Focus on UAE


Population: 5,188,000
Monetary unit: dirham (AED)
Capital city: Abu Dhabi
Major languages: Arabic
Major religions: Muslim c. 62% (mostly Sunni); Hindu c. 21%; Christian c. 9%; Buddhist c. 4%; other c. 4%
Ethnic composition: Asian Indian c. 29%; Pakistani c. 21%; U.A.E. Arab c. 15%; Bangladeshi c. 8%; other Asian c. 17%; other c. 10%
Age breakdown: under 15, 19.1%; 15–29, 32.3%; 30–44, 36.6%; 45–59, 10.5%; 60–74, 1.2%; 75 and over, 0.3%
Life expectancy: male 73.2 years; female 78.3 years
Education: Percentage of population age 10 and over having: no formal schooling (illiterate/unknown) 9.4%, (literate) 13.9%; primary education 14.6%; incomplete/complete secondary 43.7%; postsecondary 4.0%; undergraduate 12.8%; graduate 1.6%.
Urban/Rural split: urban 80.0%; rural 20.0%
Income per household (USD): -
Broadband internet users (%): -

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica


Since the discovery of oil in the 1970s, the United Arab Emirates has undergone a remarkable transformation from a collection of impoverished desert principalities into a modern state with a per capita income of $58,000, the fifth highest in the world. Furthermore, it has managed to reduce its reliance on oil and gas to such an extent that it now makes up only 25% of its income.

The country was hit hard by the global financial crisis of 2009, and struggled to rebound in 2010. Dubai, with its reliance on the property and finance sectors, was especially vulnerable Abu Dhabi on the other hand had invested in infrastructure and diversified and so remained relatively insulated from the worst of the downturn.

The media and PR industries continue to grow in the UAE. In 2011 the Arab Spring produced a fresh challenge for brands in the country. Nick Poneroy is marketing director for dmg::events in the Middle East. In this role he works with many PR agencies in the region, from the big networks to smaller independents. He says: “Brands here have had to work hard to communicate that the political situation in the UAE is very different to that in Libya, Syria, Bahrain and so on. This has been most difficult with US clients.”

Working There

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The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven formerly independent Emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. Abu Dhabi has the largest number of expatriates, closely followed by Dubai.

Red Tape

Getting permission to work in the United Arab Emirates can seem rather complicated. But for the majority of people it's simply a case of getting a Residency Visa and a Work Permit. These are what allow you to live and work wherever you like within the country.

To obtain a Residency Visa and Work Permit, you need to have what's known as an ‘official sponsor'. This is usually the company you'll be working for. There will of course be some red tape to negotiate, but your employer is legally obliged to guide you through the necessary legal documentation before you arrive in the country.

It's worth mentioning that you need to have your Residency Visa before you can obtain any other documents (such as a driving licence or health card) from the government authorities.

 (Visitor visas are also available if friends and family would like to visit you.)

Until early 2011, expats were only allowed to have one full-time job and it had to be with the employer who is sponsoring them.  However, recent changes in the law have resulted in more flexibility. There are now five new categories of work permits; including, temporary work permits, juvenile work permits and part-time work permits.

Labour laws are very different in the UAE. In basic terms, the employment contract you sign when accepting a post will hold firm throughout your employment and you won't be able to change anything associated with your job during that time.


The local currency in the UAE is the dirham (AED or Dhs). It's tied to the US dollar at a rate of 3.6725 and is currently (October 2011) at a rate of about six against the pound sterling.

Most expats are paid in dirhams but - depending on the nationality of your company - your salary may also be paid in dollars or sterling. Anything you earn will also be tax free, as there are currently no income tax laws in the UAE.

Cost of living:

The cost of living in the UAE has increased massively over the last few years and can be roughly equated to living in a major international city. However, it's possible to make savings in other areas - such as where you buy groceries - to keep your overall cost of living down. For

example, the price of a loaf of bread can vary between 2.00 Dhs and 4.00 Dhs.

One of the biggest costs is rent, which will probably account for around 40% to 50% of your total cost of living.


Rental prices vary widely and have increased a great deal in recent years (particularly in Dubai) but there are choices to fit all needs and budgets - from expensive villas with swimming pools to compact studio apartments.

Previously in the UAE, you would have been expected to pay rent annually all in one go. Thankfully, landlords are becoming more flexible and you can now pay in smaller instalments

using post-dated cheques.

Some landlords use agencies, in which case you may find yourself paying an agency fee. This can be anything from 5% to 15% of the annual rent so make sure you check in advance.

Dubai is often considered to be a cheaper place to live than Abu Dhabi, particularly if you live in ‘New Dubai’ amongst all the sky-scrapers. However, bear in mind that living further out means you’ll need to invest in a car.

Average apartment prices range from 17,000 Dhs per year to 95,000 Dhs per year. Villas tend to be much grander; they often have private gardens and swimming pools and are subsequently much more expensive.

Culture Snapshot

As you would expect, the UAE culture is firmly rooted in its Islamic traditions and this impacts every aspect of daily life. That being said, foreign workers make up about 80% of the population and it's subsequently become one of the most tolerant and welcoming countries in the Muslim world.

Non-muslims are allowed to buy alcohol, pork is available in certain supermarkets and celebrations of Christmas and other religious festivals are not taboo.

The UAE is constantly growing and adding to its amenities and facilities and there's an enormous choice of things to do and places to

go. From opulent, seven star hotels to museums, water parks, street cafés, health spas, restaurants, desert safaris, sandy beaches and huge shopping malls, you really are spoilt for choice.

The weather in the UAE means that you’re unlikely to need a thick jumper ever again! The area enjoys about nine months of gorgeous weather a year; although the remaining months can become extremely hot, with temperatures heading up to 50 degrees. Still, if it all gets too warm you can always go skiiing: Dubai boasts the world’s largest indoor ski resort!

Heather Salmond


Heather Salmond

General Manager, Abu Dhabi & Head of Financial Practice, Middle East, Hill + Knowlton Strategies

I arrived in Abu Dhabi in May 2011 to head up Hill & Knowlton's Abu Dhabi office and lead the financial PR practice across the Middle East.

The best perk is working with a fantastic array of people from all over the world – Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq and even Scotland.

Most of the team is Arabic speaking, an essential skill when doing PR for Abu Dhabi government agencies.  My day starts with a fairly harrowing drive from the top of Abu Dhabi island near the Corniche to work at the other end of the island;

you need to maneuver the route changes all the time as development and road construction continues at a dramatic pace, while keeping an eye out for high speeds and no indicating. You can’t be a cautious driver in Abu Dhabi!

While the UAE’s capital welcomes tourists and non-Arabs, Abu Dhabi is conservative and your dress sense, way of greeting and talking reflect the genteel and conventional Arabic customs. It’s easy to become accustomed because it’s easy to respect this nation.

From desert Bedouins to wealthy oil merchants, the people of Abu Dhabi are working towards the City’s Economic Vision 2030 which is highly progressive and innovative. The aim is to move away from its dependence on oil and diversify and build a sustainable economy.

Our clients are building the first ever railway to span the Gulf, hosting the first ever short film festival in the Emirates and developing one of the biggest industrial zones in the world. It’s very exciting and I’m happy to be a part of the progress.



Television and press remain the dominant media in the UAE. Satellite television is led by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya news channels. Indeed, Al-Jazeera retains something of a legendary status, credited as it is with revolutionising television in the region and bringing an unprecedented level of scrutiny to governments and corporations across the Gulf.

Daily newspaper readership is led by Arabic-language titles: Al Khaleej, Al Ittihad, Al Emarat Al Youm and Al Bayan, along with Arabic business

daily Al Roya Al Eqtisadiya. Other Arabic titles are the London-headquartered newspapers: Asharq Alawsat and Al-Hayat.

English-language titles tend to lead the business debate, with business monthlies MEED and Arabian Business particularly prominent. An expanding English-language newspaper sector, meanwhile, includes The National, Gulf News and Khaleej Times. Key international media outlets include the Financial Times and CNN, both of which are headquartered in Abu Dhabi

Digital media usage is surging in the UAE. There is an internet penetration rate of 69%[2], and industry experts add that, because online news is rarely censored, it has a disproportionately high level of influence. Poneroy reports that AMEInfo, Zawya, Arabian Business, and IKOO are important online news sources.

Major Brands

A relatively high proportion of PR spend is driven by the government or linked entities. In Dubai, these include Dubai World, DIFC, Emaar Properties and its Department of Finance.

Abu Dhabi, say observers, is even more reliant on government PR spend. Important vehicles include investment arm Mubadala, property company Aldar and the Abu Dhabi Media Company.

Outside of government, financial and real estate players have been hit hard in the past three years and the companies now leading the way on PR are Apple, telecom brands Etisalat and Du, and national airline Emirates.


Having opened its Dubai operation in 1989, Hill + Knowlton Strategies is generally considered the longest-established PR agency in the UAE. Among its rivals are the largest local player Asda'a - now 60 per cent owned by Burson Marsteller - Jiwin, Impact Porter Novelli, Promoseven Weber Shandwick, Edelman, DABO & Co and Spot On PR.

The financial and corporate boom has drawn several financial specialists to the UAE, including Brunswick, Finsbury, FD and M:Communications.

Salaries are bolstered by a tax-free regime, with those in Abu Dhabi generally commanding the largest pay packets. Attracting and retaining talent remains one of the key challenges in the region, with a paucity of homegrown talent proving a particularly complex hurdle for agencies to overcome.

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