Business setup in Dubai: 2024 Quick Guide

Dubai has long been the location of international business. Entrepreneurs and business owners from the world over have flocked to the shores of the emirate for years, embracing its encouraging business environment and minimal bureaucracy.


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of doing business in Dubai. There is the famous low tax rate on all income, world-class business infrastructure, a prime location between East and West, and a well-honed business setup process.


That said, starting a business here requires some prior knowledge. While not overly complicated, the incorporation process can be said to be particular. Providing you start your business with the help of an expert, however, business setup in Dubai can be a fast, affordable, and straightforward process. Here is your guide to getting it right.


How to set up a business in Dubai


Before getting too far into the business setup process, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the types of company and licenses on offer in the UAE.


The majority of businesses in Dubai fall into one of two categories – free zone or mainland.


Mainland companies can be set up anywhere in Dubai or across the wider UAE. These companies can trade directly with the local UAE market and are not tied to any local authority.


Free zone businesses, on the other hand, can only trade from their chosen zone and must use a local service agent to trade with the local market.


There are, however, many benefits to starting a free zone company. For one, it is often the most cost-effective approach. Free zone companies also benefit from no currency controls, the option to fully repatriate profits and capital, low or no tax on corporate and personal incomes, 100% customs tax exemption and 100% foreign ownership in all cases.


The type of setup that is right for you will depend on the nature of your business and your plans for the future. A company formation expert can help you when making this decision.


When looking to set up a business in Dubai, there are a few more early steps before getting into the license application process. The next is to decide on your business activities. This will dictate the type of license that you need to apply for.


You are only permitted to carry out the activities listed on your business license. However, there are many activities to choose from, and it is often possible to carry out multiple activities under a single license.


To select your activity, you must choose from the list published by the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED). The DED list contains over 2,000 activities across a range of industries. Once again, a company setup expert can match your activities with those on the list.


The final step before making your license application is to choose a company name. While this is often something that many entrepreneurs take for granted, it’s a very important step in the company formation process here in Dubai.

As well as choosing a name that is memorable and conveys the essence of your brand, you must also adhere to strict naming conventions. These are rather easy to abide by, however. In short, you should not include any offensive or blasphemous words in your business name, nor should it include the name of any well-known organisations such as the CIA or NASA.


There are a few more minor considerations too, but a company formation specialist can help you navigate these to ensure your chosen name meets the criteria.

Amazing panoramic view on Dubai futuristic skyline, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Applying for a business license in Dubai


Now, with the help a reputable company setup agent, you are ready to apply for your Dubai trade license.


If you are setting up on the mainland, your license application will be handled by the DED. If you choose a free zone setup, then your company setup agent will liaise directly with your selected free zone.


In both cases, at the very least, you will need to provide the following:


  • Completed application form
  • Copies of the passports of any owners/shareholders
  • Two colour passport size photos


At this stage, you can also apply for your UAE visa. You can handle this directly with the relevant immigration authorities or apply as part of your free zone license application.


In either case, it is vital that your application contains no errors and is completed correctly. That’s why it is a good idea to work with a company formation specialist at this stage who can manage the visa process on your behalf.


It is also possible to sponsor your dependants for their UAE residency visas too. Whether you are looking to support a spouse, child, parent or domestic staff member for their application, the process is easy.


Business setup in Dubai – cost


Business setup in Dubai costs will vary depending on several factors, including your chosen setup (free zone or mainland), the number of visas required, and your chosen business activities.


As a guide, you can expect to pay in the region of AED 10,000 to 15,000 for a business license in Dubai.


This could be less if you opt for a freelancer or flexi-desk package – the latter affords you the use of business facilities such as desk space, meeting rooms and call answering on an ad-hoc basis. On the other hand, you should expect your costs to increase if you are setting up a business that requires multiple employee visas and large premises such as a warehouse.

Before undertaking any of the steps above, you should engage the services of a reputable company setup agent in Dubai. Agents are experts in Dubai company formation and will handle every stage of the process on your behalf.


CSU can help to find your perfect company setup partner.


We work with company setup providers and free zones around the country, staying up on the latest offerings to pass on to you. We will always find the exact best fit for your needs in terms of company setup package and visa requirements – and always at the best price possible.


Simply supply a few details about you and your business and we’ll do the rest – searching our portfolio of partners to find the package that’s right for you.