How to start a business in the UAE

Thanks to minimal bureaucracy and a welcoming business environment, establishing a company in the UAE is a relatively straightforward process.

That said, it does require an understanding of the country’s business practices and procedures. With the right guidance, however, you can be up and running in a matter of days.

Whether you wish to set up in the mainland or a free zone, go solo or launch a large enterprise, here’s everything you need to know about starting a business in the UAE.

Starting a UAE business

Before applying for your license, there are a few initial tasks to tick off your to-do list. The first regards your chosen business activities.

It’s important that you make this decision upfront as it will have a bearing on the type of license you require and whether it is best to set up in a free zone or on the mainland.

While there is great scope in the activities that you can choose from, it is vital that you detail every activity that you wish to carry out. If you undertake multiple business activities then it is possible to list all of these under one license, depending on the type of license you apply for.

Next, you’ll need to decide whether your business would be better suited to a free zone or mainland setup. Many free zones offer a number of advantages including:

  • 100% foreign ownership
  • No paid up share capital requirements
  • Physical presence in the UAE not required for incorporation
  • No NOC requirement from current visa sponsor
  • Low start-up and operational costs
  • No mandatory office rental requirements
  • Extensive flexibility – upgrades as well as downgrades between packages allowed
  • No visa restrictions
  • No annual audit requirement
  • Access to business support services and an entrepreneurial environment
  • No currency restrictions

While mainland setups don’t offer all of these benefits, they do allow you to trade directly with the local UAE market without the need for a service agent and take on government contracts – both things that free zone businesses cannot do.

Next you will need to choose a company name – ensuring it meets the emirate’s rather particular naming criteria. With these tasks out of the way, you are ready to apply for your UAE trade license.

Applying for a business license in the UAE


The process of apply for a business license in the UAE will differ slightly depending on the type of setup – free zone or mainland – that you have opted for.

If you’ve chosen to set up in a free zone, you’ll need to submit your completed application – along with some basic documentation about you and your company – directly to your chosen free zone.

If you’ve decided that the mainland is a better base for your business, you’ll need to make your application directly to the Department of Economic Development or relevant equivalent in whichever emirate you have chosen to set up in.

Whichever option you choose, a company setup expert can help you when making your application, managing every stage of the process with little effort required on your part.

How do I start a small business in the UAE?

While the UAE may have a reputation for bright lights and big business, it is home to many smaller businesses too. In fact, around 95% of Dubai’s businesses are classified as SMEs.

If you wish to start very small, it’s possible to apply for a freelancer permit. This allows you to set up a business in your own name and work with clients of all sizes. You can also start a business with just one shareholder and one visa.

Both options allow you to upgrade your license over time, converting to a full business setup or adding shareholders or employee visas as you grow.

The process for starting a small business is the same as for any sized enterprise – choose your business activities, choose a company name, decide where to set up, apply for your license. That’s it.

Is starting a business while employed legal in the UAE?

If you’re looking to start small, one option is to apply for a license while still employed. This allows you to grow a side gig until you are ready to work on it full time.

While this is completely legal in the UAE, you may be required to provide a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your current employer in some cases. If this is likely to be an issue, there are several free zones that issue licenses without an NOC.

UAE company registration cost

When it comes to UAE company registration cost, there a number of factors to consider. The size of your business, whether you require premises, the type of license required and the type of setup you choose will all have an impact.

But while it is difficult to give an idea of the cost of starting a business in Dubai, it should be said that there is an option for all budgets. If you wish to start a business here and keep costs down, it is certainly doable.

Forming a business in a UAE free zone is often the most cost-effective route. Many free zones offer affordable packages that include the use of coworking space as well as the cost of visa and license applications.

The easiest way to start a business in the UAE

It’s easy to feel daunted by the prospect of starting your own business in Dubai. However, while the application process is very particular, help is always at hand.

A company formation expert 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.

That’s why it’s always advisable to acquire the services of a business setup company if you wish to start a business in Dubai. We can not only advise on the process but also seek out the most suitable way forward based on your needs and your budget.

When you work with us, 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.