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Property job opportunities in Dubai

Its massive development credentials promise a golden career for ambitious Brits. But would-be economic migrants may find that all is not as it seems. Here are five points to bear in mind…
Written on 5/28/08

Standards are lower than the UK

One expat project manager describes the experience as “scary and confusing”. This is his first assignment for a UK company in Dubai, and he says: “Things are done very differently here. I had to educate them in what we in the UK would see as the basics: from respecting workers on site to telling them how to actually build. They didn’t know that

you never hang a door before you’ve done the tiling. Also, they would order finished doors way too early and then leave them out in the sun so they warped before they’d been hung.”

Procurement is handled differently

The main contract used in Dubai is FIDIC, produced by the International Federation of Consulting Engineers. Although the document is similar to the ICE contract, there is little chance in Dubai of keeping up with other forms of contract used in the UK, such as JCT and NEC.

One worker says that although he can return to London for training in contracts, procurement and practices, there’s little available in Dubai. “It’s just not there. I have not heard of serious training going on at any construction firms here.”

Antony Wells, project manager with Bovis Lend Lease, says work is not packaged out as it tends to be in the UK. Instead, a lump sum is normally agreed with the main contractor.

Competitive tenders are the norm, although negotiated contracts are becoming more common because of the high demand for contractors.

You may not make as much money as you think

“Dubai is not the honey pot it used to be,” says Gareth Broadrick, a senior manager at recruitment firm Hays Property and Construction.

On the plus side, salaries are higher: an associate would earn about £45,000 a year in the UK and £48,000 in Dubai. Also, in Dubai there is no income tax, your employer is likely to contribute to your rent and it costs less than £10 to fill your petrol tank.

However, other living costs are rocketing. Rents have gone up about 10% in the past three years.

The social life isn’t great

Beer prices aside, few have complaints about the expat bar scene. But single man may find it hard to meet women . There are simply fewer expat women here than men. Not that you’ll have much free time: six-day weeks and long working days are the norm in Dubai.

Moving there with a partner is not an easy option either. One property worker had to leave his girlfriend at home when he moved to Dubai and it was a year before she found a job and could join him. And then she encountered the hoops that would-be immigrants have to jump through. For instance, you need a visa before you can buy a flat or a car, but you can only get a visa once you’ve arrived and navigated tests ranging from degree certificate inspections to blood tests.

The biggest shock can be the attitude of Dubai nationals to foreigners. One 33-year-old senior consultant says the “cultural hierarchy” is the worst aspect of life in the Middle East. “Arabs are at the top and they look down on everyone else. Below them you’ve got Brits and then people from the subcontinent, who get treated the worst. It takes some getting used to.”

It could be hard to get a job when you get back home

If you’re away from your company’s UK headquarters, you could be overlooked for promotion. One project manager makes frequent trips home to guard against this.

Returning expats might also find they’re second best when job-seeking externally, says Hays’ Broadrick. “UK employers have the perception that if you have worked abroad, your experience is not relevant,” he warns. He adds that because of the large amount of infrastructure work in Dubai, you are likely to return to the UK with water, oil and road projects on your CV. “You’ll have a tough time because the infrastructure market in the UK is not that big,” he says.

He believes that if two QSs apply for a job and both have five years’ experience, one in the UK and one in Dubai, the UK applicant will get the job. The Dubai QS will be presumed to be out of touch with cost bases in the UK and to have a smaller network of contacts.

As Broadrick concludes: “A chap who’s spent his time in London will do much better finding a job.”