Sponsorship and expat residence visas for Abu Dhabi, Dubai, UAE
Except for UAE and GCC national citizens, other nationalities must obtain a UAE residence visa to legally live in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and other emirates. For many expats, the company that employs them will sponsor them for a UAE residence visa, along with a labour card or work permit. But not always. A residence visa is required to open a bank account, obtain a driving licence, register a car, apply for a PO Box, and so on. There are several ways in which a residence visa can be obtained.
From 01 April 2012 in Dubai (and other dates - usually earlier - in other emirates), expat residents will need an Emirates ID card to apply for renewal of their residence visa.
Passport validity period for UAE residence visa holders
- For most countries, visitors must have a passport valid for 6 months from the planned exit date from that country when visiting. Citizens of most countries can usually enter their country of citizenship with less than 6 months validity on their passport (and in some cases with a recently expired passport, but don't count on it).
- For UAE residence visa holders, that period is reduced to 3 months when entering the UAE, however, when exiting from another country, it is possible you are denied boarding to your aircraft if your passport has less than 6 months validity. This is the most likely explanation for conflicting stories about what validity period you need on your passport as an expat resident of the UAE.
- When entering the UAE, especially if using the e-gate facility, as long as your passport and residence visa are still valid, you will probably be ok to enter. But the safest option is to make sure you get your passport renewed before traveling if it has less than 6 months to expiry.
- Official information (last checked Aug 2015) says:
- What is the minimum validity period that I need to have in my passport? Six months, beyond the end of your intended stay. If you hold a residence permit, your passport must be valid for at least three months in order to travel in and out of the country. (Ref: UAE Embassy in UK).
- Passport validity: Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into the UAE. If you hold a residence permit, your passport must be valid for at least 3 months in order to travel into and out of the country. (Ref: UK Government website gov.uk).
List of types of Dubai and UAE residence visas
- Employee residence visa UAE - what most expats are familiar with. Your employer should take care of all the paperwork although you will need to make a trip to a hospital or health clinic for a medical test.
- Family residence visa UAE - sponsor your husband or wife, and children.
- Investor residence visa UAE - a potentially cheap option for those who haven't got a job or a property but want to live in Dubai. Invest 70,000 dirhams with a UAE company, pay 300 dhs for the visa, and you're good for the next 3 years. Except we don't know anyone who's got one.
- Maid residence visa UAE - sponsoring a maid
- Property residence visa UAE - a 3 year visa was part of the marketing for Dubai property sales to foreigners, and some visas were issued, but then issuing of visas under this scheme was suspended in 2007 or 2008, and in 2009 an inadequate replacement in the form of a 6 month multiple entry UAE visit visa was offered instead.
- Relative residence visa UAE - sponsor your parents, parents-in-law, brother or sister. Not automatic, special application needs to be made.
- Student residence visa UAE - full-time tertiary level students at UAE colleges and universities can get UAE residence visas, usually renewable annually. Secondary and primary level students will normally be under the sponsorship of one of their parents.
Expiry and cancellation of UAE residence visa
- Expiry is when your residence visa becomes invalid (note that expiry is NOT the same as cancellation - residence visas are NOT automatically cancelled when they expire, but they do become invalid). This happens after the expiry date (usually 3 years after it was issued, sometimes 1 year), or if you are outside the UAE for 180 days or 6 months (assume 180 days to be safe). Expiry does not mean your residence visa is cancelled, as some expats have found out when attempting to re-enter the UAE on a visit visa and failing because a previous residence visa wasn't cancelled.
- Cancellation of your residence visa is an active process which needs to be done even if the visa has expired. Otherwise a new visa, whether residence or visit, cannot be issued. Usually your company or sponsor will take care of this for you. If not, then go to the UAE Immigration Department where the visa was issued, with your passport, and present it for cancellation. Allow 500 dhs for fees and typing and you should get a couple of hundred dirhams in change. If you are overseas, then cancellation can still be done but your sponsor needs to go to the residency department on your behalf with at least a copy of your passport, and possibly the original.
Residence visa cancellation again
- According to a 01 November 2009 report in the Gulf News, "Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri, Director-General of the Dubai General Department for Residency and Foreigners Affairs, told Gulf News that according to the UAE residency federal law people with valid residents' visas in the UAE who leave the country for more than six months will have their residency visa cancelled and must apply for new visas to enter the country again."
- Except Major General Al Merri did not say the residency visa would be cancelled. The same report quoted him as saying "This is not a new rule and everyone should be aware of it. No one can stay outside the country more than six months then try to enter the country without a valid residency visa," which indicates to us that the residence visa becomes invalid, not cancelled.
Exceptions to the expiry-if-outside-the-UAE-for-6-months rule
There are some exceptions to the 6 month outside-the-uae rule according to the same report.
- Foreign wife of an Emirati citizen if she is on his sponsorship (unknown if that also applies to foreign wives of GCC citizens, or foreign husband of Emirati nationals).
- Domestic helpers accompanying an Emirati national who is studying abroad, or having medical treatment abroad.
- Expatriates going abroad for medical treatment as long as they are sent by a UAE government department, or work for a UAE government department. A medical report approved by the UAE Ministry of Health, or the Medical Services of the UAE Armed Forces or UAE Police must be provided.
- Employees of, and domestic helpers accompanying employees of diplomatic and consular missions in the UAE.
- Expats employed in the UAE Public Sector who are based outside the UAE as part of their job, or sent overseas on training courses.
- Expat students based in the UAE but studying overseas as part of their course.
In all cases, it would be sensible to contact the relevant UAE immigration authority before returning to the UAE to avoid getting stuck when re-entering the country.
Dubai residence visa application process
Generally the application process for a residence visa involves the following steps.
- Sponsor applies for an entry permit, if applicable (employment visa for employee, relative visit visa for relative, etc). For nationals of countries which get a free visit visa on arrival, this step is often omitted but be aware if working that it is illegal without an employment entry visa, or a work permit.
- After entry, the residence visa applicant needs to go to a government hospital or medical clinic for a health check. The medical check is a blood test and chest X-ray for HIV (AIDS), Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis (TB), Leprosy, and Syphilis. If results come back positive for any of those conditions, the person is deported, except for syphilis which is treated. TB cases are quarantined first then deported. There are various reports saying Hepatitis B and/or C cases are definitely deported, might be deported, might not be deported, and so on. Assume the worst unless you can find out otherwise from the UAE immigration department or UAE Ministry of Health (and keep in mind it's possible to get conflicting reports from them).
- Expat or sponsor's PRO goes back to residency department with passport, medical test results, salary certificate if requried, tenancy agreement if required, documents verifying relationship between sponsor and sponsee (if that's a word) for example marriage certificate for spouse. Any certificates should be notarised, attested, and rolled up with a nice ribbon around them.
- At the residency department, find the typing office first, they will have an application form and collect the fees. Then follow their instructions. It sometimes looks like a bit of a mess but just bring a magazine to read, and a bottle of water, and it will work out eventually.
- Come back in a few days to collect your passport with a nice new resident's visa stamped in it. Or your PRO will do that and hand it back to you at the office. Or if you're one of the 50% (reportedly in November 2009) whose passports are kept by employers and/or sponsors, complain to them, the labour department, the immigration department, and/or your consulate/embassy. Unless you're happy for your employer to keep your passport. It's illegal according to numerous reports but nothing will ever be done about it unless people keep complaining.
For details of the application for different types of residence visa, see the relevant information pages.
Residence visa minimum salaries and other requirements
- Minimum salary requirements for sponsoring children, spouse, first degree relatives range from AED 3000 to AED 10,000 as of July 2009. See separate information pages for more details.
- Some sponsorship arrangements require minimum apartment or villa sizes, or number of bedrooms. Also detailed separately.
UAE residence visa documents required
UAE residence visa fees, costs and charges
All figures are approximate, check with the Residency and Immigration department for up-to-date official information.
- A deposit of AED 5000 (usually) per person is required by the sponsor for each person's residence visa.
- Actual cost of the visa itself is relatively inexpensive. Allow 120 dhs for a 1 year visa, and 360 dirhams for a 3 year visa.
- Add 100 dhs per visa for urgent processing
- Allow 200-300 for medical tests.
UAE residence visa renewal
Limits on total length of stay in the UAE
There has been talk of a 6 year cap being introduced for residence visas and/or work permits meaning you'll have to clear off from the UAE after a 6 year spell and start again - with possibly a minimum stay-away period of time. As of April 2009, this is still under discussion, and if it does become policy, is more likely to apply only to unskilled laborers or similar jobs.
Abu Dhabi Residency Visas - 1 or 2 years for family members of residents
- According to a Khaleej Times report (13 November 2006), Abu Dhabi residents could sponsor family members for a 1 year residency visa if a 5000 dhs deposit was made to the Naturalisation and Residency Department in Abu Dhabi. Apparently including residents earning less than 4000 dhs a month (normally the minimum for sponsoring a family member if resident without employer accommodation).
- But then according to later Khaleej Times article (22 November 2006), residents needed a minimum monthly salary of 2500 dhs with accommodation, or 3200 dhs without, to sponsor their immediate family members (and the 5000 dhs deposit). For wife and children, two year visas are issued. For parents, brothers, or sisters, one year visas are issued. For residents with Investor Visas, the deposit required is 20,000 dhs for family member sponsorship, and they only get one year visas. It's not clear if wives can sponsor husbands. It's also not clear if these rules apply in emirates other than Abu Dhabi. As of 22 November 2006, www.government.ae did not have information clarifying the articles in the press.
UAE residence visa ban for some nationalities ... or Bangladeshis only - August -October 2012
- 03 Oct 2012 - the ban that wasn't a ban turns out to be a temporary ban according to the latest report, but only for Bangladeshis. Major General Al Menhali (again), was quoted in a Gulf News report saying "We are not issuing any new visas to Bangladeshis but we are renewing for those who already have residence visas. Other than that, no one will be issued any new visa of any kind," presumably referring to Bangladeshis rather than all nationalities. The report said Authorities in the UAE have stopped issuing all kinds of entry permits for Bangladeshi passport holders because of security concerns over identification and fake documents, and included a story of a father unable to get his son registered at school because of the visa ban. The report ended with ... The confused father tried to contact the authorities to clarify the issue and understand the rules of UAE. But he has as yet been unable to get an answer. No kidding. Welcome to Dubai.
- 19 Sep 2012 -see also UAE visit visa ban (or not) for some nationalities.
- 27 Aug 2012 - Gulf News reported that there was a recent increase in the number of Bangladeshi workers being refused UAE residence visas, according to the Bangladesh Embassy and typing centers which process visa applications, prompting speculation that there was a visa ban and work permit ban in place for Bangladeshis - including visit and tourist visas. But according to Major General Nasser Al Awadi Al Menhali, Assistant Undersecretary for Naturalisation and Residency, and Ports Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Interior, there was no ban. He was quoted as saying "If a company applies for visa for a large group of skilled and unskilled workers whose qualifications and competence are not satisfactory, that application may not be successful." However, he also said, in reference to professional occupations such as doctors, engineers, managers, engineers, etc ... "We issue visa for such categories of people from all nationalities without any restrictions."
UAE residence visas and tenancy contracts - June 2012
In June 2012 there was an announcement that (some - depending on emirate) UAE residents must be named on a tenancy contract before they could receive a new, or renew their, residence visa and provide an electricity bill in their name (which is particularly difficult since to open an account with the electricity provider, an expat resident needs to show a valid UAE residence visa). Normal UAE confusion about new rules and laws resulted.
- 12 June 2012 - a report in The National said the new rule had been reversed, quoting Maj Gen Nasser Al Menhali from the Ministry of Interior as saying "No tenancy contract is required for applying for a residence visa."
- 12 June 2012 - a Khaleej Times report also said the new rule applied to all emirates, saying In a reply to a number of queries about the ordinance and how it affects individuals who are sharing houses with others and their employees, Maj-Gen Al Menhali said this order is applicable to all persons who have known addresses of residence, and shall be applied in all emirates of the country, - referring to Major-General Nasser Al Awadi Al Menhali, Assistant Undersecretary for Naturalisation, Residency and Ports Affairs at Ministry of Interior.
- 07 June 2012 - a report in The National implied the new rule applied to all emirates, not just Abu Dhabi, and that a utilities bill was also required - No UAE visa without tenancy contract ... They must also provide recent power and water bills as proof of address. The tenancy contract and the bills must be attested by the relevant municipality and utility provider.
- 07 June 2012 - a Q&A report in The National said the new rule (confusingly) applies to all emirates (Q: Is this requirement UAE-wide, or only for Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah? A: The new visa rules are equally implemented in all Emirates.). Previous announcements seemed to be related to residents of Abu Dhabi only (although including those who worked in a different emirate). Other clarifications related to the new rule included (apparently from the General Directorate of Residence and Foreign Affairs):
- Family members (spouse and children) not listed in the tenancy agreement should have a copy of the attested (by the municipality) agreement in the name of their sponsor attached to their visa applications.
- Workers living in labour camps should provide their contract letter from the company.
- Residents (usually new arrivals) who need a residence visa before they can get a tenancy agreement (sometimes landlords ask for this) should present their sponsorship documentation when applying for a residence visa.
- Residents living in hotel or serviced apartments should present the contract from the hotel.
- Residents living in company apartments where they are not a named tenant can submit the contract letter with the company.
- 07 June 2012 - the General Department of Naturalisation and Foreign Affairs in Abu Dhabi said that residents of the emirate of Abu Dhabi must submit a tenancy contract and landline (not mobile) telephone number in their name when renewing their residence visa or applying for a new one. Possibly also an electricity and water account in their name. The rule is based on a UAE Ministry of Interior decision and applies from 01 June 2012. In housing with multiple tenants, all tenants must be named on the tenancy contract. But apparently only one tenant is required to have a landline telephone number and utilities bill. A Gulf News report quoted an unnamed official from the GDNFA as saying "The objectives of the new rule are to make sure that the families and individuals are provided with suitable housing and to help the authorities have sufficient information about the housing of each person. The third reason is to facilitate collection of data for statistical purposes."
Last update Saturday 08-Aug-2015