Setting Up Business In Dubai : The Ultimate Guide to Registration and Documentation

Guiding Businesses

Setting Up Business In Dubai : The Ultimate Guide to Registration and Documentation

Embarking on the exciting journey of establishing your business in Dubai? This guide is your trusted companion, offering a concise yet comprehensive roadmap to navigate the dynamic landscape of business setup in this vibrant city. In the heart of the UAE, Dubai beckons entrepreneurs with its open economy, actively encouraging expats and foreign nationals to establish and operate businesses seamlessly. We’ll walk you through the initial document verification and legal procedures, helping you make the pivotal decision between mainland and free zone setups. It’s your business—let’s makes it thrive. Picture this: strategic location selection based on factors like convenience, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability. We want you well-informed, equipped with insights that matter. Our guide delves into diverse facets, from business licenses to visa costs and foreign ownership limitations. These are the building blocks of your successful venture in Dubai.

Now, let’s talk compliance. A business license isn’t just a box to tick; it’s Dubai’s commitment to stringent trading standards. It’s about ensuring your journey is not just smooth but also in line with regulations that define Dubai’s business landscape.

In the financial realm, we’ve got you covered. Explore the costs tied to investor and employee visas, gaining clarity on expanding your workforce in this dynamic market. And for our online entrepreneurs, securing that e-Trader license is not just a recommendation; it’s a crucial reminder of Dubai’s commitment to regulatory compliance in the digital age. In a city that embraces diversity and innovation, this concise yet thorough guide is your key to unlocking essential knowledge. It’s your passport to a successful business journey in Dubai’s vibrant and competitive economic landscape. Your dream, your venture, our guide—because Dubai welcomes expatriates and foreign nationals to contribute to its ever-evolving success story.


For those in search of an ideal location to set up their business, Dubai stands out as the premier choice. The process of business setup in Dubai is characterized by its simplicity and efficiency, although it involves the verification of specific documents and approvals from governmental bodies.


Free Zone Company Setup:

  1. Designated Areas for Foreign Entrepreneurs:
    1. Certain areas in Dubai, known as free zones, are specifically set up to welcome foreign entrepreneurs.
  2. Diverse Free Zones:
    1. Dubai boasts around 45 free zones, each categorized by the sector they cater to.
  3. Opportunities in Free Zones:
    1. Free zones in Dubai provide tailored support for various industries, tax-free profits, and the perk of 100% foreign ownership.
  4. Trade Limitations:
    1. Companies in free zones have specialized support but cannot trade within the UAE without obtaining a specific mainland license.

Mainland Dubai Company Setup:

  1. Commercial Business Focus:
    1. Mainland Dubai targets businesses in sectors like real estate, hospitality, education, and retail.
  2. Versatility Across Sectors:
    1. Companies outside free zones can operate across various sectors and conduct business locally and internationally.
  3. Foreign Ownership Flexibility:
    1. Most mainland companies allow 100% foreign ownership, except for specific strategic sectors.
  4. Emirati Partner Consideration:
    1. While many activities allow 100% foreign ownership, certain strategic sectors may require an Emirati partner. Foreign owners can hold up to 49% equity, with exceptions for Emirati ownership and partnerships.
  5. Diverse Ownership Opportunities:
    1. Over 1,000 commercial and industrial activities in mainland Dubai offer the chance for 100% foreign ownership, with exceptions for activities of strategic significance.

Note: Some strategic economic activities have restrictions on foreign ownership, detailed below.

Strategic Location Selection for Your Business: Ensuring the success of your business in Dubai involves planning and strategic decision-making when selecting a location. Before finalizing, align the chosen space with your business goals. Devise a location strategy based on the following objectives:

  • Convenience
  • Cost-Effectiveness
  • Sustainability
  • Profitability

For example, businesses in the service industry thrive when their offices are easily accessible, prioritizing profitability over potential rent savings in a distant location. Retail chains benefit from proximity to competitors, necessitating a location within the market. Meanwhile, manufacturing organizations base decisions on factors such as labor costs, logistics, and compliance with taxes and regulations.

Conduct an in-depth analysis of your business, product, and target market to determine whether free zones are a beneficial choice. Once this decision is made, embark on the search for a suitable location. Upon finalization, establish a tenant contract. Notably, the processes in free zones are streamlined, consuming less time on average.


If you are new to Dubai, possessing a valid tourist/visit visa is crucial, as lacking a valid entry visa prohibits business setup. The initial steps involve filling out necessary forms and compiling essential documents. New businesses seeking initial approval must provide:

  1. Licensee’s Information: Copy of the licensee’s passport (for foreigners) or Emirates ID (for Emirati/Residents).
  2. Applicant’s Permit: Copy of the applicant’s residence permit/visa (for non-GCC nationals).
  3. Company Structure: Articles of association (not applicable for one-person limited liability companies).
  4. For Public Companies: Feasibility study of the project.
  5. Branch Operations: Additional requirements for branches, including a board resolution, letter of authorization and parent company documents.

Legal Procedures and Challenges: To proceed, the parent company’s documents must undergo attestation and legalization by the UAE Embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country of origin. Subsequently, counter-attestation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE and legal translation in Arabic, attested by the Ministry of Justice in the UAE, is mandatory.

  • Mainland Dubai Setup:
    • Obtain a local sponsor, a UAE national.
    • Secure a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the local sponsor.
    • Prepare the Memorandum of Association (MOA) outlining key business conditions.
    • Obtain initial approval from the Department of Economic Development (DED), Dubai.
    • Register the business under a unique trade name.
    • Arrange a physical office space.
    • Apply for a trade license.
    • Upon acquiring the trading license, the business becomes operational within a week.
  • Choosing the Right Location:
    • Considerations for 100% ownership, tax benefits, convenience, and alignment with strategic goals are pivotal.

Setting up a company in a Dubai free zone primarily involves streamlined online processes for efficiency. While procedures may differ between free zones, general steps include:

  1. Registering the Company: Furnish a copy of your passport and original company documents for branch offices.
  2. Leasing Business Premises
  3. Obtaining a Business License: Typically, this takes 3-5 working days on average.
  4. Setting-Up Additional Business Services: This includes activities like opening a bank account and arranging visas for foreign employees.

Check your chosen free zone’s specific requirements and timelines before commencing the process. Adhering to these steps diligently ensures a smooth and efficient setup in Dubai’s free zones.

Cost Considerations for Establishing a Business in Dubai: Entrepreneurs must carefully evaluate the total cost of establishing a business in Dubai to plan effectively. A transparent cost breakdown is crucial to avoid undesirable overheads and unexpected expenses.

As discussed earlier, Dubai offers two distinct areas for business setup, each with varying costs. Additional factors influencing costs include:

  1. Type of Business License: The chosen business license type and company formation (LLC, FZE) impact costs.
  2. Other Charges: For LLC formation in Dubai, potential charges encompass rental fees, Department of Economic Development fees, mainland trade license fees, administrative fees, one-time contracting license fees, and fees for real estate brokers. LLC companies may also incur investor visa charges and employee visa fees.

Understanding your setup costs is pivotal for your Dubai business venture. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario; you need to tailor costs to your unique needs, considering factors like office space and visa numbers. For freelancers, your foundational investment falls in the range of AED 5,000-7,500, marking your entry into the business world. If you’re a one-person operation, the typical cost is around AED 15,000, giving you the independence to conquer the business landscape on your terms. Ready to lead a team of four? The ballpark figure is approximately AED 62,000, offering the perks of dedicated space for your growing venture. But here’s the catch—visa quotas in most free zones are tied to rented space, adding a strategic layer to your considerations. So, whether you’re flying solo or building a team, understanding and strategically navigating these setup costs ensures a solid foundation for your success in Dubai.


Before embarking on the establishment of your company in Dubai, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with the diverse categories of business incorporations available in the Emirates. Each business type entails specific prerequisites that necessitate fulfilment. Consequently, possessing an understanding of these conditions will empower you to make well-informed decisions.

  1. General Partnership: A general partnership demands the collaboration of two or more partners, all of whom must be Emirati nationals and equally accountable for the company’s financial obligations. Only the partners’ names are permitted to be included in the entity’s name, with each partner’s stake delineated in the partnership agreement. The dissolution of a partnership may occur under circumstances such as the demise of a partner, a partner’s bankruptcy, withdrawal, or insanity. In Dubai, partnership businesses are classified into three types:
  2. General partnership
  3. Simple limited partnership
  4. Partnerships-en-commandite.
  5. Public Shareholding Company: Also recognized as Public Joint Stock Companies, these entities divide their capital into equal shares. Establishing a Public Shareholding Company necessitates a minimum of 10 founders, with a mandated minimum capital requirement of AED 10 million. The board must consist of a minimum of three directors, including the Chairman and a majority of Emirati nationals. Founders retain only 35% of the share capital, while the remainder must be offered to the public. Each member is liable solely for the value of the shares held.
  6. Private Shareholding Company: Analogous to public entities, a Private Shareholding Company requires a minimum of three shareholders, but shares are not offered to the public. The intention to make shares available to the public must be explicitly stated in the documentation.
  7. Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC must have a minimum of two partners, not exceeding 50, with liability limited to their respective share in the capital. The company can engage in any legal business except insurance or banking activities. Public subscription, issuance of negotiable stocks, or shares is prohibited. The company’s capital must be adequate and divided into equal, indivisible shares. Profits and losses are distributed equally unless otherwise specified in the contract. An LLC can be managed by one or more managers, not exceeding a total of 11 persons, appointed through the memorandum of association or a separate contract.
  8. Eligibility for Setting up an LLC: All nationalities are eligible, whether incorporated inside or outside the UAE, following the specified procedures.
  9. Activities under LLC: All industrial, commercial, and most professional activities are permissible, subject to procedural guidelines.
  10. Civil Company: Owned by two or more partners practicing professional activities, a civil company caters to various professions such as tailoring, beauty salons, consultancy, or training.
  11. Eligibility to Form a Civil Company:
    1. UAE nationals can conduct business under this legal form.
    1. Two or more GCC nationals can establish a civil business company without a local service agent, but one is required if any partner isn’t a GCC national.
    1. Two nationals of other countries can establish a civil company with a UAE local service agent.
  12. Sole Proprietorship: A business owned by one person, the sole proprietor is personally liable for all financial obligations and liabilities.
  13. Eligibility for Setting up a Sole Proprietorship: UAE and GCC nationals can conduct businesses under this form, while nationals of other countries are restricted to professional businesses with a UAE local service agent.
  14. Free Zone Companies:
  15. Free Zone Establishment (FZE): A legal entity with a single shareholder, either an individual or a corporate entity.
  16. Free Zone Company (FZCO): A legal entity with a minimum of two shareholders, either individuals or corporate entities.
  17. Public Limited Liability Company (PJSC): A corporate entity with multiple shareholders offering shares to the public.
  18. Private Limited Liability Company (LLC): A corporate entity with limited liability formed by a minimum of two and a maximum of 50 shareholders, not open to public subscription.
  19. Branch of a Local or International Company: An extension of an existing local or international company, legally dependent on its parent company.
  20. Branch Office: Establishments including branches of foreign organizations operating under the same name in Dubai. This category encompasses branches of free zone companies, GCC companies, and civil companies.

Benefits of Setting up a Business in Dubai: Having explored the diverse business jurisdictions in Dubai, let’s delve into the advantages each offers.


Think of your business license as more than just a piece of paper. It’s your gateway to all the advantages Dubai has to offer. Not only does it legally permit your business operations, but it’s also a testament to your skills and expertise. It’s like your business’s badge of honor, showcasing that you’ve got what it takes to thrive in this dynamic market.

How to Obtain a Business License in Dubai: So, how do you get your hands on this crucial document? It’s all about navigating the process with finesse. Your go-to authority here is the DED. They’ve streamlined the whole shebang to make sure you can hit the ground running in Dubai’s business landscape. It’s about encouraging rapid business development, and your license is the key player in this game.

Categories of Business Licenses in Dubai: There are several types of licenses offered in Dubai, each catering to different business activities. These include:

  1. Commercial License:
    1. Entrepreneurs engaging in trading activities, such as importing/exporting goods, real estate, or rent-a-car services, needs to obtain a commercial license.
    1. Commonly used by Legal Liability Companies (LLCs), the commercial license can be utilized both onshore and in free zones.

How to Obtain a Commercial License in Dubai:

  • Compile a list of up to 10 activities for the license application.
    • Draft a Memorandum of Association (MOA) listing the selected activities.
    • Register the organization with the DED.
    • Complete the registration process by paying the required fee.
  • Industrial License:
    • Industries involved in manufacturing activities, including production, segregation, accumulation, and packaging, are eligible for an industrial license.

How to Obtain an Industrial License in Dubai:

  • Fulfil prerequisites, including having a local sponsor with a minimum of 51% ownership, physical office space, a local industrial license, a minimum share capital of AED 250,000, and a workforce of at least 10 employees.
    • Submit documents for initial approval to the DED.
    • Apply for the industrial license, a process taking up to 3 months, followed by permissions from the Municipality and other authorities.
  • Professional License:
    • Granted to individuals based on their skills and expertise, allowing 100% foreign ownership, contingent on having a local service agent.

How to Obtain a Professional License in Dubai:

  • List business activities for the professional license.
    • Appoint a service agent to handle legalities.
    • Submit documents for approval, register a trade name, and rent office space.
  • E-Trader License:
    • Tailored for home-based individuals or entrepreneurs conducting online business via social media or other platforms.

How to Obtain an E-Trader License in Dubai:

  • Create an account on the DED Trader website.
    • Log in, start the application process, and choose business activities.
    • Fill in personal details, select a trade name, and pay applicable fees.
    • Submit the application, wait for approval, and renew annually.

Requirements for an E-Trader License in Dubai:

  • Applicant must be a Dubai resident.
    • Applicant must be at least 21 years old.
    • License is issued to individuals for sole ownership.
    • Provide valid identification documents.
    • Adhere to DED regulations for social media and website activities.
    • Annual renewal is required.

Cost of E-Trader License:

  • AED 1,070, with an additional AED 300 Dubai Chamber of Commerce membership fee.

Limitations with an E-Trader License:

  • Restrictions vary for residents and non-residents.
    • Foreigners face limitations on product adjustments and fitness-related businesses.

Where Can You Use Your E-Trader License?

  • Valid only in the specified emirate; requires additional permissions for other emirates.
    • Not applicable for use in free zones.
  • Dual License:
    • Allows free zone companies to extend operations to the mainland without additional office space or local partnerships.

Dual Licensing in Dubai:

  • Collaborations with specific free zones, including Dubai CommerCity, DAFZA, Dubai Design District, DIFC, DMCC, and One Central.
    • Streamlines operations for businesses operating in multiple enterprises.

Dual License Application Process:

  • Register business at DAFZA or DIFC.
    • Apply for a DED business license.

Benefits of Dual Licensing:

  • Enhanced governance and regulations.
    • Allows authorities to modify or add activities to businesses.
    • Improved transparency and compliance.
    • A response to the demand for flexibility in business operations.

Regulations and MoU:

  • DED and free zone authorities ensure adherence to laws.
    • Dual licensing adds substantial value to Dubai’s economy.
    • Supports an investment-friendly environment for foreign and international investors.

Expanding Opportunities with Dual Licensing:

  • Addresses the growing demand for multiple enterprises.
    • DAFZA and DIFC permit businesses to operate across Dubai.
    • Memorandum of Understanding fosters an investment-friendly environment.

Wrap your head around the fact that each business license type in Dubai has its own game plan. It’s like a tailored suit—fits just right. Whether you’re into trading, services, or manufacturing, there’s a license waiting for you. But—and here’s the catch—you need to know the requirements and benefits that come with it. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Investor Visa Costs: Now, let’s talk about you—yes, you as an investor. Securing that golden ticket, the investor visa, is a savvy move. It’s your pass to the Dubai business arena. Budget-wise, you’re looking at around 3200 AED. What does that cover? Think basic insurance, medical coverage, and your very own Emirates ID. It’s the VIP package for your business journey.

Employee Visa Expenses: Imagine this—you’re building your dream team in Dubai. Hiring an employee comes with its own price tag, around 7000 to 7500 AED. That’s your all-in-one deal—insurance, medical benefits, and a snazzy residency card for your new team member. Because in Dubai, we know the value of a great squad.


Hold up, though. Before you get too comfortable, understand the lay of the land when it comes to foreign ownership. While many business activities allow 100% foreign ownership, certain categories necessitate collaboration with a local partner. Below is a list of activities that do not permit full foreign ownership:

Activities not permitted for 100% foreign ownership:

  1. Security and Defence Activities and Activities of a Military Nature
    1. Military Garments Manufacturing
    1. Military Men Clothing & Uniforms Tailoring
    1. Medium Military Weapons Manufacturing
    1. Metal Badges & Military Insignia Manufacturing
    1. Military Tools & Supplies Manufacturing
    1. Dismantling & Destroying Equipment & Military Weapons
  2. Military Dress Trading
    1. Military Weapons Trading
    1. Military Equipment Trading
    1. Military Ammunition, Explosives & Pyrotechnic Products Trading
    1. Military Scrap Trading
    1. Military Tools & Supplies Trading
  3. Military Vehicles & Equipment Spare Parts Trading
    1. Naval & land Unexploded Ordnance & Mines Disposal
    1. Light Military Weapons Manufacturing
    1. Military Heavy Weapons Manufacturing
    1. Military Ammunition Manufacturing
  4. Explosives & Pyrotechnic Products Manufacturing
    1. Building of Military Ships
    1. Military Aircrafts Manufacturing
    1. Toughened and laminated Flat Glass Manufacturing
    1. Propellant Powders Manufacturing
  5. Radar Equipment Manufacturing
    1. Military Plants Equipment Manufacturing
    1. Military Ballistic & Guided Missiles Manufacturing
    1. Military Fighting Vehicles Manufacturing
    1. Tanks Manufacturing
  6. Armoured Amphibious Military Vehicles Manufacturing
    1. Military Remote-Control Systems Manufacture
    1. Sensors & Military Communication Systems Manufacturing
    1. Plating Machinery & Vehicles
    1. Military Equipment Repair & Maintenance
  7. Military Aircraft Repair & Maintenance
    1. Military Ships Repair & Maintenance
    1. Military Reality-Based Training
    1. Defence & Security Companies’ Representation
    1. Military Consultancy
  8. Defence & Surveillance Systems Development
    1. Missiles & Weapons Technology Development
    1. Military Aircraft Safety & Protection Systems Development
    1. Military Technology Research & Development
    1. Control & Command Systems Development
  9. Telecommunications: Certain activities in the telecommunications sector also impose restrictions on foreign ownership. These include:
  10. Radio Broadcasting Station
  11. Wired Telecommunications Services
  12. Operating & Maintaining Switching & Transmission Facilities
  13. Cable Distribution & Data & Television Signals Operation
  14. Television & Radio Broadcasting Via Encrypted & Open Channels
  15. Wireless Telecommunications Services
  16. Satellite Communications Services
  17. Satellite Ground Station

Now, considering the seemingly straightforward nature of the business establishment process and the intricacies outlined in this guide, you might find yourself facing challenges if you’re not intimately familiar with the operational nuances in Dubai. We get it; it can be a lot to take in. That’s where a bit of research and professional assistance can make all the difference in adeptly navigating any potential complexities that may arise.

Here’s the deal: we strongly recommend you take the time to dive into the specifics and, if needed, enlist professional help. It’s not about making things more complicated; it’s about making sure you’re on the right track from the get-go. So, whether you’re unsure about document verification or grappling with the mainland versus free zone decision, a little guidance can go a long way.

For a deeper understanding, personalized insights, and hands-on support in orchestrating your business setup in Dubai, you’ve got a friend in Vidma Consulting Group LLP. Our expertise is all about streamlining the business establishment procedures within the region. Your success is our priority, and we’re here to ensure your journey is as smooth as possible. Don’t hesitate to reach out—we’re ready to help you navigate the intricacies and set the stage for your business success in Dubai.

Copyright: The content furnished in this guide is safeguarded by copyright law. Unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or utilization of any segment of this material without explicit permission from the copyright owner is strictly prohibited.

Legal Advice: The information presented in this guide is intended for general informational purposes exclusively and does not constitute legal advice. While diligent efforts have been exerted to ensure the accuracy of the information, it may not reflect the latest legal regulations or nuances. For specific legal counsel pertaining to business setup in Dubai, it is advisable to seek consultation with a qualified legal professional well-versed in the most recent laws and regulations.

Information Verification: The guide imparts information on diverse facets, encompassing legal procedures, classifications of business licenses, and strategic considerations. It is imperative to validate the accuracy of the details provided, particularly in light of the potential evolution of regulatory frameworks. Prospective business proprietors are strongly encouraged to corroborate the information with pertinent authorities, such as government agencies and legal professionals, to obtain the most current and tailored guidance based on their specific circumstances.

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