Be Your Own Boss: The Essentials of Freelancing (legally) in the UAE
2020 - for all its pitfalls and downturns - gave many the taste of what it was like to avoid the daily commute, shun the traditional office 9-5 way-of-working and enjoy the flexibility of working from home.
But for many others, the ’new normal’ has been a way of life for some time. Being their own boss and the ease of working under their own schedule has seen a freelancer boom in recent years. In the US alone 57 million Americans freelanced just in 2019 – as quoted by Forbes.
However, freelancing across the Emirates has not traditionally been a viable career choice - as high costs, strict business licensing and visa regulations previously making the process a complex and expensive one. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and we are now seeing a mini revolution in the way business and individuals are looking at the way they want to work offer a legitimate, respectable, career alternative to traditional employment.
The UAE government has become more of a sponsor for freelancing, making it legal was an important move to encourage more people and businesses to participate, making it easier and more acceptable to freelance, also giving out part-time visas that allow people to work as freelancers on the side leading to a rise in the number of people working for themselves all across the region and beyond with the UAE as the base.
For many companies who, in the wake of COVID-19, are looking for a more accessible, flexible, qualified pool of talent to tap, freelancers are becoming an ever-attractive option for both short and long-term contracts given not only the lack the hiring costs - visas, medical insurance, flights etc., but also the time and cost to hire a permeant member of staff.
But how do you set up as a freelancer in the UAE?
There is now a plethora of choice to legally work for yourself across the UAE and the wider region with many free zones offering a freelancer permit which enables you to get your residency visa and also to sponsor your family.
The choice is wide, some will depend on the activity/ industry sector and all can be done online, you just need to check the list of professions provided by the authority issuing the freelance permit and the cost can vary significantly, its important you shop around before you chose a particular free zone to work from so it suits your individual needs.
How to get a freelancer Permit?
The free zones that currently offer a freelance permit include Tecom (Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City, Dubai Production City, Dubai Knowledge Park, Dubai Design District) Abu Dhabi’s twofour54, Fujairah Creative City, RAKEZ, and Ajman Free zone.
Abu Dhabi – you can get a freelancer permit from twofour54 by logging onto their website here. They will review your application within 3 working days and The Media Zone Authority has wavered all license fees for the first two years in the media zone, meaning you only need to pay for the visa registration process and health insurance
Dubai- Dubai Development Authority (DDA) currently registration is open under three sectors for freelance visas – Media (Dubai media City), Tech (Dubai Internet City) and Education (Dubai knowledge Park) for full details and application you can log onto their website here.
When your application is approved you will get an email notification then you can work, the fee for the package is Dh7,500 and if a residency visa is required, they will help you through the process and offer many business centres to work from if you wish.
Ras Al Khaimah- here the freelancer visa is available under RAKEZ, permit starts from Dh 6,100 and incudes access to business centres and a range of support services and a residency visa
For a full list of activities and to register log on to their website.
Fujairah- known as Creative City Fujairah with many options on offer from 1 visa up to 4 with a starting price of Dh, 5,750 and processing time of one day. Offering flexi desk, online support, internet access, PO box and PRO services… you can either message them on the website or call on (971) 9 207 7666 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ajman-known as Ajman Free Zone (AFZA) the freelance package comes at a fee of Dh6,000 plus visa, Emirates ID, and basic health insurance cost. You can apply under several activities and it includes a visa valid for three years along with Hub facilities. Click here for more info.
Several companies can also help you obtain a license and do the legwork for you - but with an additional extra cost as there are many options available and can be time consuming to navigate even if the application process itself is relatively easy (so long as you have the essential paperwork) Often, this is a popular option for those wanting help getting visas and medical insurance, alongside a license.
So, with the logistics sorted, the chance to set your hours, work wherever you like, choose who you work with and take command on what you charge for your services - what are you waiting for?