This is my experience job hunting in Dubai as an IT professional.
The caste system
The first thing I would like to discuss which is important, is the caste system in Dubai. Simply put at the very top of the ladder sit the local Emirati, after this the next group having the highest social status are western / European expats. Both of these groups have high status. On the other side – Indians, Pakistanis, and Asians have a lower social status. Filipinos are at the very bottom of the ladder.
Now why am I mentioning this? If you’re planning on moving to Dubai, then think about this. If you’re from India or Pakistan you can almost expect to earn a lower salary than someone from the UK. This caste system is blatant racism, but there are very good reasons why people tolerate it, and even uphold it. But to explain this goes beyond the scope of this post.
All I’m saying is when it comes to IT salaries and work conditions, perks and benefits. Westerners have a greater shot of making real money, and from my observations Indians work for much less money in Dubai.
Dubai is a city, not a country
I know you know this, but unless you’ve actually been to Dubai, you need to think long and hard about this. For all intents and purposes the UAE consists of 2 cities that have IT work. Dubai and Abu Dhabi – that’s it. Dubai might be a large city, but that is all it is – 1 city. So there aren’t an unlimited amount of IT jobs in Dubai. Finding work in my opinion can be tough and challenging. As I’ve mentioned in the caste system intro, there is a lot of competition and a lot of Indians who will work for 4 times less than what you would expect to get paid in Dubai, the few companies who actively only hire Westerners do pay more, and these are the companies you want to seek out – if you are a westerner.
Dubai is a shifty place
Here is the thing, as an expat you will NEVER gain citizenship in the UAE, because of this you will always be a visitor, you and everyone else. This alone affects the way people do business in Dubai. But I think generally Dubai is a cut throat type of place. The way the people are is representative to the harsh desert environment they find themselves in.
DO NOT TRUST ANY ONE.
I made the mistake of trusting people from one company I was interviewing at. I had a promise of a job, where I would need to undergo a trial period. The whole way they proposed this trial period was sketchy to say the least. I had a promise of work, and in the end it fell through, with an apology, however trust me on this, the company was irresponsible to offer me work, if they had no plans on following through with it. Do you think they care?
There are lots of stories about people not getting paid. Lots of stories about expats being forced to leave because they’ve been fired without enough notice period.
On another occasion I applied for a job, and was told by some guy with an Indian accent that I should come for an interview the next day. When asking for more information about the job, he refused to disclose anything, not even an estimated salary. I noticed that not only 1 had been invited to the interview, but the email had many other recipients in the “To” field. All with Indian names. I decided not to attend, because I expected the salary to be around 5000 AED.
Dubai is expensive
Never, ever just pack your stuff and come over thinking you will find work within the 3 months visit visa. NEVER do this. Dubai is much more expensive than you might think. Always job hunt prior to leaving, and even then you can’t be guaranteed it will work out. A lot of people have been shafted on arrival. But at least then you can cut your loss without spending your life savings.
Dubai is hot
Very hot and because of this you can expect to be spending a lot of time indoors with air conditioning. Now I’ve always had some form of air conditioning in my car, but never in my house. I’ve experienced it for part of the day at work (sometimes), and in some malls (sometimes). But never had the full 24/7 aircon experience. Let me tell you do not underestimate this. I was sick. The people I was living with had developed a persistent cough. And aircon is not healthy. Opening windows isn’t an option in the summer. And so you end up feeling like you can’t escape the aircon. One of the best things for me was having real air again, after leaving Dubai.
Dubai is the easiest place in the world to find women
I know this has nothing to do with IT, but it is worth a mention. Let me tell you Eastern Europe is a difficult place to find girls in comparison to Dubai. Eastern Europe might be fill of nice looking girls who smile and seem friendly, but when you want to take it to the next level you’re mostly left high and dry. Not so in Dubai. Women are actively seeking decent men.
Why would you want to live in Dubai?
Well in America you have the American dream. The Dubai dream goes something like this: Living in a Villa, having a house maid, driving a SUV, living and eating well and getting a lot of sun, living in a grown up Disney land.
Is this approachable? I’m sure it is, but for an IT developer you’re going to need a bit of luck finding a well paid job to pull this off. 5000 AED a month won’t give you this. Neither will 15000 AED. What you’re looking at is 25000 AED to enjoy this. And not many companies in 2013 are willing to pay a developer 25000 AED. There was a time when those salaries were getting tossed around, but not anymore.
So let’s say you realistically earn 12500 AED. Well you can still enjoy an apartment with a gym, and swimming pool and drive your SUV, but there won’t be much money left for anything else.
Still not too bad right?
Why are so many apartments empty?
A LOT of apartments in the Dubai Marina are sitting empty. I was told this by taxi drivers, and it is easy to see at night when apartment lights should be visible. Why? Rent in Dubai is expensive, but Dubai Marina is ridiculously expensive. Simply put, the Marina was created to support a luxury level of clientele, and there simply are not enough people earning that kind of money to fill the apartments. A LOT have moved out to cheaper areas, or left Dubai completely.
This should tell you something about what you can realistically expect to earn. If salaries were any better, much more of those apartments would be filled with developers like you and me earning good money.
Is it all doom and gloom?
No, there are people who have made a success in Dubai, but they didn’t get there easily. Dubai is not crying out for IT developers, and mostly development is considered cheap labour in Dubai due to the influx of Indians, etc – who are willing to work for much less than their western counterparts.
But there are always those companies who offer a higher quality of living to their employees, they’re scarce but you can find them.