There are plenty of entries on the entrepreneur’s to-do list, particularly when establishing a company overseas. One of the most pressing is the matter of visas – not just for business owners but for their employees, family members and domestic staff. Fortunately, here in the UAE, applying for a free zone visa is simple. Particularly when you get set up in one of the nation’s free zones.
Let’s look at the application process, different visa types and how to get started in your Dubai free zone business.
Why a Free Zone Visa Is Great For Business
Arranging a free zone visa in Dubai should be a top priority for an entrepreneur starting an enterprise in the UAE.
One advantage of gaining a residence visa in a free zone is the tax exemptions applicable to your business activities. For freelancers and businesses alike, popular free zones in the region include Fujairah Creative City Free zone, Sharjah Media City and Hamriyah free zone.
There are two types of Dubai free zone visas available. These are the investor visa and the employment visa. An investor visa is usually obtained during the company setup process in an eligible free zone and is valid for three years.
Whereas, an employment visa applies to employees, provided they have an appointment letter from a company in the UAE.
Employment visas are readily available to employees with an appointment letter from a registered company in any free zone in the UAE. This free zone visa type requires sponsorship from an employer and is necessary for employees to conduct business in Dubai free zone authorities.
How to apply for a free zone visa
New business owners and entrepreneurs wanting to set up a business in a Dubai free zone can do so easily, with the help of a company formation specialist. Having a professional on board to help with the process can ensure your application is completed correctly and avoids any unnecessary delays.
That said, applying for a free zone visa is easy to do, in just five simple steps. Whether this applies directly to you, a family member or an employee you are hiring, the steps are the same.
Step 1: Register for E-Channel Services
The first step of the free zone visa process involves getting online. Begin by applying for your UAE free zone visa via the E-Channel services. This innovative online system was designed by the UAE government to streamline the visa process. Conveniently, it eliminates paperwork and makes visa applications much faster and more transparent than ever before. Simply head to the e-channel services website, enter some personal details including your email address and you’re on the way to getting your free trade zone visa.
The new online system removes paperwork and makes applications much faster and more transparent than ever before.
Registration for free zone businesses is incredibly easy: simply instruct your free zone agent or authorised typing centre to register your company for online services and pay the necessary fees. The registration fees for this service are AED 2,500 plus a refundable security deposit of AED 5,000. Once these costs have been paid, you’ll receive a notification as soon as you are registered.
Step 2: Entry Permit
After registering for E-Channel services, you’ll need to apply for your entry permit – also known as an employment visa. A Dubai employment residence visa is essentially a temporary visa, valid for 60 days. Employment visas are usually issued within 15 days, however, for an additional cost of AED 1,000, you can apply for the express service which takes 5-7 working days. It is strongly advised that you refrain from leaving Dubai or the UAE after applying for your entry permit. Doing so can cause discrepancies in your immigration file which can lead to delays in the process. This visa type is an electronic document that will be emailed to you once ready.
Step 3: Status Change
With your entry permit in hand, it is now time to activate it. This process is known as ‘status change’ or ‘status adjustment’. This is required to obtain your full free zone visa. There are three different ways to carry out a status change:
- out of the country and
- the so-called ‘border run’.
An in-country status adjustment is the easiest option. Simply submit your passport to immigration who will stamp and activate your employment visa. This process takes around 3-5 days and the cost is AED 750.
If, however, you are outside the UAE and Dubai when your employment visa is issued, or you plan to leave the country shortly afterwards, it is possible to activate your free zone visa by leaving the UAE and re-entering. Upon entry, you must present your printed employment visa to the immigration officer at the airport in the immigration arrivals hall.
The immigration officer will then stamp and activate the free zone visa. This option is not available to all nationalities so it is always best to check with your free zone authority before leaving the country on an employment visa.
Finally, the border run option entails exiting the UAE by land, receiving an exit stamp, and then re-entering the country. Here, you must present your employment visa to the immigration officer to obtain an entry date stamp on the document and in your passport. This option is only applicable to passport holders of countries that are eligible for visa-on-arrival travel to the UAE. Border runs are strongly advised against as it is not always guaranteed to work.
Step 4: Medical Fitness Test and Emirates ID Registration
The fourth stage in obtaining your visa in Dubai is the medical fitness test and Emirates ID card registration. A medical test is comprised of a blood test for any infectious diseases and a chest X-ray. This can be completed within a few hours and results are usually available after three working days.
With the results of your medical test, you can then apply for your Emirates ID card. The Emirates ID is an identity card that must be carried by UAE citizens at all times. This identity card is needed to open bank accounts and take out contracts for mobile phones. Your Emirates ID is also required to apply for real estate tenancy agreements. Any activity that requires personal identification in the UAE commonly requires the sighting of your Emirates ID.
If it is your first time applying for an Emirates ID card, you will need to visit an official ID authority to make your application, as certain biometric information (eye scan and fingerprints) must be captured. An Emirates ID card costs just AED 370 and is valid for three years.
Step 5: Residence Visa Stamping
The final stage of the free zone visa application process is residence visa stamping. This refers to obtaining the actual UAE residence visa stamp or sticker in your passport. To obtain your stamp you must submit your passport to the relevant immigration authority.
This process can take up to 15 working days during which time you will be unable to travel outside of the UAE (an expedited service may be available for an additional cost).
As with every stage of this process, a company formation specialist can take care of the details for you. A business consultant can liaise with all relevant government departments and inform you as soon as your visa is granted.
Applying for a Free Zone Visa for Dependants
Once your Dubai UAE free zone visa has been granted, you can apply for additional visas. These can be for your spouse, dependents and domestic staff such as maids or drivers.
Firstly, you must obtain a salary certificate from your free zone stating your earnings. Importantly, the minimum salary your business needs to sponsor a wife or child varies between jurisdictions, however, it is usually around AED 7,500. On top of this, a security deposit is usually required, which costs AED 3,000 (AED 5,000 for women).
It should also be noted that women have some restrictions for independently sponsoring dependants. Women can sponsor dependants if they can provide a legalised and attested divorce or spouse death certificate, translated into Arabic.
Once you have provided the required documents, the free zone visa application process for dependants is similar to the one above. However, there are different requirements for medicals (not needed for under 18s) and biometric details (not required for under 15s). For more information on Family Visas, check out this article.
The Free Zone Visa Process Made Easy
Applying for a free zone visa in the UAE doesn’t need to be taxing. As shown above, the process is incredibly straightforward if carried out correctly. There are, however, a few things that all applicants should be aware of to ensure their application is successful and not unnecessarily delayed.
Applying for a visa in the UAE doesn’t need to be taxing. As shown above, the process is incredibly straightforward if carried out correctly.
Before submitting your application, check your passport information. Your passport must be valid for at least seven months with three empty pages for your visa stamp. Also, do not reside outside of the UAE for more than 180 days as this will invalidate your visa.
Finally, there are a few country-specific requirements to be aware of. Working closely with your free zone authority or a company formation specialist is the best way to ensure your free zone visa application runs as smoothly as possible. They can usually take care of the heavy lifting for you, requiring just a few hours of your time.
Get Help Establishing Your Business With Virtuzone
Setting up your own business has never been easier. Virtuzone takes care of it all so you can focus on what matters – building your business. For more information about company formation in the UAE mainland or free zones, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to email@example.com, or click here.