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Expats Working in the United Arab Emirates

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: March 2014

Permission to Work

If you are outside the UAE, you can start the immigration process once you have secured a job or have a firm job offer. The process starts by applying for an employment visa. The first stage of getting any visa in the UAE is to arrange sponsorship. As you are moving to the UAE to work, your prospective employer should take care of sponsorship administration and fees. For more details on arranging sponsorship and submitting visa applications, see ‘Visas and Passports.’ Once you have received your employment visa, you are able to immigrate into the Emirates and start work immediately. Since this is a multiple-entry visa, you can leave and re-enter the country without inconvenience.

However, you still need a work permit (known in the Emirates as a ‘labour card’) and a residence visa, which all immigrants into the UAE wishing to stay in the country for more than a month are required to have. Your employer should take care of applying for the residence visa and labour card; see ‘Settlement, Residence and Citizenship’ for more details.

As it is one of the supporting documents, you must have a residence visa before you can submit your application for a labour card. You will also need to undergo a medical examination. If the examining doctor deems you fit for work, you will be given a health card, which you will also need to present as part of your labour card application. In some emirates, such as Dubai, there are further documents required.

Labour cards are only issued to immigrants from 18 to 60 years of age. They are controlled by the Immigration Department and issued by the Ministry of Labour. You must obtain a labour card within 60 days of your arrival in the country, else your employer may be fined. It is for this reason that most employers assume responsibility for an employee’s labour card application. Since all documents need to be in Arabic, this is probably just as well. Note that labour cards are due to be phased out by mid-2014 in favour of electronic work permits.

Alternatively, you can enter the country to look for work on a visit visa (which is free and automatically granted to citizens of some countries). You can then obtain a residence visa and labour card once you have secured employment. If you are thinking of doing this, bear in mind that, due to the recently introduced policy of Emiratisation, in which Emirati citizens are given preference in certain positions (especially government ones), it is becoming rather harder for expats to secure employment.

This page details workling conditions and the immigration procedures you need to complete to before you are permitted to work in the UAE. Other work-related topics can be found in the ‘Employment and Business’ section.



The two main draws to the UAE are the high wages (as good as or better than those in the West), and no corporation, income or sales tax. In addition to the standard salary, performance bonuses may apply. Furthermore, at the end of your contract, your employer is legally bound to pay you an ‘end of service benefit’ (which is also known as an ‘indemnity’, though it has nothing to do with insurance.) The UAE is an expensive country to live in, but the high, tax-free wages many expats receive more than compensate for this.

They may be further benefits, such as free flight to the country on starting the job and a free return flight home once a year. In addition, the company may arrange and pay for hotel accommodation for the first few weeks. Employers may also pay for your rented accommodation and some of your utility bills. Note, however, if your employment terminates within the first year, these benefits usually evaporate, leaving you liable to repay them.

The UAE equivalent of the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Both Arabic and English are spoken in the workplace. Working hours are rather long, from 40 to 48 hours. Some companies, rather than working regular office hours, take a siesta in the middle of the day. During the month of Ramadan, most businesses are only open for 6 hours a day.

There are drawbacks to working in the Emirates. First, as your residence in the country is tied to the company you work for, it is very difficult to change jobs or employers. Taking another job means having to go through the entire residence visa application process again. Moreover, some employment contracts forbid employees from taking up work in the same sector for a period.

Second, employment laws are strongly in the employer’s favour, so attempting to redress grievances may be fruitless. In fact, it may just get you fired – and then deported since you no longer have a job. Note also that there is a chance that if your company is having difficulties with cash flow. your pay may be delayed. There will be little you can do in such situations.

Finally, the Emirati economic miracle does have an ugly side. Many of the migrant workers helping to build the gleaming metropolises of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are paid a pittance and have very poor living conditions. Furthermore, there have been cases where female domestic workers have been subjected to beatings, abuse and pay being withheld long-term. Legal safeguards for such employees are virtually non-existent.




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