Year-round sunshine, pool days and zero taxes: How to move to Dubai and work remotely for a year

(CNN) – With global business and travel hubs largely closed to the masses, Dubai is making access easier than ever for international visitors.

The dazzling city, as well as the United Arab Emirates as a whole, have been opening their once strict residence and tourist visa requirements for years, but have accelerated its changes in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the country announced a UAE-wide remote work visa program (similar to the one announced in Dubai in October) to attract a growing global pool of digital nomads as temporary working from home situations become more permanent.

The visa is being marketed as an opportunity for remote workers to take advantage of the country’s low taxes – the UAE does not impose income tax on its residents – as well as year-round sunshine and a five-star lifestyle.

With a mass exodus of expats leaving the UAE, the move is bold According to reports, foreign workers make up around 90% of a 10 million population. But Dubai is also tapping into a growing global trend. Other tourist destinations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Estonia, Georgia, and Mauritius have unveiled similar remote work visas.

In addition to the announcement of a long-distance visa for the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, announced the acceptance of tourist visas for all nationalities. The five-year visa allows tourists to enter the country multiple times and stay in the country for 90 days with each visit, which can be extended for a further 90 days.

Long term destination for expats

Dubai sunbathers pictured in July 2020.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

It’s the latest in a series of recent initiatives Dubai has launched to establish itself as a long-term expat destination.

Previously, people could not move to Dubai without a job offer from a UAE-based employer. The workplaces were responsible for issuing a two-year renewable visa and health insurance. Permanent options such as residence or retirement were not available to expats.

However, the first requirements for a permanent residence permit were created in 2018 when a five-year pension visa was first introduced.

In 2019 the country introduced “golden visas”. This meant high profile investors and business people could apply for a 10-year and 5-year visa. In November 2020 it was extended to other sectors such as doctors and engineers.

And in January of this year, perhaps the biggest announcement of all, the government opened Emirati citizenship to expats.

Issam Kazim, director of tourism and trade marketing (DCTM) at Dubai Tourism Corporation, told CNN in late March that around 1,700 remote work visa applications had been received since October. “Most” of these applications were accepted and issued, he says.

In January, Kazim told CNN that an additional 16,000 foreigners – including many foreign workers – had chosen to stay in the UAE after Dubai announced in December a free one-month extension of all tourist visas due to lockdowns around the world . Kazim said he expected many of them “to become full-time virtual applicants in the coming weeks.”

“Dubai’s response to this pandemic has only increased the city’s perception of what we have to offer, and this is leading to strong acceptance from people choosing Dubai as a permanent or semi-permanent base,” says Kazim.

“One of my favorite cities”

In February 2021, a health worker from Dubai is preparing an injection of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine.

In February 2021, a health worker from Dubai is preparing an injection of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

CNN spoke to several digital nomads who had applied for remote work visas, citing Dubai’s lifestyle, weather and relative affordability compared to other expat centers like Singapore or Hong Kong as the main reasons for moving.

Peter Walsh, co-founder of an education company in Canada, said he applied for the visa because he lived in Saudi Arabia as a teenager and Dubai remained “one of my favorite cities”.

He planned to work from the UAE for up to a year initially and possibly extend after that.

“I originally planned to take the family with me for a longer break. Perhaps as a bonus, you should get vaccinated while we are there,” says Walsh.

“It’s been a tough year with Covid so my main motivation was to take a break.”

Walsh applied for the visa on February 16 and received an entry permit on March 2. From there he has 60 days to enter Dubai. However, since Canada is introducing a 14-day quarantine for returnees from abroad and the cost of sponsoring families in the UAE is relatively high, it has not yet managed to get to Dubai.

The tax question

For entrepreneur Deeya Khemlani, it is enough to swap winter sunsets in London for year-round sunshine in Dubai at 4 p.m. to sell them for the program.

Khemlani, one of the founders of the fashion label Izaak Azanei, has been in Dubai on business for years and is excited about the prospect of dividing her time more permanently between the two.

“The city really offers the best of everything, and it’s a great geographic location for me to go to the countries where I have to work,” says Khemlani.

Before the UK travel corridor was closed, Khemlani had flown “back and forth” relatively often between London and Dubai and had not yet finalized her application. However, she intends in the near future.

“In all honesty, Dubai is a welcome escape in the winter months,” she says.

While the program is advertised as an acronym for a tax-free salary, in reality applicants will likely still be taxed in their home country.

David Daly, partner at the United Arab Emirates-based Gulf Tax Accounting Group, says residents of other countries who want to earn a tax-free salary must first declare themselves non-residents, which is not possible when fully staffed are -time jobs there.

Face covering is mandatory in all public places in Dubai.

Face covering is mandatory in all public places in Dubai.

GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP via Getty Images

The question of double taxation then depends on the tax agreements between the individual countries. Almost 120 countries have reciprocal tax treaties with the UAE to ensure that individuals and businesses are only taxed once.

Conscious decoupling

T.There are also some restrictions to be observed here.

The remote work program requires you to be earning at least $ 5,000 per month to apply. It costs $ 287 per year plus health insurance with valid UAE coverage and a processing fee per person.

For a retirement visa, applicants must be at least 55 years old, have valid health insurance in the UAE and meet one of the following three requirements: earn a monthly income of Dh20,000 (approximately USD 5,500); Save Dh 1 million in cash; or property in Dubai worth Dh2 million.

Murtaza Khan, a partner at the immigration firm Fragomen, says there appears to be a “decoupling of visa sponsorship and employment.”

“In order to attract and retain the best and brightest talent, the country’s immigration policy must offer appropriate options,” he says.

Looking to the future, he believes that there could be further measures to “balance employment between foreign workers and employers instead of the historical sponsorship approach”.

The new remote work visas will strengthen Dubai’s reputation as a tourist hub and allow it to become known as a “virtual worker destination”.

Comments are closed.