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 condition of an already-established residency visa, either through employment sponsorship or family sponsorship. Without this document, it's difficult to accomplish anything in the UAE.
The UAE government maintains an official website with detailed guidelines and policies for visas and work permits.
Tourist visas for Abu Dhabi
Before making plans to travel to the UAE, visitors should find out whether they need to arrange a visit visa beforehand. Nationals of countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) or those from a designated list of countries do not need to organise a visa before arriving in the country; the UK, the USA, and most Western European and Pacific Rim countries appear on this list. Citizens of these countries will be issued with a 30-day or 90-day visitor’s visa (depending on their nationality) when they arrive in the UAE. This visa can be extended for a further 30 days.
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. Visit visas are granted to those who are coming on holiday, family visits or long-term business can be pre-arranged online through various airlines, including Emirates and Etihad.
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
- a family member, which only allows for the right to live in the UAE.
► Step 1 – Find a sponsor
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 allows 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 – Take required medical test
Once the employee arrives in Abu Dhabi, the company has 60 days to file for a formal residency visa, which allows the employee to stay in the UAE for one, two or three 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 – Obtain a labour card
Once the medical certificate is complete, the sponsoring company submits the application to the Immigration Department. Once processed, the labour card will be given to the applicant.
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 can sponsor their family members.
Those who wish to sponsor their family must meet the minimum salary requirements as stipulated by the UAE government. Men of any profession can act as sponsors, while 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.
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.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
What do expats say about getting a visa for Abu Dhabi?
"As long as you have the correct qualifications, getting a work permit in the UAE is fairly easy. The school’s HR took care of the whole process for us. The only thing you will have to do is pass your medical test." Marika, originally from South Africa, talks about life in Abu Dhabi in her interview.
"If you come here to start a job the company will take care of the visa and paperwork for you, and if you come here without a job, once you secure one again, the company will usually process the visa for you. For men on a family contract, the company will usually process the visas for your wife and kids too. It can be more complicated for a woman to sponsor her husband and kids, whether it is allowed or not usually depends on income and the specific job title they hold." In her interview, Scottish expat Lindsay shares her Abu Dhabi experience.
►Work Permits in Abu Dhabi is a must-read for expats planning to take up employment in the capital.
Are you an expat living in Abu Dhabi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Abu Dhabi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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