The American Reporter: How an I.T. worker can move to the UAE in 2023. Personal experience of Digital Nomad visa application

Hi, my name is Angelina and I am a remote QA engineer. The day has come when I also have something to share with the community. This is a fragment of the story of my move to the UAE, which happened quite recently - this summer. In this article, I will describe step-by-step the process of applying for a digital nomad visa. I hope my experience will be useful for those who are also considering this country.

After the outbreak of a full-scale war, the issue of relocation became a hot topic for many. I was no exception. After a few involuntary months spent in the Czech Republic, I decided to change my country of residence, primarily for the sake of a new experience. Besides, I wanted to be able to practice my English, because I often need it in my work. After weighing all the pros and cons, I decided to move to Dubai, especially since the office of TAMGA, for which I have been working remotely for several years, has been located there since 2018.

The most important task was to apply for a visa that allows you to live in the country while working remotely. This will require obtaining a Remote Employment (Virtual Work) type resident visa. This is how this type of visa is called on the website of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. But before I explain the steps, I will list the benefits of this visa and the annual Emirates ID that residents receive with it.

What’s the deal?

- The right to live in the UAE for 1 year (without reference to the emirate where the visa is issued), after which the process can be repeated an unlimited number of times, annually renewing the documents. It is important that in order to retain the status of a resident outside the Emirates, one can stay outside the Emirates for no more than 180 consecutive days.

- The ability to open a full-fledged account in a local bank, get a card, checkbook, and also take loans there.

- The right to legally work for an employer in any country of the world and not to pay any additional taxes.

- The ability to rent a home on a long-term basis, get a local SIM card, buy a car, and use local government online services, including obtaining a driver's license and registering a car. These and many other things are not available to foreigners without residency status.

- With an Emirates ID, you can bring your family to the UAE, enroll your children in a local school, and even obtain a business license.

What will you need to apply for Virtual Work Residence:

- A passport that expires in no less than six months.

- Proof of income equivalent to $3,500. Need to take a bank statement on the flow of funds for the last 3 months and a note from work (or contract in my case), which states that the employee works in a remote format.

- Health insurance valid in the Emirates. It is better to get it in the UAE, as standard insurance, which is enough for tourist purposes, may not be suitable. In addition, it should cover the entire expected time of stay in the country, i.e. it should be valid for at least a year.

- Medical test. Taken in Dubai, foreign medical statements are not required and will not be accepted.

- Color photo on a white background and money to pay the fees.

All documents are needed digitally (pdf scans) and, of course, in English or in a notarized translation. Only a paper version of the passport will be required.

Registration process step by step

1.   You can apply for a New Virtual Work Entry Permit (entry permit with the right to work online) independently on the website (in the relevant section) or in person at an AMER office - the structure that deals with visa and residency issues. I would like to point out that you can apply online even before arriving in the UAE to reduce waiting time and save money. Yes, the fee for online filing will be less than in person. At the time of my filing, it was about 375 AED ($100) online and three times as much offline.

Based on my short experience of living in the Emirates, I can say that it is preferable to fill out everything yourself on the website also because local officials are characterized by a certain... uh... carelessness. They can easily mix something up or forget to do it at all. Therefore, you have to figure out everything yourself, control and put pressure on them.   

The result of this stage will be a temporary work visa, valid for 60 days. The document comes in the mail and, if you are not in the UAE, you need to print it out and enter already on this visa, not as a tourist.

2.   The next step is a visit to the AMER center. There you need to pay a number of fees and sign up for a medical test ($90) and biometrics (free of charge). The latter involves fingerprinting; it is no longer required for reapplication. In addition, you need to pay a fee for Emirates ID - resident card ($82). If you entered the UAE as a tourist and issued a temporary work visa on the spot, you will have to pay another $175 for Status Change.

All payments are made in local currency - dirhams, the amount in dollars is given for convenience. In addition, the amount of fees may vary.

3.   Medical Test and Biometrics. The Medical Fitness Test is a chest X-ray and blood test to rule out tuberculosis and HIV. The Medical Test has to be taken within a month, but of course it is better not to procrastinate. I came to the AMER office early in the morning, so I was able to take the tests the same day. The results came to my mail exactly 24 hours later. Sometimes there are queues at the medical center, you should be prepared for that.

The same situation with biometrics: some people pass it immediately, while others have to wait weeks for their appointment. But you cannot get a resident card without fingerprints.

4.   Second visit to AMER in order to apply for a New Residency Visa and, of course, to pay the fee for it ($100) and delivery of the ID-card. You can't pick it up yourself, only delivery is provided. Once again, I would advise you to double-check your contact number and address to avoid any confusion.

5.   After a couple of days, you receive a visa stamp by e-mail - a visa in digital format, which is called that only out of old habit, because it is no longer pasted into your passport. And after that, expect a call from the delivery service, which will bring you the desired resident card.

Side notes

As I said, the time it takes to process a visa and residency status can vary greatly depending on the combination of many circumstances. For me, the whole process took almost 3 weeks, and I believe that this is a realistic timeframe for anyone who decides to go this route. Of course, there are various intermediary firms that offer help in preparing documents and speeding up certain stages, but you have to be careful with them so as not to run into fraudsters.

In general, there is nothing super complicated about it, and you can not only do it yourself, but also save a nice amount of money. So, if you submit documents through the website before entry, as I did, you will spend about $380 on various fees, and if you do everything in the UAE, you will have to spend $765.

I would also like to say that if you find a job in a local company, you can get a different type of visa, usually for 2 years. In this case, companies usually help with the paperwork and reimburse the cost of state fees, but in principle the process is not much different. For example, colleagues in TAMGA's Dubai office have work visas dependent on the contract.
Whether to be a digital nomad or to have a stable position, in which country to live and work - everyone decides for himself. I will be very happy if my story helped someone to make up their mind and inspired them to change. I wish everyone peace and wellness!

Angelina Burluk