UAE Real Estate

Business setup in Dubai and the UAE


Kata Hahn


22 February 2023


2 March 2023


The UAE is an international business hub due to its favorable investor and tax policies. Here are the essentials to know when forming a company in the UAE.

Legal form and company structure in Dubai and the UAE

The legal form and structure of your business determines how you will deal with profits and losses, and organize your resources and assets. You must decide on the legal form in the initial stages of company formation before you can proceed with the licensing procedure. 

The following legal forms for businesses are allowed in the UAE:
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) - 2-50 partners liable only to the extent of their share in the capital.
  • Sole Establishment - 1 individual that is fully liable and conducts commercial or professional activities. UAE and GCC nationals can conduct professional and commercial activities, while foreigners are limited to professional activities.
  • Branch - an extension of a local, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), or foreign parent company, fully owned by the parent company.
  • Free Zone Company Branch - a mainland branch of a company that is incorporated in the free zone.
  • General Partnership Company - 1 or more joint partners having the capacity of traders who are liable for the partnership’s obligations.
  • Limited Partnership Company - 1 or more joint partners having the capacity of traders who are liable for the partnership’s obligations, and 1 or more silent partners (without the capacity of a trader) who are only liable to the extent of their share in the capital.
  • Joint Venture Company (Joint Liability Company) - 2 or more physical partners that are severally and jointly liable in all their personal assets.
  • Public Joint Stock Company (Public Shareholding Company) - capital is divided into equal and negotiable shares. Founders own part of the shares with the remaining shares offered for public subscription.
  • Private Joint Stock Company (Private Shareholding Company ) - 2 or more shareholders. The capital is divided into shares of equal nominal value that are paid in full without offering any shares for public subscription.

Other legal forms or company structures include:
  • Civil Company - 2 or more professionals that are fully liable and provide specialized services. Foreigners may be required to work with a Local Service Agent (LSA).
  • Holding Company - a joint stock company or an LLC that has subsidiaries inside the UAE or abroad or controls existing companies, by holding shares or membership interests.

Let’s take a closer look at the two main types of businesses in the UAE: LLC and Sole Establishment. 

Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Dubai/UAE

An LLC is the most common business form in the UAE. As mentioned above, there must be a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 50 shareholders. An LLC is considered a separate legal entity, so no one shareholder is responsible for the losses incurred. Shareholders are only liable for the amount of capital invested in the company and have full personal protection from liabilities. An LLC can be incorporated in any legal location and can be licensed in over 2,000 business activities. 

Previously, LLCs needed to partner with a local sponsor (UAE national) who was required to own at least 51% of the company. However, as of recently, expats can now have 100% ownership of commercial LLCs

Sole Establishment in Dubai/UAE

This is also known as a Sole Proprietorship, wherein one individual holds the trade license and is responsible for all liabilities up to the full extent of their personal assets. Unlike other legal forms, neither a company nor a corporate body can own a Sole Establishment. 

With a Sole Establishment, the individual has 100% ownership, control, and profit retention. UAE and GCC nationals can have their Sole Establishment licensed for industrial, commercial, tourism, and professional activities (more on trade licenses below). Meanwhile, foreign nationals can only get a professional license and are limited in the range of consultancy activities they can practice, but can still have full ownership. 

The business registration process in the UAE is easier and faster for a sole establishment than for an LLC. There is no business capital requirement and the UAE government has eliminated all paid-up capital restrictions.  

Trade licenses in Dubai and the UAE

All companies incorporated in the UAE must get a trade license (aka a business license). This is the most important document as it validates the company as a legal entity certified to do business and identifies you as a business owner. Trade licenses allow the UAE government to regulate and survey all commercial activity and ensure accountability and public health/safety.

Each emirate has its own Department of Economic Development (DED) that licenses companies and individuals: 

Each business must get approval from the relevant government department and have all company formation documents cleared by various UAE agencies within a short period of time. There are different requirements for getting a trade license depending on a company’s business activity and shareholding structure. The departments above are only responsible for licensing businesses on the mainland. Companies incorporated in UAE free zones are registered and licensed by separate entities. It’s important to note that a trade license must be renewed on a yearly basis.

Below is an example of a professional business license from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism.
Example of a professional license from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism.

Next, an example of a business license from Sharjah Media City (SHAMS), a popular free trade zone in Sharjah.
Example of a business license from the Sharjah Media City (SHAMS) free zone authority.

There are 4 main business trade licenses in the UAE depending on your business activities. For company formation on the mainland, you can apply for any of the following licenses. A license can have more than one business activity but there is usually a limit to the number of activities within a license category.
Types of business licenses
Commercial Tourism Professional Industrial
General purpose General trading businesses buying or selling goods within the UAE or abroad Travel and tours industry Service-oriented businesses Industrial and manufacturing activities
Business activities Imports and exports, trading of products, rental services, brokerage firms, logistics firms, real estate, etc. Travel agents, tour operators, hospitality industry, etc. Management consultancies, law firms, marketing and designing, auditing and accounting, etc. Manufacturing any kind of products, casing of products, furnishing of products, and packaging of products.
Additional information Most widely used license in Dubai mainland. Expats can have 100% ownership. Must have a physical office in the UAE.
Two less common types are agricultural and occupational (or crafts) licenses.

External approvals in Dubai/UAE

Business activities that impact human life or the environment are more highly regulated and will require additional approvals from government authorities (other than a license from the DED or a specific free zone).
UAE government logo
Here are some of the organizations you may have to get additional approval from: 
  • Ministry of Interior - for public transportation services, driving centers, fire extinguishing equipment, alarm and protection systems, used cars, used spare parts, car rental dealerships, etc.
  • Ministry of Justice - for legal activities
  • Municipality Department in relevant Emirate - for engineering and architectural activities
  • Central Bank of the UAE - for financial activities (banking, insurance, investment)
  • Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) - for real estate activities
  • Telecommunication Regulatory Authority - for telecommunication activities
  • Executive Council - for tourism and travel, public services, trading charter, shipping, and marine agencies, car clubs, air transport charter, branches of foreign companies, etc.
  • Ministry of Economy - for Private Joint Stock Companies and auditors
  • Health Authority in relevant Emirate - health-related activities
  • Municipality for Food and Safety in relevant Emirate - for restaurants
  • Supreme Petroleum Council - for oil and gas field services, and oil drilling services

You should be able to find out if you need external approval by visiting the DED or free zone website. If you need additional approval, you should contact the relevant government department. You will probably have to provide additional documents and pay some fees (either one-time or recurring fees).

Dubai trade license fees

All mainland businesses in Dubai must register with the Department of Economic Development or DED

You can apply for 3 different types of licenses through the Dubai DED. Let’s first look at the normal and instant licenses.
  • Normal license - requires a Memorandum of Association (MoA) and a site lease contract, 10 minutes to issue the license.
  • Instant license - for activities that don’t need external approvals with the option to issue an MoA and a virtual site for the first year, 5 minutes to issue the license.

Here are some of the license fees you may be required to pay: 
  • License registration fee: AED 600
  • Knowledge fee: AED 10
  • Innovation fee: AED 10
  • Trade name advertisements: AED 350
  • Service request form: AED 50
  • Foreign trade name fee: AED 1,000-3,000
  • General trading activity fees: AED 15,000
  • Investment activity fees: AED 15,000
  • Real estate activities fees: AED 5,000-25,000
  • Business center fees: AED 25,000
  • Building contracting activities fees: AED 10,000
  • Intelaq license: AED 1,070
  • Memorandum of Association fee or service agent contract:
  • AED 300 for the signature of each of the parties to the document for attestation of the signatures on the document valued doesn’t exceed AED 100,000
  • 0.5% of the value of the document with a maximum of AED 15,000 for attestation of the signatures on the document valued exceeds AED 100,000
  • AED 500 to postpone the completion of the transaction after the registration to the next day as requested by a partner
  • AED 500 if the partners sign the document in different service centers
  • AED 100 for each partner that signs the document electronically

There could be additional fees if you are applying for a normal license and need external approvals.

Dubai general trading license cost

To get a DED trader license you can apply via the Invest in Dubai platform. It only takes 5 minutes to issue the license. The trader license is for sole establishment companies that have a trade name and are Dubai home-based businesses.  

To register, you must pay a fee of AED 1,070 for the license and extra fees and AED 300 for Dubai Chamber membership fees. This brings the total cost for a DED trader license to AED 1,370

The DED also has an eTrader license that is available to UAE and GCC nationals residing in Dubai and can be registered under the name of a single owner. With this license, a company is not allowed to open a store or issue visas but can practice business activities via social media networks.

Company ownership in Dubai and the UAE

In the past, all foreign companies on the mainland had to appoint a UAE national sponsor or have a local partner in order to open a business in the UAE. An expat could own a maximum of 49% of the company, while a UAE national had to own at least 51%. This is largely why free trade zones were formed, to create a space where foreigners could fully own a company without any requirement for a national sponsor, partner, or shareholder. 

Now, thanks to new government regulations, foreigners can have 100% ownership of their company in free trade zones and on the mainland without the need for a national sponsor. However, there are still some regulated activities in the oil and gas industry that require a company to appoint a national sponsor. 

Additionally, the following activities that are considered to have a “strategic impact” are not able to be 100% foreign-owned: 
  • Security and defense activities of a military nature
  • Banks, money exchange, finance companies, and insurance activities
  • Printing currencies
  • Telecommunications
  • Hajj and umrah services for people making spiritual pilgrimages to Mecca
  • Fisheries related services

Setting up on your own vs hiring a vendor in Dubai/UAE

The UAE government has worked to make the process of company formation easier and more straightforward in order to bolster foreign investment. Once you look into the different jurisdictions in the UAE and decide on the ideal location for your business, it’s not difficult to find comprehensive information on the DED page of the Emirate or the specific free zone website. On the other hand, if this is your first time setting up a business or you’re unfamiliar with the UAE market, you’ll probably want to employ a professional. A business setup vendor can give you insight into the different zones and corporate structures in the UAE and can help you with company formation on the mainland or in a free zone. They typically provide end-to-end guidance and help businesses with trade licenses, government approvals, visa services, permits, trademark registration, business bank accounts, and more.

Public Relations Officer (PRO) services in the UAE explained

A public relations officer (PRO) is a professional that works as a liaison between a company and government organizations/authorities. PROs are certified by the UAE government and have extensive knowledge of government rules and regulations. You can find freelancers and business setup consultancies offering PRO services to businesses in the UAE. 
Public Relations Officers (PROs) looking over business documents and paperwork.

PROs help companies with a wide variety of tasks related to paperwork and government relations. They help companies navigate the legal, administrative, human resource, and financial aspects of doing business in the UAE, including legal documentation, business approvals, trade license renewal, and visa services. When it comes to document clearance, they can work with the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the DED, the UAE embassy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Chamber of Commerce to make sure you comply with all laws and regulations regarding UAE labor relations. Ultimately, PROs help businesses ensure compliance to prevent penalties and delays that could cost their company big time.

Dubai business setup cost

The main costs associated with company registration and setup are outlay costs and professional fees. 

Outlay costs refer to the governmental fees you must pay to get the proper licenses and permits for your company. Some examples of outlay costs include trade license issuance, commercial registration, visa and/or immigration processing, office space rental, banking services, and more. These costs can vary significantly depending on the license type, activities you are conducting (ie. if external approvals are required), the legal form of your company, and the location. The fees for setting up a company on the mainland are typically higher than those for setting up in a free zone; however, each free zone sets its own regulations and outlay costs. We’ll cover the estimated registration and visa costs of some of the most popular free zones in the UAE below. You can probably expect outlay costs to be around AED 10,000-30,000, but it could also be significantly more depending on your scenario. 

Professional fees include all the fees that you pay to external agencies that help you complete the business setup process. Depending on who you enlist to help you along the way, this may include a business setup vendor/consultancy, a PRO company, a Local Service Agent (LSA), or other agencies. These fees cover the costs associated with consultancy, document processing, and administrative support, varying accordingly depending on the level of support. Professional fees tend to range from AED 5,000 to 20,000. 

If you’re working with a business setup agency you should be sure to get a detailed quote for both the outlay costs and professional fees. It’s important to work with a reputable agency that is transparent regarding their services and costs, otherwise, it’s possible you could be scammed and end up with an unexpectedly high bill when it comes to making the final payment. You may want to request a quote from multiple agencies and compare them to determine the most cost-effective option that aligns with your budget and business goals. 

Cheap trade license and DED license cost calculator

The overall cost of company registration in Dubai is from AED 20,000 for mainland companies and from AED 12,000 for free zone companies. The total cost can be upwards of AED 50,000 for both. If you’re looking for a cheap trade license in the UAE, you’ll probably want to opt for a free zone area since they tend to start at lower prices than mainland areas in each of the Emirates.  

Each free zone has its own unique advantages and restrictions as we’ll discuss below. The costs in each area vary based on the license type, rental cost of facilities, number of business activities, number of visa applications, and other support service fees. 

Some of the cheapest free zones in the UAE include: 

You can use the Invest in Dubai DED license cost calculator to estimate the average business setup fees in Dubai. All you have to do is select your business activities, the number of partners and nationalities, and the rent amount. Then it will list the general requirements, estimated time for setup, and average fees in AED.

Licensing zones and activities in Dubai and the UAE

When it comes to licensing zones, or jurisdictions, the main distinction in the UAE is between onshore and offshore zones. Each zone type has its own laws and regulations regarding business setup and activities. Let’s look at the onshore zone known as the mainland, and two notable types of offshore zones, free trade zones, and financial centers. 

Mainland zones in Dubai and the UAE

Businesses incorporated in the mainland, or an onshore zone, are known as inland companies. There are mainland areas in each of the Emirates. In these areas, businesses are licensed by the DED (of the respective Emirate) and companies can trade in both the local and international markets. 

Benefits of mainland zones: 
  • Can trade anywhere in the UAE (mainland and free zones) and GCC states
  • Can work with mainland companies
  • Can have your office in any location (as long as it's within the Emirate)
  • Unlimited number of visas for employees, given that your office space is large enough
  • Fewer restrictions on business activities
  • Straightforward company formation and licensing through DED - can typically get a business license within a day
  • Many companies can now have 100% foreign ownership

Drawbacks of mainland zones:
  • Must have a physical office space
  • Subject to VAT (5%) and other UAE taxes

Popular Dubai mainland areas
  • Sheikh Zayed Road - major highway through the city center with high-rise buildings, home to many global companies.
  • Business Bay - dense residential and commercial business center, best for pricey products and services.
  • Al Qusais - a residential community with low rent, best for cost-effective products or services.
  • Al Quoz - upcoming industrial hub.
  • Deira - established residential area with low rent, good for wholesale businesses.
  • Jumeirah - popular for accommodation, real estate, and hospitality sectors.
  • Bur Dubai - popular for hospitality, tourism, textiles, spices, wholesale, and trading industries.
Tall skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai.
An aerial view of Business Bay in Dubai.

The fees will vary depending on the DED in the Emirate where you are applying. Refer to the section above on trade license fees for examples from the Dubai DED. There may also be other government fees if external approval is required. If you plan to incorporate your business in the mainland, you should check out the DED page for the Emirate to estimate the cost of company formation.

These fees may not apply to every business and there may also be other government fees if external approval is required. If you plan to incorporate your business in the mainland, you should check out the DED page for the Emirate to estimate the cost of company formation.

Free trade zones in Dubai and the UAE

Areas that are not part of the mainland (or onshore zone) are known as offshore. Free trade zones are offshore areas that are set up and regulated by an independent Free Zone Authority (FZA). Unlike in the mainland where the DED licenses businesses, the FZA is in charge of licensing all companies in free trade zones. A free trade zone is exclusively for commercial purposes and the FZA rents out facilities to companies within the zone. 

Free trade zones were initially established to encourage foreign investment. Before, when 100% foreign ownership wasn’t allowed on the mainland, free zones gave foreign entrepreneurs the option for 100% ownership. Free zones let companies exchange goods and services with the international market and take advantage of competitive tax and customs levels. 

Benefits of free trade zones:
  • Get tax, duty, and VAT exemptions
  • Corporate tax exemptions for up to 50 years
  • 100% repatriation of capital and profits
  • Developed business community
  • Access to free-hold property
  • Greater investor privacy with limited reporting obligations
  • Each free zone has its own independent governing authority, rules, and fees that are clearly outlined

Drawbacks of free trade zones:
  • In general, can’t conduct commercial activities outside of the free zone (ie. in the mainland or local market)
  • Each free zone has its own visa limit
  • Limited in office location and facilities

There are over 40 free trade zones across all 7 emirates in the UAE. Dubai has the largest number of free zones. Each free zone has specific types of facilities for rent, its own residence visa costs, activities available, licensing costs, government fees for company liquidation, renewal fees, etc. Let’s look at some of the most prominent free zones in Dubai and the rest of the UAE.

Dubai free zones

Here are some of the most popular Dubai free zones, starting with the highest-rated zones. 

International Free Zone Authority (IFZA)
  • Activities: consulting, service, trading
  • Estimated cost: AED 11,500 (zero visa consultancy and service license), 13,900 (no visa), 17,900 (visa-eligible company)
  • Visa cost: AED 3,750
  • 4.9 Google rating
IFZA free zone
  • A newer and cheaper free zone
  • Activities: trading, services, consultancy (no industrial)
  • Estimated cost: AED 31,300 (flexi-desk package), AED 57,300 (office with trading or service activity), 58,500 (office with general trading activity)
  • Visa cost: AED 1,500-2,720
  • 4.6 Google rating
DWTC free zone
  • IT focus with a special department for startups
  • Activities: computer graphic design services, software house, electronic chips programming, IT infrastructure, web-design, public networking services, internet content provider, portal building, portal
  • Estimated cost: AED 18,050-47,820 depending on package and visas
  • Visa cost: AED 3,200 (+ AED 2,500 deposit)
  • 4.5 Google rating
DTEC free zone
  • Dual licensing with DED is available
  • Licenses: trading, industrial, e-commerce, service, general trading, dual license with DED
  • Activities: investment, insurance, aircraft and spacecraft, petrol/oil/natural gas, legal services, business and management consultancy services, transport/shipping/storage, travel agent, motor vehicles, metals, building materials, chemicals, waste trading, equipment and machines
  • Estimated cost: AED 34,655, most licenses cost 15,000
  • Visa cost: AED 4,196 (applicant inside UAE) or AED 2,696 (outside UAE)
  • 4.5 Google rating 
DAFZ free zone
  • Media hub
  • Activities: advertising and communication, media and marketing services, event management, media and marketing consultancy, new media, media association (non-profit)
  • Estimated cost: AED 35,000 (+ AED 5,000 deposit), up to AED 589,000 (for a boutique unfitted office)
  • 4.4 Google rating
DMC free zone

Dubai South (Dubai World Central (DWC))
  • Activities: commercial, service/consulting, e-commerce, manufacturing, freelance permit
  • Estimated cost: AED 30,900-86,000 (depending on package and visas)
  • Visa cost: AED 2,600
  • 4.4 Google rating
Dubai South free zone
  • Activities: Trading, service, industrial licenses (no freelance), follows business activity list of the DED
  • Estimated cost: AED 12,000 plus office space (typically AED 26,000) or AED 30,000 (+ AED 5,000 deposit) for workstation package
  • Visa cost: AED 3,260-4,860 
  • 4.3 Google rating
DSOA free zone
  • Activities: conventional trading or professional services to crypto commodities trading, offers most of the DED activities
  • Estimated cost: AED 52,660
  • Visa cost: AED 3,020
  • 4.1 Google rating
DMCC free zone
  • Oldest free zone
  • Popular for shipping, logistics, and trading companies
  • Activities: trading, industrial, service, logistics, general trading. 
  • Estimated cost: AED 10,000 for registration + AED 5,500-9,000 (depending on license), total setup of AED 86,935 (without visa)
  • 4.1 Google rating
JAFZA free zone

Other Dubai free zones include:

UAE free zones outside of Dubai

  • Emirate: Sharjah
  • Activities: 120 total including trading, professional services, holding and other types, social media influencer
  • Estimated cost: AED 5,750 (zero visa), AED 11,500 (trading/service license with zero visas), AED 13,420 (trading/service license with 1 visa) 
  • Visa cost: AED 3,080-3,500
  • 4.8 Google rating
SHAMS free zone
  • Emirate: Abu Dhabi
  • High-quality warehouses near developed port
  • Activities: trading, industrial, logistics, management, marketing, freight forwarding support, travel agencies
  • Estimated cost: AED 11,000 (with 1 visa)
  • Visa cost: AED 3,072
  • 4.4 Google rating
KIZAD free zone
  • Emirate: Abu Dhabi
  • Activities: aviation, logistics, transportation, warehousing distribution, manufacturing, technology, ICT, trading, consultancy, marketing & events
  • Estimated cost: AED 2,250-3,500 (registration), AED 4,000 and up for licensing
  • 4.4 Google rating
ADAFZ free zone
  • Emirate: Sharjah
  • Ready to move facilities
  • Activities; trading, service, industrial licenses, all business activities need to be checked separately 
  • Estimated cost: AED 13,500 (trading/service license), AED 21,000 (general trading/aviation/e-commerce/multiple activities license) 
  • Visa cost: AED 3,240-4,040
  • 4.3 Google rating
SAIF free zone
  • Emirate: Ajman
  • Near sea port, oldest free zone
  • Special deal for younger businessmen and a multiple installment payment plan
  • Activities: trading, service, industrial
  • Estimated cost: AED 5,000 (20-30 year businessmen), AED 6,000 (freelance package), AED 13,535 (trading package with 1 visa), AED 16,135 (service package with 1 visa)  
  • 4.3 Google rating
AFZ free zone
  • Emirate: Ras Al Khaimah
  • Popular warehouse zone
  • Activities: commercial, service, industrial, media, educational, individual/professional, e-commerce
  • Estimated cost: AED 8,000, AED 11,440 (trading package with no visas), AED 13,468 (individual professional package with 1 visa), AED 15,868 (trading/service package with 1 visa)
  • Women in power get prices 40% lower
  • Visa cost: AED 3,950 (investor), 2,400 + 2,000 deposit (employee)
  • 4.2 Google rating
RAKEZ free zone
  • Emirate: Abu Dhabi
  • Media-related activities and freelancer program 
  • Activities: production, gaming, advertising, digital media
  • Estimated cost: AED 525 (pre-approval), AED 1,312 (PO box), license fees waived for the first 2 years
  • Visa cost: AED 4,140
  • 4.2 Google rating
twofour54 free zone
  • Emirate: Ajman
  • Cheapest zero visa setup free zone in UAE 
  • Media-related activities 
  • Activities: Service/consultancy, e-commerce, media-related trading
  • Estimated cost: AED 8,500 (no visa eligibility)
  • Visa cost: AED 1,945
  • 4.2 Google rating
Ajman Media City free zone
  • Emirate: Umm Al Quwain
  • Activities: commercial, consultancy, general trading, premium consultancy, premium commercial, freelance, industrial
  • Estimated cost: AED 8,000, offers dual license from a different category for only AED 2,500
  • Visa cost: AED 2,500
  • 4.1 Google rating 
UAQ free zone
  • Emirate: Fujairah
  • Professional service activities (no trading activities)
  • Up to 15 visas 
  • Activities: broadcasting, media and marketing, publishing, event management, media support services, consultancy, new media services, business information, production, music and entertainment, information technology, design, education
  • Estimated cost: AED 11,000 up to AED 27,000 (for 15 visas)
  • Visa cost: 4,950 AED
  • 4.0 Google rating
Fujairah Creative City free zone
  • Emirate: Fujairah
  • Activities: industrial, maritime, mining, also alcohol trading, tobacco trading, real estate consultancy, financial consultancy, e-commerce, logistics trading, consultancy in oil and petroleum 
  • Estimated cost: AED 21,500 (zero visas), some activities have higher costs (eg. additional AED 50,000 for alcohol trading)
  • Visa cost: AED 3,460
  • 3.9 Google rating
Fujairah free zone
  • Emirate: Sharjah 
  • Full operations in sea port
  • Second largest free zone after JAFZA in Dubai 
  • Activities: commercial, service, industrial. Insurance consultancies, fashion designing, sport research and consultancies, science and technology consultancy, marine service license, vessels, freight broker
  • Estimated cost: AED 11,000 (1 visa) up to 35,000 (7 visas)
  • Visa cost: AED 3,345-3,140
  • 3.8 Google rating
Hamriyah free zone

There are plenty of other free trade zones in the UAE to discover depending on your preferred location and budget.

Financial centers in the UAE

Financial centers are also free trade zones and located offshore; however, they have more robust regulations and cover a significantly larger area. These zones follow English common law which helps build trust with investors as they may already be familiar with the processes and regulations regarding business setup. 

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)
  • Emirate: Dubai
  • International financial hub with non-financial and retail activities 
  • Also has a residential community 
  • Activities: banking, professional services, insurance, wealth management, brokerage, fintech, retail
  • Estimated cost: AED 8,000 (registration), AED 12,000 (license) 
  • Visa cost: AED 5,200 (applicant in UAE), AED 3,770 (outside of UAE)
  • 4.5 Google rating
DIFC financial center
  • Emirate: Abu Dhabi
  • International Financial Centre of Abu Dhabi with non-financial and retail activities 
  • Dual licensing with DED available
  • Activities: banking, capital markets, wealth and asset management, fintech, corporate, professional and business services, retail and entertainment 
  • Estimated cost: AED 55,095 (financial), AED 37,830 (non-financial), AED 22,038 (retail) 
  • Visa cost: AED 4,150 (applicant in UAE), AED 3,238 (outside of UAE)
  • 4.0 Google rating
ADGM financial center

Overview of company formation steps in Dubai and the UAE

According to business consultants, it typically takes 4-5 working days to start a new business in Dubai. In some cases, you may be able to complete the company formation process in 1 day, but it could also take longer than a week if additional steps are required or you are unfamiliar with the process.

Here’s an overview of the steps for business setup in the UAE:  
  1. Decide on business activities
  2. Select location and jurisdiction
  3. Finalize legal form and company structure 
  4. Get approval for the company name and activity from the DED or free zone 
  5. Apply for a trade license
  6. Register company - get approvals from government authorities (a PRO can help here)
  7. Find a Local Service Agent (if required based on business activity)
  8. Get external approvals if necessary
  9. Draft Memorandum of Association (MoA) 
  10. Rent an office or shared workspace - in the mainland, the size of the office space determines the number of visas you can request from the DED (100 square feet for each visa application).
  11. Get the tenancy contract and complete Ejari registration 
  12. Get initial approval from DED or free zone
  13. Collect trade license
During the final step, you'll be required to submit documents and pay fees:
  • MoA
  • Trade license application
  • Government forms
  • Trade name reservation certificate
  • Initial approval certificate
  • External approvals (if any)
  • Tenancy contract
  • Ejari registration certificate
  • Passport copies of partners
  • No Objection Certificate (NOC) for partners (if any)

Going forward

This guide has provided you with a great overview of the company formation process in the UAE, including legal forms, trade licenses, company ownership, business setup vendors, PRO services, licensing zones, and the essential steps. Like any international market, there are a lot of complexities and nuances when it comes to starting a business so it’s important to do your research before diving headfirst into the process. It’s essential to get quotes (for both outlay costs and professional fees) from any agencies you wish to employ in advance so you can avoid unexpected costs.

You may also be looking to relocate and make the move to the UAE. At Kredium, we offer real estate and mortgage services to help expats find a place to call home. We have thousands of properties for sale in Dubai and provide personalized loan offers to both expat residents and non-residents. Our informative blogs can help you learn about how to settle down in Dubai as a foreigner and what it’s like moving to Dubai from the UK or living in Dubai as an American. If you’re interested in our services and want to learn more, contact us or register on our website.
Photo credits:


Business setup in Dubai

Business setup in the UAE

Company formation in Dubai

Company formation in the UAE

Start a business in Dubai

Start a business in the UAE

Open a company in Dubai

Open a company in the UAE

Set up a business in Dubai

Set up a business in the UAE

Legal forms in the UAE

Company structure in the UAE

UAE trade license

UAE business license

UAE external approvals

Department of Economic Development (DED)

UAE foreign-owned company

Business setup vendor

Public Relations Officer (PRO)

PRO services

Company registration costs in Dubai

Company registration fees in Dubai

Company registration costs in the UAE

Company registration fees in the UAE

UAE licensing zones

Dubai licensing zones

UAE mainland

Dubai mainland

Dubai free zones

Dubai free trade zones

UAE free zones

UAE free trade zones

UAE financial centers