Work as an Expat in the UAE – The Decision

By Barbara Van Pay

Whenever one expects to find change, the first thing they would do is to either take a decision by themselves or sit the family down and take the decision together.  When deciding to move to a cosmopolitan, adventurous place such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) there may be a lot of mixed emotions.  Your emotions will range from that of sheer excitement to be followed by fear, anxiety, stress and many more. 

Before taking such a life changing decision you really need to think.  What are the motivations to move from your home country?  Why the UAE? How will it affect my family?  My CV?  Do you want to move for the right reasons and have you thought everything through? Maybe you want to move there to live the life that of an expat enjoying life tax-free? Remember there are no personal taxes in the UAE for most nationalities, although there are exceptions such as the United States of America where you are subjected taxes after your income crosses a certain threshold. 

 Back in the days when the UAE had not yet become a Federation well before December 2, 1971, a lot of expats had seen potential and made the leap.  These long standing expats have actually seen this beautiful nation grow from that of a vast desert to one of an unimaginable fairy tale. It is amazing how such a nation can transform itself through the efforts of its leaders and its visionaries. In the days before the Federation, there was a lot of flexibility with movement of workforce as that of a start-up in the corporate world where policies and rules are not yet set in stone.

But today the governance is rock solid in the UAE. Of course a lot of dynamic changes are made based on growth and renewal and betterment of the nation. 2013 was marked as the year of Emiratisation in the UAE. This is a growing effort made not only by the government but also by the people as a whole. A lot of private sectors have begun the Emiratisation process and hence a lot of industries and/or work streams have been fully focused on the Emiratisation drive. This is not to say that expats are not welcome anymore in certain work streams just that we as expats in important roles have a duty to the UAE to focus our goals towards Emiratisation

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Whilst taking the decision to move to the UAE, you need to ensure a couple of things. Firstly, are you moving with a job in hand? If not, then firstly arrange your visit visa either through travel agents or the airline or through a family or relative or even an old work sponsor. Then, consider where you are going to stay before you find your job. This would aid your application process once you move to the UAE.  Like a lot of countries, the UAE prefers if you are in the country and available for face-to-face interviews.  Regarding your stay, in case you do not have family or friends in the UAE willing to accommodate you, there are a lot of hotels available that you can select and book online. If you are moving with a job in hand, most companies will give you a starter’s pack which includes relocation details and what to expect when you are moving to the UAE.  Normally your family would accompany you only after you have moved and been sponsored by the company. You would be on a work visa whilst your family would move on a residence visa. In case of some nationalities, who can move easily to the UAE, i.e. mainly in the case of Western expats or GCC expats, your family could move with you for a short period however they may need to exit in order to come back on a Residence visa. Once you have your work visa, it normally takes up to 3 weeks to get your family’s residence visa in place.

The next most important task once you get your job is to actually search for apartments or villas as per your needs. People usually prefer to get apartments or villas near their office however you may also consider availing apartments or villas near your children’s school. The UAE is well structured to allow a varied choice for your every need. There are toll gates to guide and monitor traffic flow. So you may want to consider these factors as well before taking decisions on your residential choices. There are a lot of gated community villas and apartments in the country.

 When it comes to schools there are a wide range of schools- International, Local, Islamic, and Indian schools, etc. The school fees would be varied. The normal school year is from April-March.

You can rent a car once you avail your work visa/residence visa. However you would be able to drive your car on your international visa for a limited period only. Post which or pre-expiry of which you would need to get your UAE driving license.

A lot of companies provide medical insurance schemes for family and self. In case you do not have medical coverage for your family, you could also avail the government hospitals’ card once you have your residence visa or private medical insurance. A lot of local and international medical insurers would reach out to you at a click of a button.

Many expats have purchased properties in the country. This may be a consideration if you plan on living long term in the UAE. Some companies also allow its employees a Housing Advance that is later deducted prorated from your monthly salary.

Monthly salary is normally broken up into Basic salary, Housing Allowance and Transport Allowance. Bonus in most companies is calculated based on the basic salary.

We at SmartHR hope to bring expats who are planning on moving into the country from overseas an insight into moving and living in the UAE. If there are any specific queries you may have then you can either comment in our comments section below where your queries would be answered or you can tweet your queries to us on

 SmartHR Recruiting and HR Consultancy services offer career advice to its candidates. We also provide a CV writing service to tailor make your CV to suit the region’s needs. For any of these services and to reach out to our recruitment experts write to us on 

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