Freelancing in Dubai and the UAE

Freelancers working

Freelancing is not for everyone. It can be lonely, stressful and extremely hard work in the early stages. To be clear, freelancing means working alone, as an independent contractor. As the buck stops with you and you alone, it is only suited to entrepreneurs with high levels of drive, determination and business nous.

When working as a freelancer in Dubai and the UAE, you are essentially establishing an independent business in your name – something that is permitted here in the Emirates provided you have the correct licence. It is a slightly different process to standard UAE company formation, though just as straightforward. Many freelancers only ever operate under a UAE freelancer licence or permit, while others use it as a first step before ‘upgrading’ to a full business licence later down the line.

Dubai has taken its place as a vibrant hub for freelancers in recent years. Huge numbers of businesses across a range of industries are making use of freelance workers: reports that over 50% of Dubai’s businesses outsource to freelancers. In response to this growing demand for freelance services, the UAE government has introduced a number of initiatives to make it easy for freelancers to do business. The most notable of these was the introduction of the entrepreneur visa back in 2014. Previously, an entrepreneur wishing to apply for a visa in the UAE had to prove a definite offer of work – something that many freelancers are unable to do. Under the entrepreneur visa, freelancers are permitted to enter the country and then start building a client-base.

Freelancers working

Free zones have also played a part in the rising popularity of freelancers, with many now offering UAE freelancer permits – including Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City, Dubai Knowledge Park, Dubai Design District, and Fujairah Creative City among others. This makes the application process much more straightforward. To get started, a freelancer simply needs to apply directly to a free zone which can then take care of the permit, business licence and registration, and in some cases the visa application on their behalf – cutting down on lengthy admin. Free zones also offer a number of other benefits to UAE freelancers, including access to flexi-desk and business support services.

Working as a freelancer in Dubai and the UAE

While the process for becoming a freelancer in the UAE is straightforward, there are still are few things you need to consider before you get started. These include:

Cost: It is not just the cost of the freelance permit – which starts in the region of AED 7,500pa plus visa fees – that you need to consider here. You’ll also need to be able to support yourself financially in the early stages when you are building your client-base. When arriving in the UAE as a freelancer, come prepared with a good financial buffer and make sure you thoroughly research your market and potential clients in advance. Once here, providing you’ve put in the groundwork, it shouldn’t be long before your efforts start to bear fruit.

You’ll also need to be able to support yourself financially in the early stages when you are building your client-base.

Application: There are two ways to apply for a UAE freelancer permit, both of which are incredibly straightforward. You can apply to the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED) or directly to a relevant free zone. While neither way is complex, the DED option does involve a little extra legwork. Applying to a free zone with the help of a business formation expert is the easiest approach. They can manage every stage of your application for you and usually issue a licence within 10 days.

Visas: As well as a freelance permit, you’ll also need a visa to work in the UAE. A company formation expert or free zone authority can help you with this part of the process, making the application on your behalf. Providing you meet the salary requirements, it is also possible to sponsor family members and domestic staff too.

Workspace: One you’ve successfully applied for your UAE freelancer permit, you’ll need somewhere to work. There is plenty of flexibility here. If you have applied for your licence via a free zone, you can usually work there – either by renting office space or making use of flexi-desk facilities. Alternatively, you are free to work from home.

Switching to full company setup: For some, freelancing is a way of life, and they never wish to work in any other way. For others, it is a stepping stone to establishing their own company. For those in the latter category, the UAE makes it easy to upgrade a freelance permit to a full company licence. It is simply a case of applying via your free zone or with the help of a business formation expert. Again, this process is incredibly straightforward and usually only takes a couple of weeks.

Become a UAE freelancer

The prospect of kissing goodbye to the daily routine of the 9 to 5 is a long held dream for many people around the world. However, for many, it is more than this – it is a reality.

Across the globe, freelancing is growing in popularity. By 2020, 43% of the US workforce is expected to be freelancers. By 2027, it is predicted that freelancers will make up to the majority of the workforce.

It’s not hard to see why so many are choosing to work in this way. Freelancing offers freedom and flexibility that is hard, if not impossible, to find in traditional employment. It can also be incredibly rewarding – with no middle man, any money you make is yours, and yours alone.

It can also be incredibly rewarding – with no middle man, any money you make is yours, and yours alone.

And here in the UAE, there’s another reason behind the popularity of freelancing – it’s incredibly easy to get started.

You can apply for a UAE freelancer permit whether you are entirely new to freelancing or while still in other employment. Many choose the latter option, building up their side gig steadily before they are ready to take the plunge and go it alone.

Whatever your circumstances, applying for your UAE freelance permit and getting started here in the Emirates is both straightforward and affordable. Working with a company formation expert is the best way to do this. They can manage your entire application for you, working with all of the relevant authorities on your behalf – including free zones and immigration – to ensure your application runs smoothly.