When considering starting a business in Dubai, it’s important to understand the key factors and steps involved. The process can be time-consuming and complex, requiring careful attention to detail. Whether you choose to navigate the setup process on your own or seek assistance from business setup experts, it’s crucial to seek reliable advice to understand the implications of your decisions. With a proven track record of helping so many entrepreneurs launch their businesses, we have created a comprehensive roadmap that serves as the ultimate guide to starting a business in Dubai.

Dubai is an attractive destination for entrepreneurs seeking to establish a business abroad. Known as a prominent trading hub in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Dubai offers numerous advantages for companies looking to thrive, succeed, and build global connections.

Despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic and economic downturn, the UAE economy is expected to experience significant growth, surpassing initial forecasts. Forecasts indicate that in 2022 and 2023, the UAE economy will expand by 5.4% and 4.2% respectively, marking the fastest pace since 2011. These promising growth prospects have attracted a growing number of entrepreneurs to the city. Fortunately, setting up a business in Dubai is relatively straightforward, particularly through the UAE’s free zones.

Why start a business in Dubai?

Dubai and the UAE offer a highly supportive and welcoming business environment, evident from the launch of over 20,000 new businesses in Dubai alone last year. A significant portion of these businesses were started by entrepreneurs from overseas, reflecting the attractiveness of the UAE as a business destination, with around 80% to 90% of the workforce comprising foreign nationals.

There are several compelling reasons why entrepreneurs from around the world are subject to the UAE, particularly Dubai, to establish their businesses. The key benefits include

Low tax

The UAE is proud to maintain a 0% tax rate on both personal and corporate incomes. The main tax to be aware of is the Value Added Tax (VAT), which was introduced in January 2018 and stands at a flat 5%.

Vibrant economy

With the second largest economy in the Arab world, the UAE boasts a GDP of approximately AED 692 billion, second only to Saudi Arabia. The economy is diverse, offering opportunities in various industries such as healthcare, hospitality, technology, and trade.

Quality of life

The UAE ranks 23rd in the Best Countries Index, surpassing countries like Portugal and Greece and only slightly behind Spain and Ireland. The country offers a great quality of life for residents and entrepreneurs.

Startup support

The UAE is home to numerous startup incubators and funding initiatives aimed at accelerating business growth, providing valuable support to entrepreneurs.

The future of business in Dubai looks promising as well. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the UAE is expected to lead economic growth in the Arabian Gulf this year, with a projected increase of 2.5% percent. This growth surpasses that of Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy, which is forecast to grow by 0.4%.

What you need to know before setting up business in Dubai

Before starting the process of setting up your business in Dubai, it’s important to understand a few key aspects. Let’s go through each of them:

Economic Zone: Free Zones vs. Offshore

First, you need to decide whether you want to operate in a Free Zone or Offshore. Each option has its own benefits and specifications based on your requirements.

Free Zone:

If you desire 100% ownership of your company, consider applying for a license and locating your business in one of Dubai’s free zones. These special economic areas were established to attract foreign businesses. In a free zone, you can enjoy full ownership, 9% corporate taxation (applied to UAE businesses on profits above AED 375,000), and 0% personal income tax.

However, it’s important to note that operating a company in a free zone restricts you from engaging in direct trade with the UAE local market. Dubai has over 30 free zones, each designed for specific industry categories and offering licenses to companies within those categories. Examples include Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), and Dubai Internet City (DIC).


Alternatively, you can register an offshore company in a free zone, which provides similar benefits. However, it’s not a substitute for a free zone company. The main difference is that offshore companies are permitted to conduct business activities outside the UAE but not within. They also have no minimum capital requirement prior to incorporation.

Unlike free zone businesses, offshore companies require a sponsor, limiting foreign ownership to 49%.

Types of Licenses:

In addition to choosing a zone, you need to identify the type of license required. The Department of Economic Development (DED) issues three main types of licenses:

Commercial License:

This license is necessary for businesses involved in trading activities, buying and selling goods, import and export, sales, logistics, travel and tourism, general stores, and real estate.

Industrial License:

Issued to businesses license engaged in manufacturing activities that transform natural materials and resources into final products, such as textile manufacturing, metal manufacturing, and paper manufacturing.

Professional License:

This license is for service providers, artisans, and craftsmen, including medical services, beauty salons, and repair services.


When setting up in a free zone like DMCC, no local sponsor is required. One of the main advantages of incorporating in a free zone is that you can have 100% foreign ownership without the need for a UAE national as a partner or sponsor.

By understanding these aspects, you’ll be better prepared to start the process of setting up your business in Dubai.

How to start a business in Dubai

Starting a business in Dubai involves several important steps. Here is a simple version:

Apply for a visa

Apply for visas for yourself, your staff, and your dependents. Free zones may have limitations on the number of visas you can obtain. Seek expert advice to ensure you meet all entry criteria and to determine the possibility of obtaining visas for spouses, children, maids, or drivers. The visa process typically includes stages like entry permit, status adjustment, medical fitness tests, Emirates ID registration, and visa stamping.

Choose an industry

Begin by selecting the industry in which you want to establish your business. Consider the specific business activities permitted in different locations, such as free zones dedicated to media, finance, or technology. Also, consider proximity to transportation links if your business involves import and export.

Apply for a license

Once your application is processed, you will receive your company license. The application usually requires standard documents like a completed form and shareholder passport copies. Some free zones may ask for a business plan.

Choose your company name

Ensure your chosen company name complies with the UAE's naming conventions. Avoid offensive language and any references to religious, sectarian, or political groups. If naming your business after a person, use their full name if they are a partner or owner.

Open a bank account

With the necessary paperwork, open a corporate bank account in the UAE. Choose from local banks like Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, or global banks like HSBC, Citibank, and Barclays. Having a bank account is necessary before commencing business operations.

Complete the incorporation paperwork

Prepare the required paperwork, including the application for your company name and activity, along with shareholders' passport copies. Free zones may have additional document requirements like a business plan or Non-Objection Certificate (NOC). Mainland companies may need to meet specific capital requirements stated in a Memorandum of Association. Contact the Department of Economic Development in your chosen emirate to register your business activity and trade name.

Choose a location

Decide whether to set up in a mainland area or a free zone. Free zones offer benefits like 0% corporate and personal tax, 100% company ownership, repatriation of capital and profits, no currency restrictions, and import/export tax exemptions. However, if you wish to trade directly with the local market, you'll need a mainland company and a local partner who will hold 51% of the shares. Services like Spade can provide a local corporate nominee shareholder to maintain control over a mainland company.

By following these steps, you can successfully start your business in Dubai.


We at Spade specialize in providing comprehensive assistance to businesses looking to establish themselves in Dubai, a vibrant city known for its top Free Trade Zone and its prominence in global commodities trading. Our dedicated team offers a range of services, including document drafting and submission management, translation services, bank account setup, approval seeking, and expert advice and consultancy. With our support, you can expect a streamlined and efficient process that typically takes just a few weeks. Contact us today to discover how we can assist you at every step of your journey.

Dubai presents an enticing opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs, thanks to its thriving business landscape, government incentives, and a simplified process for setting up new ventures. However, it’s important to understand the unique aspects of Dubai, including its contradictions and evolving social norms. By considering these factors and seeking professional guidance, individuals can navigate the Dubai business landscape with greater ease. Dubai’s can-do attitude and entrepreneurial spirit create a fruitful ground for pursuing your business aspirations. So take the plunge and explore the limitless possibilities that await you in Dubai.