Dreaming of a life in Dubai? You’re far from alone. This vibrant city has rapidly transformed into a global hotspot, captivating visitors with its top-notch resorts, dining, and entertainment. It’s no wonder it’s become one of the world’s most sought-after destinations.
For potential expats, Dubai offers more than just glitz and glamour. There’s a thriving job market, an attractive tax system, safety, and a cost of living that often beats major U.S. cities. That’s why an increasing number of Americans are making the move.
But before you pack your bags, you need the right information. This guide covers the essentials, from securing a Dubai visa for U.S. citizens to understanding life in Dubai and its tax system. Get ready to embark on your Dubai journey.
Snapshot of expat life in Dubai
- Population: Over 3 million
- Currency: United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED)
- Official language(s): Arabic
- Approximate number of American expats: Around 40,000
Why do freelancers move to Dubai?
Dubai has become a hotspot for freelancers in recent years. At the heart of this allure is the country’s remarkable tax system, or more accurately, the lack thereof.
The United Arab Emirates, home to Dubai, doesn’t burden its residents with personal income tax. This tax-free haven extends its generosity to cover passive income sources, from investments to cryptocurrency ventures. Even more astonishing, there are no taxes on inheritances, gifts, or estates.
While the UAE recently introduced taxes for various businesses, the overall tax environment remains business-friendly. This has attracted startups and investors, creating a bustling ecosystem teeming with job opportunities, networking events, and professional growth prospects. Dubai sweetens the deal with its numerous free zones, such as the Dubai Airport Free Zone, each offering special regulations that benefit businesses and investors.
Combine these elements, and you have an exhilarating, entrepreneurially charged atmosphere that’s irresistible to freelancers. The UAE even offers a dedicated freelance visa, simplifying your journey to realizing your Dubai dream.
💡 Pro tip:
Ensure your US passport or green card has at least six months’ validity from your arrival date. While a 30-day visa can be issued upon arrival, entry isn’t guaranteed, as it’s subject to the immigration officer’s discretion. To secure entry, we recommend applying for your visa online before your trip.
Dubai Visas for US Citizens: Your Options
If you only plan on staying in Dubai for 180 days or less, you can apply for a Visa on Arrival (VoA). It’s crucial to note that working on these visas is illegal. Violators may face fines and deportation.
There are four different kinds of VoAs available:
- 30 days
- 90 days
- 180 days
- 14 days (only available for Indian nationals)
Indian nationals holding US green cards can secure longer stays by applying for an extended visa on arrival. For stays of 180 days or more, explore the long-term residence visa options detailed below.
Below are details on and requirements of the most common visas freelancers use to work and live in Dubai long-term.
Green Visa (Freelance Visa)
- Who it’s for: Designed for freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals.
- Duration: The green visa allows holders to live and work in the UAE for five years, after which it can be renewed indefinitely. Holders may be eligible to apply for permanent residency after five to ten years of living in the country.
- Dependents: A spouse, children, and parents can accompany you, provided they meet residence visa requirements.
- Requirements: Obtain a freelance permit from the Dubai Development Authority, possess a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and earn a minimum of 360,000 AED (~ $98,015) annually.
- Who it’s for: Suited for investors, entrepreneurs, highly-skilled individuals, and exceptional students.
- Duration: The golden visa allows holders to live and work in the UAE for five to ten years (depending on which visa category they fall into), after which point it can be renewed indefinitely. After five to ten years of living in the country, holders may be eligible to apply for permanent residency.
- Dependents: A spouse, children, and parents can join you if they meet residence visa criteria.
- Requirements: Golden visa requirements vary by category, encompassing investors, real estate investors, outstanding talent in various fields, exceptional students, humanitarian pioneers, and specific frontline healthcare workers.
❤️ Kindly note:
While humanitarian projects are theoretically allowed, it's essential to recognize the challenges and potential risks associated with operating such endeavors in the UAE.
Dubai visa options for US green card holders
US green card and visa holders are eligible for UAE visas on arrival for short-term visits and long-term residence visas. However, if you hold citizenship from a country with a visa ban, the process may become complex.
If you’re a citizen of a country on the visa ban list and possess a US green card, it’s advisable to consult with an immigration attorney experienced in Dubai visa applications to navigate the bureaucratic complexities effectively.
Can an American have dual citizenship in the UAE?
Yes. While there was previously a ban on dual citizenship, the ban has since been reversed. It’s worth noting, however, that it takes an exceptionally long time of living in the UAE to qualify for citizenship by naturalization — typically 30 years.
Living in Dubai as a US expat
Dubai is renowned for its futuristic city design and architecture. However, before you can immerse yourself in exploring your new city of residence, you’ll need to find somewhere to live.
How to find accommodation in Dubai
If you’re only planning on living in Dubai on a short-term basis, your best bet is a platform like Airbnb, Booking.com, or Hostel World (for budget stays). If you’re comfortable spending more for a fully-furnished apartment during a short-term stay, you can look into local companies like Blueground.
Those with a freelance visa in Dubai who plan on settling there long-term may want to check out Dubizzle, Property Finder, or Bayut. You could also look into a co-living space such as Hive Coliv.
Popular neighborhoods for expats include the Dubai marina, downtown, and the Jumeira Beach Residence (JBR).
Like anywhere else in the world, there are housing scams in Dubai. Before you sign a lease, do your due diligence, such as checking it out in person or looking up the building on a review site.
How to open a bank account in Dubai
Opening a bank account as a foreigner in Dubai is relatively straightforward. Most banks will require you to open your account in person. Bring along the following documents for seamless setup:
- Passport & a copy
- Your visa
- Work contract
- Emirates ID card (or Emirates ID registration form if you haven’t yet received your card)
If you’re a non-resident, you may be asked for additional documents like:
- Utility bill
- Reference letter from your previous bank
- Bank statements from the past six months
- Additional information on where your income comes from
Best Dubai banks for expats
As a global banking hub, Dubai has plenty of banking options, and most have worked with foreigners before. Some of the top choices for banks for expats in Dubai include:
- Emirates NBD
- First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB)
- HSBC Middle East
- Standard Chartered
- Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)
- Citibank UAE
Considerations when transferring large sums of money between the US and Dubai
Whether you’re topping up living funds or purchasing a property, transferring money is essential when moving overseas. Using a regulated money transfer provider can be a great option for making payments.
Money transfer providers offer personalized support and can keep you updated with currency movements. In today’s market, even a small movement in the exchange rate can make a big difference to the amount you’re receiving. Specialist providers such as Clear Currency offer services that are not available through your bank and can be more readily tailored to your needs. They offer:
- Excellent exchange rates with the ability to transfer over the phone or online.
- Access to a dedicated currency specialist who can offer recommendations, book currency transactions, and make sure your money arrives hassle-free.
- Assistance mitigating the impact of currency risk by securing favorable exchange rates.
- Fully regulated and client-segregated accounts, ensuring the safety and security of your funds.
Many expats are moving to online banking for day-to-day transactions
Online banking often provides increased options for US expats, which may be why there is a rising preference for services such as Starling Bank, Monzo, and Monese. Money transfer services, like Wise, make it easy to transfer cash from your US to online bank accounts, get paid, and make payments to others.
Social and cultural logistics of living in Dubai as an expat
The UAE is considered relatively progressive and tolerant compared to neighboring countries. Dubai, in particular, is known for being more welcoming due in part to its diversity — expats and immigrants make up 88.52% of the city’s population. Still, the culture is very different from that of the US.
When contemplating life in Dubai, it’s essential to be mindful of the following norms:
- Public Displays of Affection: While public displays of affection are not universally prohibited, it’s prudent to exercise restraint, as these displays may not always be well-received.
- Cohabitation Rules: Unmarried couples are not permitted to cohabit, whether on a short-term or long-term basis, in accordance with local laws and customs.
- Modesty in Dress: Dubai expects foreigners to dress modestly and adhere to strict gender-specific clothing norms in public areas.
- Language and Behavior: Using offensive language or engaging in disorderly conduct in public spaces is discouraged and could lead to legal consequences.
- Photography Etiquette: Taking photos of individuals without their consent is considered illegal and intrusive.
- Ramadan Observance: During the holy month of Ramadan, most restaurants close during fasting hours.
While these cultural and legal norms may not always be stringently enforced, they are essential aspects of Dubai’s social fabric. Respecting these customs not only ensures a harmonious stay but also demonstrates appreciation for the local culture. By adhering to these norms, expatriates contribute to the cultural diversity that makes Dubai such an exceptional place to live.
Understanding foreign tax implications for US expats moving to Dubai
As mentioned earlier, the UAE, by and large, does not require individuals to pay taxes on income. But in some cases, freelance work may be taxed:
- Natural persons face a 9% tax on earned income derived from business activities exceeding 1 million AED (~ $272,257)
- Income from investments is excluded
- Freelancers who own businesses face a 9% tax on earned income exceeding 375,000 AED (~ $102,095) unless they are considered a Qualifying Free Zone Person (QFZP)
Expat freelancers will generally not be expected to pay UAE Social Security or unemployment insurance taxes either, as long as they are considered non-GCC Nationals.
A few taxes you may encounter in Dubai, though, include:
- VAT: The UAE has a tax of 5% on most goods and services (with exceptions in a few very specific cases)
- Property tax: 5% for both property owners and tenants
- Registration tax: 4% on transfers of land or property
- Hotel & tourism tax: A fee ranging from 7 AED (~ $2) to 20 AED (~ $5.50) per night for hotel guests and tenants. Hotel sales (e.g. food, beverages, services) are also subject to a 7% municipality fee.
UAE tax obligations
While you won’t have to file a personal tax return to the UAE government, you may need to file one for your business. Freelancers earning 375,000 AED or more must register for VAT, levy a 5% VAT on their services, file quarterly tax returns, and make VAT payments. VAT tax returns and payments are due no more than 28 days after the end of your tax period and may be submitted online.
US tax obligations
All US citizens and permanent residents — even those living in Dubai — are subject to taxation on their worldwide income as long as they meet the minimum income thresholds.
There are tax breaks that can offer relief for expats, however, in addition to general requirements.
Some tax requirements and breaks that expats should know include:
- Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE): Allows you to exclude up to $120,000 (for tax year 2023) of foreign-earned income from taxation and write off qualified housing expenses via the Foreign Housing Exclusion.
- Foreign Tax Credit (FTC): Allows you to subtract what you’ve paid in foreign income taxes from what you owe the US government.
- Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR): Requires anyone with over $10,000 in aggregate in foreign accounts to file FinCEN Report 114.
- Child Tax Credit (CTC): Allows you to claim up to $1,500 in partially refundable credits for each of your qualifying dependents.
- Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA): Requires anyone with over $200,000 in foreign assets on the last day of the tax year — or over $300,000 at any point in the year — to file Form 8938. (These thresholds vary for those residing in the US.)
- United Arab Emirates – Individual – Taxes on personal income
- Do you need an entry permit/visa to enter the UAE?
- Residence visa for working in the UAE
- How to open a bank account in the UAE
- Best Banks in Dubai for Expats – Updated List for 2023
- Best Banks in UAE (and Dubai) for Expats
- Dubai Travel Guide
- United Arab Emirates – Individual – Other taxes
- How to register VAT for a freelancer in the UAE
- Why Lindsay Lohan Moved To Dubai (And Isn’t Coming Back To The United States)