Introduction to the Region
Arabia, the areas made up of the Arabian Peninsula, is located in the south-western region of the Asian continent. Politically, the Arabian Peninsula consist of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirate (‘UAE’), the Sultanate of Oman, and the Republic of Yemen.
The UAE is a federation of seven sheikhdoms located in the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Abu Dhabi is the largest and the wealthiest of the Emirates, and is the federal capital of the country. It is home to the majority of the energy and projects work for the region. In contrast, Dubai, which is relatively poor in natural resources compared with other Emirates, has developed a business culture that is somewhat more entrepreneurial in nature; its reputation as a commercial and tourist hub is widely know and well deserved.
Bahrain is the largest of an archipelago of 33 islands. The Bahrain economy is largely oil and gas based. The recent war in Iraq, and tensions with the US, have resulted in significant re-direction of investment back into local projects.
The Legal Market
Over the last few years a significant number of top-tier City and US firms have signalled their commitment to the region by opening offices in Dubai and other major cities. Local full-service firms also offer high quality work, with established links with a superb range of local clients.
The work on offer in the region typically embraces corporate, corporate finance/banking (with a particular emphasis on Islamic Finance), construction / projects / energy, IT/e-commerce and litigation. Opportunities in practice areas such as employment and, to a lesser extent commercial property, are limited.
Regardless of jurisdiction, although knowledge of Arabic will always be advantageous, given that the majority of firms offer English legal advice, there are no re-qualification requirements to work in the Middle East. Business is conducted in English.
The good old days of fat ex-pat packages, whilst not having altogether disappeared, are certainly on the wane. Increasingly firms are looking at recruiting from overseas but on more favourable terms. This will affect the extent to which firms are prepared to cover the cost of housing; private schooling, flights home and so on. Whilst a typical package might, for example, include flights home once a year, the cost of schooling will only rarely be covered.
In most major cities, housing is the most contentious issue. Until recently, typical ex-pat packages would include a stated allowance made in respect of rental fees. Some firms still operate on this basis. However, a shift is currently taking place towards pure salary packages usually calculated by reference to comparable earnings in London. Whilst this may appear to be an arbitrary distinction, the reality is different as rents are often payable up to one year in advance, and while most firms offer assistance towards this expense, this is not always the case. It is therefore critical to clarify at an early stage the terms of the package on offer.
The table below gives some indication of the likely rentals payable in Dubai, while those in Abu Dhabi and Doha are slightly higher:
Apartments Dirhams per year
1 bedroom 50,000 – 115,000
2 bedrooms 70,000 – 180,000
3 bedrooms 120,000 – 250,000
Villas Dirhams per year
2 bedrooms 175,000 – 285,000
3 bedrooms 215,000 – 350,000
4+ bedrooms 250,000 – 500,000
Personal incomes, including all forms of salary and capital gains wherever arising, are not subject to taxation in any of the Emirates, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
As to the cost of living, and while some aspects of life in UAE are cheaper that their UK counterparts, in general terms (and housing aside) this equates more or less to living in central London.
Citizens of GCC countries such as the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, France, Germany and Ireland visiting the UAE can obtain an entry visa on arrival in the UAE.
Other foreign nationals wishing to take up employment in Dubai must obtain in advance an entry visa and a work permit, having first been granted sponsorship by the company offering employment.
Residence and work permits are valid for three years and may be renewed. Work permits issued in one Emirate are not transferable to another Emirate. A Residency visa is required in the UAE for obtaining a driving licence, health card, liquor licence and to rent accommodation.
Relocation to the Middle East, and Dubai in particular, offers what many consider to be the perfect blend of work and play; the emphasis on after-work socialising is strong. Many types of sporting activities are on offer, including sand skiing and dune buggy racing, as well as plenty of world-class golf. There are also a surfeit of shopping opportunities available.
Only restaurants in hotels and leisure complexes are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is also obtained from two suppliers, each of which has several outlets in Dubai. It is illegal to buy alcohol without a licence. Licences are issued by the Police Department to non-Muslims holding a residency visa.
For more information, please contact your advising consultant at Garfield Robbins International on 0845 671 0199.
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