How to settle well in Dubai?

Getting a residence visa or starting a business in Dubai

Why Dubai?

Dubai is a city that can offer something to everyone - from sunny beaches, warm winter, fancy restaurants and a lineup of great entertainment, to high salaries, generous packages and no income tax. The city has been kind to many expats who have called it home. It’s thus natural that Dubai is ranked the sixth best city for expat workers.

High Earning Potential for Expat Workers

High salaries and a corresponding high quality of life are among the top reasons expats pick Dubai. According to a survey by HSBC, 73% of expats living in the UAE earn more than in their home country. Working expats (and their dependents) also receive better benefits as compared to their global counterparts, such as an annual allowance for flights home and mandatory healthcare.

Most of the private sector jobs available in Dubai are open to foreign workers, who make up approximately 85% of the population. While salaries and packages typically vary by industry, employer and the skillsets the expat has to offer, here is a snapshot of average monthly salaries in 2019:

• Chief Financial Officer ~ $16,500 (AED 60,000) • HR Director ~ $16,500 (AED 60,000) • Head of Marketing ~ $13,600 (AED 50,000) • Hotel General Manager ~ $12,250 (AED 45,000) • Store Manager (Luxury) ~ $9,100 (AED 33,500) • Property Manager ~ $8,200 (AED 30,000) • Civil Engineer ~ $8,200 (AED 30,000) • Investment Banking Analyst ~ $6,500 (AED 24,000) • Sales Account Executive ~ $5,500 (AED 20,000) • Graphic Designer ~ $4,400 (AED 16,000)

Request Dubai Property Guide now

Be the first to get Guide to buying property in Dubai incl. updated property prices, purchase process steps, investment advice and expert opinions.

Obtaining a Residence Visa

Most expats will enter Dubai on a tourist visa or on a work permit sponsored by their employer.

Tourist visas are increasingly easy to obtain. UAE offers free visas on arrival to visitors of 60 nationalities for either 30 or 90 days depending on the nationality.

For other nationalities, an entry permit can be applied for by a ‘sponsor,’ - an Emirati national, a UAE resident, a UAE-based airline (like Emirates or Etihad), a local hotel or travel agent, a government entity or a company. Typically, all that is required is a copy of a passport with six months validity. For more information on entry permits/visas, refer to the official portal of the UAE Government.

Expats can qualify for long-term investor visas if they invest in the country, or if they are entrepreneurs, professionals in medicine, science, research or technical professionals, recognized creative talents or academically-gifted. Retirees over the age of 55 can also qualify for special long-term visas.

Researchers who are considering relocation to the UAE can opt for a 180 day single visit visa, to visit the country and examine potential opportunities.

In May 2019, the UAE government announced a permanent residency scheme or “golden card” for high net worth investors. At the time of the announcement, 6,800 individuals with AED 100 billion in investments were identified as eligible for the permanent residency.

Below is a general overview of five medium-to-long term visa types. Do keep in mind that visa regulations are updated frequently; it’s best to check the latest rules with a UAE embassy or consulate at the time of your travel. The UAE government very recently approved some of these visas, in March 2019, with exact details expected over the coming weeks and months.

Types of residence visas in Dubai

1. Work Permits / Visa sponsored by an Employer Expats who enter on a work permit will undergo a medical check to ensure they are medically fit and free of HIV and tuberculosis. They will also submit biometrics to obtain their residence visa and Emirates ID. The speed of the process typically depends on the effectiveness of the Public Relations Officer (PRO) at the company, and whether there are any national holidays at the time of application.

Residence visas provided by employers can range in duration from one to three years. Expats who hold a residence visa and meet basic salary criteria can apply for residence visas for their dependents (direct family members). A few additional criteria apply for sponsoring a maid or nanny.

2. Medium and long-term Investors Visas The UAE government recently introduced a long-term visa for expat investors. There are two types of investor visas: • 3-year residence visa – expats who invest AED 1 million or more in a residential property that is in a freehold area and is ready-to-move in, can qualify for a renewable three year residence visa (previously, this was a two year visa) • 5-year residence visa – expats who invest AED 5 million or more in a property can qualify for a five-year residence visa. The amount invested must not be loaned, and the property must be retained for at least three years. • 10-year residence visa – expats who invest AED 10 million or more in the country through a deposit, established company, business partnership or real estate will be eligible for a renewable ten year residence visa. However, sixty percent of the investment must be in an area other than real estate. The amount invested must not be loaned, and the investment must be retained for at least three years.

Expats who are pursuing investor visas can enter the UAE for a six-month period with multiple entries while they are applying for the long-term visa.

3. Long-term Entrepreneur Visa Entrepreneur visas are new as well, and entrepreneurs must meet one of the following criteria to be eligible for the five-year visa: • Entrepreneurs who have a previous project with a minimum of AED 500,000 • Entrepreneurs who are approved by an accredited business incubator in the UAE

4. Long-term visa for Special Professionals and Students The professionals listed below are eligible for this new category of ten-year visas, provided that they meet certain criteria around education, accreditation and achievements (such as awards, membership in esteemed organizations, contributions to major research or publications or patents). Applicants must also hold a valid employment contract in a specialized field of priority in the UAE.

• Doctors & Specialists • Professionals in medicine, science, research and technical fields • Engineers • Scientists • Creative talents in culture and art

Outstanding students can apply for 5-year visas, provided they meet certain criteria related to their grades. They must have a minimum 95% grade in secondary school, and a university GPA of 3.75 or higher when graduating.

5. Retiree Visas In another update to the visa system, expats can now qualify for visas after retirement. Expats over the age of 55 are eligible for this renewable five-year visa if they meet one of the following criteria: • Investment of AED 2 million or more in property • Savings of AED 1 million or more • Active income of at least AED 20,000/month

Long-term visas include the spouse and children of the investor, entrepreneur or student, and in some cases also include executives (more information). The five and ten year visas will renew automatically.

Ease of Doing Business

A series of reforms over the past few years has helped the UAE establish itself as a preferred destination for investors and businesspersons. The World Bank lists UAE as the 11th country in terms of ease of doing business, and the 25th best place to start a business.

The ease of business ranking considers ten criteria including starting a business, registering property, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

While visa rules apply to the country as a whole, regulations around setting up businesses vary across each emirate and even across the mainland and free zones.

Mainland Dubai versus Free zone

In Dubai, expats can choose to set up their business on the mainland in partnership with an Emirati, or they can opt for 100% foreign ownership and set up in one of the many free zones the city has to offer. The type of business being set up will typically dictate where it can be set up (whether in the mainland or in a specific free zone) and what ownership structure is applicable. In general, setting up in a free zone is a much easier and quicker process.

Consult the Department of Economic Development (DED) in Dubai for an understanding of the types of business activities that must be set up in the mainland, and the process of setting up a business and obtaining a license to operate from the DED. Increasingly, more DED services are becoming available online and online customer support can be immensely valuable in answering questions.

Some of the key differences between mainland and free zones revolve around the following: • Eligible business activities • Ownership rules • Geographic scope of business • Number of visas that can be obtained for employees • Amount of office space required (this influences the number of visas that can be obtained) • Approval from authorities

Picking the right Free zone

When it comes to choosing a free zone, the type of business activity and the location of the free zone will be important. Each free zone offers a list of services that are supported, cost of business set up, cost of visas for employees and options for business premises. Keep in mind that there will be a cost to renew licenses and also to close licenses.

Some of the more popular free zones in Dubai include the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) which is home to both financial businesses as well as non-financial business like five-star hotels and restaurants; and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC in JLT) which offers 600 different business activities.

There are over 20 free zones in Dubai, including:

• Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA) • Dubai Auto Zone • Dubai Design District (d3, an upcoming district) • Dubai Gold and Diamond Park • Dubai Healthcare City • Dubai International Academic City • Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) • Dubai Internet City • Dubai Knowledge Park • Dubai Media City • Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) • Dubai Science Park • Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) • Dubai Studio City • Dubai World Central (Dubai South) • Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) • Dubai Production City • International Media Production Zone (IMPZ)

The UAE government offers an informative guide to setting up in a free zone, here.

Respect for local customs and authorities

Part of the reason that Dubai remains such an attractive place to stay and work is the enforcement of business rules and regulations, and the strict adherence to local laws and customs. The city is remarkable for its tolerance of other cultures and religions, and for empowering expats of all nationalities to excel. For a long and prosperous stay in Dubai, learn more about the local customs and remember to show respect to local authorities, from the immigration officers at the airport to the representatives at the economic department.