We explain the rules around getting a work permit in the United Arab Emirates, including eligibility, costs, and how the golden visa system works.
Expats moving to the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi must secure a work permit, which ultimately forms part of the UAE residency visa. This guide includes the following information:
- Working in the United Arab Emirates
- Work permits in the United Arab Emirates
- Types of work permit in the United Arab Emirates
- Applying for a work permit in the United Arab Emirates
- Costs of work permits in the United Arab Emirates
- Changing or renewing work permits in the United Arab Emirates
Working in the United Arab Emirates
With tax-free salaries and thriving industries, it’s easy to see why expats flock from around the world to work in the United Arab Emirates.
Data from World Bank shows that the UAE’s population is around 9.8 million, with around 70% of this figure shared between the two largest emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is a hotbed for expat workers. The United Nations estimates that 88% of the population is made up of foreigners. Expats in the UAE most commonly hail from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Iran.
UAE visa requirements are relatively straightforward, however there is still plenty of red tape and processes to navigate. A new ‘golden’ visa system was introduced in May 2019, which offers investors and people with ‘specialised talents’ long-term residency.
Work permits in the United Arab Emirates
When moving to the UAE, you will ultimately need to get a residence visa, on which your work permit (sometimes known as a labor card) will be listed. To get a visa, you will need to have proof of a contract or job offer from a company based in the UAE.
Work permits are issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDFRA) in the emirate you move to.
Your employer will usually apply for and fund a residency visa on your behalf, but they will first need to prove it adheres to quota rules on how many foreign workers they can employ.
Both the residence visa and the associated work permit usually last for one or two years, depending on your employment contract.
Other types of work permit in the United Arab Emirates
As part of the new golden visa system, it’s possible to get a five or 10-year residence visa to live in the UAE. Five-year visas are available to people who invest AED 5 million ($1.35m/€1.22m) or more in property, and retain these investments for at least three years.
They are also open to entrepreneurs with a minimum capital of AED 500,000 ($135,000/€122,000) and outstanding students who gain a minimum grade of 95% in public or private secondary schools.
The five-year visa also allows families of the applicant to reside in the UAE.
10-year visas are offered to people who invest at least AED 10 million
($2.72m/€2.45m), either in an investment fund, new, or existing company. Real estate can only make up 40% of this investment.
People with ‘specialised talents’ can also get a 10-year visa. There are various rules and stipulations surrounding what classifies as a ‘specialised talent’, but broadly speaking it includes top doctors, specialists, and inventors. People with a 10-year visa can bring their families to the UAE.
Five-year retirement visa
Since the start of 2019, it has been possible to get a five-year retirement visa if you are aged 55 or over. To be eligible, you will need to meet one of the following criteria:
- Property investment of at least AED 2 million ($545,000/€490,000)
- Savings of at least AED 1 million ($272,000/€245,000m)
- Income of at least AED 20,000 a month ($5,445/€4,900)
Once you have got a standard residency permit, you can sponsor your immediate family members to live with you. To be eligible, you will need to have a minimum salary of AED 4,000 ($1,090/€980).
You have 60 days to apply for a visa for any dependents once you are a resident. Your family members will generally be given visas for one, two, or three years depending on your job and contract duration.
Applying for a work permit in the United Arab Emirates
Once your company has secured visa quota approval from the Ministry of Labour, you can sign your contract and return it to the employer. At this point, the employer can apply for a work permit on your behalf.
The government undertakes approval checks, which include ensuring your new role couldn’t have been given to any unemployed UAE nationals, as well as background checks on the employer.
Once this is approved (usually within five days) you will be issued an Employment Entry Visa (sometimes known as a pink visa). This can usually be picked up at the airport and will allow you to live in the UAE for two months while you finish your residency visa application.
Once you are in the UAE, you will need to have a medical screening and attend the Emirates ID service center (sometimes known as a Customer Happiness Center) to show your passport and entry permit and undergo biometric tests.
Once the Ministry of Labour has received your medical results and your signed employment contract, it will process you on to the centralised payroll system.
You can now have your residence visa stamped into your passport. Once you have this, you will legally be allowed to open a bank account and access government services. After 10 days, you can collect your Emirates ID card.
Visa requirements around the UAE
UAE visa requirements change over time, and individual emirates have the ability to set some of their own regulations. With this in mind, it is useful to check the GDFRA website of the state where you will be living:
Costs of work permits in the United Arab Emirates
Your employer should cover the cost of applying for your residence visa. How much they will need to pay depends on which ‘skill level’ your job is categorised in.
Workers in ‘Level 1’ are those with bachelors degrees or equivalent qualifications. This can include jobs such as doctors, accountants, and teachers. Visas cost 300 AED ($81/ €73).
There are four sub-categories to Level 2. They include people who have completed diplomas and work in vocational fields, such as mechanics. The cost ranges from 500 AED ($136/€123) to 2,000 AED ($545/€490).
For people with lower-level qualifications (for example those who work in administrative roles), the charge is 5,000 AED ($1,360/€1,230).
Each of these figures can be rise higher once medical tests, legal fees, and translation costs have been factored in. Work permits for people aged 65 or over cost an additional 5,000 AED ($1,360/€1,230) every two years.
In addition to the costs of applying, there is also a fee for issuing the ID card; this varies depending on whether the application is made in person or online. You can find the latest fees on the UAE government website.
Changing or renewing work permits in the United Arab Emirates
If your residence visa is set to expire, your sponsor will need to seek to renew it or face large fines. The UAE gives a grace period of 30 days to stay after a visa expires.
After the grace period ends, charges rise from AED 25 a day (first six months) to AED 50 per day (next six months) and AED 100 a day (after a year or more).
Generally, you can renew your visa 30 days before it expires. However, it is possible to do so earlier by permission of the local government. You will need to pass another medical check as part of the process.