Freelance Visa in the UAE

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Freelancing is getting increasingly popular nowadays, as it provides the opportunity to set your own working schedule, to choose the contracts you can take on and allows you to be your own boss. Dubai provides excellent opportunities both for those who want to start their own business and for those who want to establish themselves as freelancers. In fact, the global trend of switching to freelance is already being witnessed in the UAE, as up to 45% of well-paid qualified jobs will go freelance in this country by 2025. One of the major benefits of the UAE is that the country’s freelance license allows you to work simultaneously with several local companies. If you want to live and work as a freelancer in the UAE, you will need to obtain a license and a freelance visa. In this article, we will break down the entire process for you step by step.

Latest UAE Initiatives and Legislative Amendments

To commemorate the UAE’s golden jubilee, the government has decided to roll out the ’Projects of the 50’, which is a series of economic and developmental projects to be introduced throughout September. The first 13 initiatives were announced at the beginning of the month, and they included a Freelancer Visa, the first residency system of its kind at a federal level. As well as that, the golden visa eligibility will be expanded to CEOs, managers and specialists in education, engineering, business, health, technology and management.

Among other groundbreaking initiatives, there are:

  1. The UAE Data Law. This is the first federal law to be drafted in partnership with large technology companies. Intended to protect privacy, it will give individuals freedom to control the way their personal data is stored, used and shared, preserving the privacy of individuals and institutions in the UAE.
  2. The 10×10 programme. Its target is a 10% annual increase in UAE exports to 10 global markets: the UK, China, Italy, Russia, Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Indonesia and Poland.
  3. An investment portal. The government will launch invest.ae which is a portal that acts as an umbrella for all investment-related local entities and 14 state economic entities. Additionally, the electronic platform will provide information on the local investment environment, along with bank and business account set-ups.
  4. The 100 Coders Every Day initiative. This is set to add 3,000 programmers per month to the workforce, to reach 100,000 coders within 1 year.
  5. PyCon Summit. The UAE will host the Middle East’s largest programming summit in summer 2022 in order to connect programmers with the private and public sectors.
  6. Emirates Investment Summit. This huge event will be held in spring 2022, targeted at connecting investment funds with private and public sectors, as well as attracting AED 550B (USD 139B) of foreign direct investment during the next 9 years.

Green Visa

The UAE has also launched a Green Visa, which separates the residence permit from the work permit, and is oriented towards higher skill level individuals, investors, early students and graduates as well as entrepreneurs, and includes a set of brand new benefits different from the regular residence permit. Thus, green visa holders will be able to work without corporate sponsorship and can sponsor their children up to the age of 25 (from 18 at present) and parents. Visa holders will also be granted a grace period of 90-180 days to stay in the UAE once their visa is canceled due to retirement (up from 30 days at present). Currently, for sponsoring a parent, the applicant should have a minimum salary of AED 20,000 (USD 5,444) per month. In addition, sons above 18 years old are not allowed to stay in the country if they are not enrolled in any academic institutions. Additional details of the Green Visa are yet to be announced.

What is a Freelance Visa?

The recently announced federal freelance visa is aimed at independent and self-employed workers both in the UAE and overseas in specialized fields, such as digital currencies, blockchain and artificial intelligence, and it will not require the individual to obtain employment contracts and work permits. More information on fees and requirements of a new Freelancer Visa is yet to be announced.

The already existing freelance visa is a type of an employment visa, and it is targeted at specialists in education, design, media and technologies. Its validity depends on which Emirate it was obtained from, for instance, in Dubai and in Ajman the visa term is 3 years, while in Abu Dhabi and in Umm Al Quwain, the validity is 2 years. The freelance visa is available for UAE citizens, residents and non-residents, and it includes a provision for a family sponsorship. Children are eligible for sponsorship until they are 18, however, daughters can only be sponsored if they are unmarried.

Note: You can apply for a freelance visa if you are already employed by a company, but you will be required to provide an NOC letter from your employer.

With this visa, you are allowed to work as an independent contractor for UAE-based companies, as well as the country’s free zones, which are as follows:

  • Dubai Production City
  • Dubai Knowledge Park
  • Dubai Studio City
  • Dubai Media City
  • Dubai Production City
  • Dubai Design District
  • Twofour54 in Abu Dhabi
  • Ajman Free Zone
  • Umm Al Quwain Free Zone
  • Fujairah Creative City
  • Ras Al Khaimah Economic Free Zone

Application requirements

Before applying for a freelance visa, you will need a freelance permit. It is worth noting that the rules of obtaining this vary in each Emirate. The UAE freelance permit is perfect for those who don’t want to do a full-time office job, and would like to legally practice what they are good at without the constraint of having a boss or someone else to answer to. The permit is also less expensive than having a trade license for owning your own business.

Note: A freelance permit obtained in one specific free zone is valid across the UAE. For instance, if you obtained a license in Abu Dhabi, but plan to operate in Dubai, you do not have to obtain a separate freelance permit for Dubai.

Freelance Licenses in Dubai

A freelance license in Dubai can be obtained in one of the above-mentioned Emirate’s free zones. The costs for the permit can be anywhere up to AED 20,000 (USD 5,444), and the license has to be renewed annually. However, in 2018, the country launched the GoFreelace platform by TECOM Group in partnership with Dubai Creative Cluster Authority, aimed at positioning the Emirate as an innovation and talent hub in line with the directive of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE. Applicants can submit their application online at nearly 70% lower than the standard cost – for AED 7,500 (USD 2,041).

When applying, you will be required to provide a scanned copy of your passport and your residency visa (if available), along with personal basic information. Meanwhile, individuals involved in media activities have to submit a portfolio or a sample work, and when it comes to education, you are required to provide your previous credentials and certificates. Your freelance permit will be sent to you via email within 10-15 working days and then you are all set to start freelancing in Dubai! As we have mentioned earlier, residents who hold work visas have to obtain a no-objection certificate from their employer or a sponsor in order to apply for the license. The same rule applies if a candidate is under a husband’s or parents’ sponsorship. Individuals in this category do not need to have a new visa but will need to apply for a freelance license straight away. Your freelance permit will be sent to you via email within 10-15 working days and, as before you will be all set to start freelancing in Dubai.

Freelance Licenses in Abu Dhabi

In 2020, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) announced the introduction of a freelance license in more than 60 media-related categories. A full list is to be found on the official website of ADDED. You can apply for a freelance license online, either on the ADDED or twofour54 website. It is worth mentioning that a freelance permit obtained via Twofour54 is more expensive at a starting cost of AED 4,500 as compared to AED 530 in ADDED. Nevertheless, twofour54 waives the license costs for the first 2 years, meaning that you would only have to pay for the visa and Emirates ID-related expenses.

The following documents are required for the process:

  • Residence visa
  • Passport copy
  • Passport-size digital photo
  • CV
  • 2 professional references (with contact information)
  • Work offer or a letter of intent from twofour54 business partner or a business plan outing

After submitting the documents on the website, your application will be reviewed and you will be contacted within 3 working days with feedback. Upon obtaining an approval, the company will arrange a meeting to complete the licensing and residency procedure. The license is valid for 2 years and has to be renewed annually. A license holder is eligible for a 2-year residency visa, and it is essential to know that the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Immigration requires all visa applicants to have health insurance. In order to sponsor your family, you are obliged to have a valid work contract for at least 3 months and a minimum salary of AED 4,000 (USD 1,100) or AED 3,000 (USD 816) plus accommodation.

Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, or RAKEZ, introduced freelance permits back in 2018 to those working in media and education. The price of the permit starts from AED 6,100 (USD 1,660), and the package includes a 2-year UAE visa, along with premium business services and an access to a shared workstation. In RAKEZ, a freelancer operates under their own birth name, rather than a company name.

Below you will find the required documents to apply for a permit:

  • Valid passport and photo
  • CV
  • Business Plan
  • 2 professional references with contact details or a letter of intent from a business partner
  • Visa undertaking letter
  • Application for registration and permit with proposed activity (only 1 activity is allowed)

Similar to Abu Dhabi, the process of approval in RAKEZ takes about 2-3 business days from submitting the full set of documents.

Umm Al Quwain

The freelance permit in Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone is designed for individuals who work in the media, technology and film sectors. To apply for it, you have to submit an application, an updated CV, an up-to-date passport-sized photo and a copy of your passport. Meanwhile, the freelance visa obtained in this free zone is valid for 3 years. You can do this in the office or via the website of the UAQ Free Trade Zone.

Fujairah

Fujairah is home to the Creative City Free Zone, where you can obtain a freelance license. The Free Zone offers a range of packages with license validity from 1-3 years and an establishment card. Typically, the processing time takes only 1 day, and upon approval, you become eligible for a residence visa and avail access to flexi-desk facilities. You do not have to be a UAE resident to apply for this type of license. The starting price for a license in Creative City is AED 11,000 (USD 2,994).

Ajman

Ajman Free Zone (AFZA) offers a freelance license package for a minimum price of AED 6,000 (USD 1,633) and includes access to business hub amenities. The license holder is also eligible for a 3-year visa. In order to apply for a permit, you must provide a valid passport, a visa copy, NOC from the sponsor (in case of UAE residency) and one passport-sized colour photo.

How to Apply

You can apply for a visa in any one of the above-mentioned free zones. We will now review the application procedure for Dubai. Requirements for documents are generally the same, but it is recommended to check them according to the chosen free zone.

Upon receiving a freelance permit in Dubai, you will gain access to the business service platform AXS, which comes in partnership with Dubai Development Authority.  Among other services, it provides issuance of a 3-year visa. First, you will have to apply for an establishment card, which costs AED 2,000 (USD 544) and will then have to be renewed annually. You are only required to provide a freelance license and a UAE mobile number, and within 8-12 days you will receive a card. Now you should be all set to apply for a freelance visa, providing you have the following documents:

  • Original passport
  • Establishment card
  • Passport photo
  • Valid medical insurance
  • Visa (if applicable)
  • NOC from a sponsor

Note: You may be required to provide a reference letter from your bank as well.

As a part of the residence visa process, you will have to apply for UAE health insurance as well. For an applicant in Dubai, the normal fees amount to AED 3,300 (USD 898) if you are applying from the UAE, meanwhile express fees can amount to AED 3,900 (USD 1,061). If you are applying from within the UAE, the regular cost will be AED 4,960 (USD 1,350), and the express cost – AED 6,340 (USD 1,726). This amount is inclusive of visa stamping, a medical test and an Emirates ID. As for other emirates, different jurisdictions have different visa prices, which you have to check beforehand. Moreover, if you are applying from outside the UAE, you will receive an entry visa valid for 60 days in order to complete additional procedures, such as medical tests. However, if you are unable to travel during these 60 days, your visa will be canceled. After submitting a full set of documents, it will take 2-3 weeks to obtain a freelance visa.

Benefits of a UAE Freelance Visa

The UAE is the first country in the region to take serious steps in providing additional benefits for freelancers. The Ministry of Economy is launching many initiatives from making sure the licensing and regulatory process of applying for a freelance visa is simple, to facilitating the process of opening a bank account and applying for a loan or insurance. One of the key benefits of a freelance visa is that you do not have to register as a company and can work under your own birth name. Moreover, there is no need for a physical office, since you will be provided with access to free zones’ business centers with premium facilities, and you can also order a virtual office (Flexi-Desk). As well as this, you can legally work with companies in the country, both private and public. You can freely enter and leave the UAE, as well as travel within it. However, you have to stay in the country for at least 180 days per year. Finally, freelancers in the UAE are rarely required to submit official accounts or be subject to an external audit.

Important! A freelancer in Dubai cannot be hired by an individual but only by a company with a commercial trade license. Also, freelancing services are to be delivered to companies registered within the UAE free zones or any company registered outside the UAE. In order to deliver a service to a company registered in the mainland, freelancers are obliged to deliver their service digitally but not physically.

Taxes for Freelancers

The UAE imposes no income taxes, capital taxes and other typical tax types on its residents. However, there are specific cases when you are required to register for 5% VAT. If your annual income is lower than AED 187,500 (USD 51,050), then you do not have to register for VAT. For those whose earnings range from AED 187,500 to AED 375,000 (from USD 51,050 to USD 102,100) per year, registration for VAT is on a voluntary basis. Finally, if your income exceeds AED 375,000 (USD 102,100) per annum, then you are obliged to register with the local tax office.

Dubai Freelance Visa vs. Malta, Antigua and Barbuda

In terms of freelance visas, among other popular destinations, there are Malta and Antigua & Barbuda. However, if Dubai strives to retain expats, boost overall demand and attract talented specialists to work with local companies, then Malta and Antigua & Barbuda aim to bring foreign currency into the country.

The Malta Nomad Residence Permit (NRP) is designed exclusively for non-EU nationals employed in another country, and a gross monthly income, which must be earned remotely, should not be lower than AED 11,550 (USD 3,150). At the same time, in Dubai, there is no minimum financial requirement set in order to obtain a freelance visa, and it is available to all nationalities. NRP is valid for 1 year only with an option for renewal. Besides, a background check is required as well as a property rental/purchase agreement, as opposed to Dubai. Applicants should fall under one of the below-mentioned categories:

  • Offer consulting and freelance services to clients who are established in a foreign country.
  • Work for an employer registered in a foreign country and have an employment contract.
  • Conduct business activities for a company registered outside Malta and to be its partner or a shareholder.

Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda provide the Nomad Digital Resident programme, which offers 2-year visas to applicants and their dependents. Unlike the Dubai freelance visa, it does not give you the right to work for a local company. In order to apply, one has to provide evidence of employment, including self-employment, which is not an easy thing to do if you are a freelancer. Also, Antigua and Barbuda require a declaration by the main applicant, certifying an expected income of no less than USD 50,000 (USD 183,660) for each year of the 2 years in Antigua, besides proof that an applicant has means to support themself and any accompanying dependents.

Summary

  1. In 2022, the UAE will hold two major summits in terms of investments and coding.
  2. A newly announced green visa will facilitate a move to the UAE with the whole family since it will allow sponsorship of not only children but also parents.
  3. You do not need a freelance visa to start operating in the UAE, since a freelance license gives you this right.
  4. Both Antigua and Barbuda and Malta require some sort of income proof when applying for a freelance visa.
  5. In total, the entire procedure of obtaining a freelance visa, including a permit and an establishment card in Dubai, takes less than 2 months.
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