Visa requirements for foreigners wishing to live and work in Dubai, as well as those interested in visiting as a tourist, are not as strict as in some Middle Eastern countries. The UAE has made the process of obtaining visas as straightforward as possible. For expats moving to Dubai to take up employment, the company will usually deal with obtaining the correct visas and work permits for employees and their families.
Expats should note that the validity period of a residence visa varies, and can range from one to three years, depending on their employment or sponsorship circumstances. It is also essential to understand that each type of visa has its own set of regulations and requirements, with the employer generally handling the necessary procedures for work visas. The UAE also offers a unique permanent residency scheme known as the Gold Card, which is primarily aimed at "exceptional professionals".
The UAE government maintains an official website with detailed guidelines and policies for visas and work permits.
Tourist visas for Dubai
Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia do not require a visa to travel to the UAE.
Citizens of countries on a designated list also do not need to apply for a visa before arriving in Dubai. The UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and most Western European countries appear on this list. Citizens of these countries will be issued with a 30-day or 90-day visitor’s visa (depending on their nationality) when they arrive in the UAE. This visa can be extended for a further 30 days.
For citizens of other countries such as South Africa, China, India and Russia, visas need to be pre-arranged before arrival. However, obtaining a tourist or transit visa for Dubai is relatively painless and can be pre-arranged online through various airlines, including Emirates and Etihad. Once an application has been submitted, either online or through a designated visa centre, applicants will receive their UAE visa entirely online – without having to submit their passport for stamping.
Residence visas for Dubai
Expats require a residence visa to live in Dubai. A residence visa is not the same as a work permit, but it is usually sponsored by the company employing the expat. The employing company will typically submit all the relevant documents to the authorities and carry the costs. The residence visa is needed to open a bank account in the UAE, get a driving licence and register a car.
There are a number of different residence visas available for the UAE, such as domestic helper visas, work visas and family visas, and which visa an expat applies for will depend on what they intend doing in the emirate.
The application process for a residence visa involves several steps, starting with the employer submitting an application to Dubai immigration authorities. The validity period of a residence visa obtained through property investment is typically two years, while other types of residence visas can range from one to ten years.
It is necessary for all expats to undergo a complete medical test at a government hospital or clinic before having their residence visa granted. This includes a chest x-ray to check for tuberculosis and blood tests to test for HIV/AIDS. Testing positive will lead to denial of a residence visa and deportation. At present, there is no appeals process for this in Dubai.
The medical test is a crucial part of the visa process, ensuring the health and safety of the community. Applicants should prepare for this test by ensuring they are in good health and have all the necessary documentation ready.
Sponsoring family members
Employers in Dubai usually process residence visas for the spouses and children of their expat employees. Valid residence visa holders may sponsor a spouse and children providing they meet the minimum salary requirements.
Generally, women may sponsor their spouse and children if they fall within the following professional categories: doctor, lawyer, nurse or teacher. If a woman is not employed in one of these categories, she may still be approved to sponsor her family based on her salary and with special permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It is not possible to sponsor a boyfriend, girlfriend or common-law partner; it's necessary to have a marriage certificate as proof of the relationship.
Renewing a residence visa
Residence visas are valid for one, two or three years. There is a 30-day grace period once a residence visa expires; however, it is advisable to begin the renewal process in advance. The same documents need to be produced, and a new health check carried out.
If an expat leaves the UAE for six months or more, their Dubai residence visa becomes invalid, and the entire process has to be completed again.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
What do expats in Dubai say about the visa process?
"My school applied for my visa, which was temporarily approved. Once you arrive, you have to undergo a medical exam, where your lungs are scanned and blood is drawn. Once you pass your medical, your work visa is granted. It will have to be renewed again once your contract is renewed." British expat Laura's interview is full of insights about Dubai.
"Once you have been offered a position with a company they have to pay for your visa. You cannot stay in Dubai more than 30 [or 90] days on a tourist visa so that is something to keep in mind." Read more of South African expat Mariëtte's interview about Dubai.
►For more information on the legal requirements to work in the emirate, see Work Permits for Dubai
►See Accommodation in Dubai to learn about the process of securing a home in the emirate
Are you an expat living in Dubai?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Dubai. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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