Freelancing is fast growing in popularity the world over. In the US, one in three workers is freelance and it is predicted that more than half the population will take part in the gig economy within the next few years.
It is a similar picture in Europe. In a 2016 Eurostat survey, over 30m people aged between 15 and 64 reported as self-employed – accounting for 14% of total employment. The UK alone saw a 31% increase in freelance workers last year, bringing the total number to 4.8m.
Here in the UAE, while statistics are slightly harder to come by, we are seeing a similar trend. Businessmentals, a Dubai-based freelancer consultancy, reports a growing number of people freelancing across the whole of the UAE.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of users registered with Nabbesh, the largest freelance marketplace in the Middle East, are based in the UAE.
If you want to be part of this thriving market, you’ll find – with the right support – that getting set up is both easy and affordable. Here’s everything you need to know about freelancing in the UAE.
How to apply for a freelance permit in Dubai
Freelancing in Dubai has not always been a viable career choice. Strict business licensing and visa regulations previously made the process complex if at all possible.
This is no longer the case, however. Now all that’s required to start freelancing is a freelancer license – also known as a UAE freelancer permit – and a freelance visa.
To get your license, you need to apply to a UAE free zone that offers a freelance option. There are now several that offer very affordable license packages that include use of office facilities and visa eligibility.
Setting up in a free zone is arguably the most cost-effective way to do business in the UAE. As well as affordable license and service fees – along with the UAE’s 0% tax rate – you’ll also benefit from the ability to repatriate all profits to your country of origin.
To obtain your permit, you will need to provide some documentation along with your completed application form. This will usually include a copy of your passport and residency visa (if you already have one), a bank reference letter and some examples of your work.
If you are already in employment in the UAE and applying for a freelance permit, you may also be required to provide a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your employers, though this is not required by all free zones. Alternatively, you can apply for a new visa as a freelancer – but more on that later.
When making your application, you’ll be required to list your intended business activities. Freelancer permits are issued for a range of professions, from arts and education through to media and tech. To ensure that your license activities align with your intended business practices, it’s best to work with a company formation specialist at this stage.
How to apply for a freelance visa in Dubai
As well as applying for your UAE freelancer permit, you’ll also need a visa to do business in the UAE. If you already have a residency visa through your employer, you’ll need to provide proof of this when you apply for your permit. In some cases, you may be required to request an NOC from your current employer.
Alternatively, you can apply for a visa in your own name as part of your freelancer permit application. The application process follows the same steps – entry permit through to visa stamping. You’ll also need an Emirates ID and will have to undertake a medical before your application is approved.
Once you hold your own visa, you are able to sponsor dependants for theirs too. This could be your spouse, a child or parent, or domestic staff such as a housekeeper or driver.
At this stage, you can also apply for your corporate bank account. This isn’t always easy in the UAE, so it’s best to work with a local expert who can put you in touch with the right bank to suit your needs.
Looking for the cheapest freelance visa in Dubai?
If you’re looking for the cheapest freelance visa in Dubai, you don’t need to look very far. Freelance visas and freelance permits can be obtained even on modest budgets.
Though the exact outlay will depend on factors such as your chosen free zone, you should estimate the UAE freelance visa cost at around AED 3,250. Add this to the cost of your freelance permit – around AED 7,500 – and it’s clear that setting up as a freelancer is one of the most affordable ways to get started in the UAE.
Find your freedom
More and more people in the UAE are discovering the freedom of freelancing. In fact, research by Nabbesh shows that seven out of ten people in the region are either already doing it or giving it serious consideration.
It’s not hard to see why. The same Nabbesh survey found that almost two-thirds of workers in the MENA region freelance because it offers a better work-life balance than being in employment.
Freelancing allows you to work to your own schedule, take on the tasks you want and have total control and autonomy over your career. And it’s a potentially lucrative career option too. According to a recent global survey, freelancers in almost every industry earn more than their traditionally employed counterparts.
Whether you are freelancing with the aim of building an established business, working a side gig, or intend to freelance for the rest of your career, there’s never been a better time to join this flourishing industry in the UAE.
Armed with the right support and knowledge, getting set up here is easy – you could receive your license in just seven days. So, what are you waiting for?