Becoming a resident of the UAE: What you need to know

Global Citizen By Heba Hashem Dec 19, 2019

This article was created in partnership with Western Union.

Whether it’s for the white, sandy beaches, the pleasantly mild winters or the competitive tax-free salaries, millions of expats have chosen to live and work in the UAE.

If you’re looking to join them and make the UAE your home, the first thing you need to know is that there are several ways of becoming a resident — and they all necessitate being inside the country.

Choosing your preferred route

The most common way to become a resident is to gain employment with a UAE-based company or government entity. In this case, as the UAE government website notes, the employer will apply for and sponsor your residence visa while you are living in the country.

How quickly the visa is processed depends on whether your employer is in a free zone (geographic zones where foreign investors can receive tax exemptions, among other benefits) or your employer is overseen by the Ministry of Labor. In general, the former is much faster than the latter. It also varies depending on the efficiency of your employer.

You can also become a resident if you invest in a business. This means setting up a company in one of the free zones and applying for your own visa under your company’s sponsorship. Although you’re not obliged to perform a business activity through that company to get residency status, you can effectively use it for business and benefit from all the advantages of tax exemption for free zone companies.

Another way to permanently reside in the UAE is with a freelancer visa. Freelancing has become increasingly popular among entrepreneurs and professionals worldwide. To keep up with global trends, the UAE offers foreigners the opportunity to obtain residency as a registered freelancer.

If you want to pursue this option, you’ll need to register as a freelancer in one of the local free zones and obtain a permit to perform a specific line of work. The process is, in many ways, similar to registering a company, but it costs considerably less and requires fewer submitted documents. Once your application is approved, it should take approximately two weeks to issue your freelance permit, notes GoFreelance.

The freelance permit identifies you as a sole practitioner and enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name. The free zone will generally provide you a shared office space and PO box.

Once you’ve made up your mind on the route you want to take, you will need to take a medical test to prove that you’re medically fit to live in the country. You must also pass a security check and apply for an Emirates Identity card from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship. The validity (or length) of stay on your residence visa will vary according to the visa type and sponsor; it can be for one, two or three years.

Reaping resident benefits

As a UAE resident, you will be entitled to open a bank account, apply for a driving license, access health insurance, work and invest in the country, register your children in schools and travel visa-free to certain destinations, such as Azerbaijan and Oman.

Moreover, you can exchange foreign currency of almost any denomination in the UAE, mainly in hotels and money exchange centers, which are located at airports, malls and public markets.

Once you’ve settled in, you might want to support your family members by sending money for education, healthcare and investments, among other reasons. The UAE has more than 900 Western Union agents and is one of seven countries in the Middle East to have the Western Union® mobile app and online platform.

If you do your research on becoming a resident in the UAE, you’ll likely feel right at home in no time. After all, the UAE is a melting pot of cultures, welcoming expats from more than 200 countries to live and work together in harmony.