Dubai is recognised as one of the most prized destinations for job-seeking expats from all over the world. Built on the back of an oil and real-estate boom, the emirate has flourished since diversifying its economy and investing heavily in physical infrastructure. 

It’s true that Dubai relied on oil for much of its wealth at one point, but since it started diversifying its economy in the 1970s the city has exploded with ambitious projects (its towering skyline of glittering behemoths and manmade islands a testament to the fact) and an extreme spike in population, largely owing to expats. Nowadays, a miniscule percentage of the emirate’s GDP is from oil, instead revolving largely around banking, tourism and trade, with the city operating two of the world’s largest ports and air cargo hubs.

Expats are still flocking to the emirate in their droves, in pursuit of high salaries, low tax and lavish lifestyles. The continued influx is also propelled by the prospect of a unique cultural experience, scope for personal skills development and an abundance of business opportunities.

That said, despite the economic diversification, the 2015 drop in oil prices did nevertheless have adverse effects on Dubai’s economy, causing property prices to drop, construction projects to stall, and the number of available white-collar jobs to dwindle. And, of course, the recent coronavirus outbreak had further devastating effects on the emirate’s tourism-, travel-, and trade-dependent economy, which will take significant investment to regain losses, and the steady flow of expats is certain to be stemmed to some extent.

Job market in Dubai

Truly a city of opportunity, Dubai draws expats of all walks of life. Regardless of area of expertise or skill sets, expats seem to flourish in the bustling emirate, as the diversification of its economy has seen a host of sectors explode with possibilities.

Owing to its geographic location, Dubai has become the trading centre for most of the Middle East, Africa and beyond. Giant multinational companies have established headquarters in the city, and with a sharp rise in such sectors as IT, telecoms, manufacturing, data mining, healthcare, banking, trade and tourism, not to mention its constant need of construction expertise, expats are making the most of exploiting opportunities in these fields. More recently, creatives have also flocked to the emirate in search of higher salaries, and media professionals are also increasingly viewing the city as a viable expat destination.

So-called ‘Free Zones’, which are areas that have been established for specific sectors or industries such as Dubai Healthcare City, Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City, are continually springing up and expanding as more and more expats are choosing Dubai.

Mammoth tourism projects, including manmade islands, the world’s largest flower garden, its tallest ferris wheel and its most luxurious hotel, not to mention indoor skiing slopes, colossal shopping malls, and more, mean tourists are choosing Dubai, no longer just as a stop-over, but as their primary destination, which in turn creates a huge supply of tourism jobs.

Even with the slight downturn in available jobs after 2016, and more recently due to Covid-19, Dubai is undoubtedly a city literally on the rise, and many expats find joy and pride in being part of and contributing to the glittering project.

Finding a job in Dubai

It is virtually impossible to begin a life in Dubai without a residence permit, which allows expats to obtain a work permit. Employers are increasingly looking for those already settled in the region, and resident status therefore goes a long way when it comes to securing employment.

Prospective Dubai expats will do well to start their search online. Employers will often advertise new vacancies on various web portals and sites such as LinkedIn, or on recruiting sites. Industry-specific agencies, be it in banking, healthcare, construction or tourism, are also a good way to go as they have intimate knowledge of the job market and will help connect suitable candidates with employers.

Those considering a move should be aware that career flexibility in Dubai, although slightly improved in recent years, remains limited. Since residence depends upon sponsorship, which is tied to an employment contract, expats will find that it's not easy to move between companies. Many employment contracts contain clauses imposing a ban on employees working for another company within the same industry within a year of leaving, although there is some doubt as to whether such practices can be applied in the ‘Free Zones’.

Work culture in Dubai

The hiring process in Dubai has become increasingly rigorous. Multiple interviews, deep reference checks and even psychometric tests are fast becoming the norm.

Historically, companies sourcing talent to work in Dubai had to offer generous relocation packages as an incentive for workers to decamp to the desert. Now, with the exception of very senior-level positions, those days are all but gone. No one, it seems, needs much incentive to make the move to Dubai and it is becoming increasingly unusual to find fully subsidised accommodation, furniture/shipping allowances, private schooling, family vehicles and other historically appealing expat perks.

Also, while employment laws do exist in the UAE, they tend to favour the employer. So, it may be that on paper there is a dispute resolution process or even redress available, but in reality it may be simpler to keep quiet – a frustrating fact.

Expats working in Dubai can expect working hours to follow those in the West, the only exception being the working week which runs from Sunday to Thursday. Government institutions are open from 7am until 2pm.

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