How to Start a Business in the UAE

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Starting a business can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when you’re doing it in a foreign country such as the UAE where you have almost no knowledge of how their business sector works. This is why it’s important to get guidance and assistance from experts when choosing the right trade license for your business, especially if you’re building a startup. Not only that, but the entire process also involves a lot of planning, research, conceptualizing, budgeting, set-up, etc.

Dubai, UAE is one of the most sought-after destinations of entrepreneurs and foreign investors when it comes to startup and business extensions. The low tax policies and ease of doing business in this country makes it investor-friendly, an ideal place for startups, and a global business hub located in the Middle East.

If you’re planning to start a business in the UAE, here are the steps that you should follow:

1) Choose a business niche & activity

When it comes to selecting a niche and activity for your new entrepreneurial venture, there are a lot of factors to take into account, such as: the practicality, its relevance to the UAE market, feasibility, profitability, etc. This is why before you open a company in Dubai, UAE, it’s vital to conduct a thorough research on the factors above.

2) Pick the right jurisdiction

The UAE market has different economic zones – Mainland, Free Zone, and Offshore. These economic zones are also called jurisdictions that each have their own set of laws and regulations that pertain to business setup. Choosing a jurisdiction for your business depends on your business niche, activity, and requirements.

3) Finalize the company structure/legal form

Starting a business in the UAE means that you have to choose a legal form that sets the tone and structure for dealing with profits and losses and how you should organize all the resources and assets of your business. The legal form will help provide a layout for your company. These are some of the company structures or legal forms you may choose from:

  • Limited liability company (LLC)
  • Sole establishment
  • Civil company
  • GCC company branch
  • Foreign company branch
  • Free zone company branch
  • Holding company

4) Get your company name and activity approved

After you decide on what your company name and activity will be, the Department of Economic Development must approve of this before you can move ahead and start the process of your company set-up in the UAE. Once you get approved, you will be required to submit documents for your UAE trade license and officially begin the process of your company formation in Dubai.

5) Apply for Trade License

You can apply for any of these four trade licenses in the UAE:

  • Commercial License
  • Professional License
  • Industrial License
  • Tourism License

These licenses are applicable if you wish to start a business in UAE mainland, however, the licensing structure in UAE free zones is different and fully depends on the business activity of your company.

6) Register your company

The registration and licensing of your company happens simultaneously. However, the entire process that involves documentation and approvals both go through numerous stages. When registering your company, your company has to be approved by relevant government authorities as requested by the Department of Economic Development. The documents that this step requires may differ depending on the company type and business activity.

7) Partner with an Emirati agent (if required)

If the business you’re planning to put up in the UAE requires a local agent, it may be quite difficult to find one which you can trust with your business in Dubai. However, to make things easier for you, a business consultant can help connect you with local companies that offer corporate sponsorship where you shall be given documented authority and 100% ownership of your business.

8) External approvals

The DED may request for additional external approvals from other government or non-government agencies. This depends on your business activity, as some businesses are asked to get approvals from the municipality, certain banks, embassies, etc.

9) Prepare your Memorandum of Association

When starting a business in Dubai, UAE, it’s important that you have a full understanding of the complexities of a Memorandum of Association (MoA). So, before you draft your MoA, you should get expert advice so that you are guided and are able to draft it in accordance with the UAE government’s mandates.

10) Find and rent an office space

Finding and renting an office in Dubai, UAE depends on what type of activity your business will have. An office space also determines the number of visas that you can request from the Department of Economic Development (DED).

11) Get your tenancy contract & activate your Ejari account

Upon finding and renting out an office, you must get a tenancy contract which is the agreement between you and the real estate agency whose office space you intend to rent. An Ejari is an online system that is governed by the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) which ensures fairness and transparency between both parties that are involved in the tenancy. To activate your Ejari account, you are required to submit your tenancy contract. An Ejari is very important as it is required when you’re renewing visas for your family members and/or employees.

12) Get the initial approval from DED

Before you get your business license to operate a business in Dubai, UAE, you should first get the initial approval from DED that indicates that the UAE government approved of you starting a business in the UAE. If you don’t get the approval, you can’t proceed to the next steps in the application process.

13) Get your UAE Trade License

In order for you to get your business’ trade license, here are the following requirements you need to submit to the Department of Economic Development (DED) along with the necessary government fees:

  • Memorandum of Association
  • Trade license application
  • Relevant government forms
  • Trade name reservation certificate
  • Initial approval certificate
  • External approvals (if necessary)
  • Tenancy contract
  • Ejari registration certificate
  • Passport copies of partners
  • NOC for partners (if necessary)
  • Other requirements by the DED (if necessary)


Looking to set up your company in Dubai, UAE?

If you’re planning to set up your business and need expert help in starting a business in the UAE, contact Startup-n-Marketing. We’ll give you hassle-free, end-to-end assistance with your company formation.