A step-by-step guide to securing your UAE free zone visa

There are plenty of entries on the entrepreneur’s to-do list, particularly when establishing a company overseas. One of the most pressing is the matter of visas – not just for business owners but for their employees, family members and domestic staff.

Fortunately, here in the UAE, applying for visas is simple – particularly when you set up in one of the nation’s free zones. Free zone authorities or a company formation specialist can work with you on every step of the process to ensure your application is completed correctly and to help you to avoid any unnecessary delays.

How to apply for free zone visas

You can apply for your free zone visa in just five simple steps:

Step 1: Register for E-Channel services

The first step to applying for your UAE free zone visa is registering for E-Channel services. It was designed by the UAE government to streamline the visa process. The new online system removes paperwork and makes applications much faster and more transparent than ever before.

The new online system removes paperwork and makes applications much faster and more transparent than ever before.

Registration for free zone businesses is incredibly easy: simply instruct your free zone agent or authorised typing centre to register your company for online services and pay the mandatory registration fee – AED 2,500 plus a refundable security deposit of AED 5,000 – and they will do the rest. You will receive a notification as soon as you are registered.

Step 2: Entry permit

Once registered for E-Channel services, you’ll need to apply for your entry permit – also known as an employment visa. This is essentially a temporary visa, valid for 60 days. Entry permits are usually issued within 15 days, however for an additional fee of AED 1,000 you can apply for the express service which takes 5-7 working days.

It is strongly advised that you refrain from leaving the UAE after applying for your entry permit. Doing so can cause discrepancies in your immigration file which can lead to delays in the process. Your entry permit is an electronic document that will be emailed to you once ready.

Step 3: Status change

With your entry permit in-hand, it is now time to activate it. This process is known as ‘status change’ or ‘status adjustment’. It is not possible to obtain your full visa without completing this stage. There are three different ways to carry out a status change – in-country, out of country, and the so-called ‘border run’.

An in-country status change is the easiest option: simply submit your passport to immigration who will stamp and activate your employment visa. The process takes around 3-5 days and costs AED 750.

If, however, you are outside the UAE when your employment visa is issued, or you plan to leave the country shortly afterwards, it is possible to activate your visa by exiting and re-entering the UAE and presenting your printed employment visa to the immigration officer at the airport in the immigration arrivals hall. The immigration officer will then stamp and activate the visa. This option is not available to all nationalities so it is always best to check with your free zone authority before leaving the country on a UAE employment visa.

Finally, the border run option entails exiting the UAE by land, receiving an exit stamp, and then re-entering by presenting the printed employment visa to the immigration officer at the border to obtain an entry date stamp on the document itself and in the passport. This option is only applicable to passport holders of countries that are eligible for visa-on-arrival travel to the UAE. Border runs are strongly advised against as it is not always guaranteed to work.

Step 4: Medical fitness test and Emirates ID registration

The fourth stage in obtaining your UAE visa is the medical fitness test and Emirates ID card registration.

A medical fitness test is comprised of a blood test for any infectious diseases, and a chest X-ray. This can be completed within a few hours and results are usually available after three working days.

With the results of your medical test, you can then apply for your Emirates ID card. This is an identity card that must be carried by UAE citizens at all times and is needed to open bank accounts, to take out contracts for mobile phones, or tenancy agreements. If it is your first time applying for an Emirates ID card, you will need to visit an official ID authority to make your application, as certain biometric details (eye scan and fingerprints) must be captured. A three-year Emirates ID card costs just AED 370.

Step 5: Residence visa stamping

The final stage of the visa application process is residence visa stamping – this refers to obtaining the actual UAE residence visa stamp or sticker in your passport.

To obtain your stamp you must submit your passport to the relevant immigration authority. This process can take up to 15 working days during which time you will be unable to travel outside of the UAE (an expedited service may be available for an additional cost). As with every stage of this process, a company formation specialist can take care of the details for you, liaising with all relevant government departments and informing you as soon as your visa is granted.

Applying for visas for dependants

Once your UAE visa has been granted, you can apply for additional visas for your spouse, dependent family members and domestic staff such as maids or drivers.

First you must obtain a salary certificate from your free zone stating your earnings – the minimum salary to sponsor a wife or child varies between jurisdictions however it is usually around AED 7,500. On top of this, you are usually required to pay a security deposit of AED 3,000 (AED 5,000 for women). It should also be noted that women can usually only sponsor dependants if they are able to provide a fully legalised and attested divorce or spouse death certificate, translated into Arabic if necessary.

Once you have provided the required paperwork, the process is very similar to the one above, however there are different requirements for medicals (not needed for under 18s) and biometric details (not required for under 15s).

The UAE visa process made easy

Applying for a visa in the UAE doesn’t need to be taxing. As shown above, the process is incredibly straightforward if carried out correctly. There are, however, a few things that all applicants should be aware of to ensure their application is successful and not unnecessarily delayed.

Applying for a visa in the UAE doesn’t need to be taxing. As shown above, the process is incredibly straightforward if carried out correctly.

Before making your application, you simply need to ensure that your passport is valid for at least seven months and contains three empty pages for your visa stamp. It is also important that you do not reside outside of the UAE for more than 180 days as this will invalidate your visa.

Finally, there are a few country-specific requirements to be aware of – it’s important to check these with a specialist who can advise ahead of time anything additional that may be required.

That’s really all there is to it. Working closely with your free zone authority or a company formation specialist is the best way to ensure your visa application runs as smoothly as possible. They can usually take care of the heavy lifting for you, requiring just a few hours of your time.

Setting up your own business has never been easier. Virtuzone takes care of it all so you can focus on what matters – building your business. For more information about company formation in the UAE mainland or free zones, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to info@vz.ae, click here.

About the author: Gemma Kennedy, Head of Sales, Virtuzone.
About the author: Gemma Kennedy, Head of Sales, Virtuzone.

As Head of Sales at Virtuzone, Gemma oversees the Company Formation Specialist team, which is responsible for consulting prospective clients interested in setting up a UAE free zone company. Gemma and her team provide all necessary and accurate guidance on the best path to UAE company setup, always delivered on a case-by-case basis for UAE entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their startup businesses. Gemma has extensive sales experience, having worked as a product representative for brands such as Tefal and Vidal Sassoon across New South Wales, Australia. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Employment Relations, History and (Hons) Politics at the University of Wollongong Australia, a unique educational mix which empowers her with a socio-political outlook in dealing with a multicultural workforce and client base.