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Rebekah Allen UAE, blogs, Dubai...

With the Middle East having become a bustling ex-pat community with a reputation luxury living, beautiful weather and high-end shopping, it’s no wonder that remuneration is a major talking point among people considering a move.

One of the main draws of taking your career to the GCC is the absence of paying any income tax on your salary, with most seeing a substantial annual saving from not paying tax alone. As a result of this, as a recruiter, I commonly find that salary guides can be more of a hinderance than a help as they can set unrealistic expectations for legal professionals looking to make the move. Candidates often are focused on what they could ‘potentially’ earn from such guides and forget that they are already making a large saving with a tax-free income.

Having consulted various UAE salary guides produced by well-known organisations, there appears to be a disconnect between available information and the reality of what we are seeing law firm client offer. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. the information available is too generic, for example it lists an average figure for an ‘associate’ which could be anything from 2-6PQE and jumps straight to senior associate, which again could be anything from 6-10+.
  2. many salary guides, and the expectations of individuals, are fuelled by an over-estimation of the cost of living in the region, especially the UAE.

When researching the average monthly salary for an ‘associate’ in UAE, I frequently came across anything between 30-45,000 AED per month (75-115,000 GBP per annum). It is human nature to want to maximise one’s financial position – how many of us, if given a salary range, would expect anything but the highest figure in that range? This can be problematic when lawyers receive a generous offer from a firm in Dubai, yet are somewhat disappointed due to unrealistic expectations set by poor information.

I recently secured an offer at a major regional law firm in Dubai for a 2 PQE lawyer who was offered 35,000 AED per month (tax-free), roughly a 60,000 GBP pay increase from their previous position. Whilst the candidate was ultimately thrilled to secure such a role, there was the discussion of why they had not received an offer closer to the 100,000 GBP mark as this was what they had seen quoted in various salary guides.

I’ve also assisted a lawyer who was concerned they would not be able to live comfortably on their 85,000 GBP salary in Dubai; which is certainly viable given that lawyers are among the highest paid professionals in the region - there is already a huge pool of ex-pats who enjoy a desirable lifestyle in the UAE.

Being realistic and listening to your agent when discussing salary expectations is crucial. No one wants to get to the end of an interview process and be disappointed and there are many factors which will determine your final package, including:

  • The firm (UK/US/regional) can all vary considerably
  • Your PQE level – some firms may give you a ‘haircut’ if you are coming from another jurisdiction
  • Benefits supplied – firms vary in what additional benefits they will offer i.e. accommodation, relocation costs, annual flights home and this in turn can reflect on base salary.

Discuss salary at the beginning – have a conversation and mention your expectations. Your agent will then be able to adjust these if they are not realistically in line with what the market can offer you.

Planning a move to the Middle East?

If you are considering a move to the Middle East and would like to discuss current vacancies or get further information, contact Rebekah Allen – our Middle East consultant – on  +44 161 870 6776 or