Updated January 2023
The UAE has cemented its role as one of the world’s top global hubs for tourism, businesses, and investments in no small part due to the establishment of numerous free zones in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and across the UAE.
With the aim of attracting more foreign investments, visas are being issued to foreign nationals wishing to take advantage of the perks and benefits being offered by the free zones in the UAE. Here, we take a closer look at the free zone visa, its benefits, costs, application process, and more.
Table of Contents
What is a free zone visa?
A free zone is a geographical area with certain tax advantages set up in order to attract investment and development of economic activities. Within the free zones, the prevailing rules are more lenient than the rules prescribed in the rest of the country.
As such, companies established within these free zones enjoy leniencies extending to certain tax exemptions, visa assistance, networking opportunities as well as 100% ownership.
To put it simply, a free zone visa is a type of residence visa issued by the GDRFA for individuals associated with free zone companies. This means that a free zone visa may be in the form of an investment visa, an employment visa, or other types of visa.
For example, an entrepreneur looking to establish their company in a free zone may apply for an investor visa. Conversely, those working for a free zone company are eligible for an employment visa.
Who is eligible for a free zone visa?
Those who are eligible for a free zone visa include the following:
- individuals employed by a free zone company. Typically, the free zone company will apply on the employee’s behalf as well as cover all associated costs
- entrepreneurs planning on setting up their companies in a free zone. They would be required to apply for the visa through the free zone authority and bear the costs
- individuals already holding a freelancer visa may also apply for a free zone visa
Note that free zone visa holders are not allowed to work outside of the free zones.
What are the benefits of a free zone visa?
As with other UAE residence visas, holders of the free zone visa are legally allowed to work and live in the UAE. They are also entitled to financial and banking services, healthcare services as well as applying for a UAE driver’s licence.
Other benefits of a free zone visa are as follows:
- full foreign national ownership (100%)
- exempted from personal, import, and export taxes
- exempted from corporate taxes for a fixed period of time with the option for renewal
- eligibility for long-term leasing options (up to 25 years)
What is the validity of the free zone visa?
As per the latest announcement made by the authorities, the validity of free zone visas has been reduced from three years to two.
However, free zone visas that have already been issued will remain valid for three years. The change will affect freshly issued free zone visas, including those that are currently being processed.
How do I apply for the free zone visa?
The steps involved in applying for a free zone visa are as follows.
Step 1: Register for E-Channel services
Start by registering at the ICP’s E-Channel services. You’ll be asked to provide some personal details.
Step 2: Apply for your entry permit
After completing your registration, the next step is to apply for an entry permit. You can learn about the details of applying for a UAE entry permit in our dedicated article below.
Step 3: Activate your entry permit
Once you have obtained your entry permit, you would need to activate it. This simply means getting your entry permit stamped by immigration officers in the UAE. This involves either submitting your passport for stamping, presenting your visa to immigration at an airport upon arrival, or departing the UAE by land and having your permit stamped on re-entry.
Step 4: Medical and Emirates ID registration
A medical exam and a fitness test are required to obtain a free zone visa. The medical exam involves a blood test to check for any infectious disease as well as a chest X-ray. The process is typically completed within a few hours and the results will be available in three working days. These tests are a requirement for obtaining your Emirates ID. You can learn more about how you can apply for your Emirates ID in our dedicated article.
Step 5: Residence visa stamping
Submit your passport to the UAE’s immigration authority to obtain a residence visa stamp or sticker. Note that this process has been reported to take 15 days, which means you won’t be able to leave the UAE.
What is the cost of a free zone visa?
Depending on the free zone, a free zone visa application may cost up to AED 5,000. This doesn’t include the fees associated with additional visas for your dependents or employees. The cost for additional visas may cost somewhere between AED 3,000 to 6,000.