Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is the result of my own research and experience, and it is not legal advice.
For many freelancers looking to relocate, Dubai may not be an obvious choice. With its reputation of a luxury destination and high living costs, many would not consider it their first option.
However, the city has plenty of opportunities to offer to freelancers in creative fields such as media and design. For example, local freelance platform Nabbesh has thousands of freelancer projects and a userbase of over 100,000 freelancers all over the Middle East.
If you’re considering moving to Dubai as a freelancer, keep reading to find out if it’s the best way to start your Middle Eastern adventure in this city.
If you’re a skilled freelancer from a developing country, moving to Dubai will look a lot easier than trying to move to Europe or North America. In fact, the only two things you’ll need to settle as a freelancer are a work permit and a visa.
First, you’ll need to get the permit by applying at one of the free zones in the city. A free zone is a geographical area that allows foreigners to set up businesses without needing a sponsor or a local partner. Each free zone specializes in different sectors.
Some of the free zones in Dubai that accept freelancers are:
- Dubai Media City
- Dubai Studio City
- Dubai Production City
- Dubai Knowledge Park
- Dubai Design District
- Dubai International Academic City
The cost of your freelance permit and additional requirements, such as buying liability insurance or renting an office space, will depend on the free zone you choose and the activities you perform.
The process to get the permit has been streamlined and is now done mostly online. After obtaining the work permit, you’ll be able to apply for a resident visa.
Yes, you do have to pay upfront for your permit and visa fees, but the whole process takes only a couple of months. In other words, you’ll be all set and ready to work very quickly.
No need to declare income tax
In other countries, one significant task to be mindful of when running your own business is filing your taxes.
It’s an important step that, if done incorrectly, may have negative consequences on your business.
Luckily, setting up a business through a free zone means it’ll be tax-exempt for 50 years. Without having to file taxes, you won’t have to hire a bookkeeper or accountant to help you keep your finances in order and help you declare your income. It’s one less thing to worry about, so you can focus on growing your business.
Booming with business opportunities
Dubai is a hub for people from all over the world to come and do business.
Many large international corporations have headquarters in the city, but it also attracts startups and creatives from all over the world.
For you as a freelancer, this means you’ll find many clients with whom to do business — from other freelancers and entrepreneurs to corporate clients looking to get extra work done by outsourcing some of their most pressing tasks.
If you know how to grow your network, you’ll find plenty of business opportunities here.
Beautiful city and lively social life
Of course, when thinking about relocating to a new city, you also need to consider your leisure time.
Every city has something different to offer, and in Dubai, you’ll find something for everyone.
As many of the residents in Dubai are expats and may not have been living in the city for long, most people are keen to socialize and make new friends. Make sure to check Meetup, Eventbrite, and Facebook events to find activities and start connecting with people.
With lots of communities and a thriving night and cultural life, you won’t have to spend your time off by yourself.
Dubai has two international airports, Al Maktoum International Airport and Dubai International Airport. The latter is, in fact, one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. Not only that – it is also home of two of the UAE’s largest airlines, Emirates and flydubai.
This means Dubai is a hub for international travel, which will make it easier for you to fly home for the holidays or visit clients abroad.
From here, you’re only a few hours away from the main European and Asian cities, so traveling won’t be a problem.
I’ve talked about all the many perks Dubai has to offer to freelancers. However, you’ll also need to keep some things in mind before settling here to avoid any negative surprises that’ll prevent you from doing your job or enjoying your time here.
High cost of living
It’s no secret that the cost of living in Dubai is fairly high. Even though it’s not as high as people may think, it’s still comparable to the cost of living in a large European city.
Some services, such as rent and internet, are exceptionally high compared to other locations. So even though you’re not paying income tax, you do have to pay high prices for products and services plus VAT and additional costs.
Moreover, services or amenities that may not be as expensive in your country, like a meal at a restaurant or a glass of wine, can also set your bank account back if you’re not mindful of your spending.
While the opportunities you can find here mean there’s plenty of business to do, it also means that the city attracts some of the best talents in the world.
In other words, there will be hundreds or even thousands of creative, qualified professionals competing for the same jobs.
Competition is intense so you’ll need to know how to network, upgrade your skills frequently, and think on your feet.
Of course, the notoriously hot summers may demotivate you from spending more time outdoors. With temperatures surpassing the 40 degrees and high humidity levels, a walk in the park or a hiking outing with friends seems a lot less appealing.
The heat may take some getting used to, and you’ll definitely need to adjust some parts of your routine.
For example, you’ll see fewer people in the street during the day. The heat, humidity, and the scorching sun deter many of going out in the day unless necessary.
If you don’t have a car, you’ll find yourself using taxis more during the hottest months to avoid walking even short distances from the metro or bus stop to your destination.
However, most buildings have air conditioning, and there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy.
Who is it for?
Now that we’ve seen the pros and the things you’ll need to keep in mind, there are some additional details to consider to find out if moving to Dubai is the right move for you.
You’ll find the move easier if:
You either have a stable client base or enough savings to support yourself until you do. Dubai is an expensive city, and setting up your business and finding new clients may take some time in this competitive landscape. So, it’s a good idea to be financially stable before arriving.
- You’re comfortable working in a diverse environment. Dubai is home to people from all over the world. So, be prepared to be open-minded and flexible, and you’ll learn a lot.
- You don’t rely on conference calls regularly. With VoIP services banned, people who need to hop in conference calls periodically or work with Skype, like online language teachers, will have a tough time here. Personally, I’ve had a few minor issues with this. Although my clients and coworkers have been understanding and accommodating, it has created a few obstacles with communicating with them.
- You’re adaptable and ready to connect with people. Many expats are in Dubai to hustle and welcome the opportunity to make a new business contacts. Make sure to get business cards and work hard to create meaningful, genuine connections.
To summarise, Dubai can be an excellent option for experienced freelancers looking to relocate. It’s a dynamic, competitive city, buzzing with expats from all over the world eager to do business. If you are open-minded and flexible, already have a steady stream of clients, don’t mind the heat and don’t need to do conference calls regularly, this city can be a great hub or you to grow your freelance career.