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Living in the UAE - Visa options

As a foreign national, to live and work in the UAE, a visa is required. Compared to many nations, the UAE is renowned for being relatively straightforward in securing residence and employment visas. But there is a variety of different visa types, and it’s worth understanding the immigration landscape before embarking on any business set-up.

The UAE’s employment regime is linked to the immigration regime. Foreign nationals require sponsorship through a UAE licensed and registered entity for local work permit and residency visa purposes. Expat ‘sponsorship’ is both employer-specific (only for one employer) and location-specific (within a relevant free zone, for example). Third-party working is permitted, but only on a conditional basis.

The immigration process varies depending on the Emirate and the jurisdiction (free zone or mainland) in which a company is based. Free zones usually operate their own dedicated government service office that liaises with immigration authorities on behalf of the sponsoring entity (company) and generally, these offices have streamlined work authorisation processes.

In the below overview, we take a closer look at the visa types, including descriptions on key visas, excluding tourist visas:

Visa type
Requirements in a nutshell
Employment Visa
The main and possibly simplest visa is the Employment Visa. It is issued to employees hired by a registered UAE company, and is usually valid (and renewable, at cost) for two or three years, dependent on the issuing jurisdiction (free zone or Emirate). The company requesting the visa will normally pay for it, and specialised staff are often employed to help new recruits with the application process. Most free zones proudly now offer employment visas in a matter of days. In many cases, visa holders are able to ‘sponsor’ dependents such as their spouses and children. To avoid any visa cancellation, residents need to make sure not to stay outside the country for longer than 180 days.
  • 2-3 year visa (dependent on jurisdiction)
  • For employees hired by a registered UAE company
  • Max stay outside of the country of 180 days
Remote Work Visa
The UAE Remote Work Visa is designed to attract global expertise to the UAE, allowing expats to base themselves in the country while working for foreign entities. This one-year visa allows foreigners to enter the UAE under self-sponsorship and work in line with the terms and conditions issued with the visa.

There are, however, certain steps to obtain this new type of visa, which is the first in the region.I

f you are an employee, you need to provide contractual proof of employment, valid for at least the following year, and proof that you earn a minimum salary of US$5,000 per month, with bank statements and payslips.

As a company owner, to obtain a remote work visa, you must provide proof of company ownership for at least the preceding year, and prove earnings of at least US$5,000 per month, backed by bank statements and payslips.
  •  1 year visa
  • For expats who want to base themselves in the UAE, while working for foreign entities:
    1. Either being employed by a foreign company
    2. Or being an Owner of a foreign company
Property Visa
The Property Visa category applies to people buying property in certain areas, for certain minimum purchase prices. A three-year visa can be obtained by those purchasing a property valued at a minimum of AED750,000, where no more than 50% of the value is subject to a mortgage, or at least AED 750,000 needs to be paid to a bank.

A five-year property visa can be issued to those purchasing property at AED2 million or more, with no more than 50% of the value subject to a mortgage, or AED2 million paid into a bank.

A property visa offers the same benefits as other types and can be obtained if you hold a property portfolio which together is worth the minimum property investment amounts.
  • 3, 5 and 10 year visa
  • Visa for property holders:
    1. Property value of min. AED 750,00 – 3 year visa
    2. Property value of min. AED 2 Mio. – 5 year visa
    3. Property value of min. AED 10 Mio. – 10 year visa (golden visa)
Investor / Partner Visa
An Investor / Partner Visa is a type of visa only issued to a UAE company shareholder (incorporated in either a free zone or onshore) for a period of three years, these are also renewable at cost. Investor visa holders may also ‘sponsor’ their dependents. Most investor visas can also benefit from stays of up to 360 days away from the UAE if needed.

The Dubai Investor or Partner Visa applies to foreign nationals wishing to launch a business or invest in an existing business in Dubai. Holders of this visa become tax domiciles of the UAE, untaxable by their home countries – but note this is subject to the investor’s home country regulations.

The Dubai Investor Visa is categorised under different categories – company investment, investment in residential property, long-term residence and retirement.

A company investment visa is granted to those who own shares in an existing company worth at least AED72,000 - or by establishing a company with a similar amount of capital investment.
  • 3, 5 and 10 year visa
  • For UAE company shareholders (full ownership of partner)
  • Most visas can benefit from stays of up to 360 days outside the UAE if needed
Retirement Visa
Retirement Visa are offered to retirees over 55, for five years, who invest in residential property valued over AED1 million, or hold accumulated savings of more than AED1 million, or have active monthly income of more than AED15,000 from a pension or previous employer.

This five-year visa is renewable, subject to meeting the criteria.

Visa holders are no longer allowed to actively work under a UAE retirement visa and require a confirmation statement of retirement/end of service.
  • 5 year visa
  • Applicants over 55 years
  • Investment options:
    1. Property value of over AED 1Mio.
    2. Savings of more than AED 1Mio.
    3. Monthly income of more than AED 15,000.
    4. Mix of option 1 and 2 with a combined total of no less than AED 1Mio., minimum of AED 500,000 savings
Golden Visa
The long-term UAE Golden Visa can be obtained by investment of at least AED10 million in the UAE – in the form of investment funds, real estate or a company. The current criteria to be eligible as an investor is that the investment cannot be loan-based, and must be retained in the UAE for at least three years. You also need proof of financial solvency of up to AED10 million.

Golden Visas have another special criterion – they are issued to people who have made extraordinary achievements in, or impact upon, the UAE. Most recently, it was decided that charity and humanitarian, as well as frontline workers fell into this category, in recognition of their work.

The Golden Visa system allows expatriates and their families who wish to work, live or study in the UAE to enjoy long-term residency.

The five- or ten-year Golden Visa is automatically renewed for those who fall into certain categories, including investors, doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, creators, inventors, researchers in various branches of science, technology and innovation, and outstanding students.
  • 10 year visa
  • Visa for substantial investment to the UAE / extraordinary achievement:
    1. Property investment of more than AED 10Mio.
    2. Investment Funds of more than AED 10Mio.
    3. Extraordinary achievement, including investors, doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, creators, inventors, researchers in various branches of science, technology and innovation, and outstanding students, Charity, Humanitarian and Frontline workers.
Green Visa
The newly-announced Green Visa, unveiled as part of 50 new innovative ideas celebrating the UAE’s Golden Jubilee, sees a relaxation of visa rules, allowing self-residency status for qualifying investors, entrepreneurs, highly skilled individuals, top students and graduates. Additional elements of this new visa status allow for sponsorship of dependent children until the age of 25, as well as parents, and a shift of the grace period for leaving the country upon job loss or retirement from 30 to 90 or even 180 days, dependent on criteria. As more details emerge, we will update our audiences.
  • Part of the Golden visa pillar (5 and 10 year visa)
  • Allowing self-residency status for qualified investors, entrepreneurs, highly skilled
  • Further guidelines to be announced
Freelance Visa
The Freelance visa is aimed at attracting innovative talent to the UAE, in the form of experts, retirees and specialists. While details are still being hammered out - including the duration of the visa, salary requirements and investment levels required, if any, it’s important to note there are already freelance visa options available through a number of the UAE’s free zones – offering up to three-year renewable visa options for the self-employed.
  • 3-5 year visa
  • For self-employed workers based in the UAE and abroad
  • Further guidelines for the mainland free lance visa to be announced
  • Free zone options already available, visa for 3 years

Swiss Group is happy to discuss your visa questions in detail, with bespoke advice built on nearly 50 years’ experience in the region. Contact us today.

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