A version of this article first appeared in April 2022
The UAE uses a visa system to allow foreign citizens to live, work and visit.
And the way you can secure one of these is changing all the time.
The government wants to make it easier for people to visit — and settle down for longer.
Most expats already living or working here have a two or three-year visa stamped into their passport — now replaced with the Emirates ID.
In April, visa changes were introduced by the UAE Cabinet and more categories added. This includes an expansion of the golden visas and new green visas, with several aimed at self-employed people and business owners.
The new set of visas will come into force from September 5.
It is important to note that these are all optional upgrades and do not replace the standard two or three-year visa that an employer needs for you. Your employer cannot by law ask you to pay the costs of a standard visa — and must provide basic health insurance worth at least Dh150,000 ($40,838)
Here are some of the visas that people can obtain to come to the UAE and make it their home.
Residency visas for people working in the private sector
The employment process in the private sector involves receiving a formal job offer, signing the employment contract and receiving a work permit, then a work visa.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation issues a work permit for an expatriate. This allows the person to enter the UAE for employment and it is valid for two months from the date of issue.
After the employee comes to the UAE, the employer (sponsoring company) must complete all formalities, such as getting a medical test and labour card, before the work residency permit is stamped on the employee's passport. This should be done within 60 days of entering the country.
The visa cost should be paid by the employer.
I have a residency visa. How can I sponsor my family?
Expatriate residents (working and self-employed) with a valid residency permit can sponsor their families in the UAE.
A husband can sponsor his immediate family members, such as his wife and children, if they have a minimum salary of Dh4,000 or Dh3,000 plus accommodation.
There were amendments made to the rule in March 2019 and now foreign workers can sponsor their family members regardless of their profession, but they should meet the minimum salary requirement.
The resident sponsor must first get an entry permit for his family and, once they are in the country, he can get residence visas for them in 60 days.
According to Amer visa services contact centre, a copy of the sponsor's passport; visa page; Emirates ID; valid labour contract; Ejari contract; a title deed; latest utility bills; family members' passport photos; attested marriage and birth certificates; and the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) of the sponsor are needed.
According to Amer services, to sponsor your wife and children you must first open a registration file, which costs Dh268. If they are already in the UAE, you will need to pay Dh1,138 for an entry permit and a Dh642 change-status charge.
If your family is coming from abroad, you will need to pay Dh492 for an entry permit.
The medical test will cost Dh332, Emirates ID typing will be Dh305 and visa stamping will cost Dh463. The visa will be valid for two years. All costs are per person and there is no security deposit needed. Medical tests are not needed for children under 18.
My child is 18 and still in school. Can I still sponsor him?
Yes, the parents can sponsor their sons who are 18 and can continue to do so until they are 25.
There is no age limit for unmarried daughters. Children with disabilities are granted a residence permit, regardless of their age.
The documents and the visa costs are the same and it is valid for two years.
Can I sponsor my parents?
Expatriate employees can sponsor their parents if there is no one to take care of them back home.
According to the Amer website, Dubai has set out a minimum salary of Dh20,000 to sponsor parents.
The sponsor must have a dependency certificate attested from his consulate stating that he will take care of his parents in the UAE. This should be attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of UAE, and translated into Arabic.
The visa charges are the same as for a wife and children, but there is a security deposit of Dh2,500 for each parent.
Can high-school pupils and university students get a visa?
Yes, a high-school pupil who has achieved excellent results can be granted a golden visa for five years without a sponsor.
The child should have a recommendation letter from the Ministry of Education (Emirates Schools Establishment).
The visa for five years may be extended if they are enrolled in one of the colleges in the country that requires them to study for more than five years.
The families of such high-school pupils, including their siblings who are dependants of their father, can also be granted a golden visa for the same period if they wish to live in the UAE.
University students can get a golden visa for 10 years without a sponsor if they are outstanding graduates from UAE universities or the best 100 universities in the world. Their academic performance (cumulative average), the year of graduation and other criteria will be taken into account.
The parents and siblings of the university student can also be granted a golden visa for the same period.
According to the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs-Dubai, a five-year golden visa for pupils costs Dh2,280, while a 10-year visa will cost Dh2,790.
High-achieving pupils hope to win a golden visa - in pictures
Can a woman sponsor her family?
In Abu Dhabi, a woman can sponsor her husband and children if the request is approved by the authorities, according to a customer service agent of the Federal Authority For Identity and Citizenship - ICA.
"She should have a valid work visa and her monthly salary should be at least Dh5,000. The cost of the one-year visa is Dh2,575 and it can be renewed for one more year," said the executive.
In Dubai, a woman can sponsor her family, but her monthly salary should be at least Dh4,000 and her request must be approved by the GDFRA, the immigration authority.
"A wife can sponsor the family, but she has to obtain an NOC from the husband. The NOC has to be notarised by the Dubai court notary service," an Amer customer service representative said.
A single mother can also sponsor her child.
What are the 10-year golden visas?
You can apply for the 10-year residency permits under various categories. You could be a property investor; entrepreneur; highly talented person; doctor; director; sportsperson; holders of PhDs and specialists; and outstanding pupils, among other categories.
Here are some of the investment categories:
- Property investors can get a golden visa if they buy a property worth at least Dh2 million upfront or through a bank
- An entrepreneur with an SME that generates annual revenues of at least Dh1 million. He can also get a golden visa if the person has obtained approval for a startup idea from authorities in the UAE
- A businessman who has sold his project for a minimum of 7 million
You can apply on the ICA website or the GDFRA in Dubai. It lists all the requirements and takes you through a step-by-step process to apply.
"To get this visa, you must first get a recommendation letter from a relevant authority/ministry. You will then be nominated by them. The ICA visa application fee is Dh50," said an ICA call centre executive.
An employee at Al Kamal Typing Office in Abu Dhabi told The National that people who wish to obtain a 10-year golden visa will have to pay Dh100 to apply for the nomination (this includes the ICA and typing charges). Once the application has been approved, the entry permit will cost Dh350, Dh600 for visa status change, and Dh1,300 for issuing the visa and Emirates ID.
The applicant will have to pay for the medical tests and health insurance.
In Dubai, the total cost is approximately Dh2,800, which includes the entry permit, change status, and stamping.
Other charges include Dh230 for cancellation of an old visa if it is an employment one; medical test Dh322; an Emirates ID application and issuance fee of Dh1,070; and a Dh100 holding visa fee for each dependent.
Individuals with golden visas can sponsor their family members including spouses and children regardless of their age, and housemaids.
They can also stay outside the UAE for as long as they want without the fear of their visa getting lapsed. On normal visas, residents who are out of the UAE for more than six months will lose their residency.
In June, nurses, ambulance workers and frontline staff who helped protect the country during the Covid-19 pandemic were automatically upgraded to a golden visa.
Can I get a green visa if I am a freelancer or self-employed?
Yes. A five-year residency is available for freelancers and self-employed people without the need to obtain a sponsor or employer in the UAE.
Anyone interested in this must obtain a freelance or self-employment permit from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.
They should at a minimum have a bachelor’s degree or specialised diploma. And they must have earned no less than Dh360,000 over the past two years from self-employment, or prove their financial solvency during their stay.
The cost of green visas has still not been revealed by authorities, said an employee at Abdul Sattar Typing Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Green visas for skilled employees
Skilled employees who want a green visa, without a sponsor or employer must have a valid employment contract, classified in the first, second or third occupational level as per the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.
The applicant should have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and should earn a minimum of Dh15,000 ($4,084) per month.
Can I obtain a green visa as an investor or partner?
Yes, a five-year residency is available for investors establishing or participating in commercial activities. This replaces the previous residence visa, which was valid for a period of two years.
Applicants must provide proof of the investment. If the investor has more than one licence, the total invested capital will be taken into consideration. They must also obtain approval from the correct local authorities.
A green residence visa holder is allowed to bring his or her first-degree relatives, and in all cases, the residency of family members shall be the same duration as the original residence holder.
Visas for remote working?
In March 2021, the UAE announced the introduction of a residence permit for remote workers.
The one-year visa allows people to enter the UAE from overseas under self-sponsorship and work in line with the terms and conditions issued with the visa. It can be renewed for another year.
Employees who want this visa must have proof of employment from a current employer with a minimum one-year contract validity, at least $5,000 salary per month, with last month's salary slips and preceding three months' bank statements.
For business owners, proof of ownership of the company for one year or more, with an average monthly income of $5,000 per month and three preceding months' bank statements is needed.
Health insurance with coverage in the UAE is also required.
The cost of one year visa is Dh2,300 ($625) which includes the application and processing fee, medical costs and Emirates ID. The cost is the same for renewing it for another year.
Fines for overstaying
As per the UAE immigration's fines system, the penalty to stay on after the expiration of the grace period is Dh125 for the first day and Dh25 for each subsequent day.
If the dependent's overstay is more than six months, then the fine will be Dh50 a day and Dh100 a day after one year of overstaying.
Need more help?
In Dubai, check https://www.gdrfad.gov.ae/en, or call on their toll-free number, 800-5111.