· 2 min read · Features

A postcard from... United Arab Emirates


Our 'postcard from' series keeps you updated on key HR areas in different countries

Economic briefing

Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain make up the seven emirates (or principalities) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the largest, Abu Dhabi, serving as the capital. It has the second-largest economy in the Arab world (after Saudi Arabia), its oil reserves are the seventh largest in the world, and its natural gas reserves are the world’s 17th biggest.

Tourism is a thriving industry, with Dubai ranked the fifth most popular tourism destination in the world by the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index in 2014. The UK and Germany are the UAE’s largest export markets.


One of the most startling facts about the UAE’s population is just how few people living there are UAE nationals. The workforce is 90% expats, with around 60% originating from South Asia and around 18% from other Arab and Iranian nations. As a result population growth is extremely high: 2.47% for 2016.

The most-populated regions are Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both with more than 1.3 million inhabitants in 2005. The smaller regions include Fujairah, with an estimated 125,698 people, and Umm Al-Quwain, with a population of 72,000.

Legal lowdown

The UAE has extremely strict rules. Penalties for possession of drugs, swearing, sex outside of marriage, showing sympathy for Qatar, or homosexual acts are severe. Non-Muslim residents will need to obtain a licence to drink alcohol in licensed venues and it is illegal to be drunk in public.

Women are required to dress modestly and ensure their arms and legs are covered.

If you need a residence visa your blood will be tested for HIV or hepatitis. If found to have either you will be deported. If you’ve worked in Israel you may face extra scrutiny when applying for a work visa.

From the HR frontline

Darren Hanson is professor of leadership at NEOMA Business School, and former head of training and development for BHP (Billiton) Steel Group. He says that the Emirates are undergoing vast change. “When Emiratis are leading other Emiratis not much is said overtly,” he tells HR magazine. “Everyone understands where they fall in their hierarchy, and they are expected to show reverence to those above them.

“However, there are so many foreign people working there that they’ve had to become more flexible.”

He says that attitudes towards women in the workplace are also changing: “There are women in HR doing groundbreaking work.”

He adds that talent from abroad is drawn by the pay. “They have stacks of money, and that can help to lure talented people there!” he says.