Work in the UAE: A Quick Guide to Relocating

Find out all you need to know about relocating to the United Arab Emirates.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Illustration of the UAE and flag.

Working abroad can be a wonderful thing to do. It can give you life experience like you’d never imagined, and many countries abroad offer higher-paying salaries on average, too. But what goes into moving to the UAE? And is relocating for work right for you?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a collection of islands in the Arab Gulf, situated in the south-eastern region of the Asian continent and the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. While the country is predominantly Muslim and features Arabic as its official language, the country allows the practice of other religions and as a global commercial hub, English is widely spoken. These are just some of the reasons why the country has become such a popular place for workers to flock to.

In this article, we’ll talk you through the key considerations that you need to have in mind before you begin the process of working in the UAE. While the UAE is a hub of opportunity, it’s not necessarily for everyone, and there are some important factors to bear in mind. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you should have a better idea whether working in the UAE will work for you, and some practical steps you can take to kickstart the process.

1. Research the country

The UAE is a constitutional federation of seven emirates, which is home to more than two hundred nationalities who come together in this culture rich country to do business, live and learn together. Home to more than 7.3 million non-UAE nationals, the country is a melting pot of international guests.

Globally recognized as a tolerant country, the nation is both politically and economically stable, holding the 25th place in the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum. The country has a strong interest in international relations, standing as a leading player in key global campaigns against human trafficking and terrorism. It also maintains a comprehensive program of support for developmental, humanitarian and charitable programs across the globe.

The country experiences a desert climate, with warmth and sunshine all year round. The weather is typically humid, with high temperatures throughout the year. Cooler temperatures can be enjoyed to the east of the country in the mountainous region. It’s best to look into the country’s culture to see if it would be right for you.

2. Arrange your visa and work permit

The next thing to consider is the permits you’ll need to arrange. In order to live and work in the United Arab Emirates, you will need to get these documents in order. The key to working in the UAE is a work permit, often referred to as a labor card. These documents are issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE). Your employer is legally liable to organize a work and residency permit for you, but there are things you can do yourself to get the ball rolling.

Your entry permit is the first place to start. This, as the name suggests, is the document that demonstrates your permission to enter the country. You can obtain one of these using the UAE’s eChannels portal, or through a number of government-sponsored apps. It would be prudent to investigate exactly which visa meets your needs before making your application. You can find out more information on the UAE government website.

Once you have an entry permit, you’ll need an Emirates ID. You can apply for one of these documents once you have your entry permit, in conjunction with your original passport. You will need to make the application for an Emirates ID in-person at an Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) center, as biometric data, including your fingerprints and photograph, will need to be collected.

When these are in place, your employer will be able to apply for a work and residency permit for you, and this is your golden ticket to starting work in the UAE. They usually last for two years, but it’s imperative you have these in place, as the consequences can include imprisonment, fines and deportation if you don’t.

3. Sort out your finances

Given the country’s status as the financial center of the Middle East, it will come as no surprise that accessing financial services, such as setting up a bank account, is very easy in the United Arab Emirates. Once your residence visa is authorized, you’ll be able to make a swift phone call before the rest is arranged for you.

Some expats may stick to using overseas bank accounts, for example, one set up in their home country. There are benefits, however, to switching to a local account. The first is that local creditors may prevent the use of out-of-country accounts due to the significant transaction and conversion fees that can be involved. Similarly, some employers will insist on the use of a local bank account for earnings to be paid into. On a purely practical level, if you intend to take out any kind of financial commitment — perhaps a car loan, mortgage or credit card — the provider will rely on you having a local bank account to process this.

Setting up an account takes no more than a couple of days. You can start the process with your original passport, a copy of your visa and residency permit, a salary certificate and your Emirates ID (although you can usually proceed without this if it hasn’t arrived yet). Some banks will even allow you to set an account up online without visiting a branch at all.

4. Find accommodation

A quick Google search will land you lots of options for finding somewhere to stay in the UAE. Although the online offering is vast, not all properties are listed on the web. You might benefit from making direct contact with an agent to find out what options exist in the country. Alternatively, if you’re willing to take the risk, you may find better values options after your arrival in the country. It could be beneficial, for example, to travel to the country as a tourist in the first instance in order to identify options for accommodation before moving out there on a more permanent basis.

5. Explore job opportunities

You’ll need to secure an employment contract before you’re able to move to the UAE to work. It may seem silly for this to be the shortest section of the article given the subject, but as you’ll have figured out from the visa section, without a corporate sponsor you’ll have little luck getting the necessary papers to make your Dubai dream a reality. If you’re considering moving to the UAE, you can begin looking for employment on job boards, such as the Federal Government job portal or the Dubai Careers board. Some popular industries in the United Arab Emirates include agriculture, the oil industry and the ecommerce sector, so there’s a huge variety of careers available to you.

6. Transport your belongings

How you transport your belongings will depend on the nature of your visit. Are you planning to visit the UAE for a short period — perhaps a couple of months for a career experience? If this is the case, you might get away with a couple of suitcases. The excess baggage charge of your airline will be the only bill for you to foot. Perhaps you’re intending to travel for a little longer — maybe a year or three. If that’s the case, you may want to explore freight options for moving a larger selection of personal effects.

If you think your move is likely to be more permanent than not, you may want to explore a sea freight container transfer. This will require some forward planning, though, as container ships can take between 2–6 weeks to travel from the UK to the UAE. You’ll want to make sure you time your belongings leaving and arriving at a suitable time for you to travel and receive them on the other end. With costs for a 20ft container coming in at around £450, you’ll also need to consider additional costs, such as door-to-door delivery.

7. Set up your healthcare and insurance

Although the UAE operates a public healthcare system, this is only open to Emirati nationals. If you’re looking to visit the UAE temporarily for work, you will need to obtain private medical cover. Fortunately, your employer is legally obliged to provide you with some degree of cover — but be warned, any dependents (for example, your partner or children) do not have to be afforded the same protection by your employer. If you are bringing family with you, you will need to make private arrangements.

Healthcare provisions in the UAE are generally very good. In Bloomberg’s 2018 ratings of almost 200 countries, the UAE rated tenth for the quality of its healthcare system — that’s better than countries like Norway and Canada, and way above the USA. The level of cover you’ll need will depend on your personal circumstances and your appetite for risk. A quick internet search will reveal local providers and enable you to start shopping around.

8. Connect with other expats

With so many expats in the country, finding a network of former countrymen is unlikely to be a difficult task. If you are working for a large organization or business, it’s likely that you will find other expats in the same business and be able to connect that way. If you have moved to the UAE for other reasons, or perhaps are working for a smaller, or more localized business, you may have fewer options to connect with people in a similar position.

9. Start learning the language

The official language of the UAE is Arabic — a language spoken by almost 420 million people globally, making it the sixth most spoken language in the world. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to know Arabic to function in the UAE. Did you know, for example, that less than 10% of the population of Dubai are native Emiratis?

With such a vast variety of nationalities represented throughout the country, English is the most commonly spoken language. Road signs and government documentation are supplied in both Arabic and English, meaning that non-Arabic speakers will feel at home and able to get by in the country. Of course, it may be pleasant to learn some key cultural phrases, such as basic greetings and expressions of good manner like ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’, for example. You can start to learn the language through online courses on platforms, such as YouTube, or from a study book. One common method of engaging with language learning is the free app DuoLingo, which is available on smart phones and tablet computers.

10. Sort out transportation

Most areas of the UAE benefit from a network of public air-conditioned buses. These scheduled services provide an affordable option for getting from A to B. The network operates using a top-up card payment system that allows travelers to hop on and hop off as needed. With regular departures throughout many key hotspots, traveling by bus is a versatile option for getting around. If you prefer to plan ahead, you might want to download the RTA Wojhati mobile application, enabling forward planning for your commute or exploratory journey.

Alternatively, if you have a driving license already, you might appreciate the flexibility of renting, or even purchasing your own set of wheels. It’s important, though, if you decide to get on the road, that you familiarize yourself with the country’s road laws and speed limits to stay on the right side of the rules. Like any major country, the UAE’s road network suffers from congestion during rush hour, so factor this into your travel plans if you intend to make your own way.

Final thoughts

There are many things to consider if you’re thinking of moving and working in the United Arab Emirates. There are many, many perks to working abroad, but it might not be for everyone. As with anything, there are pros and cons to consider.

If you decide it’s the right path for you, make sure, first and foremost, that you have the correct documentation and permits. Pre-planning is your best friend, and it’s best to look into the best solutions for your situation, whether it’s a short or long stay. The world is your oyster, so dive in and make the move!

Join the conversation! Did you take the plunge and move to the UAE? What was the most challenging aspect of the move? Or are you considering working/moving there? Let us know in the comments section below!

This is an updated version of an article originally published on 29 May 2018.