Low cost business setup in Dubai (2019 updated guide)

Female entrepreneur

Dubai is among the world’s most famous business environments. A growing economy, strategic global location and incredibly attractive tax regime have long made it the destination of choice for ambitious entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe.

But the bright lights and the big city can also be daunting. For this reason, many entrepreneurs feel that to succeed in the Emirates, you must possess substantial startup capital. This could not be further from the truth.

Dubai is the home of low cost business setup. In fact, the cost of business setup in Dubai is lower than in many other major global cities, thanks to the lack of corporate and personal income tax and highly accommodating business regulation.

Set up in a free zone and the cost of business setup falls even further. However, whichever setup your choose, registering a company in Dubai is so easy that it can be completed in just a few simple steps.

How to start a business in Dubai with little or no money

The factor that perhaps has the largest bearing on the cost of setting up a company in the UAE is whether you choose a free zone or mainland setup.

While both can be achieved on a budget, the all-in-one nature of free zone setups can make it one of the most cost-efficient ways to register a company in Dubai.

If budget is your primary focus, start by seeking out the cheapest free zone that fits your needs. Aside from price, there are many advantages to setting up in a free zone.

As well as benefiting from the UAE’s zero percent tax rate, you can also take advantage of full customs tax exemption, no currency restrictions and the ability to repatriate 100% of your capital and profit.

If however, you wish to take on government contracts or trade directly with the local UAE market, then you should establish a mainland business. Depending on the nature and size of your business, this can still be done in a cost-effective manner.

A company formation expert can help you decide on the setup that best suits your requirements and your budget.

Setting up a business in the UAE

Regardless of your budget, the process for setting up a company in the UAE follows the same simple steps.

The first is to establish your business activity or activities. There are more than 2,000 permitted by the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED), covering all manner of sectors and sub-sectors.

However, while there may be great choice in the activities that you can carry out, it is vitally important that you list them correctly on your license application. Undertaking unlicensed business activities can lead to penalties, so it is best to work with a company formation specialist who can suggest the best options for your organisation.

Next up, you’ll need to choose a business name. While this may seem like an obvious point, it’s worth mentioning here due to the UAE’s strict set of naming conventions that may not be familiar to anyone outside of the region.  

To paraphrase the rules around company names: When choosing a name for your Dubai business, you must keep in mind that it cannot include any offensive or blasphemous language, nor any references to Allah or Islam. If you wish to include your name in your company name, you must use it in full rather than just your surname or initials. Finally, you must check that your chosen name is available to be registered. Again, a company formation expert can help you with this step, making suggestions and checking that your chosen name is free.  

entrepreneur working in Dubai, UAE

Making your license application

As mentioned previously, if you want to keep costs to a minimum, the best advice is to seek out a low cost free zone license.

Once you have found the cheapest free zone that meets your needs, you can make your application.

There are two steps to this stage of the process. The first is to establish the type of business license that you require. This is relatively straightforward. If you wish to conduct professional services then you will require a professional services license, it you intend to conduct industrial activities then you require an industrial license and so on.

Now that you know the type of license that you require, you can make your formal application. Free zone company registration in Dubai is incredibly straightforward and simply requires you to submit a completed application, along with some basic documentation about you and your company.

Should you require a mainland setup, the process is largely similar. In this case, however, you would make your application to the DED.

As the application process is very particular, it is again a good idea to work with a company formation expert at this stage. Such companies can handle every aspect of your application for you, liaising with all authorities on your behalf and advising on the type of setup that best suits your needs.

You can also make any required visa applications at this stage. This includes your own visa, as well as employee visas for your staff and those of your dependants.

In most cases, the number of visas you can apply for will depend on the size of your business and where you choose to set up. When it comes to applying for visas for dependants, the process is very straightforward providing you meet the eligibility criteria.

Finally, you’ll need to open a corporate bank account in order to run your business. Opening a bank account as a foreign national in the UAE is not always easy. While there are many local and international banks to choose from in Dubai, all will have different application and acceptance criteria and navigating them can be a minefield.

Working with an expert can help here too. As well as advising on the most suitable bank for your business, such companies can also organise meetings with financial institutions.

Starting your low cost business in Dubai


The cost of business setup in Dubai will vary depending on the size and nature of your business.

However, if you wish to start up here on a budget, it is certainly doable.

Be warned, however: while the application process isn’t difficult, it does require an expert eye. Any errors in your application could lead it to be delayed or rejected. That’s why it’s often a good idea to work with a company setup specialist to help you establish your business. When you work with a company formation expert, all you need to provide is some basic documentation and a little information about the nature of your business. Then, sit back and let the experts take care of the rest – managing your license and visa applications, communicating with all relevant departments and authorities, and reporting back when you’re ready to start trading. It really is that simple.