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In the UAE, regulation of the establishment and conduct of businesses is shared at the federal and emirate levels. There are two paths for doing business in the UAE: through joint partnerships or through a Free Zone.
In order to establish a business that sells products or services freely throughout the UAE, at least 51 percent of the business must be owned by a UAE national. (Forming this type of joint partnership is the best and easiest way to establish a business in the UAE.) All businesses require a license and licensing procedures vary from Emirate to Emirate. Specific information is available at individual Chambers of Commerce:
For more detailed contact information for these offices, please visit the Resources page.
Establishing a business entity in one of the numerous UAE Free Trade Zones (FTZs) can be an attractive option for foreign investors and businesses. All seven Emirates already have, or are developing, such economic zones.
The major advantages in operating in a free zone are:
There are over 20,000 companies in 21 Free Zones around the UAE. The largest Free Zones, by number of companies, are the following:
An independent Free Zone Authority (FZA) governs each free zone and is responsible for issuing FTZ operating licenses and assisting companies with establishing their business in the FTZ. Investors can either register a new company in the form of a Free Zone Establishment (FZE) -- a limited liability company governed by the rules and regulations of the Free Zone in which it is established -- or simply establish a branch or representative office of their existing company based within the UAE or abroad.
The procedures for establishing a business in a Free Trade Zone are usually very straightforward and can be completed in a short space of time, especially if there are no environmental issues involved. Individual Free Zones may have specific requirements, but general steps are:
Once a legal presence has been established in the Free Zone, the business will need to lease premises or land and acquire an operating license from the FZA. Different types of licenses apply in the different types of free zone, however, it is important to understand that companies with trade and industrial licenses can only conduct business within the Free Zone or abroad. To sell products in the UAE, a UAE official agent is required, and a joint venture needs to be formed.
There are a few scenarios in which a prospective company might not want to choose to do business in a Free Zone, and should instead opt for a regular joint partnership. These are if a company:
Sectors with strongest demand and opportunity include: