Filipino Guide to Working in UAE

The idea of working in the UAE is attractive to a lot of Filipinos. Not only is it one of the largest economies and a thriving center for business, it also has a high demand for migrant workers. At least 80% of the population is composed of emigrants, who are drawn there by the high wage and the zero income tax policy. But before you jump onto the bandwagon, it’s important to prepare for what working in the UAE will involve.

Finding workabroad. The common misconception is that there are jobs aplenty, so finding work should be easy. But while migrant workers make up majority of the population, the government has recently been putting more pressure on companies to reduce unemployment among locals. This in turn has created fewer opportunities for foreign workers.

Because of this, it can be more practical to secure a job while still in the Philippines. Going through a POEA-licensed agency can help you find suitable openings, and save on the time and money that job-hunting within the UAE would take up. Furthermore, working in the UAE requires a residency visa, which is required for getting a work permit. Getting contracted before entering the UAE means you can avoid the hassle of the application process, since this is normally taken care of by employers.

If you do decide to get contracted while in the Philippines, be cautious about signing labor contracts immediately upon entering the UAE. The UAE labor law does not honor contracts signed in other countries; some employers may abuse this by changing the details of the contract from the version that was presented to the worker in Manila. Make sure you check your contract, especially in terms of salary, work hours and benefits, to make sure it’s the same as the one you previously agreed upon.

Budgeting for expenses. After the application and processing fees, you need to consider the costs of living expenses like rent, transportation and utilities.

Rent is usually what takes up most of an expat’s salary. Try to find cheaper accommodation close to a central location; besides saving on rent, this would also cut down transportation expenses. And while taxis are common and convenient, they are also quite expensive. It helps to be familiar with taking the metro lines and buses, which are more affordable in the long run.

A major draw of the UAE is its subsidies for electricity and water, making them more reasonably priced. Still, utilities should be considered part of your budget. The government recently cut subsidies on gasoline in response to the drop in oil prices, as well as to reduce emissions. There has been talk about reforming the energy subsidy as well, which is something to consider before you think about going for an air-conditioned villa.

The bottom line is that while you can easily live lavishly in the UAE, you can also choose to be more frugal. Some expats figure they can lead an extravagant lifestyle because of their tax-free income and higher wages. Instead, they end up spending more than necessary and suddenly find themselves in debt. You can avoid this if you create a long-term plan on how much you want to save and stick to it.

Being familiar with the culture and laws. The large expat community makes adjusting to the UAE and your UAE jobs easier for migrants. Yet although majority of the population is composed of expats, Islam still plays a very large part in culture and in how people are expected to behave.

For instance, expats may be surprised to have their work hours cut down or find local establishments closed during the holy month of Ramadan. Some companies even ban eating or drinking at one’s desk during this time, out of respect for those who are fasting. While you won’t be expected to perform the same practices, being sensitive to them will help you fit in better and avoid causing offense.

The cultural and religious norms often extend to the laws of the UAE. One example is that Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol – punishment for intoxication is detailed in the Q’ran. Non-Muslims can consume alcohol but will need liquor license to do so, even when in a private venue. For someone coming from the Philippines where no such license is required, such laws can be rather jarring.

However, breaking a law you didn’t know about can still jeopardize your career, or worse, land you in jail. There is no excuse for not knowing something is illegal, so it would be good to brush up before starting work. 

All things considered, working in the UAE has many benefits – not just financial ones, but also more opportunities to build relationships with people of various nationalities. As long as you keep an open mind and are respectful of other cultures, it can be a very enriching experience.