So you want to go pro?
Whether you are a hobbyist who wants to try and make a living performing magic or a seasoned pro who has moved to the UAE and wants to continue their career here, we are sure you might have some questions on how to do it legally.
The UAE is quite a young country and because of this some things may get a bit confusing so to make sure that you have the newest information, we decided to put together this page to help you navigate the legal requirements and options relevant to our wonderful art form.
DISCLAIMER: This is not strictly legal advise and we strongly encourage to do your own research along with the below recommendations. We have studied all possible rules, regulations and consulted with multiple lawyers on the matter and this is just the best practices which we have identified.
Understanding UAE Activities
So before we begin, we want to clarify the reason for the disclaimer above. The UAE follows a Common Law System which is a legal system of precedents. What this means in plain English is that the laws and regulations come into power from the courts when there is an actual case that is brought to them. So when a case or dispute is opened, it goes to a court which decides the outcome and if it deems necessary, it turns the ruling into a law which then can apply to similar cases in the future.
A similar approach was taken to regulating activities - activities which can be conducted for financial gain. Basically what you can be paid for!
This is where the main reason for the disclaimer comes up: Magician and Magic is not a regulated activity. It was never registered in the UAE as an activity (as of 12.2023 at least). The reason for this is mainly because there are not enough people participating in the activity and more importantly nobody ever came forward to present a case for it (yet).
Now on paper this means that legally performing magic is not regulated but do not despair. What people have been doing is applying the activity "Actor" to themselves as it is the closest thing to a magician that is currently available.
It is not ideal, but it does allow you to operate legally in the UAE.
So how do I perform legally?
If you are situated in the UAE to be 100% covered you need to obtain a license. There is a multitude of license types which can be issues by Dubai Economic Department (DED) or many Freezones across the UAE.
Whenever a Trade License is issued, you have a list of activities which can be selected. We recommend to keep this list of categories as small as possible. While it may be tempting to include every possible thing you might do in the future, it will drive up the price of the Trade License and you will face many challenges with banks who really don't like new businesses which are all over the place with their activities. The more focused and simple your business the better. It will be cheaper and much easier for you to deal with banks in the future.
We recommend to get a Business License with Group 900 as the core. This is a special group which covers Event Management & Entertainment. The thing that will apply to you mainly is the following subcategory:
9000.1 - Production of live theatrical presentations, concerts and opera or dance productions and other stage productions:
• Activities of individual artists such as authors, actors, directors, musicians, lecturers or speakers, stage-set designers and builders etc.
It has a multitude of other activities within it which you can utilize but we found that this category has the absolute best value and security for a performer.
You would need to obtain a license which is issued for 1 year and can be obtained with or without a residency visa for you.
There are such things as Freelance Visas but we noticed that they are actually more expensive, offer less flexibility and MUCH less security so we would advise against them.
Can I perform for money if I don't have a License?
Legally speaking - No. Strictly from a procedure standpoint, any entertainer performing at an event or restaurant in Dubai for example, needs to have one thing and that is a DTCM Entertainment Permit. These can be issues for performers as long as they have a passport and they are arranged by the venue. Additionally the hiring venue may ask for a No Objection Letter (NOC) from your sponsor if you currently hold a residency visa.
While this is technically all that is needed from the venue, you must remember that this leaves you completely exposed legally as you do not have a basis on which you can receive payment a.e. Trade License. So in case the client does not pay you, you have no protection, if a trick goes (terribly) wrong and a patron opens a case against you with the police, you will be facing an additional charge of performing without a license. If you are on a residency visa, you will also put your sponsor in a lot of trouble in this case.
Think of it as driving without a license. Yes you can do it, the car is there and you know how to do it, but if the police stops you, or you hit another car you will be in a LOT of trouble.
An event company may offer you paid performances of course, but again you would be accepting them at your own risk as without a license, you do not have a legal base on which to receive payment and the event company might just not pay you knowing that you can't report them since you will be the one getting in trouble, not them.
May I perform if an Event Agency hires me?
This is a grey area and we were unable to get a concrete answer on this. Technically yes and you should not get in trouble from the side of the UAE law because the responsibility for you will be fully on the event agency who will arrange for a DTCM Permit. That said, your rights as a performer are not fully protected either which means that in case you have a dispute with the agency, such as a payment dispute, you will again face challenges to get legal support to your case as you do not have a license to be paid for what you do.
So while you are not legally breaking the law, you don't have legal protection of your rights to be paid either so you need to be careful with whom you work and what your contract with the agent mentions.
Again this is the best information we could uncover in 3 months of research and the sources in the ministries who assisted us also did not want to be quoted confirming this which again is why we can not claim the above to be 100% solid legal advice. Use your best judgement and do your due diligence.
How much does it cost and how to I get a license?
Licenses range from 4,500 AED to 20,000 AED per year and depend on a LOT of factors.
To make your life easier we have consulted with multiple Freezones and DED and we can suggest what we feel is the best option for magicians:
From our research we can recommend to go with SHAMS (Sharjah Media City). There are cheaper options however we found that they can have hidden fees that come on renewal or in case you don't need a license anymore the cancellation can cost you as much as renewing the license. Below are the options which we can recommend but you are of course encouraged to check other options for yourself!
Annual Trade License without Residence Visa - 5,750 AED excl. 5% VAT
This is for 1 year. It would be the best option for you if you are working somewhere and would like to make money with magic on the side!
NOTE: Closing the license would be chargeable at 2,100 AED excl. 5% VAT so be mindful of that. It is the lowest closing rate out there but still may come as a surprise.
Annual Trade License with Residence Visa - 14,786 AED excl. 5% VAT
This is for 1 year and the visa will be issued for 2 years. It is perfect if you want to make money with magic full time. It will allow you to both legally stay in the country and to receive money for performing magic. Now you may wonder why such a big jump and the reason for it is the fact that visas entail much more paperwork and on their own cost quite a bit of money. On the bright side the visa is issued for 2 years. License renewal for year 2 would be 9,100 AED excl. 5% VAT.
The visa issued will be an investor visa and will allow you to sponsor a spouse or children.
NOTE: Closing the license would be chargeable at 2,100 AED excl. 5% VAT + 630 AED excl. VAT for closing the visa so be mindful of that. It is the lowest closing rate out there but still may come as a surprise.
In case you would like to check on the above options for yourself, you are welcome to reach out to SHAMS on the details below:
Nadezda Alekseeva - Business Consultant
Telephone: +971 55 890 3141
Mention that you got the contact from Brown Bear Magic, so they can better advise you on the exact license that would be required. This is the direct contact of the freezone, so you should not have any any surprises.
Word of caution about consultants
When you start to do your own research, you will find a lot of ads from consulting companies offering to register your business for you. Some may offer rates exactly the same as the Freezone or DED with a range of extra perks. Be mindful to read the contracts as some companies may convey business in predatory ways where the first year license is cheap and convenient but the second year you will face a premium from the consultant on the renewal. If this happens, you may face trouble getting rid of the consultant as they may charge you severance fees as high as the price of the license. Be very careful and read anything you sign if you decide to go with a consultant.
Hope you find the above information useful, stay safe and have fun!