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Working in the United Arab Emirates

Your guide to expat life in the UAE

Want to work in the UAE?

The UAE an attractive place for business. It has a strategic position in the Middle East, with a strong banking sector, diverse economy and stable political system. More than 80% of the UAE’s population made up of expats, so you’ll find yourself in a dynamic work environment.

With a small local population, the UAE’s economy depends on qualified expats who move here to boost their income. Dubai, in particular, is one of the most popular destinations for job-seeking expats from all over the world. Following the oil and real-estate boom, its economy has seen a host of sectors explode with possibilities.

You may face some challenges doing business in the UAE. Each emirate has its own business regulations, which can be confusing if you work in different parts of the country. English is widely spoken in business, but Arabic is the official language – so you may need an interpreter to translate some documents.

Business in the UAE

The business culture of a company in the UAE will depend on its origins. An international organisation is likely to adopt the culture of its home country – and you’ll find yourself doing business mostly with expats. Local organisations may be more traditionally Arabic and are often family owned. Nepotism is common and many members of a family often work in the same organisation.

Emiratis like doing business with people they trust, so it’s good to get to know your colleagues and build lasting relationships. Small talk is common and making connections with the right people is vital. Business structures are hierarchical, and decisions are made from the top. Because class and family can play a role in these structures, make sure you know who sits where on the corporate ladder. While men and women are treated equally in business, men still hold most senior executive positions.

You need to be flexible when you do business in the UAE. Meetings may sometimes be interrupted by personal phone calls, text messages or people coming into the boardroom to discuss unrelated matters. Be patient, and don’t take this as a lack of respect. Muslim prayers happen 5 times a day, so you may have to take this into account when you schedule meetings.

Emiratis prefer face-to-face meetings. They’re concerned about the feelings of others, preferring not to give criticism or bad news. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked questions about your family or wellbeing.

Practical details

Arabic is the official business language, but English is widely spoken. Business hours are between 07.30 and 09:00 to 17:00, Sunday to Thursday. The summer heat has inspired a ‘split shift’ schedule that includes a three to four-hour break in the afternoon with extended evening hours. Office hours are shortened during Ramadan.

Work clothes are formal and conservative. For men, suits and ties are expected in most industries. Women should dress modestly, covering their arms and legs and wearing close-toed shoes.

A handshake with your right hand is the usual greeting between men. Placing your right hand on your chest after shaking hands shows respect. If you’re greeting a Muslim person of the opposite sex, wait for them to extend their hand first – a simple bow of the head is acceptable if you’re not sure. Gifts aren’t always expected. As the UAE is an Islamic country, avoid giving alcohol or pork products. Always give and receive gifts with your right hand.

Expat salaries in the UAE

Earning some of the highest expat salaries globally, it’s no wonder people find themselves drawn to this part of the world for work. The favourable tax environment doesn’t hurt either. Although the cost of living in the UAE is high, expat packages often include many of the basic costs. If not, salaries are high enough to be able to afford a high standard of living regardless of benefits.

Top tips for working in the UAE

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in the United Arab Emirates.

It's a great opportunity to earn more money, see the world and meet different people.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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