Due to its relatively small local population, the economy of the United Arab Emirates depends on qualified expats working in Abu Dhabi and its surrounds to keep the wheels spinning. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Abu Dhabi’s economy is made up of expats, and these foreigners hold jobs in any number of important sectors.

That said, the abundance of available positions that marked the course of the last decade has dwindled somewhat, and the income-tax-free environment that attracted expats en masse now holds less of an allure because of skyrocketing housing costs and salary levels that haven’t increased proportionately. Emiratisation is another factor to consider for prospective job seekers in Abu Dhabi.

Nevertheless, those with the right sets of skills who come to Abu Dhabi for a brief stint often end up staying for longer than they intended, mainly because of the luxe lifestyle.

Job market in Abu Dhabi

Though natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas still play a major role in Abu Dhabi’s economy, the global depreciation of fossil fuels has seen the emirate focusing on economic diversification and investing heavily in such sectors as property, tourism, construction, trade and food manufacturing. This diversification means expats of all backgrounds and diverse skill sets are finding their niche in the city’s job market.

That said, even with dropping oil prices, Abu Dhabi is home to the vast majority of the UAE’s oil production and nearly 10 percent of the world’s oil supply which, combined with recent diversification, means it has a rapidly expanding economy and high GDP, making it the wealthiest emirate in the UAE.

That all sounds incredibly attractive to expats looking to take up employment in Abu Dhabi, but we would offer a word of warning: salaries are no longer as high as a few years ago. In fact, expats can often make more in their home countries than in Abu Dhabi’s current climate; housing costs have risen disproportionately; Covid-19 is likely to have negative effects on the local job market; and, lastly, although the government fully recognises the contribution of the large foreign workforce to the region’s growth and development, it has nonetheless started advocating for an official policy of Emiratisation over the course of the last few years.

This concept pushes for both government and private sectors to hire a larger number of nationals in an effort to curb Emirati unemployment and to cultivate opportunity for the growing number of graduates. With quotas in place for the insurance, banking and trade sectors, expats may find it more difficult than in the past to find employment in Abu Dhabi. 

Nevertheless, those determined expats with the right level of skills and training can still quite easily carve out a place for themselves in Abu Dhabi’s buzzing economy.

Finding a job in Abu Dhabi

Most expats who relocate to Abu Dhabi do so with an employment contract in place. The best methods of finding a job from abroad are to register with local recruitment agencies and to peruse the employment sections of the local newspapers, such as Gulf News, Khaleej Times and The National

Scouring company websites, job portals and networking via social media sites can also be beneficial. If already in the emirate, networking with friends, locals and fellow expats is essential, and often the best way to secure a new position.

Expats will find that the ease of changing jobs is something they may have previously taken for granted. In fact, expats must basically apply for a new visa when they obtain a new job in Abu Dhabi.

The first step to completing the process is obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the original employer. Without this document the foreigner is liable to be banned from working – a stipulation that has a six-month minimum.

Additionally, many companies write anti-competition clauses into their contracts, preventing expats from working in a similar field in Abu Dhabi – a clear limiting factor for expats with a specific skill set.

These measures are put in place to prevent job hopping and protect the high financial investment that companies put into hiring foreign labour.

If the original employer/sponsor does approve the NOC request, then documentation must be taken from the Ministry of Labour, typed into Arabic and signed and stamped by both the former and the future sponsor. These are submitted with the employee's trade licence and the new company card, hopefully approved and then sent to the Immigration Department to validate the new visa.

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