Free economic zones (FEZ), free economic territories (FETs), or free zones (FZ) are special economic zones (SEZ) that have been given this designation by the trade and commerce administrations within a given country. These areas are either lightly taxed or not taxed at all with the idea that a lower (or non-existent) tax structure will spur economic activity. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dozens of these Free Zones—with over 20 in Dubai alone.
The UAE has designated these Free Zones to attract foreign business; each Zone is designed around one or more specific industry. These Free Zones have already been successful in generating billions of dollars’ worth of economic activity. And with the May 2018 announcement that the UAE Cabinet will now allow foreign businesses 100% ownership of foreign companies without the need for working with a local partner, many more businesses outside the UAE are likely to set up shop in one of the seven emirates. This means that the number of UAE free zone visa applications is likely to increase.
Benefits of the UAE Free Zone Visa
Any individual or organization that wishes to begin operating in one of the UAE’s Free Zones must apply for the visa prior to establishing presence. Each Free Zone has its own authority and rules for applying. Individuals and companies that apply do so to receive the following benefits, among others:
- 100% foreign national ownership with no local affiliation
- Exemption from personal, import, and export taxes
- Exemption from corporate taxes for a fixed period of time with option for renewal
- Availability of long-term leasing options lasting up to 25 years
- Free transfer of funds
Obtaining a UAE Free Zone Residence Visa
A UAE Residence Visa is granted by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs in the UAE. The applicant’s immigration file is also stored here. The applicant’s respective Free Zone is the sponsor of the Residence Visa, and any matters that require government sign-offs must be conducted in the applicant’s issuing Emirate.
Applicants should first register for the UAE’s e-channel services, an online portal that was designed to streamline the visa process. The applicant should apply for an entry permit, or employment visa. This permit is valid for 60 days and issued within 15, with the option for expedited delivery for an additional fee. Once an applicant receives an entry permit, they should activate it, signaling a status change. This must be done to receive a full visa. This can be completed either in-country, out of country, or on a “border run.”
For those already in the UAE, this step can be completed by visiting the immigration office in their respective Emirate. For those who are not already in the UAE or those who have left since applying for an employment visa, this step can be completed by leaving and re-entering the UAE and presenting this printed employment visa to immigration on arrival at the airport. However, this option is limited to select nationalities, and the applicant is encouraged to check with their respective Free Zone authority prior to exiting the UAE.
To receive a stamp on a border run, the applicant must exit the UAE by land. Upon reentry, they will need to present this stamp at the border and will receive an entry date stamp on both the permit and passport. This option is also only available to select nationalities, and is not the best option; it is not a guaranteed method of receiving all necessary stamps.
Medical Tests and Emirates ID Registration for Free Zone Visa Approval
A medical test must be carried out to obtain a registered Emirates ID card. The includes a blood test and chest X-ray, and can be completed rather quickly with results available in a matter of days. Once the results are in, the applicant can then apply for an Emirates ID card. This ID is essential; it allows holders to open bank accounts and other important matters for working and living in the UAE. For first time applicants, visiting an ID authority to capture biometric information is required.
Finally, the applicant must receive a UAE residence visa stamp or sticker in their passport. This can take up to 15 days, and the applicant cannot travel outside of the UAE during this time. However, an expedited service is available for an additional fee.
The Right Global Expansion Partner for Global Immigration
If you are planning a global expansion into the UAE and need assistance with entry into the country, reach out to Velocity Global to learn how our global immigration solutions can assist you with each step of the process.