what you should consider when looking for work in UAE


The United Arab Emirates is an incredibly popular place to live and work. It relies heavily on expatriates to keep the economy going, hence migration rates remain high. As such, the population is extremely diverse. In fact, research conducted in 2014 found that of the 9.44 million populate, just 13 per cent were UAE nationals. 

With visions of sunshine and the lure of tax-free earnings, it’s no wonder so many people want to work in one of the seven states. However, a move out there is not just big in terms of geography; there is much to think about. Here’s the first of two-part guide which examines what you should consider when you’re looking for work in the UAE:  

1. Location

The individual emirates differ in terms of size and the demand for expats. The majority work in Dubai (where expats account for 90 per cent of the local population), but the next biggest expat regions are the lesser-known Al Sharjah (83 per cent), followed by Ajman (81 per cent) and then Abu Dhabi (75 per cent). Being open to all of the states will increase your job opportunities significantly.

2. Make sure you can speak the language

The UAE’s national language is Arabic, but the recognised ‘common language’ is English and most job advertisements require a level of competency in it.

Arabic is said to be incredibly difficult to learn, with the US Foreign Institute claiming it requires some 2,220 hours to become fluent. However, a quick search online suggests that isn’t necessarily the case, so don’t be put off.

3. Compare the cost of living

The sun might shine, but how much does is cost to do the weekly shopping? Comparing the cost of living is an important consideration when moving anywhere – and it extends to more than just the day-to-day basics. How much are the schools? What does it cost to see a doctor? 

Although the UAE’s cost of living - particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – has risen in the last year, it still compares favourably with other major global cities. The Mercer 2015 Cost of Living Survey placed Dubai 23rd and Abu Dhabi 33rd on the rankings – far lower than Hong Kong (2nd), Singapore (4th), Shanghai (6th), Tokyo (11th), London (12th) and New York (16th), to mention but a few.

Further research claims that living in Dubai is actually 28 per cent cheaper than living in the UK and living in Abu Dhabi is 33 per cent less expensive. Cheaper cities still include Ra’s al Khaymah, Al Ain and Fujairah. This is, in part, to do with the wonderful fact that there’s no Value Added Tax (VAT) in the UAE, but we’ll get to that later.

4. Research the employment market

Yes, the UAE depends on expats, but what roles are available in your particular field of expertise? What do you need to do to get a job? How easy is it to secure work? You need to find out.

The biggest employing sectors are oil and gas, construction and engineering, life sciences, manufacturing and supply chain, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and the rail / metro. New investments across these sectors have prompted analysts to predict and increase in the number of jobs ‘up for grabs’. This will also impact the financial services and banking sector. That said, everything depends on the stability of oil prices. Traditionally, a drop in prices leads to a drop in recruitment, so you might also want to keep up to date with oil trends, too.

The singular best step you can take towards getting a job is to register with a specialist recruitment agency, like Randstad MENA. This doesn’t only give you access to hundreds of roles, but also the chance to speak with qualified consultants, who can give you valuable advice from your home location.

5. Check out salaries and benefits

Tell anyone you’re going to work in the UAE and they’ll allude to the fact that – at present – income tax is not applied to salaries. This is an extremely attractive factor, but how does pay compare with what you’d expect in your home country?  

It’s a good idea to do some research, perhaps using a site like payscale.com, where you can specify a role and city to discover what the median pay rates are. For example, it cites the total package of a Project Manager in the Construction sector as AED 103K - 624K – including salary, bonus, profit sharing and any commission. A Field Service Engineer in the Oil and Gas industry might command between AED 44K - 321K. Individuals can give specific details to find a more accurate result.

There are lots of rumours circulating in the local press that VAT and corporation taxes may be introduced to the UAE – not income tax (for now, says The National) – but these could have a knock-on effect on salaries. It’s likely that – in order for companies to pay such taxes – increases might be scaled back. Still, it’s worth remembering that the taxes levied in your home country are bound to be a lot higher.

Of course, deciding to work in the UAE is not a decision to take lightly – you should ensure you’ve checked each of the above off your ‘list’ before going any further. Part two of our blog will focus on customs and observances, healthcare and the family; each of them equally important considerations. 

In the meantime, if you would like to talk any queries through with an experienced recruitment consultant, get in touch.

if you would like to talk any queries through with an experienced recruitment consultant,

get in touch