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How to become a UAE resident

How to become a UAE resident

Today, many people in business and beyond are interested in becoming a resident of Dubai or other Emirates. The United Arab Emirates offers convenient company registration with favourable tax rules and advanced local infrastructure suitable for substantive businesses. 

It is rather difficult for a foreigner to obtain UAE citizenship even after living in the country for a long time – such cases are more likely to be exceptional. Instead, the jurisdiction provides an advanced system of visas and residence permits designed for various purposes and categories of foreign persons. They are well suited for those who wish to possess a residence visa without needing to visit the Emirates frequently and for those who intend to live in the country for a long time or permanently.

One possible option for obtaining a UAE residence visa is a company formation in Dubai or other emirates. Such visas for investors (partners, company owners) are available to citizens of any country who establish business in the UAE. In this section, we will focus on the UAE residence visas, which you can obtain through setting up a company in the Emirates or employment in it.  

Types of visas in the UAE

The first group is represented by entry visas (also called entry permits). These are permits to enter the UAE for temporary visitors. The purposes may include tourism, meeting relatives, business trips, job search, exploring business opportunities, training, studies or medical treatment. Entry visas may be valid from 2 days (in case of transit) to 5 years (a long-term tourist visa with multiple entries). An entry visa will also be necessary for persons who enter the country for subsequent obtaining a UAE residence visa.  

Citizens of 47 countries, including EU member states, the USA, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Kazakhstan, can enjoy a visa-free regime when entering the UAE (actually, they get a visa upon arrival without needing a prior visa application). In this case, the period of stay in the UAE will be 30 or 90 days, depending on a visitor’s citizenship. However, to stay in the country for a longer period or for a specific purpose, it is necessary to obtain an entry visa corresponding to the purpose of the visit.     

The second group includes “standard” and “green” residence visas. These residency permits give the right to live in the UAE for 1 to 5 years. Upon expiry, residence visas can be extended for the same period. The eligible applicants include foreign owners (shareholders) of UAE companies (also called “partners” in the UAE sources), employees working in the UAE under an employment contract, freelancers, students, applicants’ family members or retirees. There are certain conditions an applicant of each category must meet to obtain a residence visa.  

The third group comprises “golden” residence visas, which are preferential residence permits issued for ten years with further extension. They are designed, among others, for those who make significant investments in public projects or real estate, highly qualified professionals and people with outstanding achievements in various fields (from innovative technologies to culture and sports), which the UAE is interested in. 

It is worth noting that the updated range of “green” and “golden” residence visas introduced in 2022 did not abolish “normal” (sponsored) residence visas. For example, a standard 2-year sponsored residence visa for company owners or employees, which we discuss below, is still available. 

Benefits of UAE residence visa

A UAE residence visa allows a foreign citizen to legally live and freely move within the country for a comparatively long period, including for business, employment or self-employment purposes.

A holder of a UAE residence visa, throughout the period of its validity, may:

  • buy or lease residential premises, 
  • open bank accounts and use other financial services in the UAE, 
  • use state healthcare services and medical insurance,  
  • obtain a driver’s license, 
  • enrol children in public and private schools,
  • apply for UAE residence visas for their family members,
  • enjoy visa-free travel to several countries and others. 

A person who received a residence visa can sponsor their spouse and children under 25 years old (for unmarried daughters or children with special needs – regardless of age). Family members receive a residence visa for the same period as the principal resident sponsor. 

Residence visa for investors (company owners)

This residence visa gives the right to live in the Emirates to carry out business. You can obtain it if you are a foreign investor, including the founder or shareholder of a UAE company. A company can be registered either in the UAE mainland or in any free zone within the UAE. The holder of a residence visa may enjoy the relevant rights and opportunities of a resident throughout the UAE – both within and outside a free zone or an Emirate in which they established the company.

A standard residence visa for investors can be issued upon establishing a new UAE company and is valid for two years (earlier – up to three years). In this case, the company the investor owns or participates in will be a sponsor in respect of the investor’s visa application. This visa type is usually issued when registering a new UAE company with foreign owners. You can apply for a residence visa immediately after company incorporation.  

Besides standard visas, the updated line of residence visas introduced in 2022 offers “green” visas for investors and partners. They are issued for a five-year term with a renewal option for the same period. However, to obtain this visa, the applicant’s investment must meet the following conditions:       

  • The investment is approved by the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Port Security (ICP) using an investor evaluation system;
  • There is a proof of the investment made (if the investor holds more than one license, the total amount of investment is calculated);
  • There is approval from local competent authorities.

How to obtain a residence visa through company formation in Dubai

The procedures for obtaining a UAE residence visa for a company owner may vary slightly in different free zones or emirates. For example, if a company is incorporated in a free zone, its founder can visit the UAE only to finish the residence visa procedures (medical test, biometrics, Emirates ID application). If an investor establishes a mainland company, they must visit the UAE in person at the stage of company incorporation.

To obtain a residence visa by way of company formation in Dubai, you will need to take the following steps:

  1. Register a company in the UAE with a proper license for the desired activities (trade, service, industrial, professional or other).
  2. Open an immigration card, allowing the company to apply for residence visas for its partners or employees. 
  3. Apply for an entry visa (entry permit) for a company owner. You can stay in the UAE for two months if you obtain a standard or “green” residence visa and six months if you apply for a “golden” visa.  
  4. Visit the UAE with an entry visa for:

–   a medical test in an authorised medical centre, which includes a blood test and fluorography. It is required for all applicants over 18 years. Such diseases as tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV and other STDs can prevent an applicant from receiving a residence visa;

–   submission of biometrics (the eye retina and fingerprints); 

–   security check of the applicant (criminal records, international search, etc.) and other formalities.

Also, at this stage, the applicant applies for an Emirates Identification Card – a personal identification document issued for all UAE residents.

  1. Apply for a residence visa with the necessary documents attached and fees paid. 
  2. Get a ready-made residence visa.  

Having the Emirates ID is required for all citizens and residents of the UAE, including residents who are foreign citizens. You may need the ID card to access government electronic services or when going through passport control at airports and in any other case where your identity is to be confirmed. The application for the ID card is submitted before the residence visa is issued. Therefore, when applying for a residence visa, an applicant must attach a confirmation from the immigration office that the ID card application has already been submitted.  

Obtaining a UAE residence visa does not depend on paying up a company’s share capital. In free zones, where payment of share capital is required (for example, the minimum capital in DMCC free zone is AED50,000), a company is given six months to open a bank account and contribute the amount of the capital specified in the Registrar’s letter. The company may use all free zone services, including residence visa applications and hiring employees during this period. 

Upon the contribution of the capital, the company provides the Registrar with a relevant bank account statement, and the Registrar permits the company to continue its operations. After this, a company can withdraw and use the contributed capital for its needs. If a company fails to pay up the capital within six months, a free zone will suspend providing services to the company until the capital is paid. 

To apply for a residence visa in the northern emirates (Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain), a company will also need to register in E-channel (the online portal for visa applications) and contribute a refundable deposit. Abu Dhabi and Dubai have no such requirements. 

UAE working visa

A standard employment residence visa can be issued to an employee of the UAE company. The company assumes all responsibilities of the sponsor and the applicant. The employer can be either a mainland UAE company or a free zone company. The duration of a standard residence visa issued to an employee is two years, with the possibility of extension depending on the period of employment. 

According to the newest regulations, skilled employers can obtain a five-year residence visa without needing a sponsor. To get such a visa, an employee must:

  • have a valid employment contract with a UAE company;
  • have a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree or higher;
  • earn salary of at least AED15,000 (approx. USD4,080).

The same five-year visa is also available to freelancers and self-employed people without needing a sponsor or employee. The conditions are a confirmed level of education and income and obtaining permission for freelance activity from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. 

It is important to note that working in the UAE without an employment residence visa and work permit (for example, carried out by a person staying in the UAE with an entry visa) is illegal and may result in fines and deportation. 

We offer the following services:

  • Incorporation and annual renewal of companies in the UAE, including free zone companies in Dubai or other emirates.
  • Support obtaining a residence visa for company owners (shareholders).
Company Formation in the UAE
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