Many people love the idea of working for themselves, being their own boss and making their own schedule, but many are too afraid of taking this route because of ambiguities in the requirements. While becoming a “freelancer” has been a growing trend in the the UAE, many still don’t know where to start this process. Also, and even more importantly, how to do this legally.

What must first be emphasized is what a “freelancer” is. A “freelancer” is an individual that works for themselves and has obtained their own license. Essentially, the freelancer must create his or her own business and fulfill the legal requirements of doing so. In order to become a legally compliant freelancer, the following requirements must be met:

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Obtain a license

Freelancers must establish themselves as their own legal identity, meaning they must obtain a license to work in their respective fields. Obtaining a license within the UAE can be done through one of two licensing agents: through the Department of Economic Development (DED) or through a free zone. Both options have its own pros and cons. For example, registering through the DED would widen the (geographic) area of operations where a freelancer can work, while applying through a free zone will allow the non-national freelancer to have 100% ownership of the business.

Visa requirements

Every expatriate working in the UAE must have an employment visa by a sponsor. Typically, this sponsorship requirement is completed by one’s employer, but being a freelancer, sponsorship must be done by one of two ways: (1) obtaining an employment visa through the licensing agent, or (2) through a current sponsor, whether that is through a husband’s visa or another employer’s sponsorship. But note, if you choose to rely upon option (2), you must obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the sponsor, allowing you to work under their sponsorship.

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Rental space

For most of the licensing agents, a freelancer must have some sort of office space within the licensing agent’s jurisdiction. Some of these agents have developed packages for freelancers where the total cost of obtaining a license may include the cost and location of an office space. This requirement is not necessary for all licensing agents and must be verified by each agent.

Timelines and costs

Depending upon where a freelancer chooses to apply for its license, costs and timelines could vary and would need to be considered. In general, the process of obtaining a license could be anywhere between 10 – 20 days. As for the cost, this factor also changes as per the licensing agent but one should expect to pay around AED 15000 – AED 20000. But note, this figure is only for getting a license; there are other costs to consider such as visa costs, emirates ID, establishment card and medical expenses. These are annual costs, so the freelancer would need to budget for renewal every year.

After following the above-mentioned steps, you would legally be able to conduct business under your name as a “freelancer.” After becoming a legal entity, freelancers are able to conduct business like any other business.

Disclaimer: This article is available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide legal advice. 

This article is written by Samantha, a U.S. qualified attorney specializing in Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution. Samantha carries extensive legal experience in USA and UAE including litigation, corporate, arbitration, criminal (both jurisdictions) and labor law.