There are three main ways you can set up a company in the UAE. This can be in mainland (in conjunction with a local partner who would own 51 per cent of the company), known as an LLC – limited liability company; via one of the many UAE free zones, particularly popular with foreign entrepreneurs cause they offer are 0% corporation and personal tax, 100% company ownership, 100% repatriation of capital and profits, no currency restrictions and 100% import and export tax exemption; with an offshore company. The costs can vary: for an LLC, for example, they can start from AED 30,000 / AED 60,000. The free zone options also vary: the costs can start from Dh20,000. Even less for an offshore company, but with some restrictions as well: for example no visa resident allowed and also some States / companies don’t accept them for fiscal reasons.
So why to setup a business in UAE now?
According to the IMF, the UAE is expected to lead economic growth in the Arabian Gulf in 2017, increasing by 2.5%, significantly ahead of the region’s biggest economy, Saudi Arabia, which is forecast to grow at 0.4%.
While the technical, administrative and ﬁnancial aspects of company formation in Dubai can seem daunting, by following a simple step-by-step process with the right support, it is far more straightforward and aﬀordable than you might think. We have helped numerous companies establish themselves in various free zones and can break the process down into the following six steps.
1. Choose your business activity
The nature of your business can have a bearing on which free zones you can or should set up in. For example, some free zones only allow certain types of activity, such as media, medical or transport, and aside from the restrictions, it often makes sense to set up in close proximity to businesses in the same sector. Look at transport links too. If your business relies heavily on import and export, you will probably want to choose one of the free zones situated near an airport or port.
The final decision can be taken later in the preparation process, but establishing your business activity will certainly give you a steer and can help to eliminate some options early on. However, there is no need to pigeon-hole your business, as it is possible to have multiple business activities listed under one trade licence.
2. Choose your company name
The UAE has some strict naming conventions, so before you commit to a company name, make sure it conforms. Any names that include offensive language are forbidden, as are any company names that refer to Allah, Him or indeed any other religious, sectarian or political groups such as the FBI or Mafia. If you choose to name your business after a person, that person must be a partner or owner of the company and their full name must be used – no initials or abbreviations.
A business set-up expert will be able to give you chapter and verse on all the naming conventions. You can save a lot of time and effort by running your proposed name past them to check whether it passes and if it doesn’t they can help you come up with something that does.
3. Finalise all incorporation paperwork
You will be required to complete an application for your chosen company name and activity, to be provided along with copies of shareholders’ passports to the relevant government authorities. Some free zones will require additional documentation, such as a business plan or Non-Objection Certificate (NOC) – a letter from a current sponsor confirming that you are allowed to set up another business in the UAE. While perhaps the most arduous of all these steps, the paperwork does not have to be too taxing providing it is undertaken with expert help. Your business set-up partner can advise you on the paperwork required and help you complete it.
Some free zones will require additional documentation, such as a business plan or Non-Objection Certificate (NOC) – a letter from a current sponsor confirming that you are allowed to set up another business in the UAE.
4. Receive your license notiﬁcation
This is the easiest step of all. Once your application has been processed, the government will issue you with your company licence. At Virtuzone we notify our clients when their documents are ready to be collected.
5. Process your visa (if needed)
And so to the final step of company formation in Dubai. As well as applying for your own visa, many free zones allow you to put in applications for staff and dependants – the exact number you can submit will depend on which free zone you choose to set up in. So, if you are looking to obtain visas for a spouse, child, maid or driver, it is best to seek expert advice to ensure that firstly, it is possible to do so in your chosen free zone, and secondly, that both you and anyone you are hoping to sponsor for a visa meet all of the entry criteria. Assuming this all checks out, the process is made up of four simple stages: entry permit, status adjustment, medical fitness test, then Emirates ID registration and visa stamping.
For some free zones / activities you may not be required to apply for a visa (NO visa package) saving money and time.
6. Open a bank account
Once your paperwork has been returned, you will have all the documentation you need to open your corporate bank account. The UAE is home to many banks, both local and international, including Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and the Commercial Bank of Dubai, along with global names such as HSBC, Citibank and Barclays. You can either approach the bank of your choice or ask your business set-up partner to arrange meetings with a number of institutions to help you choose the most suitable option.
With some banks you can open a corporate bank account also without having the resident visa.