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Visas & Work Permits in the UAE

The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements

If you are moving to the UAE and want to know whether you need a residence permit, work permit, or both, then this guide is for you. We go over the requirements of how to get residency in the UAE, what is a self-employment visa, the cost of being a skilled worker, and the various UAE visa types you can apply for.

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UAE visa requirements for expats are considerably less intensive than in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. As a popular expat destination, the UAE attempts to make the visa application and process as straightforward as possible. To apply for a UAE visa, most expats first need an entry permit, also called a pink card. This can be sponsored in a number of ways such as work, a hotel, or resident family member. Once in the UAE, expats can apply for the residence visa and work permit.

Most expats secure employment before they arrive in the UAE. This is the easiest way to obtain a residence visa and work permit. In general, UAE companies will complete all visa requirements for expats, including covering UAE visa fees. In most cases these companies will sponsor the visas of an employee’s immediate family as well.

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Work Permits and Employment Based Visas

Obtaining a work permit or employment visa in the UAE is fairly straightforward. The majority of expats arrive in the UAE having already secured employment. This streamlines the visa process as most UAE companies handle all residence visa and work permit requirements, including covering visa fees.

Work permits and employment visas can last anywhere from one to ten years. As of May 2019, the UAE released its first ever permanent residency scheme: the Gold Card. This visa applies primarily to “exceptional professionals.” Read more about it in our Residency Permits section.

What are the UAE Work Visa Requirements?

Before you obtain a UAE work permit, you must first obtain an entry visa, Emirate ID card, and residence visa. Your work permit, also called a labor card, will be listed in your residence visa. To learn more about obtaining a residence visa, please see our Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent section below.

The most important work visa requirement is proof of a work contract or job offer from a company within the UAE. Everything else that is required for the work permit is also required for the residency visa:

  • Application form
  • Emirates ID card
  • Several passport-photos
  • Original passport plus photocopy
  • Copy of valid company card
  • Valid commercial license of the company
  • Medical check and health certificate
  • Entry permit issued by the Ministry of Labor

Labor cards are issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) in the emirate state where you are employed. It takes about ten days to receive your labor card. It is typically valid for two years.

All submitted forms and documents must be written in Arabic. The employment contract should also be written in Arabic. You will need three copies: one for yourself, one for your employer, and one for the Department of Labor.

Keep in Mind

It is illegal to work in the UAE while on a tourist visa. If you secure employment while in the UAE on a tourist visa, you must change your visa status before you start work.

There is no age stipulation when issuing work contracts, but work permits for those 65 years and older will incur an extra 5,000 AED (1,360 USD) fee every two years.

Nationals of Israel cannot enter the UAE. Indian nationals are advised to look at specifics pertaining to their visas.

What does a UAE Work Visa Cost?

The cost of a UAE work visa depends on the category of your company and whether you are a skilled or unskilled worker.

Skill Levels

Level 1: These are the individuals who have a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification. These are some of the qualified professionals:

  • Manager
  • Engineer
  • Doctor
  • Teacher
  • Accountant
  • Accounts Clerk
  • Marketing Specialist
  • Quantity Surveyor
  • Executive Secretary
  • Pharmacist
  • Administration Officer
  • Reservation Officer
  • Safety Officer
  • Public Relations Officer
  • Computer Operator
  • Advertising Designer

Level 2: Individuals under this category are those who have completed their diploma in any field. This category typically involves people who are in mechanical and technical jobs.

Level 3: If you have high school or higher secondary qualification.

  • Sales Executive
  • Sales Representative
  • Sales Supervisor
  • Site Supervisor
  • Administration Clerk
  • Correspondence Clerk
  • Customs Clearing Clerk
  • Ticketing Clerk
  • Cash Desk Clerk
  • Receptionist
  • Cashier
  • Store Keeper
  • Tourist Guide

A, B, C, and D refers to the percentage of skilled/unskilled workers the company employs. (A has over 40% skilled workers. D has less than 5%.)

Company Category Skilled
(Degree Certificate Required Profession)
Unskilled
(Secondary and below level Profession)
1 300 AED (81 USD) 300 AED (81 USD)
2-A 500 AED (136 USD) 1200 AED (326 USD)
2-B 1000 AED (272 USD) 2200 AED (600 USD)
2-C 1500 AED (408 USD) 2700 AED (735 USD)
2-D 2000 AED (544 USD) 3553 AED (967 USD)
3 5000 AED (1361 USD) 5000 AED (1361 USD)

 

This is only a breakdown of work visa costs. If your company is not covering your visa fees, be sure to factor in extra costs for medical tests, translation services, legal fees, etc. On average, a UAE visa costs about 7000 AED (1,900 USD).

Business Visas

As such a progressive business culture, the UAE offers business visas for skilled workers who will contribute to the country’s economic prosperity and growth. For inquiries about self-employment visas specifically, please see our Self-Employment section that follows.

Mission Visa

This is a 90-day business visa. It must be sponsored by a company in the UAE. It allows expats to enter the country and work for a short period of time. Some expats use this visa to explore the UAE before officially relocating.

Persons with Specialized Talents

This visa includes specialized talents and researchers in the fields of science and knowledge. This applies to doctors, specialists, scientists, inventors, as well as creative individuals in the field of culture and art. The visa advantage extends to the spouse and children. All categories are required to have a valid employment contract in a specialized field of a priority in the UAE.

Granting this visa is subject to the following conditions:

  • Scientists must be accredited by the Emirates Scientists Council or holders of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Medal for Scientific Excellence.
  • Creative individuals in culture and art must be accredited by the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development.
  • Inventors must obtain a patent of value, which adds to the UAE’s economy. Patents must be approved by the Ministry of Economy.
  • Exceptional talents must be documented by patents or a scientific research published in a world-class journal.
  • Executives must be owners of a leading and internationally recognized company or holders of a high academic achievement and position.
  • Doctors and specialists must meet at least two of the following conditions:
    • A Ph. D. degree from one of the top 500 universities in the world.
    • An award or certificates of appreciation in the field of the applicant’s work.
    • Contribution to a major scientific research in the respective field of work.
    • Published articles or scientific books in distinguished publications in the respective field of work.
    • Membership in an organization related to the field.
    • A Ph. D. degree, in addition to 10-year professional experience in their field.
    • Specialization in areas of priority to the UAE.

This visa is valid for ten years.

Family Visas

In order to sponsor family members, it is not mandatory that expats have a work permit. Expats need only a residence visa to sponsor family members in the UAE. It is impossible to have a work permit without a residence visa.

For more information on family visas, please see our Residency Permits sections.

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Self-Employment Visas

What are the UAE Self-Employment Visa Requirements?

The first self-employment visa requirement to fulfill is finding a sponsor. To find one, the easiest way is to enter the country and search in-person or online, when you can meet interested parties face-to-face. Sponsorship for self-employment can be obtained through a free zone, as a contractor through an established company, or through an individual. Self-employment visas are often called freelance visas.

When you apply for a self-employment visa you will be expected to show the proper qualifications in whatever area you intend to work. For example, if your self-employment is in the medical field, you will be expected to show adequate qualifications to the Ministry of Health. Expats are advised to consult a lawyer or business specialist.

There are Several Self-Employment Visa Types to Consider:

  • Investors in a Property
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Investors in public investments of at least 10 million AED (2.7 million USD)
  • Freelance
Investors in a Property in the UAE

Granting this visa is subject to the following conditions:

  • The investor must invest in a property of a gross value of not less than 5 million AED (1.3 million USD).
  • The amount invested in real estate must not be on loan basis.
  • The property must be retained for at least three years.

This visa allows holders to remain in the country for five years.

Entrepreneurs

This category includes those having an existing project with a minimum capital of 500,000 AED (136,000 USD), or those who have the approval of an accredited business incubator in the country.

  • The entrepreneur is allowed a multi-entry visa for six months, renewable for another six months. The long-term visa includes the spouse and children, a partner and three executives.

This visa allows holders to remain in the country for five years.

Investors in Public Investments of at Least 10 million AED (2.7 million USD)

The investment may take many forms such as:

  • A deposit of at least 10 million AED in an investment fund inside the country.
  • Establishing a company in the UAE with a capital of not less than 10 million AED.
  • Partnering in an existing or new company with a share value of no less than 10 million AED.
  • Having a total investment of no less than 10 million AED in all areas mentioned, on condition that the investment in sectors other than real estate is not less than 60% of the total investment.

Granting this visa is subject to the following conditions:

  • The amount invested must not be loaned.
  • The investment should be retained for at least three years.
  • There should be a financial solvency up to 10 million AED.

This visa can be extended to include business partners, on the condition that each partner contributes 10 million AED.

The long-term visa can include the spouse and children, as well as one executive director and one advisor.

This visa allows holders to remain in the country for ten years.

Freelance

To apply for the freelance visa you will need:

  • A freelance license application form for your chosen free zone.
  • A copy of your business plan.
  • A copy of your passport.
  • Recommendation letter(s) signed by current/previous employers.
  • Your CV and original qualification certificates.
  • Provide a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) stating the transfer of residence visa to freelancer visa (see the Entry Visa section on entities that can sponsor an Entry Visa).
  • Good-standing-certificate by a bank ensuring that you have a satisfactory banking history.
  • Portfolio of your work or any samples of work that prove you could freelance in the stated business activity.

In addition to a freelance visa, you will also need to obtain a freelance license. The process for that is as follows:

  1. Apply with the relevant free zone authority where you intend to hold a freelance license and/or a freelance visa.
  2. Submit an application for interim approval along with the business plan, passport copy, and a reference letter.
  3. In case the provisional approval is permitted, you will receive a customer confirmation letter from the respective free zone authority.
  4. Sign the confirmation letter and give it, along with the other documents mentioned, for the final approval.
  5. Make all the payments, such as the freelance permit fee, employee visa sponsorship fee, and (if required by your chosen free zone) first installment of rent for an office space.
  6. Sign the free zone sponsorship agreement and collect the freelance permit along with the freelance visa.

The license is typically issued within 7-10 working days.

Keep in mind that documents will need to be translated into Arabic. Many expats choose to hire a business specialist to help them throughout the procedure.

A Note About Free Zones

For freelancers without a company to back them, the UAE issues freelance visas only within designated “free zones.”

Free zones are free trade zones within the emirate states. These zones work under their own regulations, which are separate from the rest of the country. They have their own special tax, customs, and import regimes. Each free zone caters to a specific business category such as design, development, or media.

There are 45 free zones within the UAE. As of May 2019, the UAE government issues freelance permits in eight of these zones.

Abu Dhabi
  • Twofour54
    Offers great benefits to individuals who are interested to become a licensed freelancer.
Dubai
  • Dubai Academic City
    The permit identifies you as a sole practitioner. It enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name.
  • Dubai Design District
    Special licensing for design and fashion with freelance permits for artists and designers.
  • Dubai Knowledge Village
    The permit identifies you as a sole practitioner. It enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name.
  • Dubai Media City
    The permit identifies you as a sole practitioner. It enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name.
  • Dubai Studio City
    The permit identifies you as a sole practitioner. It enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name.
Fujairah
  • Fujairah Creative City
    Visa availability: three Fujairah free zone visas. Processing time: 6-7 working days.
Umm Al Quwain
  • Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone
    The permit identifies you as a sole practitioner. It enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name.

Some free zones may be subject to a freelance visa cap.

Top Professions for Work as a Freelancer
  • Web development and designing
  • Teaching
  • Writing and copywriting
  • Creative design
  • Sales and marketing
  • Graphics designing
  • Mobile app development
  • Search engine optimization (SEO), Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Branding
  • 3D Modelling and computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Translation and interpretation
  • Legal services
Useful Tips
  • Office SpaceThe majority of licensing authorities in the UAE require you to have some sort of office space within their jurisdiction. The definition “office space” is broad and can apply to a flexi-desk or a smart office. There are companies within free zones that offer freelance company packages to expats. Many of these packages come with an office space included.
  • Business Specialist or Solo?While you can register your business yourself, many expats choose to hire a business specialist for more secure, efficient means. There are many facets to consider and nearly all documents must be translated into Arabic. A business setup specialist will take care of all the administrative hassle for you as well as the legal side of obtaining your license and visa.
How to Find Freelance Work in the UAE

The majority of freelancers in the emirate states find their jobs online. Freelancing expats in the UAE find these to be the most useful sites for job postings and general advice:

Be Advised

Although there are property-related visas, these do not allow for employment. Do not be fooled into thinking you can buy a home and freelance without a freelance visa. There is also no such thing as an independent working visa. Beware of companies offering independent visas for a fee as these are highly illegal, and if caught, the company incurs a heavy fine and the visa holder is deported.

If you move to the UAE with a spouse, you are still required to obtain a freelance visa if you intend to work for yourself.

Freelance Visa Cost

The freelance visa costs can vary from zone to zone. This is the general fee:

Registration 2,000 AED (550 USD)
License 2,500 AED (680 USD)
Address services 9,000 AED (2,400 USD)
Benefactor fees 3,000 AED (820 USD)
Free zone cost 2,500 – 15,000 AED (680-4,000 USD)

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Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent

Up until recently, expats could only wonder how to apply for a temporary residence permit. As of May 2019, expats can now also look into how to become a UAE permanent resident.

A residence visa is needed to open a bank account, get a driving license, register a car, and apply for a mobile phone plan. The visa is typically valid for two or three years. It can be sponsored by a company or an expat already living in the UAE on a residency permit. It is typically valid for two to three years.

What are the Requirements to Obtain Permanent Residency in the UAE?

The UAE has long-term visa schemes and one permanent residency visa. The long-term visas last five to ten years. They apply to investors and entrepreneurs. Read more about these long-term visas in our Business section.

As of 21 May 2019, the UAE has started granting permanent residence to “exceptional professionals.” This includes “investors and exceptional doctors, engineers, scientists and artists.” The visa is called the Gold Card. The first round of visas will be granted to 6,800 expats.

At present, these are the UAE permanent resident visa requirements:

  • Be a member of one of the following categories:
    • Investors
    • Entrepreneurs
    • Specialized talents
    • Researchers
    • Scientists
  • Positively contribute to the “success story” of the UAE.
  • Have 100 billion AED worth of investments (about 272,265,000 USD).

One permanent resident benefit is that permanent resident status will automatically be granted to the spouse and children of all Gold Card holders. Permanent residents will also be granted 100% ownership of any businesses or business assets without needing an Emirate partner.

Spouse Visa

Expats cannot become UAE citizens simply through marriage alone. Spouses of UAE residents and nationals will either need to be on a family visa or have their own residence visa and work permit. Learn more in our Family Visa section below.

How do you Obtain a Temporary Resident Permit in the UAE?

There are four ways to qualify for temporary residency in the UAE:

1.     Employment

Most expats obtain their residency visas through employment. Not only does the company sponsor your visa, but, in most cases, they also handle the entire application process including the visa fees. This is the easiest and most efficient way to obtain UAE residency.

Expats who obtain residency through employment in the UAE can later sponsor family members to come to the UAE as well.

This residency visa typically lasts for three years.

2.     Buying Property

Another way to obtain residency is by purchasing real estate. Although this option is mostly for those with a high income, it is common among foreign enterprisers. To obtain a residence visa this way the property must be completed upon purchase and the value must be of at least 1 million AED (about 275,000 USD).

This residence visa lasts for two years. It does not grant the right to work.

3.     Company Registration

You can obtain residency in the UAE by registering a company within an emirate state or a free zone. Be advised that opening an onshore company may require sponsorship from a local Emirate partner, whereas a company in a free zone allows for full foreign ownership of that company.

This type of residency visa also allows expats to be a shareholder in a local company and hire employees in the UAE.

The validity of this visa is three years.

How do I Apply for a Temporary Residence Visa?

Step One: Entry Visa

Anyone planning on living in the UAE, or visiting for more than 30 days, must acquire an entry visa, also called the “pink card” or “pink slip.”

The entities that can sponsor an entry visa are:

  • An Emirati citizen
  • An expat resident with a valid residency permit in the UAE
  • A UAE-based airline (Air Arabia, Eithad Airways, Emirates Airline, Fly Dubai)
  • A UAE-based hotel or tour agent
  • A government entity
  • Companies in the private sector or free zones

Depending on your nationality and reason for entering the UAE, this visa will be valid anywhere from 14 to 90 days. If you have moved to an emirate state for work, your pink card will be valid for 60 days (two months). Your company should sponsor this visa. As of October 2018, the expiry date of entry visas can be extended twice, each time up to 30 days. The extension will cost a fee, but you will not have to leave the country.

Step Two: Emirate ID Card

An Emirate ID card is also known as a Resident Identity Card. Expats must have this card before applying for their residence visa as it is required for the medical test. Exceptions are only made if you already have an application form certified by the Registration Center at the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA).

The Emirate ID card contains the holder’s address, photo, date of birth, and fingerprints. You will use this as your official form of ID throughout your stay in the UAE.

To apply for the Emirate ID card expats must provide:

  • An entry visa
  • Their original passport and a copy

Expats will bring these items to the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) center. Once there you will:

  1. Visit a typing center with your documents and complete the relevant application form. You can also fill this out online ahead of time.
  2. Pay a fee of about 270 AED (73 USD).
  3. Have your photograph and fingerprints taken.

Once your application form is approved and stamped and certified by the EIDA, you will use this ID for your residence visa application and medical test.

Step Three: Residence Visa

The duration of your entry visa is the amount of time you have to apply for and receive your residency visa. Again, if you have moved to the UAE for work, your company should complete the visa requirements for you. You will submit all required forms to your company.

The general requirements for an application for a resident permit are:

  • Application form
  • Emirates ID card
  • Several passport-photos
  • Original passport plus photocopy
  • Copy of valid company card
  • Valid commercial license of the company
  • Medical check and a health certificate*
  • Entry permit issued by the Ministry of Labor

A residency visa allows expats to stay in the UAE for one to three years. Visas are renewable. Once they have been issued, you can sponsor family members to join you in the UAE.

UAE visa requirements and regulations are subject to change. Be sure to refer to the specific GDRFA website of the emirate state where you will be living:

*Medical Checks

A medical check is required for UAE visa applications. Applicants must undergo a health check at a government hospital or medical clinic. Medical tests must be conducted within the UAE; tests from outside the country are not accepted.

The medical check includes a chest X-ray and blood tests. These tests check for communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, leprosy, Hepatitis, and tuberculosis. Positive results on any of these tests will result in a denial of the residence visa and immediate deportation.

Family Visas

Once expats receive their residency visa, they may sponsor family members to join them in the UAE. To start this process, the expat with UAE residency must sponsor the entry visas of each family member. The sponsoring expat then has 60 days to apply for their dependents’ resident visas. Each family visa will be valid for the same duration as the sponsoring expat’s visa (typically one to three years).

Be advised that there are different requirements based on whether the sponsoring expat is a man or woman.

Male Expats
  • Male residents who are employed in the UAE can sponsor their immediate family members, such as wife and children, subject to conditions which include a minimum salary of 3,000 or 4,000 AED (816 or 1088 USD) plus accommodation.
  • The male sponsor must hold a profession which allows him to sponsor his family. For example, domestic helpers and certain other categories cannot sponsor their families regardless of their salary. Check with the relevant GDRFA for exceptions or more info.
  • To sponsor a wife and children, a male expat must provide an authentic marriage certificate translated into Arabic.
  • An expat resident can only sponsor his daughter(s) only if she is unmarried. He can sponsor his son(s) only up to the age of 18. If after the age of 18, if the son is studying in the UAE or abroad, he can be sponsored until the age of 21. For the son’s residence visa to stay valid, he has to enter the UAE at least once every six months. The resident will need to place a deposit with the respective GDRFA for his son’s visa. The residence visa is granted on a yearly basis, renewable until the person finishes his education.
  • If the father of the family is residing in the UAE and meets the conditions for sponsoring his children, the mother is not allowed to sponsor them.
Female Expats
  • A single mother can sponsor her child. The authorities might ask for documents similar to those required to sponsor stepchildren.
Abu Dhabi
  • A woman can sponsor her husband and children if she holds a residence permit stating that she is an engineer, teacher, doctor, nurse, or any other profession related to the medical sector and if her monthly salary is not less than 10,000 or 8,000 AED (2,722 or 2,177 USD) plus accommodation. She needs to provide additional documents as stipulated by the respective authority.
Dubai
  • If a woman is not employed in one of these categories she may still get approval to sponsor her family if her monthly salary is more than 10,000 AED (2,722 USD) and with a special permission from the DNRD.
Family Visa Application Requirements
  • Online application or through a registered typing office
  • Passport copies of each family member
  • Photos of each family member
  • Medical clearance certificate for each family member
  • Copy of the sponsoring expat’s employment contract or company contract
  • Salary certificate from the sponsoring expat’s business stating the monthly salary
  • Legalized marriage certificate (if sponsoring a spouse)
  • Registered tenancy contract
  • Latest utility bill.

A family visa cost 100 AED (27 USD).

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Updated on: July 19, 2019

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