All you need to know if you want to go freelance in the UAE

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Many expats in the UAE are hes­i­tant about go­ing freelance de­spite the at­trac­tions of be­ing your own boss. Franco Grilli, Cor­po­rate Part­ner at Fichte Le­gal Con­sul­tants, puts this down to a lack of clar­ity sur­round­ing the le­gal­ity. Here, he an­swers the key ques­tions about free­lanc­ing.

Q Is free­lanc­ing per­mit­ted in the UAE?

A Free­lanc­ing is per­mit­ted in the UAE as long as you ob­tain

the req­ui­site per­mits and ap­provals.

Q What are the key per­mits and ap­provals I need to work as a free­lancer?

A In or­der to work in the UAE, whether as a free­lancer or oth­er­wise, you need both a res­i­dence visa and a work per­mit.

Q What is the eas­i­est route to take to be­come a free­lancer?

A The eas­i­est path to be­com­ing a free­lancer is to ap­ply for a freelance work per­mit and res­i­dence visa (if not spon­sored by your spouse or fa­ther) from a free zone.

The free zones that cur­rently of­fer a free zone per­mit in­clude Dubai Me­dia City, Dubai Stu­dio

City, Dubai Pro­duc­tion City, Dubai De­sign Dis­trict, Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 and Fu­jairah Cre­ative City.

Note that your pro­fes­sion would have to be re­lated to the ac­tiv­ity of the free zone.

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 a shared PO box.

Q What are the costs in­volved?

A It de­pends on the free zone that you in­tend to es­tab­lish your­self in but ex­pect your set-up costs to range from Dhs10,000 to Dhs25,000. Note that you will have to re­new your li­cence on a yearly ba­sis, which would be in the re­gion of your set-up costs.

Q What doc­u­men­ta­tion do I need to sub­mit to the free zone?

A The doc­u­ments you will have to typ­i­cally sub­mit in­clude a busi­ness plan, your port­fo­lio/sam­ples of work, ref­er­ences from pre­vi­ous em­ploy­ers, a copy of a no-ob­jec­tion cer­tifi­cate (NOC) from your cur­rent spon­sor (if any) and a copy of your pass­port.

Q If I have a freelance per­mit from a free zone, can I con­tract with main­land or on­shore com­pa­nies?

A There isn’t any strict pro­hi­bi­tion on be­ing en­gaged by a main­land/on­shore com­pany. How­ever, there may be fine print in­volved de­pend­ing on your ac­tiv­ity and the free zone in which you are set up in.

Q If I have a res­i­dence visa spon­sored by my hus­band/fa­ther, can I freelance? Can I also work tem­po­rar­ily for a com­pany?

A You will still need a work per­mit if you wish to freelance.

It is pos­si­ble to ob­tain a tem­po­rary work per­mit from the Min­istry of Labour if you are to be em­ployed by a main­land com­pany for a maximum six­month term.

Ad­di­tion­ally, for a part­time job in­volv­ing work for a fewer num­ber of hours than nor­mal work­ing hours at a com­pany, you could avail a part­time work per­mit through the com­pany you in­tend to work for.

For both a part­time or a tem­po­rary work per­mit, you will need an NOC from your cur­rent spon­sor.

Q What are my other op­tions?

A The other op­tions in­clude op­er­at­ing as a sole pro­pri­etor­ship in main­land UAE by reg­is­ter­ing with the Dubai Depart­ment of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (DED). How­ever, the costs are sig­nif­i­cantly higher in that you would have to en­gage a lo­cal ser­vice agent and manda­to­rily lease an of­fice space ren­der­ing this op­tion in­fea­si­ble, es­pe­cially if you are start­ing small and look­ing at keep­ing your costs to a min­i­mum. Al­ter­na­tively, you could es­tab­lish a free zone com­pany but again this is if you wish to op­er­ate on a larger scale.

Q If I have a full-time job, can I freelance for other com­pa­nies in my free time?

A You will need a part-time work per­mit from the Min­istry of Labour along with ap­provals from both your cur­rent em­ployer and part­time em­ployer.

Q I want to hire a free­lancer in the UAE. What do I need to do?

A Check if the free­lancer has a freelance work per­mit or any other li­cence to con­duct busi­ness in the UAE. If you want to be dou­bly sure, you could re­quest the free­lancer to pro­vide you an NOC from the rel­e­vant free zone au­thor­ity. If the free­lancer is not li­censed, you could ap­ply for a part-time or tem­po­rary work per­mit, de­pend­ing on your re­quire­ments, with the Min­istry of Labour to en­gage the in­di­vid­ual.

Q What are the im­pli­ca­tions on the free­lancer and the em­ployer for not ob­tain­ing the req­ui­site per­mits and ap­provals?

A This is a vi­o­la­tion of the UAE labour law, which will ex­pose both the em­ployer and the free­lancer to se­vere penal­ties, in­clud­ing hefty fines and po­ten­tial crim­i­nal ac­tion against the de­fault­ers.

Franco Grilli is a part­ner at Fichte Le­gal Con­sul­tants. He spe­cialises in cor­po­rate M&A and re­struc­tur­ing, cor­po­rate fi­nanc­ing, as­set fi­nanc­ing, project and in­fra­struc­ture fi­nanc­ing, and bank­ing and fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion and com­pli­ance. For more de­tails on Fichte Le­gal Con­sul­tants, see fichtele­

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