Visas and Work Permits 12 min

Work permits and visas in Dubai: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
March 14, 2024
Sally Flaxman


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The city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the fastest-growing remote work hubs.  If you want to hire an employee or relocate an existing team member to Dubai, you’ll have to apply for a work permit and comply with all the local rules. 

While the UAE has an easier visa application process than some of its neighboring countries, there are still specific steps to follow for an individual who would like to live and work in Dubai. 

This article will give you an overview of work visa requirements and work permits in Dubai, including the relevant visa categories, requirements, and the application process. We’ll also explain why it’s simple to hire or relocate employees to Dubai and beyond with a reliable EOR like Remote onboard.

Who needs a Dubai work visa or permit?

People who are not citizens of the UAE but want to live and work in Dubai will need a visa or permit to stay and work in the country. Before entering the country, most travelers who plan to be in the country for an extended stay will need an entry permit, sometimes called a pink card.

An entry permit allows the traveler to enter the country and stay for a specific length of time, usually three months. To get an entry permit, the traveler needs to be sponsored by a person or an organization, which can include their employer or a resident family member. The sponsor needs to apply for the permit before the traveler arrives. 

Once the traveler is in the country, the sponsor can apply for the proper visas and permits that the traveler will need. If the individual is coming to Dubai for employment, they would need a work visa rather than an entry permit. 

To work in Dubai, the employee will need both a work permit and a work visa. 

What are the different types of visas in Dubai?

Dubai offers many types of visas and permits for those who want to stay more than a few months. These are called residence visas.

Residence visas are visas for employees who plan to stay in Dubai for an extended period. There are many types of residence visas for the UAE, and the type that the traveler applies for depends on their reason for staying in Dubai. Types of residence visas include:

  • Family visa: The family visa is available for those who have close family living in the UAE.

  • Investment visa: Investment visas are five or 10-year visas offered to foreign nationals who make a substantial donation or investment to the UAE.

  • Retirement visa: Retirement visas are issued to elderly foreigners who wish to retire in the UAE.

  • Self-employment visa: These visas are available for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and investors.

  • Student visa: Student visas are available for foreign students who have been accepted into an educational institution in the UAE.

  • Work visa: Work visas are issued to individuals who have found a job in the UAE and gotten a work permit.

  • Work remotely from Dubai visa: Also called the Digital Nomad visa, this visa is for remote workers who wish to work from Dubai.

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What is the difference between a work visa and work permit in Dubai?

Foreigners working in the UAE typically need both a work permit and a work visa. Before they move to Dubai, the employer has to apply for a work permit for their employee via the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation. This permit is usually valid for two months.

During the two months that the work permit is valid, the employee needs to go through the steps to get their work visa. As the work visa is a type of residence visa, it allows the employee to stay in the country for a longer time. The UAE issues work visas for one, two, or three years. The Work remotely from Dubai visa is valid for one year. You are free to reapply for a visa to extend your stay.

What are the visa categories in Dubai? 

When someone applies for a work visa, the government places them in a category based on their education level, their skill set, and their company’s field.

  • Category 1: Employees in category 1 have at least a bachelor’s degree and are considered qualified professionals. This category includes careers like accountants, doctors, engineers, and teachers.

  • Category 2: Category 2 employees have some type of postsecondary degree, but it can be in any field. This category is often for people with mechanical or technical jobs.

  • Category 3: Employees in category 3 have a high school diploma or an equivalent. This is often used for entry-level jobs like cashier, clerk, or tour guide.

The government has further divided these categories into those who are “skilled laborers” and those who are “limited skill laborers.” Skilled laborers refer to employees who hold an attested educational qualification certificate. Limited skilled laborers do not hold this certificate.

Residency visa for specialist talent 

The Residency visa for specialist talent is not the same as a work visa, but like a work visa, the applicants are required to have an employment contract in a specialist field in the UAE. These visas, also called Golden visas, last for 10 years. The government gives these visas to individuals who possess specialized talent and knowledge.

What is the application process for work permits in Dubai?

The employer must apply for a Dubai work permit on behalf of the employee. To do this, the employer must print off the work permit application from the Tas’Heel website, the online system for the Ministry of Labour. The employer must then submit this application with the required documents, such as:

  • A recent photo of the applicant with a white background

  • A copy of the sponsored person’s passport

  • Documents from the hiring company, such as a commercial license

Depending on which category the employee falls into and whether they are a skilled or limited skilled laborer, the employer pays a work permit fee.

Once the sponsor submits the required documents, the Ministry will review them. If there are no corrections needed, the Ministry will approve the application. This typically takes less than a week.

What is the application process for work visas in Dubai?

While there are steps that employees have to take themselves, there are also certain tasks that their employer must carry out while applying for a work visa in Dubai. These tasks need to be completed while the employee is in the country after getting their work permit.

Dubai work visa requirements

Before a worker applies for a work visa in the UAE, they and the company must meet certain requirements:

  • The employee must be at least 18 years old.

  • There is no maximum age for employees, but companies will pay more for employees over the age of 65.

  • The employer must have a valid license and cannot have violations.

  • The employee’s work must correspond to the nature of the hiring company.

  • The employee must pass a medical test.

Work visa application

The employer is responsible for applying for the employee’s residence visa through Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. The employer must also stamp a work residency permit on the employee’s passport.

After the visa is approved, the employer must arrange for the employee to receive an Emirates ID card and a labor card. The Emirates ID card is the employee’s government ID, while the labor card states that the employee is authorized to work in the UAE.

Work visa length and renewals

The UAE government will issue the employee's work visa for one, two, or three years. If the employee wants to stay in Dubai, the employer or sponsor can renew the work visa within 30 days before the visa expires. The renewal process is similar to the application process.

If the employer or sponsor misses the renewal window, they may be able to renew the visa after it expires if they are within the visa expiry grace period.

What’s the application process for the Work remotely from Dubai visa?

Dubai is currently offering a one-year program for remote workers. This program lets employees live in Dubai, experience the culture, and access all the standard services that residents of Dubai typically get. 

What are the requirements for the Work remotely from Dubai visa?

To qualify for the Work Remotely From Dubai program, remote workers need to have:

  • A passport that is valid for at least an additional six months

  • Health insurance that will cover them while they’re in the UAE

  • Proof of employment from their current employer that shows at least a one-year contract

  • An income of at least 3,500 USD per month

  • A payslip from the previous month

  • Bank statements from the preceding three months

Unlike the work permit, employees applying for a Work Remotely From Dubai visa do not need a sponsor. As a result, the employer doesn’t need to do anything apart from providing the employee with the necessary documentation. For a Work Remotely From Dubai visa, the employee, or worker is the one applying.

If a business owner is looking to qualify for the program, they will need a passport and proof of valid health insurance, but will also need:

  • Proof that they have owned their business for at least a year

  • Proof that they make at least 3,500 USD per month

  • Bank statements from the previous three months

  • Proof of work or employment outside the UAE and that the work is remote

  • If applying for family members, these members also must have a valid passport and the applicant must pay a fee for them as well.

Steps to apply for a Work remotely from Dubai visa

The application process for the Work Remotely From Dubai visa is relatively simple:

  • Log on to the portal on the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs — Dubai website.

  • Create a username and password.

  • Look for the program under “Golden Visa.”

  • Submit all the required documents.

  • Pay the required fees.

If the application is approved, the applicant will need to undergo a medical exam, just as they would if applying for a work visa. Applicants have 30 days to make this appointment once they arrive in Dubai and may want to schedule the appointment ahead of time. 

Once the year-long program is up, the Work remotely from Dubai visa cannot be renewed, but participants can reapply.

How to apply for a freelance visa in Dubai?

Those looking to apply for a freelance visa must first choose a Free Zone to apply to. Free zones are areas within the UAE that are free trade zones where the government issues freelance permits. 

These Free Zone operate under their own regulations separate from the rest of the country.  They set their own customs, import regulations, and taxes. There are 45 freelance zones within the UAE, and each zone is built around a specific industry such as design, education, media, and tech.

The process for applying for a freelance visa is more tedious than applying for a Work remotely from Dubai visa, and all documents must be translated into Arabic. To begin the process, the applicant needs to apply for a freelance license from one of Dubai’s freelance zones. To do this, they will need to:

  • Choose a freelance zone relevant to their industry

  • Apply to that freelance zone

  • Submit a business plan, a copy of their passport, and a reference letter

If approved, the applicant will receive a confirmation letter. They must then:

  • Sign and return the confirmation letter as well as any other requested documents

  • Make any necessary payments, which may vary depending on the free zone

  • Sign the sponsorship agreement

To obtain a freelance visa, the applicant needs to submit:

  • Their freelance license application

  • Their business plan

  • A copy of their passport

  • Letters of recommendation

  • A CV and any qualification certificates

  • A portfolio that proves the applicant can be a successful freelancer

  • Proof of academic qualifications, for applicants in the education sector 

Once the application is approved, the applicant will receive their entry permit within about a week. Once they receive that permit, they have 60 days to complete visa procedures such as medical testing. After they’ve gone through these procedures, their visa will be stamped and be valid for three years. 

Freelancers working in the UAE must have a freelance permit. If an applicant came to Dubai on a work visa and wants to switch to a freelance visa, they will need to provide a No Objection Letter from their original sponsor or employer showing. This letter shows proof of the change of visa type.

The rise of remote working allows employees to work across the globe and Dubai can be a great place to relocate to. However, businesses struggle to handle the intricacies of global hiring — figuring out onboarding, benefits, payroll, and compliance with local laws and tax practices.

Partnering with Remote, a trusted and reliable EOR, is the best way forward. Remote's team of employment experts have country-specific knowledge of employment laws in each nation. For more information about how Remote can help you hire in the UAE, check out our Country Explorer page.

Learn more abut how to relocate your employees internationally by downloading Remote’s Relocation Guide. You can also book a consultation with our mobility gurus for advice or to start relocating employees to Dubai today.

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