Freelancing is legal in the UAE, and you can set yourself up as a full-time freelancer. You can pick and choose the jobs you accept and work your own hours, but you will not receive benefits such as medical insurance, sick leave or holiday pay. You will need an employment visa from the Ministry of Labour, and there are four main options.
  • You can get a temporary work permit if you are to be employed by a company for a maximum six-month contract.
  • Alternatively, if are working full-time you can also apply for a part-time work permit with a second employer; you will need an NOC from your existing employer and the new employer.
  • The easiest and most flexible option though is to get a freelance work permit from a free zone, which allows you to live and work in the UAE under the sponsorship of that FZA. If you plan to start trading, you will need to apply to the Ministry of Labour for a freelance business licence – a fairly lengthy procedure explained here.
  • Finally, you can opt for a freelance business licence. This is different from the freelance work permit in that you act as a business (complete with an official company name), not as an individual. The licence allows you to obtain a residence visa and even open a corporate bank account. This option can be incredibly simple and very economical, especially if you go through a business setup specialist such as Virtuzone.
Free Zone Permits
Freelancers can apply for a work permit and residence visa from a select number of free zones in Dubai, including International Media Production Zone, Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village. Your profession needs to be related to these free zones’ activities, which are predominantly media-related: artists, editors, directors, writers, engineers, producers, photographers, camera operators and technicians in the fields of film, TV, music, radio and print media.

Freelancers are granted a freelance permit, which identifies you as a sole practitioner and enables you to conduct your business in your birth name as opposed to a brand name. You will also be given a UAE residence visa, and have access to a ‘hot desk’ and business facilities (including a PO Box address) within the free zone that sponsored you.

Both the permit and visa are valid for one year. This costs between Dhs.20,000-30,000. The process varies between free zones, and check individual websites for specific requirements and to download forms.

An alternative option, depending on your line of work, may be to set up or register your own Dubai-based company. Or, contact the Department of Economic Development to get started.

Dubai Media City
Media professionals in the following categories are eligible to apply for a freelance permit and visa in Dubai Media City: artists, editors, directors, writers, engineers, producers, photographers, camera operators and technicians in the fields of film, TV, music, radio or print media. They will be subject to the conditions listed below:
  • The freelance permit includes a residence visa, access to 10 shared workstations, and a shared PO Box address and fax line.
  • A minimum of three hours per week and no more than three hours per day must be spent at the hot desk.
  • A business plan, CV, bank reference letter and portfolio must be submitted along with your application.
Costs at DMC include: 
  • Dhs.5,000 security deposit (refundable)
  • Dhs.5,000 joining fee (one-off payment)
  • Dhs.8,000 annual freelance permit fee
  • Dhs.4,000 annual membership fee
Working On The Move
MAKE Business Hub near JBR at The Walk offers freelancers a workspace and a cafe rolled into one; there are work stations, work pods for private meetings and a tasty menu serving breakfast through to dinner.

In Abu Dhabi
There is no issue with a Dubai resident setting up in an Abu Dhabi free zone, so you also have the option of approaching twofour54 in Abu Dhabi, which is a free zone run by Media Zone Authority – Abu Dhabi, that allow media professionals to set up on their own. Once accepted as a sole proprietor you can carry out the specific business activities printed on your licence.

There are set-up costs involved, including a Dhs.5,000 deposit, and you will have to pay the Dhs.2,500 licence fee and Dhs.2,200 visa fee. You also have to renew your licence annually.

In partnership with Fujairah's Creative City Free Zone, Virtuzone is a one-stop-shop for obtaining a freelance business licence in the UAE. They handle every practical aspect of setting up your business, from corporate registration and visa processing to liasing with UAE government agencies on your behalf, all for one fee. Virtuzone navigates the red tape so that you don't have to, making the process incredibly simple and efficient. With their help, you can have your licence in as little as seven working days.

If you’re looking to move your small business from your home country or are thinking about taking a skill and going solo, it’s probably the easiest and cheapest way to set up. Visit for more information, or the physical office in the Burj Khalifa District at Al Saaha Offices.

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