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Dubai: Want to live and work in the UAE but don’t know where to begin? You may have heard of free zone visas if you are new to the nation. But what are they, and how can you get a visa for a free zone? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is the free zone, exactly?
A free zone, sometimes known as a free trade zone, is an unique economic zone in which businesses can operate and receive considerable tax and fee exemptions. Entities operating in free zones are treated as offshore companies and do not have to deal with customs or the Ministry of Economy. Instead, they are regulated by authorities that have been designated for each zone.
How can I obtain a visa for a free zone?
According to Shafiq Muhammad, a public relations officer in Dubai, there are two ways to obtain a free zone visa:
- You work for a company that is situated in a free zone. In this case, the employer would apply for your visa and pay for all of your expenses.
- You’ve filed for a freelancer visa or established a free zone business. In this case, you would need to apply for a visa through the free zone government and cover all expenses.
What is the difference between a free zone visa and a mainland visa?
A free zone visa is issued for three years, after which you would need to apply for renewal. Comparatively, visas issued on the mainland are typically for a duration of two years. However, more recently, new announcement have been made for five-year (or Green) visas and 10-year (or Golden) visas.
In the UAE, how many free zones are there?
These are the free zones that operate in the UAE, according to the UAE Ministry of Economy:
1. Jebel Ali Free Zone
2. Masdar City Free Zone
3. Dubai Maritime City
4. Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD)
5. Sharjah Publishing City
6. Hamriyah Free Zone
7. Dubai Commercity
8. Khalifa Port Free Trade Zone
9. Creative City Free Zone
10. Ajman Free Zone
11. Fujairah Free Zone
12. Dubai South
13. Dubai World Trade Centre
14. Dubai Design District
15. Dubai Science Park
16. International Humanitarian City
17. Dubai Multi Commodities Centre
18. Dubai Outsource City
19. Dubai Silicon Oasis
20. Sharjah Media City – Shams
21. Sharjah Airport International Free Zone (SAIF)
22. Abu Dhabi Airports Free Zone
23. Dubai International Financial Centre
24. Abu Dhabi Global Market
25. Dubai Internet City
27. Umm Al Quwain Free Zone
28. Ajman Media City Free Zone
29. Meydan Free Zone
30. Dubai Healthcare City
31. Dubai International Academic City
32. Dubai Production City
33. Dubai Studio City
34. Dubai Media City
How to apply for a free zone visa?
According to Virtuzone, a company setup consultant in the UAE, these are the processes to apply for a free zone visa:
Step 1: Register for E-Channel services
The first step in getting a UAE free zone visa is to sign up for E-Channel services, a platform created by the UAE government to make the visa procedure easier. To complete this step, ask your free zone agent or an authorised typing centre to register your company for online services and pay the obligatory registration fee – Dh2,500 plus a refundable security deposit of Dh5,000 – to your free zone agent or an authorised typing centre. As soon as you register, you will receive an email notification.
Step 2: Entry permit
Once registered for E-Channel services, you need to apply for your entry permit – also known as an employment visa. This is essentially a temporary visa, valid for 60 days. Entry permits are usually issued within 15 days, however for an additional fee of Dh1,000 you can apply for the express service which takes five to seven working days.
According to Virtuzone, it is strongly advised that you refrain from leaving 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. Your entry permit is an electronic document that will be emailed to you once ready.
Step 3: Status change.
You’ll need to apply for a ‘in-country status change’ if you’re in the UAE. You’ll need to present your passport to immigration, who will stamp and activate your work visa. The procedure takes three to five days to complete and costs Dh750.
If you are outside the UAE when your employment visa is issued, or if you intend to leave the country soon after, you can activate your free zone visa by exiting and reentering the UAE and submitting your printed employment visa to an immigration officer at the immigration arrivals hall. The free zone visa will then be stamped and activated by the immigration officer. This option is not available to all nationalities, therefore check with your free zone authority before leaving the country on an employment visa in the UAE.
Step 4: Pass a medical fitness test and register for an Emirates ID.
A blood test for infectious diseases and a chest X-ray make up a medical fitness test. This can be conducted in a matter of hours, and results are usually ready within three business days.
You can then apply for your Emirates ID card based on the findings of your medical test. This is an identity card that UAE nationals must carry with them at all times in order to create bank accounts, sign mobile phone contracts, or sign lease agreements. If this is your first time applying for an Emirates ID card, you must submit your application and provide your biometric information at a Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Ports Security (ICP) service center.
A three-year Emirates ID card costs Dh370.
Applying for a free zone visa for dependents
You can apply for additional visas for your spouse, dependant family members, and domestic employees such as housekeepers or drivers once your UAE visa has been granted.
According to Virtuzone, you must first get a pay certificate from your free zone detailing your earnings — the minimum amount required to sponsor a wife or child differs depending on jurisdiction. It is, however, normally approximately Dh7,500. A security deposit of Dh3,000 or Dh5,000 is normally requested on top of that.
The process is very similar to the one described above once you have provided the required paperwork, but there are some differences in the requirements for medical tests (which are not required for those under the age of 18) and biometric information (which are not required for those under the age of 15).
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