Dubai is the ultimate international city. Local heritage and tradition sits alongside a varied and vibrant community of expats who work and live in this dynamic and fast-paced city.
There are also clear economic reasons to move to Dubai as well. The rapid pace of development means that employers are drawing in skills and knowledge from the global talent pool, while entrepreneurs look to bring in products and services to serve this growing market.
If you’re thinking of moving to Dubai for work, you might need to first secure a work permit. Here’s the lowdown on how to get your UAE work visa, and start your new life in Dubai.
All foreigners in Dubai need a work visa, known as a Labour Card, to work legally. It's not uncommon for the authorities to seek out and prosecute or deport those working without a valid visa, so it's important to have the right paperwork on hand.
The only exception made is for students who can sometimes work in intern positions under the terms of their student visas, and some women who are in the country under the sponsorship of their male relatives. However, these are strictly regulated, so make sure you're confident of the terms of your visa before undertaking any work in the UAE.
There are over a hundred different visa types used to live and work in the UAE. Each of the emirates manages aspects of its own visa processes, which means that there are some variations across the different cities in terms of the steps and documents required.
As Dubai welcomes huge numbers of foreign workers, the process has been designed to be as simple as possible. However, it's important to understand the requirements, as you may run the risk of being arrested or deported if you have the wrong visa type for your activities in Dubai.
Some nationalities need a visa to enter Dubai, but there are a number of countries whose citizens enjoy visa free entry to the UAE, including much of Europe and the USA. Even if you have visa free entry, this limits your stay and the activities you're entitled to undertake, so you'll probably need a work visa before you can get a job. In some cases if you're already in the UAE with a tourist visa, and want to change to a working visa, you might have to leave the country, and reapply for a new visa from abroad.
Luckily, for most people your employer will take responsibility for applying for your visa, paying your fees and navigating the administration. Your employer might also apply for a work entry permit for the private sector or free zone for you as this gives you 60 days in which to arrange your residency, once you arrive in Dubai.
To work in the long term in Dubai you'll need to get a residency visa, which allows you to stay for up to 3 years. Other visa types typically don't exceed 90 days. The residency visa is important because without it you won't be able to open a bank account or get a driving license.
Usually to get a visa you'll also need to undergo medical checks for contagious and sexually transmitted diseases. It's possible that you'll be deported if your medical certificates aren't clean.
The exact documents you’ll need to provide will vary depending on the visa type you apply for. Your employer will first have to make the application on your behalf and will need to prove that the business is properly registered and that the job you're being employed to do could not otherwise be filled locally.
Additionally, you can expect to be asked for the following paperwork to support your employer’s application:
- Copies of your passport - which must have at least 6 months validity beyond your expected stay
- Bank approval letter
- Passport-sized colour photographs
- Visa fee and completed application form
Once your application has been made, you can track it’s status on the ‘eDNRD’ online portal. Here you and your employer can also pay application fees and make inquiries about different visas.
Regardless of the type of work you intend to do, your visa application should be done by your employer. If you'll be working in the UAE for under 30 days, your employer can apply on your behalf for a short term visa. There's also a 90 day multi entry visa for those coming for only a few months. In this case you'll have to provide documentation and proof of the business registration before your application can be considered.
If you’re a student you might be able to work in a relevant position such as an internship, under the terms of your student visa and without needing a new permit.
If you can prove you're a partner or investor in a business, and have a stake of at least AED 48,000, you might be able to apply for a specific visa to enter Dubai. This Partner or Investor permit allows you to stay in the country for 60 days, during which time you can sort out a residency application for a long term stay.
There are fees attached to this visa of up to AED 680, and you'll need to provide documents proving your role in the business and identity. There are many agencies who will help you apply for this type of visa. However, as some agencies promote their services as a ‘quick fix’ route to residency, you should be wary about the way they work. Asking for recommendations and testimonials is the best way to make sure you have an agent who has your best interests (and not just their fees) at heart.
If you have a valid residency permit, you're entitled to bring your family to Dubai as long as you earn AED 10,00 a month. You might be asked to provide payslips to show that your salary and housing allowance from a private employer are sufficient to meet this limit. A visa application must be submitted on behalf of each family member before arriving in Dubai.
It’s worth remembering that social norms are very conservative, so unlike in some countries, this family reunification programme will not extend to unmarried or same sex partners. If you're sponsoring your daughter’s entry to the country, you might be asked to sign a documents confirming she isn't married.
You can find out more about living and working in Dubai on the website of the Directorate of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs. Respecting the culture and values of your host nation is crucial, and this website contains a lot of detail about behavioural expectations in Dubai and the UAE.
It’s important to note that visas and labour permits must be actively cancelled before you leave the country. Even if the permit will expire after you leave, you or your sponsor must make arrangements for the visa to be cancelled, or you'll struggle to get a subsequent visa to enter Dubai.
Once you send money to the UAE, consider using a money conversion service like TransferWise to avoid unfair exchange rates. There's a small transparent fee, and when your money is converted from one currency to another you’ll get the real exchange rate - the same one you can find on Google. Not only that, but TransferWise receives and sends money via local bank transfers instead of internationally, further saving you money by cutting out hefty international transfer fees.
If your trip is short or opening a bank account in Dubai isn't an option, you can always withdraw money from your foreign account using an ATM there. Just keep in mind it'll be more favorable to agree to be charged in the local currency, not your home currency.
Regardless of when you start your new job abroad, it should be fairly straightforward to get yourself a visa if you follow the right steps. The most important part is just to make sure to enjoy your new adventure.
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