Visa requirements for foreigners wishing to live and work in Dubai, as well as those interested in visiting as a tourist, are not as strict as in some Middle Eastern countries. The UAE has made the process of obtaining visas as straightforward as possible. For expats moving to Dubai to take up employment, the company will usually deal with obtaining the correct visas and work permit for employees and their families.

The UAE government maintains an official website with detailed guidelines and policies for visas and work permits.

Tourist visas for Dubai

Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia do not require a visa to travel to the UAE.

Citizens of countries on a designated list also do not need to apply for a visa before arriving in Dubai. The UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and most Western European 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.

For citizens of other countries such as South Africa, China, India and Russia, visas need to be pre-arranged before arrival. However, obtaining a tourist or transit visa for Dubai is relatively painless and can be pre-arranged online through various airlines, including Emirates and Etihad. Once an application has been submitted, either online or through a designated visa centre, applicants will receive their UAE visa entirely online – without having to submit their passport for stamping.

Residence visas for Dubai

Expats require a residence visa to live in Dubai. While a residence visa is not the same as a work permit, it is usually sponsored by the company employing the expat. The employing company will usually submit all the relevant documents to the authorities, as well as carry the costs. The residence visa is needed to open a bank account in the UAE, get a driving licence and to register a car.

There are a number of different residence visas available for the UAE, such as domestic helper visas, work visas and family visas, and which visa an expat applies for will depend on what they intend doing in the emirate.

Medical requirements for Dubai residence visas

It is necessary for all expats to undergo a complete medical test at a government hospital or clinic prior to having their residence visa granted. This includes a chest x-ray to check for tuberculosis and blood tests to test for HIV/AIDS. Testing positive will lead to denial of a residence visa and deportation. At present, there is no appeals process for this in Dubai.

Sponsoring family members

Employers in Dubai usually process residence visas for the spouse and children of their expat employees. Valid residence visa holders may sponsor a spouse and/or children providing they meet the minimum salary requirements.

Generally, women may sponsor their spouse and children if they fall within the following professional categories: doctor, lawyer, nurse or teacher. If a woman is not employed in one of these categories, she may still be approved to sponsor her family based on her salary and with special permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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.

Renewal of a residence visa for Dubai

Residence visas are valid for one, two or three years. There is a 30-day grace period once a residence visa expires; however, it is advisable to begin the renewal process in advance. The same documents need to be produced, and a new health check carried out.

If leaving the UAE for six months or more, a Dubai residence visa becomes invalid, and the entire process has to be completed again.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.