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Fact versus fiction: The realities of working in the UAE

It's time to unveil some misconceptions about working in the UAE

Having worked in the UAE for six years, I am still astounded by the pace of change here. It is a country which has become a beacon of light to many other developing nations around the world. The impossible is never an obstacle.

However, despite its well-documented advancement, misconceptions about the lifestyle here are rife. In my role as a headhunter, I am asked the same questions constantly: Can you drink? Is it safe? Is it ok to be a woman in business? For anyone out there considering living and working in the UAE, I’d like to set the record straight.

Personally, I’ve never felt as safe as I do here. I don’t have to worry about coming home late, fear of having my bags snatched or pick-pocketed. While public drinking and intoxication are illegal, it’s perfectly common and acceptable to drink in licensed venues. And the law safeguards equality for women in the workplace more here than in many other emerging nations.

Just last year, the Cabinet - whose proportion of women represented (one third) is the highest in the world - approved a pay parity law to ensure men and women were guaranteed equal pay for equal jobs. The UN, meanwhile, continues to push for the world to close in the huge disparities between the sexes.

Many people find it hard to believe that women in government employment enjoy flexible working, given ‘feeding time’, equating to shorter hours, as they ease back from maternity leave and return to the workplace.

Despite the global slowdown, business is booming in the UAE and startups are king. The latest report issued by Dubai's Department of Economic Development showed that 14,737 new licenses were issued during the first half of 2019 compared to 11,059 in the same period last year, reflecting year-on-year growth of 33.25 per cent. There is a growing desire to live and work in this region.

The UAE is a Muslim country. Laws and customs are different from those in the Western world. It is always important to respect local customs and laws when traveling or living abroad. However, Dubai is an international city with over 80% of its population formed of expats. If you come with an open mind and a respectful attitude, you will fit in just fine. 

This is a country hungry for change. In less than 50 years since the creation of the Emirates, it would be hard to find anywhere else that can boast such speed of development. From the construction of mega-projects like the Burj Khalifa to some of the world’s largest sporting events such as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Dubai Rugby Sevens to cultural events such as the internationally renowned Emirates Festival of Literature, not to mention the upcoming Expo 2020, there is no limit to the aspirations of the UAE. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a great place to take the next step in your career – and your life.  

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Author: Felice Hurst

With nearly twenty years of experience in search and recruitment and a decade of experience working in MENA, Felice set up the Hanson Search Middle East office to develop our offering in the region. Working across the spectrum of high-level vacancies, Felice has had considerable success across in-house and consultancy roles.

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