The Middle East and Dubai are not areas that most Americans know very much about. When I started this #globalrecruitment series, I was really hoping to shed light on some areas around the world that are not only different, but very interesting to anyone who read about them. When I was introduced to Barbara Van Pay, I knew I wanted to hear more. I asked her a number of questions and here are a few that I found very interesting.

1) Talk to me a little about the work week, the hours, and expectations of the candidates you find

The work culture is very competitive so in most companies in the Middle East employees work more hours than a standard work week or more than would be expected in a typical western company. Some companies operate 6 days per week so it’s important to clarify the working hours and days before accepting an offer with any employer.

In the UAE the 5-day workweek starts on Sunday through Thursday, for a 6-day workweek you would include Saturday with Friday as the rest day. Workweeks can vary for example in Saudi Arabia, expect to work Saturday to Wednesday with Thursday and Friday being the days off. If a six day work week Friday would be your day off.

2) What are some of the perks that are given to people in the Middle East? Explain the housing/ automotive/food allowances and how that is factored in to the salary.

Packages consist of a gross package this means you will be given a basic salary, accommodation allowance, and transport allowance. This will be clearly stated in the contract and split 60/30/10. Any annual bonus or end of service benefit will be a percentage of the basic salary only, not the gross package.

  • Few companies provide additional housing anymore but most companies will provide you with accommodation for your first month.
  • Some employers will offer schooling allowance for children under 18 depending on the grade of the position offered.
  • Visa fees and other associate fees are usually born by the company employing you.
  • Most companies provide medical insurance on top of your package. If you are married or require family cover you may be asked to cover the cost for your dependents.
  • Flights or a flight allowance are provided for the employee only, normally one ticket per annum to your home country. Some companies may provide tickets for dependents but it’s not common. Tickets should be assumed economy class unless otherwise stated in the offer. Business class flights are normally only considered for Director level and above although this varies from company to company.
  • Some companies will pay your relocation but the amounts and benefits will vary greatly.

3) Where do you find the hires to work in Dubai? Talk a little about the local candidates and how you attract candidates from across the globe to come and work in Dubai.

Candidates looking for work in Dubai come to us from across the globe that means our search literally knows no bounds. We post our jobs on the SmartHR website and on job portals such as, the leading job site in the Middle East. Primarily we search on LinkedIn look for people already in roles in the region, if we are not successful we then expand our search to other markets. We use various tools including the database as well as and

To recruit UAE Nationals we use a specialized agency, Ershaad, ( who has an extensive database of UAE nationals with over 30,000 CV’s/Resumes.

4) Talk to me about the Alcohol License, the excess living, the no holding hands and any other things Americans would not typically think about.

  • The culture is very conservative and the laws compared to western culture are very restrictive. Some countries are more stringent than others for example Saudi Arabia has extremely strict codes and zero tolerance as does Sharjah, one of the 7 UAE Emirates. In Dubai there is a more liberal view, however if the laws are blatantly disrespected publically or inappropriately the punishment can still be severe.
  • It is illegal to cohabit in the Middle East and it’s extremely important not to ignore or disrespect local laws and customs. There is a serious risk of being arrested and deported for this. In other words, you must be married to live together. Many expats in Dubai take the chance to cohabit, which is overlooked by the authorities but, it is against the law and should be recognized as such
  • Many things feel ‘just like home’ but then there are many things that are very different for example any public display of affection, even to hold hands, is against the law.
  • Consuming alcohol is also something you need to be careful with and varies from country to country. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait there is a total ban on all alcohol consumption. In Dubai alcohol can be freely purchased in hotels and in special stores discretely set up for non-Muslims and expats. To purchase alcohol in the stores you must register for an Alcoholic License in the form of a specific photo ID. To obtain a license you must be able to prove your residency and provide a non-objection letter from your employer stating your salary. You will be given a financial cap on the amount of alcohol that you are allowed to purchase each month based on your income. Once you exceed the amount you cannot purchase anything else until the following month, which is tracked on a computer system and closely monitored. Your license must be renewed annually. In most Duty Free outlets in airports alcohol can be purchased.
  • Drinking alcohol in public is against the law as is public drunkenness which is also illegal so where you can drink alcohol you should do so responsibly to avoid any problems that could end you up in prison.

5) How does Social Media play a role in recruiting for the Middle East?

People in the Middle East are very active in Social Media and with mobile smartphone technology and applications. We promote our jobs on Facebook and Twitter both of which are very effective as most people are very savvy when it comes to mobile technology.

6) Talk to me a little about the Free Zones in Dubai

Free Zones in the UAE are effectively “Free Trade Zones”. This encourages trade and commerce and allows companies to be set up with 100% foreign ownership, corporation tax exempt, import and export tax exempt and with 100% repatriation of capital and profits. In Dubai ‘Free Zones’ are established by industry sector for example, TECOM is the Technology Free Zone, there is a Financial Free Zone and an Import/Export Free Zone at the Airport ,also Healthcare, Shipping etc.

As an expat working and residing in the UAE there are many benefits to be sponsored by a Free Zone. The Free Zone will process your visa permit directly through the Immigration Department without having to get approval from the Ministry of Labor. Once your passport is stamped with your residency permit you will receive a labor card that you must keep with you at all times. Free Zones cut the red tape encountered otherwise so if you want to switch jobs to another employer within a Free Zone you will not be switching sponsors and that is a huge advantage. A Free Zone visa is valid for 3 years but your labor card may be renewed every year or every 3 years depending on the Free Zone itself. There are many restrictions on switching employers outside the Free Zone but to explain in detail would require a separate article. For more information candidates should explore individual Free Zones.

7) What does the future of recruitment look like in the Middle East?

The Middle East is a unique region for business and recruitment. Looking at the UAE and other GCC Countries it is fair to say that most have fast moving economic development which means great opportunities for recruiters and candidates alike.

BarbaraVanPayBarbara Van Pay launched SmartHR in Dubai, UAE in November 2010 with the goal of putting the heart back in HR. SmartHR implement western best practice HR solutions across the region as well as offering tailored projects to specifically suit Middle Eastern clients. She works with expats from Asia, Europe, North America, and Mena as well as UAE Nationals. Barbara helps candidates wishing to work overseas for the first time, as well as seasoned expats. She works closely with them to explain what to expect working in this challenging and attractive region.

With a BA in Management and Human Relations and an MBA in International Business with over 25 years’ experience, Barbara aspires to make the world a better place each and every day and her philosophy of “life is not a dress rehearsal and we only get one shot to get it right” is testament to her positivity and integrity.

Barbara is a highly motivated individual and a natural leader having held Senior HR and Recruitment Management roles across the US, UK, Europe, Asia and as of the past 9 years has specialization in the Middle East, on both the client and agency side, specializing in HR and Recruitment in the Middle East region mainly: UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon.