Start a business in Dubai: In 5 simple steps

starting a business in Dubai

Every year, thousands of entrepreneurs head to Dubai to start their businesses. But while they come for the tax rate, location, and environment, the reason they’re able to stay is the emirate’s incredibly straightforward company incorporation process.

It’s so simple, in fact, that when handled by a professional setup agent, the whole process takes just five simple steps. Here’s everything you need to know.

Is Dubai a good place to start a business?

Absolutely. Dubai offers a strategic location at the heart of the business world, along with a time zone that overlaps with many other major hubs. This global position also puts it within reasonable flying time of two-thirds of the world’s population.

On top of this, Dubai, and the whole of the UAE, still levies 0% on both corporate and personal income.

Dubai is also home to a supportive and welcoming business environment which includes numerous free zones. These designated zones offer businesses 100% customs tax exemption, zero currency restrictions, and capital and profit repatriation.

Can a foreigner own a business in Dubai?

Yes. In most cases foreigners can retain 100% ownership of their UAE business. Not only are overseas businesspeople welcome, they are actively encouraged. 

This is part of the reason behind Dubai’s large expatriate population, estimated at over 80% of residents.

When setting up in the Dubai mainland, you will usually have to request permission to maintain 100% ownership. This is not required in a free zone, where 100% ownership is guaranteed.

Five steps to start your business in Dubai

Step one: Partner with a company setup agent

The first, and potentially most important, step in Dubai company formation is selecting the right company setup partner.

A company setup agent can manage the entire process for you, guiding you through every step on this list. However, some agents are better suited to certain industries, company sizes, and setup types, so the one that’s right for you will depend on your specific needs.

Company Setup UAE (CSU) can help to find your perfect setup partner. Simply let us know a few details about your business and we’ll find the best fit for your needs in terms of company setup package and visa requirements, at the best price possible.

Step two: Choose free zone or mainland
The next key step in forming your Dubai business is to decide whether to set up in a free zone or on the mainland.

Mainland companies can be set up anywhere in the UAE, can trade directly with the local market and are not tied to any local authority. Free zone businesses can only trade from their chosen zone and must use a local service agent to trade with the local market.

As mentioned above, free zone businesses also benefit from a range of allowances and tax exemptions. For this reason, setting up in a free zone is often the most cost-effective way to do business in the UAE.

Step three: Activities and company name
Next, there are a couple of administrative tasks to take care of – choosing your name and outlining your business activities. 

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.

When choosing your company name, you must adhere to a set of 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.

Step four: License application
Now for the vital step – making your license application. 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 you can apply directly to your selected free zone.

In both cases, your setup partner can manage this step for you, liaising with all relevant government departments on your behalf. You will usually be asked to provide the following:

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

Step five: Visa application
At this stage, you will also need to apply for a visa to live and work in the UAE. This application can be made separately with immigration or handled as part of your free zone license application.

Once again, your setup agent can handle this entire process to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.

As the holder of a UAE trade license and residency visa, you can also 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.

Cost of starting a business in Dubai

The total cost of starting a business in the UAE will vary depending on your chosen setup, the size of your premises, your business activities, and number of employees – along with many other factors.

As a general guide, it is reasonable to expect to pay between AED 10,000 and AED 15,000 for a Dubai business license.

This will be less if you set up as a freelancer, or if you opt for a flexi-desk package which includes the use of business facilities such as desk space, meeting rooms and call answering on an ad-hoc basis.

We’ll find your perfect company setup partner

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.

Simply give us 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.

Contact CSU today for expert guidance on business setup in Dubai.