How to Start a Business in the United Arab Emirates

With each passing year, the Middle East becomes more and more ripe with possibilities for entrepreneurs to start new businesses. Out of the many nations that could welcome your startup, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has much to offer budding companies. With a political atmosphere that encourages investment, a wide network of skilled workers, and an ever-expanding economy, this nation has all the elements that your startup will need.

If you think that the UAE will be a good fit for you and your businesses, there are a number of things that you should do to make your vision a reality, including the following:

Know your business opportunities.

Before looking to begin a startup in the UAE, you should first learn about the various business opportunities that are available to you. More than any other Middle Eastern nation, the UAE boasts one of the best economic and cost-effective climates for budding businesses. As a result of this flourishing entrepreneurial market, you will find countless doors that are open to startups in such industries as business advising, tourism, and all manner of media. Once you look at your potential business opportunities, you should research the local region and cater your own startup to fit the needs of one of these local industries. Knowing these facts will best help you position your startup for future success.

Choose your location.

DubaiThere are several emirates across the UAE that you can select from when deciding where to open your business. Before settling on a location, however, you should first explore your different options and know the benefits of each one. Perhaps the most favored location for founding a startup is Dubai, which boasts a progressive culture and countless Free Zones that make life easier for entrepreneurs. Another popular UAE emirate is Abu Dhabi, where startup owners can take advantage of good local infrastructure and minimal business costs. The possibilities do not stop here—other locations, such as Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah are also welcoming to new businesses.

Operate in a Free Zone.

The UAE has over 35 different Free Zones open to entrepreneurs looking for a place to launch their business. Located in numerous cities, as well as in sea and airports, these specialized areas offer more relaxed rules for business operations. For example, startups that operate out of a Free Zone do not need to follow the same tax and import laws as other UAE-based businesses do. In addition, startups receive access to dedicated business assistance for everything from office space to finding sponsors. Most importantly, working in a Free Zone means that you will have full ownership of your startup. Another purpose of these zones is to encourage new business ownership in specific areas for both UAE residents and international entrepreneurs alike. A few prominent examples are the RAK Free Trade Zone and the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Include a local partner.

If you do not run your business from within one of the available Free Zones, then you will need to enlist the help of a local partner. In fact, all LLCs that open in the UAE must include one of these individuals or businesses on their team. The country’s laws do not require local partners to contribute any funding to your business before partnering with you. However, they must still own 51 percent of your company, which will place them in a position of authority on your startup team. You do still have the power to select your own local sponsor, which means that you can choose to work with a high-profile entity that can help open business doors for you or provide industry exposure locally.

Obtain all the necessary documents.

documentationBefore any new businesses may legally operate, its owner must complete the necessary paperwork. You should start with a business license, which will involve filling out different forms depending on the emirate and Free Zone in which your company is based. Once you complete the form, you must then send it to the proper zone authority or national department for approval. Outside of your business license, you will need to obtain other legal documents to launch your startup. All employees, including yourself, must hold a visa that allows you to reside and operate a business in the UAE. In Dubai, you will need to enlist the help of your local sponsor to complete this crucial step. No matter which legal form you are submitting, you must complete it in both Arabic and English to expedite the process.

Get your finances in order.

After you successfully register your startup, you will need to prove your overall financial readiness to receive a trade license. The first step you must take is to confirm to the Ministry of Commerce that you have a large sum of money to invest into your startup. Depending on the requirements of each individual state, this amount could be anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000. In addition, you may need to open a bank account solely for your startup. However, you are only required to fulfill this step if you are operating a business inside a Free Zone. This process can take up to three months, so startups outside of these zones will benefit from a sooner launch date.