Year-round sunshine, pool days and zero taxes: How to move to Dubai and work remotely for a year

(CNN) – As global business and travel hubs remain largely closed to the masses, Dubai makes it easier for international visitors to enter than ever before.

The impressive city, as well as the United Arab Emirates as a whole, has for years been opening up strict residence and tourist visa rules, but has accelerated its changes in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the country announced a remote visa program for the UAE (similar to the one announced in Dubai in October), in a bid to attract a growing global group of digital nomads as temporary work-from-home situations become more permanent.

The visa is marketed as an opportunity for remote workers to benefit from the country’s low taxes – the UAE does not impose income tax on its residents – as well as year-round sunshine and a five-star lifestyle.

The move is bold in the face of a mass exodus of expatriates leaving the UAE, where According to information, foreign workers make up about 90% of the population of 10 million. But Dubai is also entering a growing global trend. Other tourist destinations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Estonia, Georgia and Mauritius have revealed similar remote work visas.

Coinciding with the announcement of the remote visa in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Governor of Dubai, announced the adoption of a multi-entry tourist visa for all nationalities. The five-year visa allows tourists to enter multiple times and stay in the country for 90 days on each visit, which can be extended for another 90 days.

Long-term destination for expatriates

Dubai sunbathers were photographed in July 2020.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

It is the latest in a series of initiatives recently introduced by Dubai to try to establish itself as a long-term destination for expatriates.

Previously, people could not move to Dubai without a job offer from a UAE-based employer, with workplaces responsible for providing two-year renewable residence visas and medical insurance. Permanent options, such as residence or retirement, were not available to expatriates.

But the first seeds for permanent residence were sown in 2018, when a five-year retirement visa was first introduced.

In 2019, the country introduced “golden visas”. This meant that high-profile investors and entrepreneurs could apply for a 10-year and a five-year visa. It expanded to more areas, such as doctors and engineers, in November 2020.

And in January of this year, perhaps the biggest announcement of all, the government opened the citizenship of the Emirates to the expatriates.

Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Tourism and Trade Association (NTTM), told CNN in late March that some 1,700 applications for distance work visas had been received since October. “Most” of these applications have been accepted and issued, he says.

In January, Kazim told CNN that an additional 16,000 foreigners – many of them foreign workers – chose to stay in the UAE after Dubai announced a one-month free extension to all tourist visas in December due to the launch of global locks. Kazim says he expected many of them to “become full-time virtual applicants in the coming weeks”.

“Dubai’s response to this pandemic has only strengthened the city’s perception of our proposal, and that translates into a strong assimilation of people who choose Dubai as a permanent or semi-permanent base,” says Kazim.

“One of my favorite cities”

In February 2021, a Dubai health professional prepares an injection of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine.

In February 2021, a Dubai health professional prepares an injection of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

CNN spoke with a number of digital nomads who have applied for long-distance work visas, citing Dubai’s lifestyle, weather and relative availability compared to other expatriate centers, such as Singapore or Hong Kong, as prime reasons for relocation.

Peter Walsh, co-founder of an education company in Canada, says he applied for the visa as he lived in Saudi Arabia as a teenager and Dubai remains “one of my favorite cities”.

He planned to work remotely from the UAE for a year to start and possibly extend after that.

“I originally planned to take the family out for a long break. Maybe as a bonus, get vaccinated while we’re there,” says Walsh.

“It was a difficult year with Covid, so taking a break was my main motivation.”

Walsh applied for a visa on February 16 and was granted entry on March 2. From there, he has 60 days to enter Dubai. However, with Canada introducing a 14-day quarantine for those returning from abroad and with relatively high costs for financing families in the UAE, it has not yet been able to reach Dubai.

The tax question

For businesswoman Deeya Khemlani, the 16:00 winter sunset exchange in London for year-round sunshine in Dubai is enough to sell her on the program.

Khemlani, one of the founders of the fashion brand Izaak Azanei, has been visiting Dubai for years for business and is excited about the prospect of splitting her time more permanently between the two.

“The city really offers the best of everything and is a great location geographically to get to the countries I need to be for work,” says Khemlani.

Before the UK’s corridor closed, Khemlani flew “back and forth” between London and Dubai relatively often, so she had not yet completed her application. However, he intends to do so in the near future.

“Honestly, during the winter months, Dubai is a welcome getaway,” he says.

But while the program is advertised as an acronym for a tax-free salary, the reality is that applicants are likely to continue to be taxed in their country of origin.

David Daly, a partner at the UAE-based Gulf Tax Accounting Group, says residents of other countries who want to earn tax-free pay must first declare that they are not residents of their country of origin, which is not possible, keeping full – at work there.

Face masks are mandatory in all public areas in Dubai.

Face masks are mandatory in all public areas in Dubai.

GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP via Getty Images

The issue of double taxation then depends on the tax agreements between each country. Nearly 120 countries have reciprocal tax agreements with the UAE to ensure that individuals and businesses are taxed only once.

Conscious disconnection

ΤHere are some warnings to keep in mind.

For the remote work program, you must earn at least $ 5,000 per month to apply. It costs $ 287 per year, plus medical insurance with valid coverage in the UAE and treatment fee per person.

To apply for a retirement visa, applicants must be 55 years of age or older, have valid health insurance in the UAE and meet one of three conditions: they earn a monthly income of Dh20,000 (approximately $ 5,500). have Dh1 million in cash savings. or property in Dubai worth 2 million Dh.

Murtaza Khan, an associate of immigration company Fragomen, says there appears to be a “disconnection of sponsorship and employment with visas”.

“In order to attract and retain the best and brightest talent, the country’s immigration policy must provide the right options,” he says.

Looking to the future, he believes that there may be further policies that provide a “balanced working relationship between foreign workers and employers, rather than the historic sponsorship-driven approach”.

The new distance work visas will boost Dubai’s reputation as a tourist hub, he says, allowing it to become known as a “virtual destination for workers”.

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