General Frequently Asked Questions about Dubai

What are Free Zones? How do these places work?

There are several Free Zones in the UAE and most of them are located in the Emirate of Dubai. Examples are Jebel Ali, Dubai Export Zone, Media City, and Internet City. Free Zones (FZs) operate outside of the Federal Labour Law or the Dubai Labour Law. Each FZ Authority or controlling body is autonomous and acts as the official labour sponsor for all employees employed in the various companies located within their territory. Note that this is only as far as labour sponsor is concerned. Your residency sponsor would still be your particular company-employer.

What are the implications of different FZ rules and regulations to employees wishing to move from one employer to another?

If an employee wishes to transfer employment with another company operating within the same FZ, they can do so without labour bans or formal labour transfer process as their official labour sponsor is still the same – the FZ authority. The picture gets a little complicated when the move is to another company operating outside of the current FZ. It’s best to consult with relevant FZ authorities before leaving your current sponsor.

What documents must I be ready with when reporting to an interview?

Although you would presumably have already sent a copy – via fax or email – of your updated CV/resume to the employer or recruitment agency requesting an interview, it’s always best to bring with you a hard copy when you report for your schedule. Coming prepared makes for a excellent first impression. In addition, having the following on hand would be helpful:

  • Duly attested original transcript of records. Although this is not necessarily required yet at this point, having your attested documents handy is important especially in walk-in interviews for positions advertised as being for immediate hiring, for obvious reasons.
  • Your portfolio. This especially applies to those seeking advertising, marketing and other creative jobs in Dubai and the UAE. It may be more practical to bring an electronic copy of your portfolio, either on a CD or a flash drive as these things tend to be bulky.

What other documents should I prepare in connection with my employment in Dubai?

Besides the suggested documents to bring to an interview, you would need the following once you get hired:

  • Your international driver’s license, if you have one;
  • Your marriage certificate if you are a husband/father and intend to bring your family over;
  • Your credit card and bank account details.

What is the process of attestation? How and where do I get my documents attested?

Attestation is involves a process of authentication of the documents you are presenting as proof of qualifications. This means the party conducting the attestation verifies the validity of the information contained in your documents. The UAE Federal Labour Law requires all documents showing proof of qualification files with an application for an employment visa to be attested by the UAE embassy of the employee’s home country. The UAE embassy in your home country may require your documents to be certified by certain agencies or attestation bodies in your home country’s government prior to submission to their office. Because this process is done outside of the UAE, it is best to bring your already-attested documents when you come to the UAE. Otherwise, you might have to ask a family member or a friend to have your documents processed for you.

I have an international driver’s license. Is this enough to enable me to drive any vehicle within the UAE?

Holders of international driver’s licenses may only drive rental cars from official rental agencies. It is illegal to drive private vehicles on a driver’s license other than that issued by UAE authorities. Depending on where your license is issued from, you may have it converted directly to a UAE driver’s license. If your license is not issued from any of the countries listed in the law, you must take the driving examinations before you can be issued a UAE driver’s license. For more information on transferring/converting licenses, click here.

Driver’s licenses issued from which countries may be directly converted to a UAE driver’s license? Is my license directly convertible to a UAE driving license?

Driving licenses issued from any of the following countries may be converted directly to a UAE driving license without need for examinations:

Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.

Again, if your international driver’s license was issued from any other country that is NOT in the above list, you are required to take and pass the UAE driving examinations before you can be issued a UAE driver’s license.

What happens if I die in the UAE (presumably prior to the expiration of my employment)?

Consistent with provisions of the Sharia Law, all assets of a deceased expatriate is frozen and held by the State as soon as the death is made public. All assets mean real or personal assets – from cash in UAE bank accounts, cars registered in the deceased’s name and every other property. The surviving spouse (widow or widower) or any other qualified heir, must then file a petition with the court for the release of the assets. The court then decides on the petition based on merits. In other words, there is no guarantee that your estate will be released to the petitioner.

How long does it take for the court to render a decision on the petition for release of my assets in case I die?

It’s a case to case basis. The process may take up to six months especially if the required documentation, most importantly, the deceased’s Will and Testament, is not readily made available. Under the Sharia Law, a deceased’s (if Muslim) assets (called the estate) do not automatically go to the surviving spouse. The estate is divided, according to specific guidelines, amongst the deceased’s relatives – parents, siblings, spouse(s) and offspring.

That being the case, your family could very well be left without any source of income or means of support from the time your death has been made public until the courts decide to release your estate to them. You would do well to prepare for the eventuality of death whilst you are in your home country, i.e., before leaving to work in the UAE.

Considering the provisions in the Sharia Law, how do I ensure that my family has a means of support in case I die in the UAE, pending release of my estate to them?

This question concerns estate planning and must be discussed with your solicitor/lawyer, your financial advisor, or any professional handling your financial and legal affairs. If you do not have any, exercise your foresight and plan ahead. Here are some things you can do:

  • Do not keep all of your Dubai earnings in UAE bank accounts. Move some of your savings off-shore, either to an account in your home country or to a non-resident account in another country. Swiss banks are favourite choices for resident accounts as the Swiss have built an impeccable reputation for discretion and secrecy. This is a smart move because UAE laws have effect only within its jurisdiction. UAE jurisdiction does not extend beyond your UAE bank accounts.
  • If your wife is a UAE resident as well, maintain a joint account with her name on it. Make sure the account is “and/or”. In the event of your death, she can withdraw all funds from this account before your death is made public and the account frozen.
  • For your personal accounts, have a blank cheque signed and kept it locked and sealed with your wife’s copy of all documents pertaining to the settlement of your estate. Make sure she has clear instructions to access this set of documents first thing when you die. Of course, leave the documents and the cheque with instructions to withdraw the funds from your account before your death is made public.

Besides preparing travel and employment-related documents, what must I do before leaving my home country to work in Dubai?

There is no hard and fast rule on this one. You want to secure your affairs at home whilst you are away, make sure your responsibilities are duly taken care of. You do not want to have to take emergency trips home for things you could have made prior arrangements for, or be spending good money to courier services for documents you could have attended to before you left. Bearing efficiency, expediency and cost-effectiveness in mind, consider doing the following before you leave for Dubai or the UAE:

  • Preparing, or otherwise updating your Last Will and Testament. Many eastern cultures, especially in East and Southeast Asia, do not speak of death or dying as it is considered to bring bad luck. Naturally, many Asians do not appreciate the importance of preparing the Will and end up dying without one. For practical reasons and because of the provisions in the Sharia Law which applies to a deceased expatriate’s assets in the UAE, it is to your and your family’s best interest if you leave with a Will already written and made legally-binding.
  • Execute a power of attorney granting full and exclusive right to a person you designate – a parent or sibling – to act on your behalf pertaining to legal issues whilst you are abroad. This is a practical approach to make sure someone takes care of little things for your while you’re out of your home country.
  • Check with your bank for requirements pertaining to giving access and temporary control of your exclusive bank accounts (accounts only in you’re name) to your spouse or anyone you wish to authorize. Banks may require more than a power of attorney to grant access to an exclusive bank account to any person other than the depositor.

In the case of joint accounts, if your account is with the conjunction “or”, or “and/or”, no further action is required; the other person whose name appears in the account has full access to it, even without your knowledge. A joint account with the conjunction “and” requires the consent of both parties for any activity, other than deposits, pertaining to your account.

  • For married individuals, secure an unabridged, full copy of your marriage certificate and have it notarized. You may need this, especially if you are a husband/father and intend to bring your family over to live with you in the UAE.
  • For parents with children bearing surnames different from theirs, bring corroborating evidence that you are indeed the parent of the child or children in question. This is useful for visa sponsorship purposes.

I’ve been offered a job. I’m being called to discuss the details of the offer. When it’s my turn to ask questions, what areas must I remember to enquire about?

Congratulations! Discussing the details of your prospective employment helps you decide whether to finally accept the job offer or not. Therefore, you need to be sure you’re fully satisfied with everything included in the offer. Make specific enquiries on the following:

  • Your contract type and basic salary, as these are bases for gratuity pay and/or other benefits.
  • Probationary period and entitlement to specific benefits;
  • Accommodation and transportation. Companies would usually provide allowances to cover both but in some cases, accommodation and transportation facilities are provided for. For non-managerial positions, these benefits are usually shared – accommodation in staff houses and company vehicles chauffeured by company drivers would pick up employees to and from specific drop-off points. If a car comes with the position, you’d like to know if regular maintenance, gas and other relevant costs will be shouldered by the company.
  • Other benefits are included in your compensation package?
  • Job details – your job description and/or task list, work hours, etc.
  • Uniform requirements and associated costs.
  • Annual holidays – company policies pertaining to annual holiday schedule, notice and airfares. (Some companies pay for roundtrip tickets to and from your home country; others may include free airfare for your family as well).

I have an account with a locally represented international bank (e.g. HSBC or Citibank). Should I open a Dubai or UAE account?

It is recommended for you to maintain a UAE account with the same bank and branch as your employer. As most businesses pay their employees via electronic funds transfer, you want to avoid the transaction costs associated with international branch transfers and the clearing period.

International fund transfers are charged at roughly AED 40 per transfer and may take 2-3 banking days for the amount to be credited to the recipient account. If you maintain an account with the same bank and branch as your employer, your salary will be credited to your account on the dame date your employer makes the transfer and at no added cost.

How do I obtain a credit card in the UAE?

Obtaining a credit card in the UAE is relatively easy. All persons employed and maintaining a UAE bank account are eligible for credit lines with various banks. If you’d like one, all you need to be is call your bank. They’d usually send a representative to your office or place of work to assist you with the required paperwork. In some cases, a credit card application is filed concurrently with the paperwork for opening an account in your name. If you’d like a credit card from another bank, you can simply call them and they’d send in a representative just the same.

I do most of my banking online. Do I still need to have a cheque book?

You don’t necessarily have to but you may find it very inconvenient without one. Non-routine transactions such as negotiating a property lease or rental payments for your accommodations, require issuance of post-dated cheques (PDCs). Dubai property owners require PDCs to be issued for rental payments covering at least the next 12 months on top of the initial deposit. Hiring or purchasing cars also usually involve PDCs.

What happens if I default on payments for which I’ve issued a post-dated cheques?

Post-dated cheques are the preferred mode of payment by Dubai lenders, be that a private property owner granting you a lease or a bank granting you a loan. This is because the Sharia Law specifically states no one can be compelled to pay debt. PDCs insure the lender’s right to repayment of debts owed to them under UAE laws pertaining to fraud. A cheque stamped DAIF (drawn against insufficient funds) is enough evidence for a case of fraud to be filed against you. Your creditor can bring a DAIF cheque to the police and have you arrested for fraud. On top of this, banks charge stiff penalties of up to AED 200 for every cheque that fails to clear.

What is the liability of a surety under UAE Laws?

UAE laws pertaining to sureties are very similar to those in other countries. People who co-sign a debt as surety are bound by the same loan terms as the principal debtor. This simply means that if the bank fails to collect the debt from the principal debtor, they are legally allowed to collect from the surety.

What happens when I co-sign a debt as surety?

Nothing happens to you whilst the principal debtor is paying the debt amortization as scheduled. In the event that the principal debtor is unable to, the bank will collect payment from you. Sureties are bound by the same terms as the principal debtor.

What is the worst thing that can happen to me if I co-sign a debt as surety?

Your worst-case scenario as surety is you can be jailed and prosecuted for fraud. This may happen when the principal debtor flees from the country or is nowhere to be found whilst a pending criminal or otherwise legal issues pertaining to the debt in question exists.

I’m not sure whether to keep my saving in the UAE or send it back home. What things must I know to help me decide?

As this is a matter of personal decision, bear the following in mind when considering keeping your savings in the UAE:

  • Your UAE assets are used to cover any outstanding UAE obligations. Your bank can seize your assets, or freeze your account if you default on any payments until the issue is fully settled or the debt repaid;
  • Your UAE assets will automatically revert to State control and administration in the event of your debt and will be inaccessible by any family member until the State has released it to an heir;
  • Foreign exchange rates fluctuate. You may want to keep your funds in AED, USD, your home country’s currency or in any other currency to minimize transaction losses. Also, moving funds off-shore, meaning outside of the country, has corresponding transaction charges.
  • Moving large sums of money from the Middle East raise suspicions of fraud, especially in countries with anti-money laundering laws.

Is there a dress code in Dubai? in the other six Emirates?

Dubai fashion is interestingly a showcase of everything the world has to offer. It is common to see Arab women in their aabaya and Arab men in their kondura. Indian women go out in their colorful sari and of course, the Western residents and everyone else, can usually dress as they please. It is not unusual to see women wearing short skirts or plunging necklines. Note however, that in some instances, the police may apprehend women who are deemed to be dressed inappropriately. There are no hard and fast rules in Dubai about what is and what’s not with respect to clothes. For a Muslim territory, Dubai is fairly liberal with public attire, especially for women. However, it pays to remember that fact – that it is a Muslim territory and that you are in a Muslim country – whilst you are in town.

As for the other Emirates like Sharjah, their rulers are strict about public dress codes and the general rule is for women to wear skirts that fall at least below their knees. Disregarding these rules is taken as a blatant disrespect for the Muslim culture and can earn you some jail time on top of hefty fines.
In addition, the holy month of Ramaddan merits special care and consideration, attire-wise. The general rule during Ramaddan for all Emirates, including Dubai, is for people, especially women, to dress conservatively. This means pick your outfits such that you’ll have unexposed legs or shoulders.

What is the Dubai business attire?

Contrary to the trend in the West where everyday is now Friday/wash day, most Dubai business people report to work dressed in formal business suits, complete with jackets and ties. Most businesses also demand this, especially those located in central business areas such as those in Sheikh Zayed Road. However, some organizations with no formal dress codes allow employees to report to work dressed in business casual attires.

If you are reporting to an interview, it’s best to dress smartly (or traditionally), with jackets and ties. When you get hired, ask you office manager, or HR director of your organization’s guidelines for work attire.

I’m on medication. Are there are any prescription drugs that are unavailable in the UAE?

Most prescription medications are available in the UAE although some brands may not. There are a lot of local brand names for popular prescription drugs. If you are on medication, bring a recent prescription with you showing a generic name. This should help a local pharmacist locate your medications, in case your brand is unavailable.

Some over-the-counter drugs are banned from Gulf countries, including the UAE. Check this list of controlled drugs.

I’m not Muslim and my faith is important to me. Am I allowed to openly profess and practice a different faith in Dubai?

For a Muslim territory, there is a fair amount of religious freedom in Dubai and people are free to practice their own faith. There are a number of churches and places of worship in Dubai although these may be located in less conspicuous places than mosques. Consistent with Muslim holidays and for obvious practical reasons, most church services are performed on Fridays, not Sundays.

With the mix of people in Dubai, how are holidays observed?

Dubai’s work force is divided into two, for purposes of determining holiday benefits. There are private sector holidays and these are observed by employees of private businesses; there are public sector holidays and these are observed by employees in various government offices, the military, police and banks. Holidays observed as public holidays are for both private and public sectors.

What are public holidays in Dubai?

  • All Islamic holidays
  • UAE National Day
  • New Year’s Day (January 1st)

I’m not Muslim. I’m Christian / Hindu. Do I get the day off on Christian/Hindu holidays?

Besides the official public holidays, Christian holidays, specifically Christmas and Easter, and Hindu holidays and festivals are not officially observed. However, owing to fairly large non-Muslim staff, most businesses make allowances and allow employees to attend church services or even celebrate at work if any of these holidays fall on a regular work day. This is purely discretionary. Not every employer does this service to their employees.

How is Dubai during the Holy Month of Ramaddan?

During the entire month when the Muslim world observes Ramaddan, everyone – Muslim or not, resident or tourist, foreigner or local, are required to observe the fast, at least publicly, for non-Muslims. The fast is in effect from sunrise to sunset, and most restaurants are closed during the day. They open to serve meals after sunset and stay open all night and close doors just before sunrise. Bars may stay open although loud or live music or performances is prohibited. Hotel restaurants stay open during the day to serve tourists but are screened off from public view.

Business is slow during Ramaddan, as most non-Muslim managers and even some staff take their annual holidays at this time of the year. Business hours are shortened, usually only six hours a day for most businesses. Stores and shops open late afternoon through late evening.

I’m not Muslim. If everyone is enjoined to observe the fast on Ramaddan, does that mean I can’t eat or drink anything during the day?

No, it doesn’t. You may not eat, drink or smoke in public. But you may do so in private. Even at work, exercise a little prudence. You co-workers or colleagues who are Muslims may take offence for blatant display of such prohibited acts.

In Dubai, if you forget and pop a cigarette or take a drink in public, you may either be reminded by anyone in sight or the police, or you could get arrested. Muslims failing to observe the fast and are caught face severe punishment.

Would it be practical to bring my furniture or appliances to the UAE?

No, it’s not a practical option. Furniture and appliances are very cheap in the UAE. And all the appliances found in the West are available in Dubai. Buying them locally or even leasing some, is a far more practical approach to furnishing your new home.

Is bringing my car a practical option?

No, it isn’t. Cars, rentals or new purchases are cheap. A huge selection of makes and models are available in the UAE, even for most luxury car brands. Again, sourcing your vehicle locally is a more practical route.

I have a pet I can’t live without. Can I bring him over with me? How?

Yes, pets may be brought in to the UAE with the proper paperwork. You (as the owner) must apply for an import permit with the Department of Agriculture and Quarantine. The permit authorizes the corresponding office in your home country to export your pet to the UAE. The permit also contains the conditions for import/export. These conditions vary, depending on the animal types and the originating country.

I’m unused to extremely warm weather so I would survive off of air conditioning units. Is there anything I need to know about prolonged use or exposure to AC-cold air and Dubai’s hot summer?

Besides making living possible in Dubai during the hot summer months, here are a few AC-friendly reminders:

  • Your spectacles (eyeglasses) mist up when moving to and from a cold room or environment.
  • If you’re wearing contacts, bring your fluid with you. Prolonged exposure to an AC-cold room dries your eyes up.
  • Too much indoor humidity can damage some of your things – leather items to develop moulds; wine corks, cigars and cigarettes drying up and may even damage your furniture.
  • Prolonged exposure to an AC can cause nose bleeds or breathing problems especially in children.
  • Make sure your AC’s vents and your ductwork is clean. Bacteria and other unhealthy elements can stock up in these nooks and crooks and get into your lungs.
  • If you have a choice, pick split units over centralized ACs. With a centralized AC, when someone in the house gets sick, everyone inevitably follows.

I’m Muslim. What if I would like to fulfill my Muslim duty and perform my pilgrimage (Haj) to the Holy City of Meccah during the course of my employment in Dubai?

Article 87 specifically provides for a maximum of 30 unpaid days for Muslims who wish to do their pilgrimage to Mecca. This provision applies to all Muslims employed in the UAE, whether you’re a UAE national or not. The leave for Haj does not, in any way, affect your entitlement to other leave benefits.

I’ve heard so much about the PRO. Who is this person? What is their job?

Each company in the UAE has a public relations officer (PRO) who is in charge of processing all employee-related paperwork with various government offices. With recent legislation, this position is now mandated to be held by an Emirati (referred to as a local), or a UAE citizen.

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