A Guide to Freelance License in Dubai
The pandemic clearly ushered in an era of change for doing business around the globe. Corporate familiarized themselves with a host of new strategic considerations; right from making survival decisions, transitioning from survival to growth, and eventually planning the shift to an optimized state post the pandemic.
Critical decisions were made to account for high-impact and low-likelihood risks like COVID-19, to prioritize organic business building, ensure business continuity and resilience, and welcome new operational models that are poised to thrive in a digitally disruptive era.
Companies have been forced to re-imagine their workplace which meant considering systems that go beyond traditional work arrangements. The shift to remote working has led companies to re-evaluate the structure of their work-forces and gain flexibility with access to freelance/individual consultants and subject experts.
As such, the crisis has brought in a host of exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs to idea across new verticals, and offer freelance solutions to meet the pent-up demand from corporate and industries alike. Freelancers or independent professionals have turned out to be cost-effective options for businesses as they provide specialized skills and are adept at remote working.
Amidst the pandemic, freelancing remains aspirational as working remotely is now going mainstream. Companies stand to gain experts who can be productive almost immediately while maximizing value through their specialized skill-set.
The Rise in Freelancing Platforms
The rise in freelancing platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and freelancer.com, etc. has also widened the market by connecting freelancers with organizations. These websites offer freelancing opportunities even for professions outside of the IT sector such as marketing, sales, and accounting, among others.
The websites essentially act as a marketplace connecting recruiters with freelancers across domains, thereby increasing the chances of finding the right candidate for the job on the employer side and landing the preferred project for the freelancer. Thus, these websites act as an agency for freelancers and independent consultants to help companies tap into expertise that they lack within the existing arrangement. It also helps companies to manage expected and unexpected surge in operational activities by tapping into such engagements.
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The Rise of Freelancing in The GCC
The GCC region has done a commendable job in adapting to the changing environment and has swiftly moved towards a remote working environment. Since working from home has taken centre stage, it has paved the way for new business models, thereby bringing along a host of freelancing opportunities.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have continued to remain at the forefront within the region, thanks to the government’s initiatives to introduce reforms to remain competitive within the global environment and align themselves with the rapidly transforming business models.
The rise in freelancing platforms in the region, such as Ureed.com in the UAE and Sabbar in Saudi Arabia, have also played an important role in connecting freelancers with corporate looking at engaging skilled individuals or consultants. Ureed.com has recently acquired Nabbesh, which led to more than 135,000 freelancers on board from over 150 industries and specialities.
Ureed.com has become one of the largest freelance platforms in the GCC after closing a 7-figure seed funding round from Wamda and Anova Investments. Sabbar, another freelancing platform in the region, has also been able to connect hundreds of job seekers with on-demand businesses on a monthly basis. The start-up received funding of US$1.5 million in 2020, capitalizing on the growing freelance market in the region. The growth in such platforms indicates the potential of freelancing in Dubai and the region by providing wider coverage and exposure to diverse industries, visibility, and opportunities to advance their careers. Notably, Dubai’s gig economy ranks first in the region and 8th worldwide.
Freelancing in The UAE
The UAE has been especially privy to the importance of entrepreneurial freelancing and has accordingly introduced policies that promote the significance of such individuals towards the economy.
The nation’s conducive business climate is accentuated by a framework of targeted incentives such as exemptions from corporate and personal income tax, low trade import duties across the board, legal safety, currency stability, limited government intervention, and more.
In addition to a flurry of initiatives over the last few years, the UAE has eased multiple regulations in a bid to attract global freelancing talent. The government has amended rules to make freelance license, work visas more affordable, while new laws have emerged to extend long-term residency visas to suitable candidates and allow 100% foreign ownership across sectors.
A freelancer may now apply for and receive a freelance license in UAE online, reducing the paperwork and legalities required to register for a license and avail various subsidies and schemes to conduct business in the country. This is facilitating individuals to explore alternative income sources and contribute to the broader economic recovery.
As a direct result of these efforts, the freelancing market in the UAE is witnessing a surge, mirroring the trend in global markets. The nation is seeing more freelancers in niche markets such as software and website development, mobile phones, design, media, and architecture.
The growing demand for creative roles such as graphic designing, web designing, content writing, editing, photography, and videography, or even functions such as social media management, marketing, and accounting is likely to boost its growth prospects further.
Moreover, Dubai has made it increasingly simple to become a freelancer while Abu Dhabi is also moving in the same direction.
Promoting The Rise of The GIG Economy
Additionally, the Dubai Economy, in collaboration with the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) has launched the ‘Great Economic Reset Programme’ to support the transition to remote working and the rise of the gig economy.
The Ministry of Economy, on the other hand, has also undertaken a number of initiatives to promote contract-based flexible employment and attract talent to the region. The initiatives have been towards streamlining the process of applying for a freelance license along with making it easier for a freelancer to open a bank account or apply for a loan or insurance.
In April 2021, the Crown prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive of Dubai launched the Al Quoz Creative Zone in the Emirate which will serve as a hub for artists and designers to live and work there in addition to providing its members’ facilities, services, and other incentives.
It will also enable entrepreneurs and professionals in the creative sectors to obtain a freelance license along with a single license which will allow the individual to practice diverse creative business activities, apart from other official permits thus making it a one-shop stop for all creative-related services and permits.
These efforts have resulted in Dubai becoming one of the most favored destinations by freelancers hosting more than 65% of the country’s freelancers. Abu Dhabi takes second place hosting around 16% followed by Sharjah with 13% freelancers. Ras Al Khaimah and RAKEZ have a share ranging from 2% to 10% whereas Ajman, Fujairah, and Umm Al Quwain all have below 2% share of all freelancers.
Deciding between obtaining a Freelance License or Setting up a Company
Many applicants face difficulties in deciding whether to apply for a trade license directly under the Department of Economic Development (DED) or a freelance license. A trade license is a general license that allows an individual to carry out multiple trading activities in different industries in the UAE.
The activities under trade license include import, export, and trading of products and services. Moreover, with a trade license, one can hire staff, is not restricted to any one particular industry or business, and is allowed to work with large corporations as well. With a freelance license, your business activity must be related to a Free Zone through which you applied for the permit.
Another difference between a freelance license and a trade license is that obtaining a freelance license is relatively easier and much cheaper compared to a trade license which can cost between AED 30,000 to AED 40,000.
Benefits of Applying for Freelance License in Dubai
The affordability coupled with the several incentives offered by the Dubai authorities for freelancers has made it lucrative for individuals to work in the city. Furthermore, the growing gig economy in Dubai can present a freelancer with numerous opportunities to advance and grow their business. A Freelancer License also provides the individual a platform to obtain a resident visa and an opportunity to sponsor their family members at lower entry cost.
The UAE government is actively creating policies to help entrepreneurs, freelancers, and independent companies to thrive in the country. Notably, Dubai is considered among the fastest-growing business hubs in the region as a result of which there are ample opportunities to work and grow business in the city.
- Health insurance provides coverage against medical expenses and critical illness. Moreover, health coverage is mandatory for all UAE nationals and residents in Dubai. Unlike expats, who enjoy employer-sponsored health insurance in Dubai, self-employed individuals/freelancers will have to buy their own private health insurance.
- There are a number of health insurance options available in the market and an individual can select a cheaper plan which gives minimum coverage benefits or go for a more comprehensive plan that includes a wider range of benefits. Many insurance companies offer benefit options that are flexible and can be tailored to suit one’s health needs and budget.
Public Liability Health Insurance
- This type of insurance is mandatory in the majority of Free Zones. It covers the insured from claims by third parties arising as a result of negligence, injury, death, property damage/destruction, or financial/economic loss caused by the freelancer’s business activities or operations. The coverage can be tailored according to the needs – subject to exclusions, conditions, and stipulations.
- Emirates ID is a 15-digit number issued to residents, expats, and even tourists to prove their identity, and is also used to provide security to citizens and residents. When applying for a residence visa, one can also apply for an Emirates ID card online, which is again mandatory for freelancers with residency. There are a number of benefits of holding an Emirates ID:
- Emirates ID makes entering and exiting an airport easy with the use of the e-gate service; the card offers to simplify traveling procedures
- Emirates ID contains a personal data retaining chip. The chip also contains bank history which can be accessed by accredited authorities. The ID enables effortless bank identification, helping eliminate banking crimes and frauds.
- One can pay for petrol with the help of an Emirates ID.
- All hospitals and clinics across the UAE can read the medical history of a person with the help of his/her Emirates ID.
VAT Registration for Freelancers
- VAT in the UAE was introduced in 2018 and lists down new regulations applicable to freelancers. Freelancers are categorized into three groups for the purpose of VAT:
- The freelancers have to register for VAT if their revenue is more than AED 3,75,000
- It is optional for freelancers to register if the revenue is between AED 1,87,500 and AED 3,75,000
- The freelancer cannot register if the revenue is below AED 1,87,500
In this case, revenue includes reverse charge supplies, imports, exports, i.e. the zero-rated supplies and taxable supplies. If a freelancer is eligible to register for VAT in the UAE, the following steps need to be followed:
- Acquire a Freelance License
- Online registration for VAT on Federal Tax Authority
- Maintain financial records
- Filing VAT Return
It may be a little daunting to go through the hassle of becoming a freelancer all by yourself. Therefore, it is advised to take help from businesses in the UAE that help applicants with freelance license activities and the process of obtaining a freelance license. However, it is important to observe caution. While the sector is under the purview of the government and is strictly regulated, there are many service providers in the UAE, especially in Dubai that offer illegal freelancing visa solutions.
Freelance Licensing in Dubai
To start your journey of freelancing, one requires a residency visa and a freelance license. We have taken a closer look at the important considerations for obtaining freelance licensing. Outlined below is a detailed guide or steps in obtaining such licensing and other requirements to start operating in the UAE.
Option 1: Freelance License without a Visa
- Selling on online channels, especially on social media websites, is becoming more mainstream each year. With the UAE leading the region in innovation and technology and Dubai being at the heart of it, the E-trader license was another initiative launched in 2017. If you are being sponsored by your spouse / parent or currently employed in the UAE, you may use your residency visa to obtain a freelance license with DED E-trader.
- The E–trader license was introduced by the DED for home entrepreneurs and freelancers to make it easier for them to sell their products and services online on social media while ensuring consumers are protected against counterfeit and fake products. Only those entrepreneurs who don’t have a physical brick and mortar store or any physical space along with freelancers are eligible to apply for the DED E-trader license.
- UAE and GCC Nationals and expats of certain other nationalities can also apply for the E-trader license in Dubai, provided that the individual is based in Dubai and is above the age of 21 years. For the purpose of E trader license registration, one must first create an account on the DED Traders website, provide details regarding the social media account and pay the license fee after registration.
- The Dubai E-trader License costs AED 1,070 per year. With this license, freelancers and other individuals can legally promote and sell products or services using their social media accounts including Instagram, Facebook, or even on their own personal website. One can also feature their products and services on online marketplaces such as Noon.com.
- With this, individuals and businesses in Dubai can also legally participate in and reach out to customers at exhibitions and conferences. The license also protects your trade name and any other intellectual property. The DED also holds training and workshops for E-trader licence-owners that one can attend for business know-how.
- You can apply for the DED E-trader license by submitting your application on https://invest.dubai.ae/. On the other hand, you can also visit the DED Cafe in Jumeirah 1 to consult an expert and get your license issued within 30 minutes.
- Passport Copy
- Existing Visa (Tourist / Residence Visa) Copy
- Passport Photo (with white background)
- Emirates ID copy (not applicable if you’re on Tourist Visa)
- Professional Social Handles (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Corporate Website whichever applicable)
- Information Technology: Web design, social media application development, computer software training, cyber risk management services, electronic directory management, data entry services, cloud service & data center provider, IT infrastructure, portal, blogging, software house.
- Design and Handicraft: Shoe-making, books binding, crystal products processing, imitation jewelry smithing, traditional handicraft works, frame making, glass & plastic engraving, jewelry box making, soap making & forming.
- Events and Exhibitions, Film, TV and Music Production: Live theatrical show production, laser and lights shows, wedding organizer, artistic talent contracting, exhibition organizer, conferences & seminar organizer, fashion shows organizer, auctions organizer.
- Professional services: tax reclaim services, information helpline directory, surveying & evaluation services, project management services, marketing management, public relations management.
- Rental services: Tent rentals, musical instruments rental, furniture rental, children carts rental, costumes rental, uniforms rental.
- Typing and Translation: Typing & Photocopying services, documents copying services, documents clearing services, documents verification- follow-up services.
- Other trading services.
The DED E-trader license is suitable for those who are currently employed or have a residence visa, as the E-trader license doesn’t permit self-sponsorship. If you’re looking for a Freelance license option with a residence visa, the next option would be ideal for you.
Option 2: Freelance License with Visa
- In Dubai, Dubai Media City offers the ‘GoFreelance’ package which is a permit issued by the TECOM group that gives you the legal status to work as an independent contractor and is renewable each year. As defined by the Dubai Development Authority ‘the permit identifies you as a sole practitioner and enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name’.
- While freelancing is legal in Dubai, it is important to know that it is not the same as part-time work. Freelancing strictly means working for yourself where you are essentially operating as a one-person company as opposed to a part-time job in a company. Therefore, one needs to obtain the proper freelance license and permits to work as a freelancer in Dubai.
Eligibility Criteria for GoFreelance
- The freelance license/permit is available for UAE residents, non-resident, and UAE nationals. Applicants need to demonstrate relevant skills to acquire a freelance license. For UAE citizens that are employed—they require prior permission from their employer in the form of a NOC (No Objection Certificate), in case if their chosen freelance activity is similar to their job.
- In order to obtain a freelance license in Dubai, the applicant must apply either through a free zone directly or apply for the freelance license online on GoFreelance.ae website—an initiative by Dubai’s TECOM group and launched in partnership with Dubai Creative Cluster Authority—to offer freelance license in cheaper packages.
- The freelance licenses in Dubai differ by the range of activities they cover, which are broadly classified under different sectors—Media, Education, Technology, and Design. Depending on the business activity you wish to conduct, the freelancer registers with one of the Free Zones in Dubai—Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Knowledge Park, and Dubai Design District covered under the GoFreelance package. For example, to obtain a freelance photography license, the applicant will register with Dubai Design District and for a freelance license for software development, he/she will register with Dubai Internet city.
- Other Free Zones in the city are Dubai Studio City, Dubai Production City, and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC). The freelance license also gives the freelancer access to the Free Zone premises to which they have applied. These free zones can prove beneficial for the freelancer in setting up their network and meet potential clients as they are surrounded by businesses, who might avail their services. Other benefits include 100% ownership of your business, and 100% repatriation of profits, among others.
Below mentioned are the freelance license activities permitted under GoFreelance.
- Media: Aerial Shoot Photographer, Animator, Artist, Actor, Audio/Sound Engineer, Brand Consultant, Cameramen, Choreographer, Commentators, Composers, Content providers, Copywriter, Creative Director, Critics, Director, Editor (Audio/Video), Publishing, Events planner, Furniture Designer, Graphic Designer, Illustrator, Journalist, Lighting Specialist, Market Analyst, Marketing Specialist, Media planner, Music director, Musician, New Media Specialist, Photographer, Photojournalist, PR Specialist, Presenter TV/ Radio, Print Media Specialist, Producer, Scriptwriter, Set and Exhibit Designer, Social Media Specialist, Social Media Influencer, Special Effects producer, Translator, Wardrobe Stylist, Web Developer, Web Designer, Writer.
- Education: Education Advisor, eLearning Advisor, Executive Coaching, Researcher, Trainer.
- Technology: Web/Mobile/Software Development, IT and Telecommunication Networking Freelancer, Data Science and Analytics Freelancer, Customer Service Freelancer.
- Design: Apparel, Concept Designer, Costume Designer, Fashion Artist, Fashion Stylish, Image Consultant, Hair Stylist, Interior Designer, Jewellery Designer, Make-up Artist, Object Designer, Personal Shopper, Textile Designer, Visual Merchandiser, Wedding Planner.
- The process of applying for a freelance license in Dubai has become much simpler in recent years. The applicant is required to provide personal details like name, email address, phone number, city, and country in the application form along with submitting the following documents—Resume/academic qualification, recent photograph, passport and visa copy, bank reference letter, and NOC (No-objection certificate).
- Some additional documents may be required depending on the freelance license provider. It is important that the applicant provides accurate and true details in their freelance license application form, failure of which the application can be canceled.
The NOC is required only in the below cases:
- If an applicant is on their spouse’s or parent’s visa in UAE, then he/she will need a NOC from them, before applying for a freelance license.
- Similarly, if the applicant is employed full-time and the company sponsors the applicant’s visa, then he/she will need a NOC from the employer.
Follow up and payment of license fees
- After submitting the application form, the applicant will be notified by email when the application is approved which usually takes around 5 to 7 working days. After receiving the confirmation mail, the applicant will need to visit the business centre/Free Zone where he/she needs to personally sign the documents and pay the freelance license fees (AED 7,500 annually in Dubai), and the processing time for which is two working days.
- Additionally, the total cost of a freelance license taking into consideration additional permits, licenses, etc. can range between AED 12,000 - AED 15,000 per year. The cost for a GoFreelance license is one of the cheapest in the UAE considering it offers a residence visa to the applicants.
Obtaining Visa (For Applicant and Dependents)
After obtaining the freelance license, one is required to obtain a visa to be eligible to work as a freelancer in Dubai.
- After receiving the freelance license, the next step for the individual is to apply for an employment visa for themselves or a resident visa if they have dependents and wish to sponsor them.
- To obtain a visa, it is mandatory for the applicant to first have an Establishment Card. Establishment Card is also known as Company Establishment Card and Company Immigration Card that includes details like name of the company/freelancer, card number, and expiry date. The card will not be issued by the registration authority but by the immigration authority.
- One can apply for an establishment card through TECOM’s business service platform known as AXS, which was launched in partnership with Dubai Development Authority (DDA) and allows an applicant access to a number of government and corporate services. The requirements for applying for Establishment Card are a freelance license and a UAE mobile number. The cost for applying is AED 2000 (to be renewed every year).
After receiving the Establishment Card, an applicant can now apply for Employment Visa for which requirements are as follows:
- Original Passport
- Establishment card
- Passport Photo
- Valid Medical Insurance
- Visa (if applicable)
The applicant is required to take a medical test to complete certain residency visa procedures.
Cost of Freelance Visa in UAE
The cost of an Employment Visa in Dubai is AED 2,750 (Normal Visa) for one year and AED 5,000 (Express Visa) for three years. Normal Visa is expected to be renewed every year whereas Express Visa is expected to be renewed every three years. The freelancer can apply for Employment Visa through the GoFreelance.ae website.
After receiving the freelance license and employment visa, he/she will receive an entry permit to Dubai within 5-10 working days. Following the freelance license, the freelancer can apply for residency in the UAE. The individual may have to complete certain procedures to obtain the residency visa such as a medical test.
After completion of all procedures, the residency visa will be stamped and will be valid for three years from the date of issue. With the UAE Residence Visa an individual can open a bank account, access financial facilities, apply for a driving license, access government health services and health insurance, work and invest, register his/her children in government schools and in private schools and travel visa-free to certain destinations. The residency visa will incur additional costs to the freelancer.
Address and Contact Information in Case of Queries/Grievances
In case of any queries/grievances regarding their freelance license in Dubai, one can contact business centres or free zones. In Dubai, one can visit or contact anyone one of the below free zones
Dubai Media City
- Phone: +971 4 391 4555
- Email: email@example.com
- Address: Building #2, 2nd floor, DMC
Dubai Internet City
- Phone: +971 4 391 1111
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Address: Building #4, Ground Floor, DIC
Dubai Knowledge Park
- Phone: +971 4 390 1111
- Email: email@example.com
- Address: Block #18, 3rd floor, DKP
Dubai Design District
- Phone: +971 4 433 3000
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Address: Building 3, Floor 3, d3.
Today, after more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world looks significantly different from the start of 2020. The changes that looked unacceptable or unimaginable, have literally become a new normal in today’s world, especially the work from home or hybrid working models adopted by corporates.
The change in working arrangements witnessed across the globe is likely to remain for an extended period of time. This can be primarily attributed to the benefits of utilizing flexible working engagements to manage the uncertainty in the global demand and supply environment and also in optimizing business operations.
As a result, the attractiveness of freelancing is poised for growth over the next few years, in line with the changing trends of evolving skill-sets and expertise requirements, remote working, and the growing demand for outsourcing and consulting services. The confluence of these factors, coupled with the region’s exciting incentives and thriving business climate, will continue to attract freelancers who can contribute to the overall economic growth.
The freelance marketplace in Dubai is indeed fast-expanding in line with the boom in the MENA region. The growth of platforms such as Bawabba, Maslah, etc. is catering to the increased demand for experienced professionals that can hit the ground running in assigned roles. With more supportive regulations for freelancing in the future, the sector will undoubtedly contribute to the progress and the transformation of the UAE economy.
The move towards freelancing is also being motivated by the opportunity to become a subject expert/consultant/specialist professional while empowering the new generation to become their own boss. For many individuals, a reason to move into freelancing or entrepreneurship is a pure meritocracy.
Unlike in a corporate, where your work goes through several management approvals, in freelancing your skill is immediately assessed by the market or client. If you make it, you make money; if you don’t, it’s an opportunity to try again and succeed. Another important aspect of freelancing is the idea of expansion and evolving into becoming a founder or entrepreneur over a period of time.
This also augurs well for the broader economy, which is also a reason for the government to incentive such arrangements to boost employment and boost economic activity.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is obtaining freelance licensing allowed in the UAE?
- Yes, you can apply and obtain necessary approvals from the regulatory authorities and start operating in the UAE.
2. What are the benefits of setting up a business in a Free Zone?
- The Company in Free Zone can be 100% Foreign owned and benefit from being income and corporate tax-free. There are a number of other benefits, you can get additional information from the government websites for the same.
3. Can I be a freelancer if I’m on my spouse’s visa?
- Yes, but you will need a No Objection Certificate (NOC). However, you can also easily obtain your own freelance license, which will help in sponsoring other employees and their families.
4. Am I allowed to use the company name?
- No, a freelance permit is issued under the applicant’s name only.
5. Who will be my point of contact if I need to follow up on my application status?
- An applicant can contact Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Dubai Knowledge Park, or Dubai Design District to know more about their freelance license in Dubai.