17 Jun 2024

How to Find a Tech Job in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Finding a high quality technology job in Dubai can be challenging. Whilst there are tons of great employment opportunities for expats in the United Arab Emirates, telling the good jobs from the bad ones is not straight forward.

Dubai is arguably the biggest tech hub in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and whilst many companies are embracing an international approach to science and technology, with high salaries and diverse work environments, there are still many organisations that are very conservative.

An image of the Dubai skyline at sunset

As Dubai's tech industry matures, more and more companies are realising the benefits of possessing a global outlook, however it's still a work in progress and so you need to tread carefully if you want to have a great tech career in Dubai.

So how do you find those good jobs? That's the question I'll be exploring in this article.

Skill Up: Be Highly Specialised

If you want a high quality technology job in Dubai you better have high quality skills. The reality is that Dubai is a relatively expensive place to hire and retain staff, so if a role could effectively be outsourced to a more cost efficient country in the region like India or Egypt many companies will take that option. However, as any manager can tell you, outsourcing key roles and work reduces quality and organisational performance and that's why the best opportunities in Dubai tend to be for highly skilled roles that an organisation can't do without. A quick look at our own job listings and you'll see a lot of jobs involving machine learning and artificial intelligence, software & engineering, cryptocurrency, pre-sales and cybersecurity roles. High quality roles for high quality candidates.

If you're reading this and thinking, "but I am not skilled in AI or ML" don't dismay. These are just examples, the point here is that when applying for jobs in Dubai you need to switch your CV from presenting as a generalist tech professional, to someone with a highly specific set of skills and experiences that are relevant to whatever position you are applying for.

Get Educated: Find Out What Employers Are Looking For

The next step is to think about the kind of tech job you want and go out and find out what these kinds of employers are actually looking for. During your search focus on companies that are ready to hire foreigners that can provide the sort of work environment that you expect.

Unfortunately, tech recruiting in Dubai still lags far behind the US and Europe, where salary ranges and employment policies are readily disclosed before you even apply. As such, it's really tough to recognise whether a company is worth applying to or not. This is one of my main motivations for building Zero Tax Jobs; my aim is to create a resource that only lists the best jobs in locations like Dubai. The idea is that if it's on Zero Tax Jobs, it's a job that is worth your time as an overseas tech professional.

That's why a good starting point for your search is to browse the Zero Tax Jobs' companies page. This should give you a good overview of the foreigner friendly companies in the MENA region that are hiring tech professionals in regions like Dubai. Research each one that matches your preferences and read the job listings for each company to get a sense of the skills they most value. Make a note of the skills that overlap with your own skillset and start to make a shortlist of roles that are worth applying for.

The Job Search: Have More Than One Angle of Attack

Whilst, the job listings here on Zero Tax Jobs give a really good overview of some of the best tech roles available in Dubai, I've only been listing jobs since March 2024 and so there is not yet as much information about the working environments at each company as I would like.

The reality is that some of the best roles in Dubai never even get publicly listed, with companies retaining their own pools of candidates and directly approaching them first with the newest vacancies. That's why it's really important to try and build connections with people in the local tech scene in Dubai. You can learn about the latest vacancies and also have a direct line on whether a company is a good place to work or not.

Here are some good groups and events aimed at expats to get you started:

  • Flutter Meetups in Dubai: A regular meetup in Dubai aimed at the flutter community
  • Asimov AI Meetup: This is a tech meetup group focued on AI, blockchain and machine learning. It's organised by the guys at Haltia AI, a startup in the space, so a great way to come across people who understand the tech scene in Dubai.
  • Dubai Hackathon Group: Hackathons are always a great way to meet people in tech scene whilst also being able to show off your skills
  • Dubai Tech Network: Is a network and meetup group for founders, software engineers, product managers, designers and investors. You can join their slack community here.

Remember, the idea here is not to come across as someone desperately looking for work, but rather a tech professional who's eager to learn more about Dubai and ideally someone who can offer value and insights to the group, by being helpful and knowledgable on whatever topic the group is focused on. You're way more likely to receive help and advice yourself this way.

Things to Watch Out For: Red Flags When Searching for Jobs

I often get asked why I don't list more remote jobs on Zero Tax Jobs.. unfortunately that's because more often than not remote jobs in Dubai are no use to your average expat looking to relocate to the United Arab Emirates. Many companies will list their global remote jobs in multiple locations across the world in the hope of reaching more candidates. However, if you apply for these jobs, you'll soon find out, whilst they are happy for you to work from Dubai, they are unable to sponsor your visa or help you relocate. That's why if your goal is to actually relocate you the United Arab Emirates you're better off focusing on jobs that are listed as on-site or hybrid.

Another risk I have to mention, is that there are some unsavoury individuals who try to take advantage of people's starry-eyed desire to move to Dubai. If a job sounds too good to be true, has a very limited application process or asks for any form of payment in order to proceed with the application.. it's a scam; avoid it like the plague. An authentic employer, will never require you to pay anything to proceed with your application.

The Application: Don't Be Spammy

When it comes to applying for jobs specificity is everything. The modern day recruitment process often relies on automated applicant tracking systems (ATS). The first step is often an AI which filters out applicants which are not well matched to the job description. This means you can't just submit the same CV or application to multiple companies. If you want to be successful, you need to read the job description carefully and identify the key skills and requirements and make sure your application references them.

When referencing it's important to not just list the requirements back in your application. Instead, you need to state what you achieved, preferably in a quantifiable way.

For example if a job listing requires "Software Development Leadership", then rather than just saying "5 years of Software Development Leadership", you want to say "Led a team of 10 software developers in the design and implementation of a scalable Java-based web application using the Spring framework, resulting in a 30% increase in application performance and a 25% reduction in server resource consumption across 5 years of leadership."

Do I Need to Be in Dubai to Apply?

There was a historical preference amongst employers for candidates to be in Dubai for face to face interviews, however this has changed a lot especially since Covid. Forward thinking employers are more willing to consider applicantions from abroad, particularly if they are highly skilled. That said it's important to be aware of why employers prefer candidates to be available for face to face interviews. Hiring and recruiting is a huge investment of time and a candidate who is willing to travel to Dubai sends a great signal that they are serious about relocating to the United Arab Emirates and are not going to waste the employer's time. Whilst I don't think it's necessary to be in Dubai, it never hurts to indicate on your CV, that you have been to Dubai, know what it is like and would be willing to come for interview if necessary.

Do I Need to Speak Arabic?

No, Dubai is an international hub largely made up of expats so the majority of roles are completely in English. If you are a highly skilled tech worker, chances are there will be plenty of roles for you in English. However, if you are less specialised, speaking Arabic could present an opportunity, because there is a need for bilingual staff particularly in pre-sales engineering and client facing roles.

What About Recruiters?

There are plenty of recruiting firms working in Dubai and the MENA region. They can be a valuable tool when trying to find a role in the United Arab Emirates. Recruiters have access to inside information and can set expectations regaring salaries in line with your experience level. However, I would strong advise against relying solely on recruiters for finding a job.

Recruiters only work with a specific set of companies and are only motivated to introduce you to those companies. Thus you'll need to talk to several recruiters to get a broad overview of the market. They also get paid when they place you in a job and whilst most recruiters won't put you forward for a job unless you are a good fit, there are some less scrupulous ones who will try to push you into a role that isn't right for you.

As such, you still need to do your own research, so if you are going to go the recruitment route, still make sure to check job sites and tech community groups so you can be in the know and make informed decisions.

Don't Cut Corners

If you're a skilled technology professional there's almost certainly a job for you in Dubai.

However, you need to be cautious when seeking out a role, to make sure it really is a position that is right for you.

As our Dubai Software Engineer Salary Calculator shows, the rate of pay in Dubai can be very high. The prospect of excellent wages with 0% tax and a higher standard of living makes Dubai very attractive. For some just moving to Dubai becomes the priority and the job they take becomes almost secondary; it's just a means to get the lifestyle they want. This is the wrong approach, Dubai is an amazing place to live, but only if you are happy in your work and are continuing to grow and be challenged.

A quick look on reddit and you can find many horror stories of technology professionals who moved to the United Arab Emirates and ended up in a dysfunctional tech team, where nepotism and poor HR practices made their working life a nightmare. The last thing you want is to join that club.

The reality is that there are plenty of companies that would hire an international tech professional even though they have little in place to support them in their working lives. That's why doing your research on sites like this and talking to people on the ground in Dubai is a critical step that shoudn't be skipped.

A good rule of thumb when finding a job in Dubai is if that same position was offered to you in your home country, would it make sense as your next career move? If the answer is no, then it's probably not a good fit. In which case, keep researching and keep searching until the job that makes you say 'yes' comes along.

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