A Complete Guide to Setting up a Business in Dubai

As one of the world’s leading hubs for industry, finance, and leisure, Dubai represents an extremely attractive business investment option for any entrepreneur or expanding organization. In fact, just last October, the metropolis was ranked amongst the top 25 cities in the world by the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategies based on its strong economy, accessibility and cultural diversity.

But setting up a business in Dubai comes with its fair share of hurdles. The UAE government has stringent laws governing the registration of new businesses and companies in the region. In particular, the legal requirements for licensing and registration can be fairly difficult for uninitiated parties to handle.

At Abdulhakim Binherz, our lawyers in Dubai are well-versed with the intricacies of local commercial law, and we have extensive experience dealing with the regulatory obstacles of setting up a new company or business. Here’s a general overview of the process involved.

Nature of the Business

Before you can even think about getting a license, you have to determine the exact nature of your operations. Will your business be involved in commercial retail and trade? Will you be offering professional services? Or will you be looking to enter into an industry of some kind? You should know that certain activities such as jewelry trading, foods, veterinary services and legal consulting require additional approvals from relevant government departments.

All licenses, apart from those related to leisure and tourism businesses, are granted by the Dubai Economic Development Department (DED). As always, our lawyers in Dubai will be able to guide you through the specific requirements for your new business.

Ownership Requirements and Legal Structure

Your next step will be to determine the legal form of your business. Options include:

  • Sole proprietorship – A business that is 100% owned by a single person. This option is only open to UAE and GCC nationals.
  • LLC – A company with privately held shares. Depending on the nature of the business and its location, 51% to a 100% of shares must be held by UAE nationals.
  • Civil Company – Any business offering professional services in a highly skilled field (doctors, lawyers, engineers). If no UAE or GCC nationals are involved in the business, a local service agent will be required.
  • Partnership – General partnerships are limited to UAE nationals. Foreign nationals can only take part in these businesses as limited partners (no input on management and administration).
  • Foreign Branch – If your company is already registered abroad, you can set up a wholly owned subsidiary in the UAE; however, this branch cannot partake in the import of goods.
  • Representative Office – If you simply want to promote your products within the city, you must enlist the services of a local service agent (UAE national required).


If you’re looking to obtain a license as a foreign national and your business doesn’t depend upon the city markets for its activities, you may consider setting up your business in one of Dubai’s appointed free zones. Regions such as the Jebel Ali and Airport free zones have been purpose-built to provide investment incentives for business start-ups in certain sectors.

These incentives include:

  • 100% foreign ownership
  • Exemption from import duties
  • No taxes on capital and profits
  • No corporate taxation
  • Cheap energy
  • Streamlined recruitment procedures
  • Support from local authorities

Licensing Procedure

After you’ve chosen a legal form and type for your business, you must select a unique trade name that’s relevant to your operations and which hasn’t been previously registered with the Ministry of Economy. This must be approved by the DED.

After your business has been certified, the DED will issue a preliminary approval at their discretion which will allow you to obtain all other necessary approvals for getting a business license. As mentioned before, required documentation will depend on the ownership status, location and legal form of your business.

At Abdulhakim Binherz, our Lawyers in Dubai can make your company set up a smooth, painless process. Our advocates have a wealth of experience dealing with the licensing requirements of a variety of new businesses both local and foreign.

Also Read – 12 Top Considerations When Setting Up Shop Overseas

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