Visa requirements for expats interested in living and working in Abu Dhabi are considerably less intensive than in neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. The UAE attempts to make the process of getting a visa as straightforward as possible, and there are plenty of agencies that can facilitate the endeavour.
Most expats will be moving to Abu Dhabi under the auspices of an already established residency visa, either through employment sponsorship or family member sponsorship. Without this document, it's difficult to accomplish anything in the UAE.
Tourist visas for Abu Dhabi
Before making plans to travel to the UAE, visitors should ensure they don't need to arrange a visit visa beforehand. Citizens of countries included in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) or of countries included in a list put together by the UAE do not need to organise a visa before arriving in the country; the UK, the USA, and all Western European and Pacific Rim countries appear on this list, but India and Pakistan do not.
Those who do need a visit visa will need the sponsorship of a UAE national, resident or a UAE-based company such as a hotel or airline.
Formal sponsored visit visas for Abu Dhabi last 60 days, and in some cases, are renewable for a fee. If planning to stay longer than the allotted number of days, visitors should find out if they are eligible for a renewable visa.
Visit visas are granted to those who are coming on holiday, family visits or long-term business.
Multi-entry visa for Abu Dhabi
Those doing business in the UAE on a regular basis should arrange a multi-entry visit visa. Visitors must first obtain a standard, single-entry visit visa and then apply for the multi-entry visa once in the country. The multi-entry visit visa is valid for six months at a time, and each stay within that six-month period can last up to 30 days.
Some nationalities can apply for multi-entry visit visas that cover the course of a longer duration.
Residence visas for Abu Dhabi
Expats who want to obtain a residence visa for Abu Dhabi will need to either be sponsored by an employer, which allows for the right to work and live in the UAE, or by a family member, which only allows for the right to live in the UAE.
► Step 1 - Find a sponsor
In order to obtain a residency visa for work in Abu Dhabi, expats will need to find an employer willing to offer them a job contract and then sponsor their visa. Most companies are familiar with this process, and don't consider it a hassle.
Once there is a confirmed position and contract, the employer should assume responsibility for submitting the visa application.
► Step 2 - Get an entry permit
Applicants need to supply their employer with various documents, and it's best to get all documents attested or notarised. The company will provide a comprehensive list of all the required paperwork.
They will then file with the immigration department for an entry permit, which will allow the foreign worker into the country. Once received, they will most likely email the applicant a copy of this document. It's best to print out a copy of this permit to show to airport authorities, and then when arriving in Abu Dhabi retrieve the original copy from the passports section of the Abu Dhabi airport.
► Step 3 - Taking a medical test
Once the employee arrives in Abu Dhabi, the company has 60 days to file for a formal residency visa, which will allow them to stay in the UAE for two years. To start the filing process, expats need to pass a medical test and present the certificate to their employer.
Blood and chest X-rays are taken during the medical test; individuals who test positive for HIV/AIDS or pulmonary tuberculosis will not be granted a residency visa and will be deported.
► Step 4 - Get your labour card
Once the medical certificate is complete, the sponsoring company submits the application to the Immigration Department. After an estimated 10 days, expats will receive their labour card.
The labour card, like the residency visa, is usually valid for two years.
The employer is responsible for all costs incurred by the process, so expats should not allow themselves to be taken advantage of by carrying any of this cost.
Expats who hold a valid residency employment visa are able to sponsor their family members. Permits attained through family sponsorship yield the longest and most frustrating waiting periods – so it’s best to expect the worst and fend off disappointment.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
Those who wish to sponsor their family must earn a minimum salary of at least 4,000 AED or 3,000 AED plus an accommodation allowance (as certified by an official labour contract), and must have a tenancy contract proving that their housing is not shared.
Parents are unable to sponsor male children of 18 years or older unless they are enrolled in full-time education in the UAE. Additionally, women can only sponsor their immediate family if they hold a residency visa as an engineer, teacher, doctor, nurse or any other medical industry professional.
If sponsoring parents, stipulations become increasingly strict and require a greater average monthly income as well as proof that no other person can assume responsibility in the home country of the parents.
It is not possible to sponsor a boyfriend, girlfriend or common law partner; it's necessary to have a marriage certificate as proof of the relationship.
Application forms are available from the Immigration Department and must be typed in Arabic, and submitted with the designated documents, medical certificates and fee, paid through vending machines inside the Immigration Department.