Company registration in Dubai should not take you more than two weeks once you've sorted all your legal procedures. The emirate’s government is constantly working to improve its commercial transparency and introduce dynamic regulations that aid the formation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and have the ability to react to global financial challenges.
Dubai’s economy is no longer reliant on oil, but is more diversified, relying heavily on trade, services and finance sectors. The Department of Economic Development has been exceptionally forward-thinking, and is moving towards a more streamlined electronic services system in which most aspects of the business set up process is conducted through the internet.
Professional license: covers services offered by professionals, artisans and craftsmen.
Commercial license: covers all trading and commercial activities performed with an intention of making profit.
Industrial license: covers all industrial and manufacturing activities.
In Dubai, a company can be formed in any of the following three jurisdictions:
Setting up a business in a free zone is relatively easier. Dubai has a number of free zones or industry clusters. Companies incorporated and operating within the free zones are not subject to many of the restrictions imposed by the Companies Law and other UAE laws and regulations. All free zones in UAE offer the following incentives:
- 100% foreign ownership of the enterprises.
- 100% cent import and export tax exemptions.
- 100% repatriation of capital and profits.
- No currency restrictions.
- Corporate tax exemption for 15 years, renewable for an additional 15 years.
- No personal income taxes.
Determine the type of legal entity your business would take up. In a free zone, you can set up one of the two types of companies:
The differences lie in the number of shareholders and whether the shareholder is a natural person or a legal person. All free zones might not register both types of companies. You need to check with individual free zone authorities about the type of company they can register. Refer to the list of free zones and their authorities.
Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) allows forming a limited liability company, which could be a newly formed entity with single or multiple shareholders or wholly owned subsidiary of local or foreign company.
Existing local and foreign companies may set up a branch of their company in free zones.
There is no minimum capital requirement at twofour54 Abu Dhabi .
In KIZAD , you can form an LLC for which the minimum paid-up capital should be AED 150,000.
In Dubai Airport Free Zone , you can form an FZ Co. with a minimum share capital of AED 1000. Each share should be in the denomination of AED 1000.
In DMCC , the minimum share capital for forming a free zone company is AED 50,000 per company and AED 10,000 per shareholder. For a company to be issued a General Trading Licence, it should have a minimum of AED 1 million share capital.
In Hamriya Free Zone , you can form an FZE with a share capital of AED 150,000.
While you are deciding upon the type of legal entity your business should take, you should choose a trade name.
In most cases, you should check either with the respective free zone authority or the respective with the Department of Economic Development about the permitted trade names and whether the intended name has already been registered.
Refer to DMCC's list of restricted trade names (PDF, 207 KB).
In general, for DED to approve the proposed trade name, the key requirements are that the trade name:
The type of business license you will apply for depends on the primary activity of your business.
Types of business activities you can conduct
In twofour54 , you can carry out the following businesses:
Other business activities
Publishing and broadcasting
In this case, you would need to apply for a dissemination licence.
In DMCC , you can choose from over 600 business activities ranging from over 20 sectors such as energy, commodities, gold and diamonds, technology, constructions, FMCG, healthcare, aviation, shipping, education, media, professional services, financial services and personal and community services. Refer to the list of businesses you can conduct in DMCC .
In DIFC , you can conduct financial and non-financial businesses. Financial businesses include banks, insurance, wealth management and capital markets. Non-financial businesses include retail shops, restaurants, five-star hotels, art galleries and academic institutions. Read more on the page about areas of business in DIFC .
Accordingly, some types of business licenses are:
Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) allows establishing 'single family offices'. These have the standard FZ LLC structure. They can provide services to a family member, family business, family entity (corporate structure) or family trust. It can be owned by one or more individuals or a corporate entity where all shareholders are of the same family.
You can either buy or lease office spaces in free zones. Office requirements depend on the number of employees and type of business activity of your company.
In DMCC , you can choose from a flexi desk of 20-30 sq. m., a flexi office of 200-265 sq. m., or offices running through multiple floors totalling up to 2,000 sq. m. each.
Hamriyah Free Zone Authority provides over 100 executive offices suits ranging in size from 15 m2 to 42 m2 with conferencing and internet facilities. Refer to its leasing and licensing guide .
Companies established in free zones are governed by the rules of the respective free zones. To get the necessary approvals, you need to apply with the documents. The list of documents varies on the type of business activity, the type of company and the requirements of the free zone authority. Below is a general guideline of steps and documents needed for approvals.
A. Initial approval
First, you need the initial approval. You are required to provide:
Freelancers need to submit fewer documents. In most cases, they need to submit:
After getting initial approval, you need to pay registration fees and licence fees. The fees depend on the type of licence required. Then, you need to submit:
C. Licensing and visa process
Note that certain activities may be subject to approval from external authorities. Refer to special cases.
Authorities and entities regulating free zone activities in the UAE
Refer to the websites of free zones and the authorities in:
The emirate of Dubai
Select The Business Type
The first step in this process is selecting the type of business/commercial activity that you want to do. This will help you identify the options regarding the legal form of the company and the parties associated with that activity. Business types are mainly categorised into:
Company can be categorised into:
Joint liability company
A joint liability company can conduct only commercial and industrial activities.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) can conduct any industrial, commercial, professional and tourism business. Some professional business are not permitted and others require additional approvals.
Public Joint Stock Company
A public joint stock company can practice any industrial, commercial or professional business activities.
Private Joint Stock Company
A Private joint stock company can conduct only commercial and industrial activities.
Under a civil company, professional businesses in recognised fields such as medicine, law, engineering and accountancy are allowed.
Branch of a local or GCC company
A branch of a local or GCC company can conduct activities included on the main company licence.
Branch of a foreign company
A branch of a foreign company can conduct selected commercial and professional activities; same as what the head office conducts.
Branch of a free zone company
A branch of a free zone company can conduct commercial, industrial and professional businesses as long as the activity of the main company is authorised on the mainland.
A business owner can practise any industrial, commercial or professional business activities. An industrial or commercial type sole proprietorship is only permitted for UAE nationals or GCC nationals
The UAE Cabinet may also restrict some activities to be exercised exclusively by UAE nationals.
Choosing a legal form of the business in the UAE's mainland depends mainly on the nationality of owners and type of activity. You can set up one of the following company types:
Other types of companies:
For more information, refer to:
A trade name distinguishes one business from another. It also reflects the nature and the form of the business.
For DED to approve the name, the trade name:
Trade names are subject to cancellation at the end of booking period. The company may change its name into another by special resolution, provided the change will not affect its rights and obligations.
After determining the activity and the legal form and registering the trade name, you need to obtain the initial approval certificate. It is only after seeking the initial approval that you can proceed for additional approvals of authorities other than the DEDs which is required in case of certain business/trading activities.
Note for foreign investors
Foreign investors must obtain the approval of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners' Affairs before getting the initial approval. The initial approval does not allow a person to practise the activity, unless a commercial licence is duly issued, as a last step of the process.
All businesses must have a physical address. The applicants must determine a site to conduct their businesses. The location must comply with the requirements set out by the Department of Economic Development in the respective emirate and the zoning regulations of the local municipalities.
In Dubai, you need to show a rent agreement (MoU) for the proposed location of your business and this must be registered with Ejari for attestation.
You can add a new trade license to the same location. In Dubai, you need to consider the following:
Sometimes approvals of bodies other than the DEDs are required. These bodies are the entities governing respective activities. For example, businesses that:
Applicants should seek the assistance of DED to know what other approvals are required. However, business activities that fall under the DED's control do not require any additional activity-specific licensing approvals.
Getting your business license
After completing the steps above, you need to:
Then, you can get your business license.
You need to apply to become a member of the chamber of commerce in the emirate you operate in, before you can commence with your business activity.
UAE Offshore company registration is a very popular method of doing business in the Middle East region. In UAE there are two offshore jurisdictions – Dubai (Jebel Offshore Company) and Ras Al Khaimah. They offer similar services but serving different strategic goals of offshore company registration. The Jebel Ali Offshore Company is an International Business Company and is the only offshore vehicle that is permitted to own / hold real estate in the Emirate of Dubai.
The RAK Offshore and the RAK International Company (RAKIC) are International Business Companies. They provide a flexible and credible option for foreign investors to register an offshore company in UAE without the need to establish a physical presence in the UAE.
UAE Offshore companies offer the following benefits:
- No Corporate tax
- 100% foreign ownership
- Limited Liability Company
- No TIEAs
- Absolute Privacy and Confidentiality
- Ability to maintain multi-currency Bank accounts in the UAE
- Virtual office facilities available in the UAE