Working in Dubai

If possible, expats considering working in Dubai should secure a job before moving to the emirate. Though many foreign nationals have chosen to forego this advice and make a success of themselves regardless, it should be noted that it's much more difficult to do so.

That being said, employers are increasingly looking for those already settled in the region; thus, resident status can go a long way when it comes to securing lower and mid-level positions.

The importance of a residence permit for Dubai

It is virtually impossible to begin a life in Dubai without a residence permit, which allows expats to obtain a work permit. A residence permit also needs to be presented when buying a mobile phone, opening a bank account, renting a property and linking into any other logistic required for a normal life in Dubai.

Expat jobs in the UAE are mostly in banking and finance, insurance, Sharia compliance, construction, retail and services, and the telecom sector. Those considering a move should be aware that career flexibility in Dubai is very 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’, which are areas that have been established for specific sectors or industries such as Dubai Healthcare City, Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City.

Furthermore, expats must have their visa reprocessed if changing jobs, and the former employer must sign a formal document called a 'No Objection Clause'.

The economy and work culture of Dubai

While Dubai's economy suffered at the hands of the recession, confidence is returning to the market, and employers are looking to hire expats with experience. Those 'Dubai survivors' – expats who managed to sit tight during the downturn, and even those who left the country and would entertain the idea of returning – are considered ideal candidates. In addition, those with good communication ability in Arabic and English, team spirit and flexibility, good leadership skills and trustworthiness will do well in the Dubai job market.

Expats considering working in Dubai should also be aware that the hiring process 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 were required 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.

What employees can expect is:

  • Initial flight to Dubai and hotel accommodation on arrival (usually for a period of a week to a month)

  • A return flight to home country once a year

  • Standard healthcare insurance (Health Benefits Contribution), which covers the cost of a health card and makes a contribution toward general public healthcare

It should be noted that employees who resign or who are fired before completing a year’s service can be liable for the full repayment of the above. 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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