GUIDE TO GOING FREELANCE IN THE UAE
All you need to know if you want to go freelance in the UAE
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 fichtelegal.com