How to set up a business in Dubai

While setting up a company can be a daunting task, it may be comforting for you to know that the UAE is one of the easiest place to do business in the Middle East. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index rankings for 2017 place the country in the top 30 for the first time, making it, and Dubai more specifically, an appealing prospect for budding entrepreneurs. But while the process of setting up in Dubai has undoubtedly been streamlined and made easier over the last decade, navigating the various options and potential pitfalls will always be a challenge. Here is a roundup of the most important things that you need to know in order to get started.




Figure out which option is best for you

There are roughly five main options for foreign investors: fly in, fly out/trading from overseas; doing business through an agent/distributor; setting up a local entity; joint venture; and merger and acquisition. We focus on setting up a local entity in this guide, but PwC has a comprehensive guide to doing business in the UAE that offers information on all of the above options.


Decide on whether you want to establish your business in ‘mainland UAE’ or a Free Zone

One of the main benefits of setting up in one of the many Free Zones is that a local sponsor is not required, allowing you 100% ownership as a foreigner. There are currently more than 40 Free Zones across the United Arab Emirates, all of which were created with the intention of encouraging foreign investment. They generally have easier start-up processes and labour and immigration procedures.


Each Free Zone caters to specific types of industries and also has its own authority and regulations. To figure out which is the best for you, it’s worth looking at this guide from Gulf News, which details each one.


Those who’d prefer to set up away from the Free Zones will need to look at gaining their license from the Department of Economic Development. Depending on the type of company, there are differences in the share of ownership rules. For most professional or service-related businesses (this covers more than 2,000 business activities, details of which can be found on the DED’s website), you can have 100% ownership as a foreigner, although you will need an Emirati assignee who is expected to represent you if you ever need to go to court, as well as help with translation whenever necessary.


LLCs that cover trading activities, however, require a UAE national shareholder/UAE company shareholder to own at least 51 per cent of the company’s capital. The benefit of an LLC is that you can take on office or warehouse space anywhere in the city. For more information visit the DED’s website.



Work out the set-up costs

Depending on the route you take (mainland UAE or free zone) the costs can vary. The costs of both setting up an LLC or in a Free Zone starts at around Dh20,000.


Be prepared for multiple trips to and from the relevant licensing authority

No matter how prepared you think you are you’re bound to come across some obstacles and unforeseen delays, mainly in the form of paperwork that you didn’t realise you needed. Try to factor this in when planning how long it will take you to set up the business, take a deep breath, and be prepared for the unexpected. Alternatively, a popular solution is to ask a professional Company Formation Specialist to help you.


Consider a helping hand

If the thought of having to navigate the process of setting up your business alone brings you out in a cold sweat, the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to. Various company set up specialists take on the headache of completing the entire process for you. Alternatively, you can become part of the growing movement of coworking spaces, with a membership at Our Space, and let them take care of your licensing too, freeing you from endless application forms and allowing you to focus more on your business.


Here at Our Space, we liken ourselves to a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs to set up their businesses and find a workspace that suits their needs and budget. To find out more about how we can ease the process along for you visit

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