If you are not an Emirati or GCC national, you will need to obtain a residency visa in order to live in the UAE – but what visa options do you have if you want to work?

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Company sponsorship and employment

The most common type of sponsorship for expats is an employment visa, which is issued to individuals working in the private sector and free zones. Usually, companies will take care of the paperwork for such requests; however, the employee will have to do medical tests before a residency visa can be approved and issued.

There are a series of steps to be taken in order for a company to sponsor an employee. The cost can range from AED 2,400 – 4,500 depending on whether the employee is residing in or outside the UAE. This does not include medical fitness costs and typing center charges, which can amount to around AED 1,000.

It usually takes up to 10 working days to get everything approved and stamped, while you can pay more to expedite this process.

Working spouse

Married couples can sponsor each other for a residence visa in the UAE: usually, this is a husband sponsoring his wife. Often this application is made by the employer as part of the package provided to their employee, with the costs covered by the company. According to the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs, the total cost associated with processing a family visa is AED 1,000.

If a wife on her husband’s residency wants to work, she must get a letter of no objection from her husband and then get a labor card and work permit from her employing company.

A wife can sponsor her husband if she is working in a qualified profession – for instance, a teacher, doctor, engineer or equivalent. The qualified wife must have a minimum salary of AED 5,000.

Unmarried daughters can also be sponsored by a parent to reside in the UAE, and have to follow the same route as a spouse on her husband’s residency to work – but a son over the age of 18 can no longer be sponsored by his parents.

Those looking for part-time work will need to be sponsored by a family member already to do so.

Can a property owner work?

If you own property in the country, you can apply for a property investor’s visa, which can be done via real estate and immigration authorities in your respective emirate. This visa, costing AED 1,100 entitles you to six months of residency in most emirates. The Dubai Land Department recently introduced measures that essentially allow property owners to apply for a trade license and residency for two years at a cost of AED 3,500- but this is still considered to be a visit visa and the property-owner cannot work on this type of visa, even though it is a form of trade license.

[Compare UAE mortgages for expats | Related: UAE property: The residency visa rules]

Own free zone company and recruiting staff

If you are not employed, another option would be to receive residency by setting up your own company. Unless you have a local sponsor, you will need to do this at one of the UAE’s free zones. Although the incorporation process is not too lengthy, the immigration process can take a few months. The set-up costs can vary by emirate, specific location and type of office space required.

Many free zones offer a flexi-desk option, which is ideal for small businesses that are just starting out. Technically, it offers business owners access to office space on a limited basis, as well as standard services such as mail, voice mail, receptionist and meeting rooms.

Once the business is set up, the owner can then notify the Ministry of Labor as well as the local immigration department, in order to create a file for recruiting staff. The next step would be to go to the free zone authority where the company is located and request a specific number of visas. The number of allocated visas depends on the nature of the business and the type of office space occupied.

Once work permits and labor cards are issued, these can then be used when applying for residency visas for staff. Under the UAE labor law, it is illegal to employ anyone who does not have a work visa, meaning that the visa will need to be processed before you can recruit employees.

[Compare SME banking products | Related: Finding the right UAE free zone]

Entrepreneur’s visa

There are also plans in the works to introduce an entrepreneur’s visa in the UAE. Announced earlier this year, the new visa would cater to business owners who do not need a physical office. Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority offers an Entrepreneurs’ Business License, which is available to members of the authority’s incubator program. Meanwhile, Dubai Internet City offers discounted visas to entrepreneurs who participate in accelerator programs, such as in5.

Freelance visa

If you would like to work as a freelance professional, you must have a trade license to do so, which can cost from AED 2,500 – 16,000 depending on free zone.

  • Tecom Investments has its own set of rules and procedures to do this at its various business parks, including Dubai Media City, Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai Internet City, at a cost of AED 7,500 per year.
  • Twofour54 in Abu Dhabi also has a similar scheme in place for freelance licenses, at a cost of AED 2,500 per year.
  • Fujairah’s Creative City is another free zone which offers a freelance company license (at a higher cost of AED 16,000 per year, including office space).
  • Ajman Free Zone offers a professional license at an annual price of AED 6,500 (which is usually more affordable than a general trade license). Once in possession of a trade license, you can get a obtain a residency visa.