Working in the United Arab Emirates
Getting a job in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country of contrasts with towering buildings, vast deserts, a large expatriate population and rewarding opportunities for skilled graduates. Sometimes referred to simply as the Emirates, it is is one of the more liberal countries in the region. However, UK graduates going to the UAE to work will need an understanding of its cultural and religious values and how these affect day-to-day life.
Expatriates are sponsored and work is on a contract basis, with tax-free earnings and an end of service gratuity payment when your contract ends.
Where could you work in the UAE?
The UAE's rich natural petrocarbon resources have helped to fund the country's construction boom and growth as a tourist destination. Strategically positioned on the Persian Gulf, the UAE is a major trade hub and one of the world's leading importers and exporters.
The financial crisis of 2008/9 hit the UAE hard, with fluctuating oil prices, a depressed real estate market, banking collapse and a decline in consumer luxury spending. Since then, the country has heavily diversified into banking and finance, trade and commerce, industry, tourism and entertainment. Property prices have since stabilised, bringing a renewed appetite for construction.
Investment in economic diversification has proved very successful. The UAE is one of the largest oil and gas producers in the world, but only 30% of the UAE GDP (gross domestic product, a measure of a country's economic performance) is from petrocarbons.
Major industries: petroleum and petrochemicals; fishing, aluminium, cement, fertilizer, commercial ship repair, construction materials, handicrafts, textiles.
Leading employers include: DHL (logistics), Onnicom Media Group (media), Splash (retail), Hilton Worldwide (hospitality), The One (retail), AstraZeneca Gulf (pharmaceuticals), Weber Shandwick (professional services), 3M (manufacturing), EMC (IT), Estee Lauder (health and beauty) and Dulsco (HR and industrial services).
Over 5,000 British firms operate in the region including BP, Shell, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Mott McDonald, SERCO, Standard Chartered, HSBC and John Lewis.
Skills in demand: recent growth areas include tourism, logistics (particularly air freight), renewable energy, desalination, construction, tech, and finance, with a new demand for tax specialists with the introduction of VAT.
The major languages in the UAE are Arabic (the official language), Persian, English, Urdu and Hindi. With an expatriate workforce from South Asia, Egypt, the Philippines and Western Europe amongst others, English is often the shared language between expat communities.
English is widely used in business, and several of the country's newspapers are published in English.
Are UK qualifications recognised? Many UAE citizens study at UK universities and a number of UK institutions have ties in the region, so employers often have an understanding of UK qualifications.
Contact the British Council in the UAE, who can provide help with verifying your qualifications for local employers.
Teaching English as a foreign language in the UAE
Although English is widely spoken in the UAE, there are openings to teach English as a foreign language if you have a TEFL certificate and for qualified teachers with a PGCE.
English for business, adult classes and private lessons also offer potential opportunities – although these options will be more feasible if you can learn some Arabic.
The British Council in the UAE hires qualified CELTA or TrinityCert TESOL teachers with experience to teach English.
What's it like to work in the UAE?
Working hours: The average UAE office day is eight hours, or nine hours where a special exemption has been granted (generally in the hospitality industry). This could be 8.30 am – 5.30 pm, 9.00 am – 6.00 pm or split in two, with a return to work later in the day.
Normal working hours are reduced by two hours during Ramadan.
In the UAE, the weekend runs over Friday and Saturday, rather than Saturday and Sunday.
Holidays: Annual leave entitlement for private sector employees is 30 calendar days after one year's service. Employees who have completed six months' service earn two days per month.
There are eleven officially recognised public holidays.
It's worth noting that employees in the country's numerous free zones are not necessarily subject to UAE labour law – it's advisable to check your contract.
Income tax and VAT: No income tax is paid on salaries or wages in the UAE. Remember to check your UK tax and national insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to avoid losing your UK pension rights.
A 5% value added tax on the majority of goods and services was introduced in January 2018. Public transport, medical services and financial services are exempt from the levy.
Where to find jobs
Unless you have strong contacts in the region, it's advisable to find work before you travel to the UAE.
Thoroughly research your area of work before applying – some industries have a stronger presence in a particular part of the Emirates or in the many free zones.
Expatriates usually use recruitment agencies, apply for vacancies online or to UK companies with offices in the UAE.
Online job sites
- Gulf News Careers
- Emirates 24/7
- Ras Al Khaimah Government job portal (government jobs)
- Abu Dhabi Government job portal
- Dubai Careers- Dubai Government job portal
- Ajman Government jobs
- Dubizzle is an online classifieds site, rather like Gumtree, produced in English.
The UAE has a number of licenced recruitment agencies. Register your CV and agencies will contact you with any suitable vacancies. You shouldn't be charged for this service – the fees are paid by employers rather than jobseekers.
There are generalist agencies as well as recruiters that specialise in particular sectors.
English language newspapers with UAE vacancies
Check any vacancies that TARGETjobs has in the Emirates.
CV, application and interview tips
A two-page CV, in either a chronological, functional or combined format, is fairly standard in the UAE, along with a short covering letter addressed to the hirer. It's not unusual for people to include a photograph with their CV.
Make sure that you have your details updated on LinkedIn too, as recruiters are likely to look for you online. Some agencies like Robert Half will accept your LinkedIn profile rather than a copy of your CV.
You should dress in European business style for an interview. For men it's a suit, shirt and tie. Women planning on wearing a skirt should make sure that it's an appropriate length both when standing and sitting; dress modestly covering the shoulders and back.
Don't automatically offer to shake the hand of someone of the opposite gender at interview. Wait until it's offered and respond accordingly.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Work experience and internships in the UAE for non-residents are complicated by visa restrictions and the expense of sponsorship.
Placements may be found at:
You may find opportunities through student exchange programmes.
Cass Business School, Manchester Business School, Middlesex University, the University of Exeter and Herriot-Watt University are among the UK institutions that have a presence in the UAE. The University of Birmingham is opening a campus in Dubai in September. If you're still in education, looking at an exchange programme organised through your university is an option to consider.
Do you need a visa to work in the UAE?
You cannot work (paid or unpaid) on a visit or tourist visa. You must have a work permit and an employment visa.
You will need to undergo a medical examination before you are issued a visa. The medical includes checks for HIV and hepatitis and is repeated if you renew your contract.
You'll need to receive a formal job offer and sign your employment contract before obtaining a work permit. Your employer organises the work permit, your medical and any officially required documentation.
Living in the UAE
Cost of living: the cost of living in some parts of the UAE, for example Abu Dhabi, can be quite expensive (but there is no income tax). Rent can be costly, as can imported brands and alcohol – but other items are cheaper in the UAE than in the UK. Buying a car from an expat leaving can help to minimise the expense if you need a car.
Sites like Expatistan or Numbeo benchmark the cost of different items to help you compare the cost of living.
Currency: AED (Arab Emirates Dirham). Sometimes referred as to the Emirati dirham.
Healthcare: standards in the UAE are now fairly similar to the UK. Emergency treatment is free, but you'll be expected to pay for further treatment (cash, credit card or medical insurance).
Medical insurance could be provided for you by your employer or sponsor, but coverage is likely to vary depending on your salary and position. Requirements are slightly different across the Emirates – but make sure that you have adequate provision for your circumstances.
If you have regular prescriptions, it's important to check in advance whether there may be any problems in connection with taking medicine with you to the UAE.
Laws and customs to be aware of:
With a cosmopolitan, largely expat population, the UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the region, with a tolerance towards other faiths and cultures. But it's important to remember that traditional cultural and behavioural norms can be quite different to those in the UK. You should check GOV.UK for up-to-date guidance on living in the UAE.
- It is illegal to drink alcohol in the UAE unless it's in a licensed venue or in your own home. To do this, you'll need a licence, which is only valid in the issuing Emirate. It is an offence to be under the influence of or to drink in alcohol in public.
- The UAE has zero tolerance towards drugs. Punishments for smuggling drugs are severe and include the death penalty. Having a residual amount of a substance in your system counts as possession, punishable by a four-year jail term.
- Sexual relationships outside of marriage are illegal in the UAE, as is cohabiting with someone of the opposite gender (this includes sharing a hotel room). Gay marriage is not recognised and homosexual relationships are illegal.
- Married couples can hold hands, but kissing, hugging and other displays of affection in public are frowned upon.
- It is extremely important to be respectful of Islamic religious practices and beliefs while in the UAE, regardless of your own beliefs. During Ramadan you should avoid eating, drinking, smoking or playing music in public during daylight hours.
Major religion: Islam. Other religions practiced include Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Type of government: federation of seven absolute monarchies – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.