Working or Starting a Business in the UAE

Are you job hunting? Why not go to the UAE on a visit visa where you’ll have 30 days (or up to 60 days if you renew it) to legally look for work? Once you have a job offer, your new employer will then sponsor you on a new residence visa where all paperwork will be processed via the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) – previously called the Department of Naturalization and Residency (DNRD) – that takes care of immigration and visas. A PRO (Public Relations Officer) will see to it that a labor card or free zone ID is issued, along with a Resident ID which permits you to live and work anywhere in the UAE.

Employees working outside a free zone will receive a new electronic UAE labour permit and work contract, processed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, known before as Ministry of Labour. If you work in a free zone, however, you will receive a free zone ID, which is processed by the free zone authority. The labour card costs Dhs.1,000 (normally paid for by your company) and is valid for as long as your residence visa is. A free zone ID, instead, is valid for one, two or three years.

The UAE Employment Law imposes certain minimum standards on working hours, vacation and public holidays, sick leave, maternity leave, and termination of employment. Most of the terms and conditions in your contract will be determined by UAE Labour Law. You can check or print your labor contract and card online at

UAE’s labour law states:

  • Though the working hours differ dramatically between companies, the maximum number of hours permitted per week is 48.
  • All employees (even non-Muslims) are entitled to a shorter working day, two hours less, during Ramadan.
  • When on sick leave, the first 15 days will have the employee entitled to full pay, the next 30 days they’ll receive half pay, and any subsequent days are unpaid.
  • If pregnant, the employee will be entitled to 45 days maternity leave, on full pay, once they’ve completed one year of continuous service.
  • An employee on a fixed-term contract who has completed one or more years of continuous service will be entitled to 21 days of pay for each of the first five years of service, and 30 days of pay for each additional year as an end-of-service gratuity payment.

Note: Most free zones have their own employment laws, which often take precedence over the federal employment UAE laws, and are designed to encourage foreign investment. The free zone authority will process all residence visas directly through the GDRFA that certainly has its plus points when it comes to Entrepreneurs Starting a Business.

If you want to start a business but don’t know where to begin, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development ( was set up to help entrepreneurs understand the procedures and potential costs of setting up a company in the Emirates. The site offers guidance to Emiratis and expats hoping to set up an activity. However, it is always advisable to check with experts in the area to make sure all legal requirements are met and to get advice on best chances and opportunities.

The favorable opportunities for investments and business development include those in the DIFC. A financial institution, corporate office, professional service provider or retailer can consider exploring the opportunities for business in the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre). This is one of Dubai’s independent free-zones that has its own independent, internationally regulated regulator and judicial system, common law framework. As a matter of fact, an all-new DIFC Employment Law will come into effect on August 28, 2019 and focus around the obligation to balance the needs of employers and employees in the Centre.

“Knowing your rights as well as your obligations will help ensure that your stay in the Emirates is a successful one, “ says Mubarak Al Dhahiri, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, who welcomes expats to the UAE, as their home away from home, and hopes they’ll enjoy the time spent living and working there.

Working or Starting a Business in the UAE

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