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  • Writer's pictureJenny Hunt

What You Need To Know About Abu Dhabi's Freelancer License

19th January 2021 (Updated throughout, where indicated.)

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Abu Dhabi recently launched freelancer licenses in the Emirate - but what are they and are they right for you? This article intends to breakdown the purpose, requirements, costs and timescales so you have all of the information you need to know to decide if this is the right license for you in Abu Dhabi.

Previously, only freelancer permits were available via some of the free zones, which in itself was limiting for those individuals who wanted to provide freelance services onshore, but were restricted to the geographical boundaries of the free zone which issued the permit.

But firstly, what exactly is a freelancer? We are getting lots of inquiries for this type of license because it is perceived to be the cheapest option in Abu Dhabi, regardless of its suitability for the individual's requirements.

Are you a freelancer?

A freelancer is an individual with a specialist skill. They provide their specialist service to organisations on an adhoc basis. A contract between the individual and the organisation will outline the scope of the assignment. The individual is at no time an employee of an organisation and can supply their services to multiple organisations at the same time.

According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary, the definition of 'Freelance' is: earning money by selling your work or services to several different organizations rather than being employed by one particular organization.

Do you need a freelancer license in Abu Dhabi?

To work in Abu Dhabi it is necessary to have the correct permit or license. For example, employees are given work permits and labour cards by their employer. However, self-employed individuals will need either a business license (trade license) or a freelancer license to provide their services legally.

What freelancer activities are available in Abu Dhabi?

(Updated 30th August 2023)

Activities available for freelancer licenses are limited. Traditionally, they were tightly restricted to professional services, most commonly in media, IT and education; but increasingly, more and more activities are being opened up for freelance license eligibility, making the Abu Dhabi freelancer license a cost-effective option for more people.

The new activities cover a far wider scope of 'skills'. For example, the following activities are ideal for artisans: 'Calligraphers and Painters', 'Working Soap Forming' and 'Jewelry Design, Jewelry, Precious'.

Consulting activities are a game changer, as they enable the professionals to either setup a side hustle or to totally quit corporate life and go freelance, full time.

The number of business activities available under the freelance license are limited, but they are quite diverse. Included in the list is the infamous 'Onshore and offshore oil and gas fields and facilities services' activity which is needed for working with the likes of ADNOC. Other activities cover fields such as: calligraphy, silk screen printing, chip design, advertising, accounting and bookkeeping, pest control consultancy, fashion design and IT. Scroll down to see some of Gateway Group's exclusive freelancer packages.

Is a local sponsor required for an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?


Is a commercial premise required for an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?


Can staff be employed under an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?

No. The freelancer license relates to the skills of the owner of that license only. If employees will be required, an alternative license should be considered, such as an Establishment or a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Gateway Group can help you with this.

How does the Abu Dhabi freelancer license affect my current visa?

It is not necessary to change your existing visa status if you are a resident in the UAE.

Can family members be sponsored with an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?

The holder of the freelancer license can sponsor family members. The family members are not sponsored directly under the license, but by the holder of the license, exactly the same as an employee sponsoring family members.

Is the freelancer license in the name of the individual or is a trade name given?

Rather unusually, in my opinion, the Abu Dhabi freelancer license allows the applicant to choose a trade name. This means the individual doesn't need to operate using their personal name, which looks more professional. This also means that corporate bank accounts can be opened with some banks.

Is the Abu Dhabi freelancer license a mainland license or a free zone license?

The Abu Dhabi freelancer license is a mainland license issued by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED). This means the license holder can work with companies throughout the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and they aren't restricted to the boundaries of a specific free zone. License holders can work directly with the government too.

Can the Abu Dhabi freelancer license be sold in the future?

The freelancer license relates to the individual owner and relevant qualifications and experience are a pre-requisite. If the intention is to build up a business to sell in the future, this isn't the most suitable license-type as you would be selling 'good-will' rather than a business. Gateway Group Of Companies can discuss other license options with you if this is the case.

How long is the Abu Dhabi freelancer license valid for?

(Updated 25th February 2023)

The freelancer license is initially issued for a period of one year. Thereafter, it is renewable annually.

How long does it take to get an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?

Approximately two to three working days.

Who is eligible for an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?

• UAE Citizens

• UAE Residents

• Non-Residents

What do you need to apply for an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?

• Full name

• Passport number

• Mobile number

• Email address

• UAE Pass Account (for UAE citizen and resident applications)

• Proof of expertise in the activity being applied for:

  • University Degree (Attested)

  • Certificate of experience or accredited accomplishments in desired activity.

• If the applicant is a UAE resident, the following additional documents will be required:

  • If working for the government, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) in Arabic addressed to the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED)

If working in the private sector on a part-time basis, an NOC is not required.

Is it possible to have a bank account with an Abu Dhabi freelancer license?

Usually, a freelancer wouldn't be able to apply for a corporate bank account as they are operating under their personal name. However, as the Abu Dhabi freelancer license requires the applicant to choose a trade name to operate under for the license registration, some banks may allow corporate account applications. It will be necessary to check with your preferred bank if they offer this facility (bear in mind, banks regularly change their account-types and conditions).

Having a corporate bank account will certainly be helpful for accounting purposes by keeping your working accounts separate from your personal transactions.

What are the advantages of having a freelancer license in Abu Dhabi?

(Updated 25th February 2023)

  • Cheapest license available in Abu Dhabi

  • License validity is for 12 months, renewable

  • Increasingly, more business activities are being made available for this license-type

  • Cost effective way for specialists to stay in the UAE if not permanently employed

  • License holder can sponsor family members

  • Individuals can use this license type to establish side businesses whilst remaining in full-time employment

  • Flexibility to work from home

  • Attractive to corporations who can contract you as required, rather than having the financial burden of a permanent member of staff on their payroll

  • Revenue generating opportunity for housewives with specialist skills

  • No local sponsor is required

  • Can have a corporate bank account

Who is an Abu Dhabi freelancer license suitable for

  • Skilled individuals who have the skills matching the freelancer activities in Abu Dhabi

  • Skilled individuals wanting to establish a side business whilst continuing to be in full time employment

  • Skilled housewives wanting to boost their household income and work for themselves

  • Skilled individuals who have had their working hours/pay reduced due to Covid

  • Skilled individuals who have lost their jobs but are wanting to stay in the UAE


The Abu Dhabi freelancer license is definitely a welcome addition to the selection of business licenses available in the Emirate. It is an entry-level license aimed at one-man bands. Previously individuals wanting to start businesses, no matter how small, had to pay the same license fees as large multinationals coming into Abu Dhabi, so this is much fairer and avoids much of the bureaucratic tape involved with setting up a business.

For any unemployed specialist, the Abu Dhabi freelance license is definitely a cost effective way of remaining in the UAE and having family visas.

Updated 30th August 2023

How to get your Abu Dhabi freelancer license quickly and easily

To help you on your freelancing journey, Gateway Group has created a unique collection of freelancer packages, so you can get setup with your own license, and visa if you need one, quickly and easily. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Decide what type of package you need: Freelancer License Only or a Freelancer License & Visa Package

  2. Choose the package which aligns with your specialist skill. There are lots to choose from, including: media, tax consultancy, IT systems, cyber security, HR, jewellery design, photography, sculpture etc.

  3. Read all the package information carefully to ensure you meet the requirements to apply.

  4. Buy your chosen package.

  5. Upon completion of your purchase, you'll be invited to upload your documents and details to our cloud portal, which is extremely easy to use and will guide you step-by-step.

  6. Once everything has been successfully uploaded, the Gateway Group Business Setup Team will take over to arrange the applications and submissions for your freelancer license (and visa if you opted for this).

  7. Within a few days we'll be sending you a copy of your new economic license and congratulating you on becoming your own boss!


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Written by Jenny Hunt

Founder, Gateway Group, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, United Arab Emirates

FORBES' Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Middle East

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Links to some of our freelancer packages

Check out some of our other blog posts for freelancers


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