information for global expats

Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: March 2014

Since 2000, the UAE’s population has trebled to over 9 million in 2014. The vast majority of this growth has been due to immigration. With more than 80% of its population from other countries, the UAE has the highest proportion of expats of any country in the world. The Emirates, especially Dubai, are cosmopolitan and welcoming of different cultures. Settling in does not present any particular problems.

You will also need to register your residence with whichever emirate you are living in. Having done this, you will receive a National Identification Card (all over 14s receive one.) All expat residents of the UAE are required to obtain an Emirates ID card.

All expats planning to stay in the UAE for longer than a month must apply for a residence visa. Note that rather than being a separate document (a residence permit), permission to reside in the UAE is demonstrated by a residence visa, which is inserted into your passport like any other visa. The residence visa is valid for three years before it needs to be renewed; if you remain outside the Emirates for more than six months, it will be cancelled.

Before you can obtain a residence visa, you will need fully comprehensive health insurance. You will also need to take a blood test. If you are found to be positive for HIV, hepatitis, and certain other disease such as tuberculosis and leprosy, you will be denied entry into the UAE if you have not yet arrived in the country, and deported if you have. You will also need skills for which there is a shortage in the UAE, and proof that you are resident, i.e. tenancy or lease agreement.

Note that the purchase of property exceeding Dh 1,000,000 automatically grants the buyer a 3-year residence visa.



Application for citizenship is handled separately in each emirate, in the Naturalisation and Residence Department, though the results are pretty much the same. While coming to live in the Emirates for a few years, settling in and becoming a resident should not present any problems, becoming a citizen is a different matter altogether. Only around 20% of the population are citizens. The overwhelming majority of these are ethnic Emiratis and those who are not are usually Emiratis by marriage.

In most countries, if you are resident in a country for a certain number of years, you become eligible to apply for citizenship. This is not the case in the UAE. If you are a person of foreign origin, you will not be eligible to become a citizen in the UAE by means of naturalisation no matter how long you have lived in the country.

What makes it still more difficult for an expat to become an Emirati citizen is that the number of channels that are open to them are so few. Being born in the country, living there long-term – even having a UAE passport will not render you eligible for citizenship.

The laws are gradually being eased. As of 2011, children with Emirati mothers and expat fathers can seek citizenship. Being born to an Emirati parent will usually entitle you to citizenship, but it depends on the parent’s gender. If it is a man, no problem. If it is a woman, you may need to have an Emirati father anyway. If you have been married to an Emirati citizen for at least ten years, you can apply for citizenship. Though you can expect to be grilled over the genuineness of your marriage.

Dual nationality is not allowed. If you do become an Emirati citizen, you will need to renounce your existing citizenship. In addition, to become an Emirati citizen, you need to show that you are of good character and that you have no unspent convictions anywhere in the world. You will also need to demonstrate that you are fluent in Arabic and that you have successfully integrated into the country’s lifestyle.



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