Due to its relatively small local population, the economy of the United Arab Emirates depends on qualified expats working in Abu Dhabi and its surrounds to keep the wheels spinning. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Abu Dhabi’s economy is made up of expats, and these foreigners hold jobs in any number of important sectors.
That said, the abundance of available positions that marked the course of the last decade has dwindled somewhat, and the income-tax-free environment that attracted expats en masse now holds less of an allure because of skyrocketing housing costs and salary levels that haven’t increased proportionately. Emiratisation is another factor to consider for prospective job seekers in Abu Dhabi.
Nevertheless, those with the right sets of skills who come to Abu Dhabi for a brief stint often end up staying for longer than they intended, mainly because of the luxe lifestyle.
Job market in Abu Dhabi
Though natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas still play a major role in Abu Dhabi’s economy, the global depreciation of fossil fuels has seen the emirate focusing on economic diversification and investing heavily in such sectors as property, tourism, construction, trade and food manufacturing. This diversification means expats of all backgrounds and diverse skill sets are finding their niche in the city’s job market.
That said, even with dropping oil prices, Abu Dhabi is home to the vast majority of the UAE’s oil production and nearly 10 percent of the world’s oil supply which, combined with recent diversification, means it has a stable economy and high GDP, making it the wealthiest emirate in the UAE.
That all sounds incredibly attractive to expats looking to take up employment in Abu Dhabi, but we would offer a word of warning: salaries are no longer as high as a few years ago. In fact, expats can often make more in their home countries than in Abu Dhabi’s current climate; housing costs have risen disproportionately; and, lastly, although the government fully recognises the contribution of the large foreign workforce to the region’s growth and development, it has nonetheless started advocating for an official policy of Emiratisation over the course of the last few years.
This concept pushes for both government and private sectors to hire a larger number of nationals in an effort to curb Emirati unemployment and to cultivate opportunity for the growing number of graduates. With quotas in place for the insurance, banking and trade sectors, expats may find it more difficult than in the past to find employment in Abu Dhabi.
Nevertheless, those determined expats with the right level of skills and training can still quite easily carve out a place for themselves in Abu Dhabi’s buzzing economy.
Finding a job in Abu Dhabi
Most expats who relocate to Abu Dhabi do so with an employment contract in place. The best methods of finding a job from abroad are to register with local recruitment agencies and to peruse the employment sections of the local newspapers, such as Gulf News, Khaleej Times and The National.
Scouring company websites, job portals and networking via social media sites can also be beneficial. If already in the emirate, networking with friends, locals and fellow expats is essential.
Expats will find that the ease of changing jobs is something they may have previously taken for granted. Career flexibility is limited due to regulations put in place to discourage job-hopping, so it's important that expats are aware of any limitations prior to signing up for a new job.
Work culture in Abu Dhabi
The business world in Abu Dhabi has an international feel, thanks to the presence of numerous multinational corporations from all over the globe. English is commonly spoken.
That said, Islam does have a noticeable presence in day-to-day working life. For instance, business may be interrupted by the five-times-daily prayer, and working hours during Islamic holiday periods such as Ramadan are shortened. Expats should take care to respect Islamic customs at all times.