, which you can only obtain if your monthly salary exceeds Dhs 4,000.
Residence visas are issued for two years and in order for it to be processed, you will need to take a medical test and obtain a health card. Individuals who test positive for AIDS will not be permitted to obtain a residence visa. A health card is issued by the Ministry of Health or at a recognised private hospital.
- Cost of living: the UAE population enjoys a high standard of living, with prices such as rent and food comparable to those in the UK. There is no personal tax in the UAE. Most organisations will offer housing/housing allowance as part of the employment package, as well as private healthcare.
- Internet domain: .ae
- Currency: dirham (abbreviated to Dhs or AED)
- Health: No special immunizations are required. Tetanus inoculations are recommended. All permanent residents undergo an annual medical check for HIV. The sun can be fierce throughout the year so heatstroke and heat exhaustion are a risk.
- Type of government: federation, with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other member emirates.
- Laws and customs: UAE is modern and progressive in many ways and non-Muslim beliefs are often tolerated and accepted, but it is conservative and visitors and expatriates should be respectful and observe local practices. Women still have different rights to men in some instances and open discrimination is accepted in a way that it is not in Western society. In the holy month of Ramadan Muslims do not eat, drink, smoke, play loud music or dance in public, from sunrise to sunset. Non-Muslims should not be seen doing these things in public during daylight. There is zero tolerance toward drugs. It is illegal for unmarried couples to co-habit. It is against the law for Muslims to drink alcohol but non-Muslims can consume it if they obtain a special licence. However, drunkenness is serious offence.
- Emergency numbers: 997 Fire, 998 Ambulance, 999 Police and Helicopter Service
- People: 16.5% native Emirati; 83.5% expatriate, including a high proportion of people from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran, as well as expatriates from Western Europe, Australia and Latin America.
- Major religion: Islam