If there is a silver lining to the year 2020, it is that of employers understanding that most work can be done to quality and in time without showing up at the workplace for eight hours or more, five days a week.
It gave employees a taste of a work-life without daily commute and the flexibility of planning your day that working at home affords.
Although the ’new normal’ had been a way of life for some countries pre-pandemic – in the USA, 57 million Americans freelanced in 2019 (Forbes) – removing the physical need for employees to be in the workplace has raised a number of questions about how the workforce will look like in the future, leading to a potential rise in the use of freelancers.
Keeping up with the global trend, a recent survey by the UAE job portal Bayt.com and You Gov titled ‘Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa 2021’, showed that 62% of UAE residents would prefer to be self-employed given a chance.
While in the past, freelancing across the Emirates was not a viable career choice due to high costs, strict business licensing, and visa regulations, we are now witnessing a mini revolution in the way business and individuals in the UAE are looking at freelancing as an alternative to traditional employment.
Thanks to policy changes initiated by the UAE government - making freelancing legal and issuing visas that allow people to work as freelancers on the side - the country’s work environment is changing.
The scope and opportunities are also growing, leading to a rise in the number of self-employed people across the Middle East and beyond, with the UAE as the base. As businesses recognise the benefits of a more accessible, flexible, qualified source of talent, freelancers are becoming an attractive option for both short and long-term contracts, providing companies with a chance to avoid the time and cost involved in hiring permanent staff.
UAE today is a great place to kickstart your freelancing career
Becoming a legal freelancer in the UAE
In November 2020, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) announced that UAE residents, as well as non-residents could apply for freelance licences.
According to the new law, freelancers can now legally live and work in the UAE. Applicants are not required to take office space and can apply for residency visas for themselves and their families.
To work as a freelancer in the UAE, you need a residence visa and work permit, with the requirements for residents and non-residents listed below:
For UAE residents
If you are a UAE resident on your spouse’s or parent’s visa, you only need a freelancer permit to start working. Full-time working professionals in the UAE can also become freelancers by obtaining a permit.
To apply for a freelance permit, you must have proof of your relevant skill set as well as permission from any employer in the instance that you are looking at freelancing as a side-hustle.
For UAE non-residents
If you are not a UAE resident, you will have to apply for a freelancer visa - a residency permit that will allow you to live and work in the UAE as a freelancer.
There are many options to choose from for both UAE residents and non-residents considering a freelance career to live and work in the UAE legally. Many free zone options offer a freelancer permit that can enable you to get your residency visa and sponsor your family.
The choice will depend on the activity/ industry/ sector, and all processes can be completed online. Costs can vary significantly, so it is important that you research well before choosing a free zone that suits your individual needs.
How do I get a freelancer permit?
The free zones that currently offer a freelance permit include:
Costs range between AED 7,500 and AED 20,000 (depending on the free zone regulations and your business requirements) and the permit must be renewed annually. The cost will also vary based on whether you need a 1-year or 3-year residence visa or only a permit to work legally as a freelancer in the UAE. If you are already a UAE resident, sponsored by a parent or a spouse, you do not need to cancel your current residence visa and get a new one.
To get started, here are your free zone options:
Abu Dhabi: You can get a freelancer permit from twofour54 by logging onto their website here. The Media Zone Authority has waived all license fees for the first two years in the media zone, which means that you only need to pay for the visa registration process and health insurance.
In addition, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development has also launched a freelancer visa option. More details here.
Dubai: Dubai Development Authority and the TECOM Group have launched the GoFreelance initiative, where currently registration is open under four sectors for freelance visas: Media (Dubai Media City), Technology (Dubai Internet City), Design (Dubai Design District) and Education (Dubai Knowledge Park). For full details and application, you can log onto their website here.
The fee for the package is AED7,500 and if a residency visa is required, they will help you through the process and offer a business centre facility to work from if you wish.
Ras Al Khaimah: Ras Al Khaimah Economic Free Zone permit starts from AED 6,100 and includes access to business centres and a range of support services and a residency visa. For a full list of activities and to register, please check their website.
Fujairah: Fujairah Creative City has many options on offer with a starting price of AED 5,750. Offering flexi desk, online support, internet access, PO box and PRO services. Please check their website here for more details.
Ajman: Ajman Free Zone (AFZA) freelance package start at AED 6,000 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 information.
Umm Al Quwain: UAQ Free Trade Zone is designed for individuals in the technology, media and film sectors. By obtaining a freelance license and visa from the UAQ FTZ, you become a registered freelancer in the UAE eligible to carry out their chosen profession with full legal support. For more information and to apply for a UAQ freelance permit, check their website here.
If you would like to outsource your freelance permit and visa set-up, several private companies specialise in business licences and establishments that can do the legwork for you at an additional extra cost. This is a good choice if you are exploring your options, as they can guide you through the process.
If you’re a freelancer in marketing and communications and looking for your next UAE client, sign up with The Work Crowd today (it’s Free!). We have a variety of businesses looking for freelancers within PR, Marketing and Design. Register here and start browsing the latest projects in the UAE.