The digital nomad lifestyle has gone mainstream. As of 2023, there were over 35 million digital nomads worldwide, contributing 787 billion USD to the global economy each year.
While the digital nomad dream used to be limited to freelancers and solo entrepreneurs, the rise of remote work has made it possible for employees of companies to live and work from anywhere in the world.
Digital nomads span a multitude of roles and industries, but what unites them all is that they aren’t tied to a particular location and spend their lives traveling the world. Digital nomads tend to be high earners, with 36% earning between 100 and 250 thousand USD per year.
Many countries have begun to recognize the ability of digital nomads to contribute to the local economy and decided to make it easier for them to stick around by introducing digital nomad visas. These visas allow you to live and work in another country while self-employed or employed by a business in your own country, and 45 countries have introduced them so far.
One of those countries is the United Arab Emirates, a federation of states in the Arabian Gulf region that, according to the BBC, has “grown from a quiet backwater to one of the Middle East’s most important economic centers.”
Whether you dream of dining at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates have a lot to offer digital nomads and their families.
If you’re looking to start your digital nomad life in the UAE, read on. This guide will fill you in on everything you need to know to get your UAE remote work visa.
The UAE Digital Nomad Visa: Quick Bites
The UAE launched its digital nomad visa scheme in March 2021 to attract remote workers and entrepreneurs to the country. It serves as a temporary residence permit that allows foreign nationals to live and work in the Emirates for one to two years. Here’s a brief rundown of the key rules and requirements for the UAE’s digital nomad visa.
Eligibility: The visa is available to business owners, freelancers, and employees of companies outside the UAE who are able to work remotely.
Age requirements: Applicants must be at least 18 years old.
Passport validity: You must have a valid passport for at least six months from your date of arrival in the UAE.
Health insurance: You must have valid medical insurance coverage.
Income requirements: You’ll need to meet a minimum salary of 5,000 USD per month and be able to provide evidence such as bank statements, payslips, or tax records.
Visa validity: The visa is valid for one year, after which you can apply for a new visa if you wish to stay for one additional year.
Visa application fees: The visa costs 650 AED (roughly 177 USD), plus a processing fee of 300 AED (roughly 82 USD).
Working in the UAE: While the visa allows you to live and work remotely from the UAE, you are not permitted to work for a UAE company or conduct business within the UAE.
How to Apply for a UAE Digital Nomad Visa
The application process for a digital nomad visa in the UAE is relatively straightforward, and you can complete it online. Use the following steps to guide you through the application process.
Check your eligibility: Before applying for the visa, it’s important to ensure that you meet all the eligibility criteria, including age, income, and health insurance requirements.
Gather the required documents: These include a copy of your passport, passport photos, proof of health insurance coverage, proof of employment or business ownership, and bank statements, payslips, or tax records to demonstrate your average monthly income.
Complete the visa application form: Once you have all the required documents, you can fill out the online application form. The form will ask for basic personal information as well as details about your employment, income, and travel history.
Pay the visa fees: This includes the visa fee plus the processing fee mentioned in the previous section.
Wait for approval: After submitting your application and paying the fees, you will receive a confirmation email. The processing time for the visa can take up to 14 days. If your application is approved, you will receive a copy of your visa via email.
Arrival in the UAE: Once you receive your visa, you can travel to the UAE and begin living and working as a digital nomad in the country.
Managing Your Finances in the UAE
So now you’ve got your UAE digital nomad visa. Great. The next step is to figure out where and how to keep your money safe. Here are some tips for managing your finances in the UAE.
Opening a Bank Account in the UAE
To open a bank account in the UAE, you’ll need to provide identification documents, proof of residency — i.e., your visa — and proof of income.
Most banks require you to maintain a minimum balance in the account, and some charge monthly maintenance fees.
Therefore, it’s important to shop around to compare fees and services and find the best bank for your needs.
Taxation in the UAE
There is no income tax for people working in the UAE, including digital nomads — so you get to keep 100% of your income.
However, it’s important to check the tax regulations in your home country to ensure you’re compliant with any tax obligations. For example, US citizens are required to declare their income and pay taxes back home.
Transferring Money in the UAE
There are several options for transferring money in the UAE, including bank transfers, online money transfer services, and exchange houses.
It’s important to compare fees and exchange rates to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
Some banks may require proof of the source of the funds for large transfers, so make sure you have documentation readily available.
Adapting to the UAE culture
It’s crucial to bear in mind that the UAE is a predominantly Muslim country, so respecting Islamic customs and traditions is a must. Living and working as a digital nomad in the UAE is as much about blending with the culture as it is about enjoying the lifestyle and employees benefits in the UAE.
Keep the following pointers in mind to avoid offending your hosts while living in the UAE:
Dress modestly in public, particularly in conservative areas, and avoid wearing revealing or tight clothing.
Public displays of affection are not acceptable.
However, nose rubbing or kissing is a Bedouin greeting and sign of respect that men often practice in public. Women may also use this greeting in private. You won’t be expected to use it, but if you do, people may be pleasantly surprised.
You can only consume alcohol in licensed establishments.
The UAE workweek runs from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday being the Muslim day of rest.
Language barriers in the UAE:
Arabic is the official language of the UAE, but English is widely spoken, particularly in cities.
Even so, it’s a good idea to learn some basic Arabic phrases to help with communication and show your respect for the people and their culture.
There are translation services available for documents or in-person meetings with non-English speakers.
Tips for adapting to life in the UAE:
Research the cost of living and budget accordingly, as some expenses in the UAE can be higher than in other countries.
Get involved in local groups or clubs to meet people and learn about the culture.
Be open to trying new foods and experiences, and embrace the unique opportunities that come with living in a new country.
Enjoy the Benefits of a UAE Digital Nomad Visa
Understanding the finer details of the UAE digital nomad visa is just one piece of the puzzle for digital nomads aspiring to a life in the Arabian Gulf. For example, if you’re a remote employee of a foreign company, how can you be sure your contract meets all the legal requirements to live and work in the UAE?
One solution is to partner with an Employer of Record (EOR) like Remofirst. An EOR is an organization that has legal entities all over the world and can handle global workforce management — like compensation, benefits, and payroll — while ensuring compliance with local laws and regulations.
Take a glance at the Remofirst UAE country guide to learn more about how we can help make your transition to living and working in the UAE as smooth as possible.
Angelica has extensive experience in the B2B SaaS industry and holds an MBA in Leadership & Management. She is passionate about building towards the Future of Work, and has been a proud remote worker since 2019.