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  • 🇦🇪 Freelance Economy Spotlight - United Arab Emirates

🇦🇪 Freelance Economy Spotlight - United Arab Emirates

Explore the latest market trends, cultural norms, and freelance adoption.

I had the pleasure of being in Dubai last week and met a few pals who are shaping the future of work and technology in the area. It got me curious to do a deep dive into some intricacies of the region. So, enjoy.

Innovation Investment

The Gulf’s reputation for fast technology and willingness to invest and bet on innovation is widely known. Saudi’s Vision 2030 explores the transformation of the region into a digital and economic megacenter.

In a recent post about AI Adoption, we discussed how the UAE is miles ahead of most countries when it comes to deploying AI (below). They’re also investing like crazy into the startup scene with services and communities like Leap by DIFC.

It’s safe to say that there is a significant amount of investment in innovation and the future within the region and therefore the landscape of the workforce is rapidly changing.

Freelance Market Size

Honestly, there’s not a ton of clear data about freelancing and self-employment in UAE, specifically.

Why? While they offer a Freelance Permit, the incentives to incorporate as an independent are so high that most end up registering as a business. There are at least 652,885 private sector companies registered - 37% of new licenses going to sole establishment companies and 26% going to LLCs.

Which… you do you boo. But we want to parse that data and understand what is an actual business vs. an independent contractor.

Let’s look at what we DO have for MENA as a whole. A 2023 survey by Bayt found that

  • 89% of MENA professionals plan to do more freelance work in 2023

  • The biggest motivations for taking up freelance work include earning extra income (45%) and exploring more career opportunities (25%)

  • 83% of respondents believe that the demand for freelancers has increased in the past three years

  • The fastest-growing industries for freelancers in 2023 emerge as Digital Marketing (37%) and Information Technology (16%)

  • 86% revealed that their company is planning to hire freelancers in 2023

Adoption and Acceptance

Cultural Barriers

Last week we talked about the transient nature of knowledge workers and this is particularly prevalent in the UAE. Given the expat nature of the population, there don’t seem to be any cultural acceptability barriers in the area.

Working Norms

Most of the Arabic world has typically operated on a Sunday-Thursday schedule. The UAE only introduced a Saturday/Sunday weekend post-pandemic in 2021. The new 4.5-day workweek usually lands Monday-Thursday with a half-day on Friday to accommodate both a more Western approach to work and Gulf neighbors and religious activities.

  • Information Technology (IT) including software development, web design, mobile app development, database admin, and technical support

  • Digital Design including graphic design, web design, animation, and video editing

  • Digital Marketing including social media management, SEO, performance marketing, and content marketing

  • Writing and Translation primarily between English and Arabic

  • Professional Consulting such as management, financial, HR, and marketing consulting

  • Online Teaching in a variety of disciplines such as languages, mathematics, science, and business skills among others

Payments & Permits


The UAE's tax-free status extends to freelancers however they’re still required to adhere to financial reporting and compliance regulations. Freelance permits often come with obligations related to financial transparency, ensuring that freelancers contribute to the national economy responsibly.

Corporate Tax came into effect in June 2023 which began taxing businesses that surpassed a mandatory annual net profit range and VAT threshold.


UAE offers a Freelance Permit alongside a 5-year green visa for select categories of professionals such as educators, designers, sportsmen, artists, media, IT, and banking professionals.

The UAE ranks 4th in the VisaGuide World Digital Nomad Index. The Dubai Digital Nomad Visa is easy to obtain and is highly desirable to remote workers due to the tax-free status, high healthcare system, access to facilities, and fast internet connection.

Platform pals in the Middle East

  • Ureed - A large talent community with over 80,000 vetted freelancers across several professional services domains

  • YallaMission - Is an online freelancer marketplace connecting employers from around the world with vetted and certified freelance talents located in Middle East across all professional fields

  • Guru - Boasts a network of 7,325 UAE-based gurus to help with technical, design, writing, administrative, and business projects

  • Khibraty - Is an intelligent digital matchmaking marketplace for business talent in MENA

  • Malt - A big player in Europe, has recently expanded its strategy and consulting business to the UAE and MENA region

Reading list

Shout out to pals James Park 🚀 (Head of Strategy and BD @ Leap by DIFC) and Prags Mugunthan 🥐 (Co-Founder and CEO @ Pangea.ai) for all the golden nuggets and insights on my trip.

I’m going to turn this into a series. Tell me more about your country and the local freelancing landscape!