Start Working as a Freelancer in the UAE – A Step-by-Step Guide

  • April 19, 2022
  • 10 Minutes

Index

Thinking about freelancing in the UAE? You are not alone. Almost 90 percent of office workers want to quit their 9 to 5 jobs and start a freelancing business. With the UAE economy recovering from the Covid aftermath, the job opportunities for freelancers in the region are on an upward trend.

Businesses in the UAE are actively seeking freelancers for different types of exciting projects. Freelancers in the UAE have now become the untapped talent whose diverse skills businesses want to use to compete globally. As an added bonus, businesses love the idea of cutting mitigating costs usually associated with a full-time employee.

Five Things You Should Know Before Starting to Freelance

Building your freelance business from scratch is hard. Unless you already have a client list that you can contact for freelancing work. It may be a smart decision to freelance while also working full time in a steady job until you build your reputation.

You may also want to consider things like:

  1. Keep realistic goals. You may not earn the same amount of money as your full-time office job in the beginning. Budgeting is the best way to keep afloat while building your freelance business.
  2. Be patient and persevere. Freelancing isn’t a one-off job, but an ongoing commitment. Keep marketing your services and network with people in the business world to get jobs.
  3. Time management is crucial to a freelancer. You must send all the work within the set deadlines to make a good impression.
  4. Get your freelancer permit if you want to legally offer your services to businesses. You must also read carefully the clauses in your freelance license as some licenses only give you permission to freelance in certain areas like the free zones.
  5. You should also prepare a freelancer contract that you give to the company before starting any job. It should include things like deadlines, detailed job descriptions, and payment details. This gives you a legal stance in case of disputes.

Pros and Cons of Freelancing

The biggest advantage in the UAE is that whether you are an expat or a local Emirati, everyone gets an equal opportunity in freelancing. You also find the flexibility in freelancing alluring after switching from mainstream job positions. Another is the potential to take up diverse assignments, which helps you either learn a new skill or upskill your existing knowledge. About 80 percent of freelancers say this helps them win more lucrative projects.

The main worry for freelancers is the frequency of the jobs. You never know when your next paycheck is coming. Another con is the mode of payment, you either give out your confidential bank details or use services like PayPal that charge high fees. To make life easy for freelancers, payit mobile wallet allows you to send payment requests and get paid in dirhams, eliminating currency conversion fees.

Tax Implications as a Freelancer

The UAE has always been a tax-free haven. The recent VAT and corporate tax introduction in the region may make you think twice about freelancing. Rest assured however that the UAE government has kept all your concerns in mind.

For individuals working as freelancers in the UAE, you don’t pay any personal tax or corporate tax. The only tax you may need to pay is VAT such as:

  • If you earn more than Dhs. 375,000, then you must register for VAT.
  • If you earn between Dhs. 187,500 and Dhs. 375,000, you have the option to register for VAT.
  • Anyone earning below these values doesn’t need to register.

If you own a freelance business offering freelance services in the region, then you may also need to pay corporate taxes such as:

  • Earnings up to Dhs. 375,000 pay no corporate tax.
  • Everything above this pays 9% corporate tax.
  • One benefit of starting your freelance business now is that you don’t pay any taxes for 2022. The scheme only starts after June 2023.

Types of Available Freelancing Licenses

While the freelance license is offered by almost all the Emirates in the UAE, most people choose either Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or Sharjah. These locations are convenient plus there are more opportunities to network and build your clientele. One of the best perks for freelancers in the UAE is that irrespective of which Emirate is issuing your license, you are free to work from anywhere in the UAE. You are even allowed to work from abroad, so long as the freelance license is valid.

Common documents that all freelance license departments require are:

  • Your passport copy
  • Your UAE visa and Emirates ID copy (for UAE residents)
  • The “No Objection Letter (NOC)” from your current sponsor (for UAE residents)
  • Recent passport size photo
  • Your resume and portfolio
  • Some governments also require a “Letter of Intent” or if that is not possible a detailed business plan

ADDED – Abu Dhabi

The freelance permit issued by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) is the most attractive for expats. Valid for two years, it costs only Dhs. 530. Moreover, you can also sponsor your family in the UAE.

Another plus points are that you don’t need an office space for any of the 60 freelance activities like:

  • Flower arrangement
  • Event management
  • Fashion design
  • Real estate consultancy
  • Gift wrapping
  • Project management
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Tax consultancy

TwoFour54 – Abu Dhabi

One of the best places to start if you work in media production and entertainment, twofour54 provides tons of benefits to the freelancer. At a glance:

  • For two years the freelance license fees are waived from the date of issue
  • Get 2 years UAE residency visa
  • Access to 600 local, regional and international media partners
  • Dedicated talent and development training programs
  • Support for all government and logistics needs

While the list of activities you can conduct in this media free zone is intense, some examples are:

  • Voiceover Artist
  • Journalist
  • Animator
  • Hairdresser
  • Professional E-sports Gamer
  • Graphic Designer
  • Musician
  • Game Programmer

The cost for the freelance visa is nil for two years, but there are additional fees that amount to about Dhs. 4672. Also, expect to shell out Dhs. 4,140 for visas per person, excluding compulsory health insurance. Besides this, you also need to rent an office within the media-free zone.

GoFreelance – Dubai

The freelance package is brought to you by four distinct free zones of Dubai – Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Design District, and Dubai Knowledge Park. Through the dedicated GoFreelance marketplace, freelancers get the chance to bid on upcoming projects. One noteworthy thing here is that the freelancer doesn’t get a license but a permit that allows for freelancing activities like

  • Brand consultant
  • Content Provider
  • Media Planner
  • Photojournalist
  • Data Science and Analytics
  • Web Designer
  • Web, Mobile, and Software Developer

The cost of the package is Dhs. 7500 plus an additional Dhs. 20 for Knowledge and Innovation. The permit is issued under the given name in your passport and only allows you to work as a freelancer. You also need to get a residence visa from the Dubai Development Authority that can cost about Dhs. 2,750 for one year or Dhs. 5000 for three years. This doesn’t include the medical insurance that is a compulsory requirement for all residence visa holders. 

Shams – Sharjah

The Sharjah Media City is a dedicated free zone that issues freelance permits under the single user or shareholder status. You can’t add more members to the license or transfer the permit to another person. Although there might be an option to apply for one UAE residence visa, depending on the package.

Freelancing activities you can undertake are:

  • Media
  • Education
  • Technology

Other Interesting Licenses for Freelancers

You may have dropped down to Dubai to soak up some sun and fun and wished you could stay forever. Well if you are a freelancer, you now have a golden opportunity. If you earn more than Dhs. 15,000 per month from non-UAE-based companies, you can get a “remote work visa”. With it you can live and work in Dubai without a local sponsor.

Another innovative license is the “talent pass” for freelancers working in arts, culture, education, media, marketing, consultancy, and technology. You gain access to 2000 international companies via the Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZ) and are also eligible to apply for the 10-year cultural visa. The most surprising factor is that you can provide freelancing services to companies on the mainland, something other licenses don’t allow.

Top Freelancing Sites to Start Your Journey

With your brand-new license in hand, you are raring to start freelancing. Join any of the dozens of freelancing sites where new freelance jobs are posted every day. Working on these sites gives you much-needed exposure to freelancing.

The top freelancing sites in UAE are:

Conclusion

If you dream of being your own boss, then the freelance path is the safest and best way to build your empire. The UAE is constantly coming up with new opportunities like the recent “artificial intelligence and coding licenses”. If you know how to code and understand the semantics of AI, then head on over to Dubai to join the burgeoning freelance community.

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