UAE explained: All you need to know about Abu Dhabi's new freelancer licence

The new licences for 48 activities will reduce the cost of doing business

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It is the news many aspiring entrepreneurs in the capital have been waiting for. Abu Dhabi, for the first time, will issue freelancer licences for 48 business activities.

The list includes activities in fashion design, flower arrangement, legal consultancy, property, human resources and architecture. See below for the full list.

Authorities said the licences will make the job market flexible and help the private sector by keeping costs low.

How is the new measure different to what was previously available to residents who wanted to start a business?

The National explains.

How did residents set up a business before?

Residents could either set up a business in a free zone such as twofour54, where they could obtain a freelancer licence, or alternatively establish a business onshore, which means anywhere else in the emirate.

Those options worked for some people, but were a barrier for others.

Freelancer licences were previously limited to sectors such as media and finance. Business activities were technically limited to operating within the free zone where the licences were issued.
A resident could open a shop in a mall but only with an Emirati business partner, who would automatically obtain a 51 per cent stake in the business. That put off many people.

Another option was introduced later that allowed business owners who set up in a free zone to open a satellite office onshore.

That opened doors for people who could afford to set up in both areas, but there were still limits, experts said.

“It was extremely expensive, because now you had to set up two entities,” said Bernard Lee, chief executive of GlassQube Coworking, a workspace operator with four sites in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Gina Billon, UAE resident for the past 8 years, from United States celebrates the results of US elections. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Gina Dillon, administrator of the Facebook group Women Entrepreneurs Abu Dhabi, said her members needed more affordable business licences. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“Secondly, that onshore branch does not cover all the trade activities and some of the most important trade activities that really require you to have onshore licensing, such as real estate-related activities, from my understanding are not covered in this dual licence structure.”

The new freelancer licence changes that.

What does the new licence offer?

For the first time, entrepreneurs can set up a business and obtain a freelancer licence to work from home or any authorised location.

People who are retired, homemakers and students can also apply.

That is a welcome change for businesses or people looking to set up a shop.

Mr Lee said that if the list of activities was comprehensive and relevant to freelancers then the move was “very helpful and long overdue” to aspiring entrepreneurs in the capital.

Gina Dillon, administrator of the Facebook group Women Entrepreneurs Abu Dhabi, said her members needed cheaper business licences.

“We have so many women entrepreneurs who want to use their skill sets but just can’t seem to find a licence that works for us,” she said.

Many were once put off by the cost or loss of control in having an Emirati partner with an onshore licence, she said.

Ms Dillon wanted an option similar to the Dubai DED Trader Licence, which is relatively cheap and allows start-ups in the emirate to conduct business activities online and across their social networking accounts.

She said Abu Dhabi’s new freelancer licences were a welcome start.

"We are excited about it, but this is not as broad as the Dubai Trader's licence because this is freelancing only. I hope there are other programmes to follow," she said.

Anir Chatterji, Middle East immigration leader at PwC, said the new freelancer licences will allow prospective entrepreneurs to test the waters before deciding to set up on a longer-term basis.

"The 48 freelancer licenses stretches across a good range of sectors and activities, in which the applicant can find a fit for their specialism in order to conduct business in Abu Dhabi and will be welcome news to many who are considering to invest in the UAE," he added.

The cost of the licence has not yet been revealed.

What activities does the freelancer licence cover?

The licences cover 48 business activities and some consultancy work.

Fashion design


Natural and aesthetic flowers arrangement

Photography studio

Event photography


Event management

Gift packaging

Jewellery design

Web design

Project design and management services




Statistical consultations

Agricultural guidance

Marketing operations management

Computer hardware and software


Legal consultancy

Public relations

Standardisation and quality management

Pest control

Project development


Technical installations

Green buildings

Information technology

Economic feasibility studies

Human resources




Administrative studies

Food safety

Goods designs

Fine art

Architectural drawings

Maritime services

Lifestyle development

Marketing studies

Parliamentary studies


Marketing services



Logistical consultations





Printing services


Gardening and landscaping

Printing on textiles or clothes




Soap making