Working in Abu Dhabi
What’s life like for architects in the richest city in the world?
Currency £1 = roughly 6 dirhams (aed)
Climate The lowest winter temperatures are in January, and range between 13 and 25° C. Summer temperatures peak in August, with an average temperature of 35°C. It rarely rains in Abu Dhabi, except occasionally between January and March.
Language The official language of Abu Dhabi is Arabic, but English is the language of business and most people speak it. Contractors will normally have a translator, should you need to speak to workers on site, most of whom will be immigrants from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Ethiopia and the Philippines
Getting a visa
Tourist visa As a British citizen, you can visit the UAE and obtain a free tourist visa upon arrival, which is valid for 60 days and can be extended for 30 more days for DHS 500 (£78)
Working visa You’ll need an offer of employment. According to Stephen Embley, director at Aukett Fitzroy Robinson, your employer will normally sponsor you, fill in the necessary forms and pay the fees, which can cost between £1,000-1,500. You will need to prove your professional qualifications and undertake a medical exam involving a chest X-ray and an AIDS test. You will normally be tied to your employer for 1 year, unless they agree to release you. Visas can take 1-2 months to process.
The official working week runs from Sunday to Thursday, 8am to 6pm, 45-hour week with one hour for lunch, but employees can be required to work 5.5 or 6 days per week, or evenings and weekends when dealing with Europe.
According to Jason Armes, Managing Director of recruitment firm Hays UAE, salaries in the UAE tend to be 20% higher than in the UK across the board, ‘and this takes into account the fact that there is no income tax’.
Annual earnings, based on an informal survey by the AJ:
Part-I and Part-II qualified architect: £18,000 - £35,000
Architect: £31,200 - £46,800
Project architect: £40,000 - £74,400
Director: £74,400 – £102,000
There is no income tax in the UAE, but there are indirect taxes on accommodation, cars, driving and the haraam (forbidden tax) of 30% added onto alcohol and pork products.
According to José Sirera, managing director of Gensler’s UAE office: ‘One flight home per year is required by UAE law, and 22 days holiday and bank holidays. Medical insurance is also a requirement.’ Accommodation is not usually covered and rent is expensive – recent shortages have resulting in rental increases of up to 50%.
New Year – 1 January
Hijri New Year’s Day* – 29 December, 2008
Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday* – 9 March, 2009
Israa & Miaraj Night* – 20 July, 2009
Ramadan begins* – 21 August, 2009
Eid Al Fitr* – 20-23 September, 2009
UAE National Day – 2-3 December
Arafat (Haj) Day* – 7 December, 2009
Eid Al Adha* – 8-11 December 2008
*These holidays follow the Islamic calendar, and move annually according to the moon
Practices working in Abu Dhabi
Alsop Aukett Fitzroy Robinson
Fletcher Priest Architects
Foster & Partners
Pascall & Watson
PRP Architects International
Zaha Hadid Architects
Lifestyle for women
For the most part, women can live as they do back home – ‘The expat women may drive, go out, and operate as they would almost anywhere in the world’ says Jess Corrigan of HKS Inc. The one difference is that women are expected to dress more modestly. Exposing too much flesh, especially shoulders, cleavage and legs, is considered offensive and attracts unwanted attention.
Lifestyle for men
‘You have to be sensitive the local religion and customs,’ says Tony Morris, Middle East commercial director for engineering consultants Hilson Moran. ‘You shouldn’t go out there completely cold. Speak to people who have lived there and try to understand it.’
Male : female ratio
2 men : 1 woman
Abu Dhabi is a Muslim country, and Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol. Alcohol is nevertheless served to non-Muslims in all major hotels, bars and licensed restaurants.
- No public eating, drinking or smoking during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting when Muslims do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which occurs at a different time each year. During this time, food is served in hotels in screened areas.
- Zero tolerance for drink driving. Public drunkenness and drinking are also illegal, as is serving, selling or giving alcohol to Muslims.
- Zero tolerance for being in possession of any illegal drugs, including some prescription medication listed as illegal by the Ministry of Health’s Drug Control Department.