Working in the United Arab Emirates
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is still facing some economic challenges, particularly in relation to fluctuating oil prices and global oversupply, the situation is improving.
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, as well as a move to create more opportunities for nationals.
The best opportunities are likely to be in non-oil and non-financial industries such as ICT, fast-moving consumer goods and the retail sector. The majority of jobs are likely to be found in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
As you will need an employer to sponsor you to work in UAE, you may want to find work with an international company with offices in the UAE in the first instance.
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, handicrafts, textiles.
- Recent growth areas: tourism, air transport, international trade, financial services, manufacturing and alternative energy.
- Major companies: DHL, du - Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co, Emaar Properties Co, EMC, Emirates NBD, FedEx, Hilti Emirates, Marriott, Omnicom Media Group MENA, THE One, Weber Shandwick.
What’s it like working in the United Arab Emirates?
- Average working hours: 8 hours a day, 48 hours a week. The working week is Sunday to Thursday, although Friday is the only official day off. Working hours are reduced by 2 hours during Ramadan.
- Holidays: annual leave is usually 22 working days. There are seven official holidays, including Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), which lasts two days, and Eid al-Adha, which lasts three days, making a total of ten days.
- Tax rates: individuals pay no income tax in the UAE, although there may be taxes on some services and goods, municipal taxes and customs duties in some Emirates. The UAE is considering levying Value Added Tax (VAT) from January 2018 at a rate of 5%. 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.
Applying for jobs
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. It's not illegal to advertise for a specific gender, age or nationality.
You should generally try and secure employment before travelling to the UAE. Speculative visits may be successful but usually depend on having good networks in the country. Find out about the big players in your chosen career area and where they're located.
Chronological, functional and combined CV formats are acceptable in the UAE. Make sure you include a photograph with your CV and bring your academic certificates to interviews. You'll need to include a short cover letter with your CV, explaining why you're suitable for the job.
You will need to undergo a medical (which usually includes an HIV test) before you receive a final job offer.
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.
- Akhtaboot (jobs in the Middle East)
- HigherEdjobs (jobs in academia)
- Monster Gulf
An internet search will bring up a range of recruitment agencies operating in the United Arab Emirates. You can also use the UAE Yellow Pages to search for employment agencies. You should not be charged any money for using their services.
Make use of any contacts you have in the UAE to help with job seeking and access to companies.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
It is currently difficult to find traineeships or work experience as the government is keen to help local people find employment. However, there may be opportunities available via AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales), which provides opportunities for students and recent graduates to undertake a paid international internship in a range of countries, including the UAE.
IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) provides science, engineering, technology and applied arts undergraduates with the opportunity to take part in exchange programmes. These typically last up to 12 weeks during summer. The University of Sharjah is a member of the IAESTE network.
It is general practice for individuals to be trained up in their own countries and then apply for jobs in English-speaking schools based in the UAE. There are few opportunities available in state schools but there may be jobs in private and international schools. There are also opportunities to teach adult classes and business schools, as well as offering private tuition to families and business learners. Jobs teaching English are advertised in local papers and on expat websites.
There are also opportunities to work for the British Council teaching English in UAE. You'll need a CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL qualification and at least two years' post-qualification experience of teaching English to adults and/or young learners to be considered.
Temporary and casual work
There are fixed-term contracts available (often a year long) in areas such as construction, shipbuilding and the oil industry. However, these contracts are usually offered before you enter the country and it can be difficult to find one once you've arrived. Contracts are often for completion of a particular project.
These short-term contracts mean that there are very few opportunities for casual or temporary work and it's not generally a good idea to travel to the UAE hoping to find casual work. However, you may be able to find work in areas such as retail, restaurants and office administration as part of a gap year before moving on to other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
Do you need a visa?
British citizens don't need a visa for entry into the UAE before travelling. On arrival you can get a free 30-day visa, which you can extend for a further 30 days by visiting an immigration office and paying an extension fee three days prior to the expiry date. Before travelling you must check that your passport is valid for at least six months from the date of entry into the UAE.
If you want to work in the UAE, you'll need to be sponsored by an employer. Once you've received a job offer, your employer will apply for a residency visa on your behalf, which enables you to stay in the UAE for up to three years. You will then be able to obtain a work permit issued by the Ministry of Labour. Your employer will usually incur the cost of the application. In order to get a residency visa, you'll need to pass a health check. Individuals testing positive for HIV or hepatitis will be deported.
If you've entered on a visit visa and want to work in the UAE, you can apply for a three-month probationary work permit from the Ministry of Labour. You can't work without this permit and you may be jailed or fined and deported if you do.
Before leaving the UAE permanently, make sure you cancel your work visa or you may be arrested if you return as an absconder.
If you're 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?
It is very uncommon for non-nationals to be granted citizenship of the UAE.
Living in the United Arab Emirates
- Cost of living: the cost of living is generally quite high, particularly in Abu Dhabi. Rent can be particularly expensive. Other major expenses include hiring or buying a car and school fees (if you have children).
- Internet domain: .ae
- Currency: Arab Emirates Dirham (AED)
- Health: the standard of healthcare is generally comparable to the UK. Emergency hospital treatment is usually free but follow up treatment may be expensive. Make sure you have travel insurance (or the means of paying for any medical fees) or you may not be allowed to access services.
- Type of government: constitutional federation of seven emirates. The ruler of Abu Dhabi is the president and head of state and the ruler of Dubai is the prime minister and head of government.
- Laws and customs: make sure that you respect local laws and customs as there can be severe penalties for breaking these. There is zero tolerance toward drugs. Relationships outside of marriage are illegal, as is homosexual sex and same sex marriage. 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 a serious offence. Electronic cigarettes are illegal. Women should dress modestly when in public areas such as shopping centres. 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.
- Emergency numbers: 999 (police and, if needed, helicopter ambulance); 998 (ambulance); 997 (fire).
- People: 19% native Emirati; 23% other Arab and Iranian; 50% South Asian; 8% other expatriates including Westerners and East Asians.
- Major religion: Islam