03 Jan 2017

Dubai and the United Arab Emirates offers many options to companies that engage in business and are looking to establish a presence here.

With different licensing zones, types of licenses and types of entities, it can be a real challenge for an entrepreneur to fully understand and ultimately choose the appropriate option. To help you start the process of deciding the right licensing option for your business, check out our fact sheet below: 




Onshore/Municipal Dubai



Department of Economic Development

  • Commercial (trading activities like Import / Export, Wholesale & Retail)

  • Professional (firms engage in professional or atisan activities.)

  • Industrial (import raw materials, manufacture, export finished goods etc)

  1. Sole Proprietorship

  2. Partnership

  3. Public and Private Joint Stock Companies

  4. Limited Liability Company

  5. Civil Company

  6. Branch of Foreign Company

  7. Representative office of a Foreign Company

  8. Branch of a Free Zone Company

  • Certain types of companies are permitted only for UAE Nationals

  • A Limited Liability company requires a minimum 51% UAE national shareholding- (shares have to be held by a UAE national individuals or a company wholly owned by UAE nationals

  • If the owner of a Civil Company is National of a country other than the UAE or GCC, it should at all times have a Local Service Agent (LSA)- who is a UAE National

  • Branch and Representative Officers of foreign companies are required to be registered with the Ministry of Economy in each Emirate and also have a National Agent- who is UAE NAtional

  • An office space/physical address is a mandatory requirement for all the mentioned type of companies


Free Zone

The respect free zone authority is the licensing authority.

  • Commercial (trading activities like Import/ Export, Wholesale & Retail)

  • Professional (firms engage in professional or artisan activities.)

  • Industrial (import raw materials, manufacture, export finished goods etc)

  1. Free Zone Establishment (FZE) (a company with one shareholder)

  2. Free Zone Company (FZCO) (a company with more than one shareholder)

  3. Branch of Foreign Company

  • 100% foreign ownership- no requirement of a UAE National as a Partner or a Local Agent

  • Tax free environment

  • No recruitment restrictions

  • No currency restrictions

  • The name of the free zone company should end in either FZE or FZCO depending on the type. Some free zones have different requirements on this

  • An office is a mandatory requirement for all mentioned type of companies. most free zones either permit or have flexi desk, service desk options


The Offshore Registrar

Certificate of Incorporation is issued instead of a License

A company with limited liability

  • The name of the offshore company,-must end with-,the word "Limited", "Inc" "etc".

  • The offshore company must always have a Registered Agent

  • The offshore company is not permitted to do any business onshore (mainland Dubai or Freezone). It can instead invest in companies in UAE (hold shares), own propertyin designated areas etc.

  • Setting up an offshore company does not entitle you to obtain a residence visa in the UAE

  • An office space is not required- as the Registered Agent provides this

This is a general guide on the subject matter and should not be construed as specific legal advice. 

Deepa Suresh, James Berry & Associates Legal Consultants

Being one of the top law firms in DubaiJames Berry & Associates have qualified and experienced lawyers in Dubai who can assist with the complete set up of your business in Dubai. If you want to know more about setting up a company in Dubai or the United Arab Emirates, contact Deepa - deepa@jamesberrylaw.ae.

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