Working in Dubai can be a brilliant opportunity for many skilled expats to advance their career, accumulate personal wealth and have a taste of a different culture and a different country.
This vibrant and ambitious city is trying to reinvent itself and set to become the world’s innovation hub in sectors such as green energy, healthcare, education, technology, etc.
The emirate has also a lot to offer in terms of an amazing lifestyle, it’s also worth noting that Dubai is tax-free, or nearly tax-free, so there are opportunities to explore there.
So if you are interested, read what practical steps you need to undertake to land yourself a job in Dubai:
Inside This Guide:
Working in Dubai – Where to Start
In many locations popular with expats around the world it’s quite easy to turn up and look for work – this is absolutely not the case in Dubai!
You need a visa to be legal in Dubai – the consequences for not having one are so harsh they aren’t even worth thinking about…with extradition being the least of your worries.
So, the best way to find jobs in Dubai is to apply before even travelling to the emirate.
Update your CV, contact recruiters, look at firms in your sector with a presence in the emirate and contact their HR department direct to find out who to send your CV to.
Look on Linkedin and even online at the local papers in the UAE such as gulfnews.com and Khaleej Times to find jobs in Dubai.
Follow up any application made with phone calls to ensure your application has been received, and by the right person.
Please note: don’t ever pay a recruitment company to find you a job…
It’s worth doing background information on any company you apply to, to make sure your CV and covering letter are correctly targeted to the company in question.
A one size fits all CV won’t work – and a one size covering letter will be a disaster.
You can travel to Dubai if you want to and do some on the ground research and networking on a visit visa – but be ready to fly home again and actually apply for jobs from your own home country.
Even if you were lucky enough to find a job whilst visiting Dubai, the law requires you leave the UAE and apply for your employment visa from abroad.
Recruitment Companies in Dubai
There are many national and international recruiters sourcing workers for contracts in Dubai, and if they want you they will headhunt you! Otherwise their communication skills can be a little lacking.
I.e., if you submit your CV on spec you may have to chase and chase to get anywhere with recruitment companies.
A better approach is applying for a specifically advertised job via a recruitment company, or doing your own research into companies in your sector that are recruiting in the emirate, and then approaching them directly for work.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and pester if you have to go via a recruitment company – if you genuinely feel you’re the right candidate for a job you need to get your CV seen.
There is a fine line between persistence and harassment, however, so be careful!
Employment Visas and Sponsors in Dubai
As mentioned above you have to have an employment visa to work in Dubai, you also have to be sponsored by your employer.
When you have a firm job offer, your employer becomes your sponsor and sorts out your employment visa.
The sponsorship approach in Dubai is effectively a means of controlling immigration.
Your sponsor is responsible for you and get in trouble if you contravene any regulations. It’s their job to check that you’re reliable and trustworthy.
Your sponsor will also try to ensure that you don’t inadvertently step out of line. For this reason, your sponsor is an important source of help and advice and a valuable ally.
Contrary to popular misconception, however, your employer should not hold your passport if you go and work in Dubai – this is illegal.
Note, in the past some people have been advised to work on a visit visa for the short-term whilst an employment contract and visa are finalized – do not take this risk. If caught you risk immediate deportation and being banned from re-entering the UAE.
Instead your employer should issue you with an employment visa which is valid for 30 days. This will enable you to enter Dubai and begin the application process for your work permit and then your residency permit.
Your employer will advise you about the documents required to obtain your work permit, and you will need to undergo a medical examination.
Obtaining Residency Permit in Dubai
Everything happens in this order: you get a job offer, obtain your entry permit from your employer, enter Dubai, obtain a work permit with your employer’s help, and then you go to a government hospital or medical clinic for a health check.
You will undergo a blood test and chest X-ray and be screened for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, leprosy, and syphilis. Note: if your results for any of these tests come back positive you will be deported, (with the exception of syphilis for which treatment is available).
You then return to the residency department with your passport, medical test results, and if required, other documents such as a salary certificate etc. Ideally your employer will assist you with all this as there are often additional paperwork requirements revealed at the last minute!
At the residency department, or DNRD (which stands for Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department – which has been superseded by the name General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs Dubai but which still gets referred to as DNRD!) you go to the typing office and obtain your application form and hand over required fees.
Eventually you will be asked to return to collect your passport with your resident’s visa stamped in it. If your employer employs someone to do the running for you, ensure you get your passport back, it is not acceptable for your employer to retain it.
Sponsoring Your Family to Live in Dubai
It’s common for a sponsored expat who is working in Dubai to then be able to sponsor their spouse and children to join them. Most of the time the expat who sponsors the spouse will be the male of the partnership.
It is almost unheard of for female expats to be the main employee in the household and to sponsor their husband to join them. Exceptions in high-level professional roles do apparently exist.
So once you have your residency permit you can sponsor your family to live in Dubai with you.
Each sponsored individual will also have to undergo a health check as described above. Once again the DNRD will process your application.
Negotiating Your Employment Contract
Because of the global economic climate at the current time, you may think that if you get any offer of a job you should be grateful and quickly commit.
However, when it comes to living and working in Dubai, you need to be prepared to negotiate hard to get the right terms in place for your employment contract.
For a start, the cost of living in Dubai is high. It’s pushed up by the likes of accommodation costs, schooling and healthcare fees. So, you need to negotiate some form of compensation into your contract to cover such elements.
Here’s a list of points that expatriates negotiate on when it comes to their employment contract. These are a guide for you to know what is typically offered by an employer, it will be up to you to know how far and how hard you can negotiate: –
- Housing – some employers offer expat workers an allowance, you can then top this up if you want to live somewhere even more expensive
- Estate agent fees – they may charge for finding you a rental property, sometimes employers refund this
- Car/fuel – you will need a car for getting around, because aside from anything else, it’s too hot to walk most of the time! Some employers have car schemes and offer fuel cards
- Annual leave ticket – many expats are given the cost of their flights home once a year, and they take the ticket during the summer months when the weather is unbearably hot
- Education and school fees – costs are exorbitant, but standards across some institutions are excellent, your employer may help you afford the best
- Medical insurance – employers have company schemes for their staff, but not obliged to insure dependents, try to negotiate your family health insurance in Dubai
- Notice period and severance pay – it is critical that you negotiate this point carefully. Defaulting on debt in Dubai is illegal, so you need a decent notice period and severance pay agreement in place, to give you the time and means to find another job so that you can continue to meet the likes of rental and car costs in the emirate in the event that you lose your job
- Relocation/repatriation – if you’re being headhunted aggressively to work in Dubai you’re in a good position to negotiate on these points…otherwise you’ll struggle!
Changing Jobs in Dubai
As your sponsor is your employer, and you have to be sponsored to remain in Dubai, changing jobs can be a bit stressful.
If you’re made redundant suddenly you may need to leave the emirate as your sponsored status will be revoked – be ready to leave and apply for a new job and a new sponsor from overseas.
Don’t risk remaining in the emirate without the right visa and sponsorship status. If discovered you may be fined, you will be deported and you may never be allowed back.
If you’re unhappy in your work and want to change job, or if your contract has a fixed term and you want to continue living and working in Dubai after its conclusion, you need to find a new employer willing to take over sponsorship.
It may be easier for you to leave your job, leave the emirate, apply for a new job and return to Dubai with your new sponsor, believe it or not. However, you may have to remain outside the emirate for 6 months before re-entering.
Otherwise be prepared for a lot of hard work on your part negotiating a change of sponsor.
In theory you can transfer to a new employer if your old employer gives you the go ahead in the form of a NOC – that’s a ‘no objection certificate.’
If you’re going to work for a competitor you’re less likely to be given a NOC of course.
However, you can try negotiating and pointing out that the alternative to a NOC at the end of your contract is that your employer has to pay for you to return to your original home country. A NOC will be cheaper!
Ultimately try and stay on good terms with your employer, negotiate a good salary and benefits package at the very outset, spending as much time as needed to get this right, bearing in mind how hard it is to change job and even renegotiate terms once you’re living and working in Dubai.
Finally, spend time online on forums and social media finding out what it’s like living in Dubai from fellow expats. You will be given the most up to date tips and tricks, and can even begin your networking from afar in this way. Good luck!