Business setup in a Dubai free zone

June 22, 2017

If you’ve spent any time at all researching how to get your business set up in Dubai, you’ll be familiar with the city’s many free zones. Understandably, they tend to catch the eye of foreign entrepreneurs looking to set up here. Why? Well a host of benefits including zero corporation and personal tax, 100% company ownership, 100% repatriation of capital and profits, no currency restrictions, and 100% import and export tax exemption certainly add to the appeal.

But there’s more to it than that.

Getting your business set up in a Dubai free zone also brings with it a wealth of opportunities for networking, collaborating and ultimately growth. Take some of Dubai’s sector specific free zones for example. Setting up Dubai Media City, Dubai Healthcare City or Dubai International Financial City offers entrepreneurs the headline benefits mentioned above along with a unique opportunity to work side-by-side with businesses that compliment yours.

It’s little wonder then that the UAE’s free zones are so popular – accounting for around one third of the Emirates total non-oil trade. If stats like these are tempting you to take the plunge and launch your own company in the UAE, below is everything you need to know to get your business set up in a Dubai free zone.

How to get your business set up in a Dubai free zone

Let’s get to the crux of the matter – what do you have to do to get your business set up in a Dubai free zone? First things first, you need to decide on the type of business you wish to run. That is to say, will you set up as a freelancer – essentially a business in your own name – or set up a Dubai free zone company and employ others?

Setting up as a freelancer can be a slightly cheaper option, however not all of Dubai’s free zones issue freelance permits, so you are slightly restricted in where you call home.

Setting up as a freelancer can be a slightly cheaper option, however not all of Dubai’s free zones issue freelance permits, so you are slightly restricted in where you call home.

When setting up a Dubai free zone company, your choice of free zone will depend on the type of business activities you wish to carry out, as many are sector specific. However, with so many free zones on offer in Dubai, you are sure to find one that suits your needs. Plus, some free zones are open to a broad range of business activities – Dubai Airport Freezone (DAFZA) and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) welcome most DED-listed trading activities.

Whichever option you choose, Dubai free zone company formation is usually quick and easy. So below are the five steps to getting your business set up in a Dubai free zone.

1. Choose a business activity (or activities): The first step in getting your Dubai free zone business set up is deciding on the business activities you wish to carry out, as this will impact where you can register your company. The type of licence you apply for will depend on the activities you wish to carry out – such as professional services, commercial, trading, etc. There is no need to limit yourself too much here – many Dubai free zones allow for multiple business activities under one licence. But it’s important to remember that Dubai has some rather particular requirements about what activities are permitted under what licence, so it’s worth seeking advice from a UAE company formation specialist at this stage.

2. Find a free zone: Once you’ve decided on your business activity, the next step in Dubai free zone company formation is deciding on which free zone is right for you. There are several factors you must consider when making this decision – starting with whether you wish to set up in a sector specific free zone. Healthcare, ICT, production, design, outsourcing, media, maritime, science and finance are just some of the industries catered to by Dubai’s industry specific free zones – including Dubai Outsource City (DOC), Dubai Science Park (DSP) and Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) and many others.

If your industry is not covered by one of the city’s industry specific zones – or you simply do not wish to set up in one – there are many other options available. As I’ve already touched upon, free zones such as Dubai South and DMCC are open to a wide range of activities.

Next up you should consider the facilities that you require in your chosen free zone. Many offer meeting room access, desk space and use of equipment, but if you have any specialist requirements such as warehousing then you’ll need to seek out a free zone that meets these needs. But don’t worry, there are plenty available that will offer this.

Finally, you need to consider the location of your chosen free zone. As well as taking into account considerations such as access to main highways, if you rely on international trade or travel you should also be mindful of proximity to both ports and airports. Dubai Airport Free Zone and Dubai Maritime City are great examples of this, being directly linked or adjacent to Dubai International Airport and Port Rashid respectively.

As well as taking into account considerations such as access to main highways, if you rely on international trade or travel you should also be mindful of proximity to both ports and airports.

3. Choose a company name: Deciding on a name for your business is difficult no matter where in the world you choose to set up. There are plenty of factors to consider from the emotional to the practical. Does your name evoke an emotional response, for example? And if so, what does it say? Reliable? High class? As for the practical side of things, you’ll also need to consider how your chosen name will look on your branding, whether the domain is available and whether it will stand the test of time. ABC Computers would soon become dated if you diversify into another market for instance. Here in the UAE, there are also other naming conventions to consider. Firstly, you’ll need to ensure your business name is available to be registered – a company setup specialist can easily check this for you. There are also certain standards that the name must adhere to, including avoiding any blasphemous language or references to religious or political organisations.

Finally, if you decide to name your business after a person there are a couple more considerations: that person must be a partner and shareholder in your business and only full personal names are permitted rather than initials or abbreviations. 

4. Get your documents in order and apply: Now that you’ve decided what you’re planning to do, where you wish to do it and under which name you’ll trade, it’s time to make your Dubai free zone company formation official by submitting your application. The exact documents required for Dubai free zone company formation will depend on the type of licence you are applying for and which free zone you have selected. As a general rule of thumb, when setting up a Dubai free zone company you can expect to be asked for some or all of the following:

  • Colour copy of shareholder(s) passport and visa if applicable
  • Application form
  • Business plan
  • Board resolution
  • Memorandum and articles of association

You can also make your visa application at this stage, should you need one. The process here is simple: entry permit, status adjustment, medical fitness test, then Emirates ID registration and visa stamping. Once again, a company formation specialist can guide you through this stage.

5. Opening your corporate bank account: Opening a corporate bank account in the UAE is not necessarily any more arduous than elsewhere in the world but there are still a number of important considerations to keep in mind. Firstly, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct documentation in place. As well as your business licence, you’re likely to need:

  • A corporate account opening form
  • A board of directors’ resolution sanctioning the opening of the account, and the signatories to the account
  • A copy of your company’s certificate of incorporation
  • A copy of your share certificates
  • A copy of the company’s memorandum and articles of association
  • Copies of passports for all partners in the company

Once you’re ready to apply, it’s time to decide on a financial institution. There are many things to keep in mind here, not least each bank’s eligibility criteria. Some require all shareholders to have UAE residency visas, while others insist on a minimum cash balance – often in the region of AED 5,000 to AED 200,000.

Some require all shareholders to have UAE residency visas, while others insist on a minimum cash balance – often in the region of AED 5,000 to AED 200,000.

Dubai free zone company formation made easy

And that’s it. It really is that simple. Just five steps to get your Dubai free zone business set up. Of course, just like any business decision, there are potential pitfalls along the way. But provided you go in with your eyes open and seek out the right guidance and advice, in most cases you’ll have your business set up in just a matter of weeks.

About the author: Gemma Kennedy; Sales Manager at Virtuzone
About the author: Gemma Kennedy; Sales Manager at Virtuzone

As Sales Manager at Virtuzone, Gemma oversees the Company Formation Specialist team, which is responsible for consulting prospective clients interested in setting up a UAE free zone company. Gemma and her team provide all necessary and accurate guidance on the best path to UAE company setup, always delivered on a case-by-case basis for UAE entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their startup businesses. Gemma has extensive sales experience, having worked as a product representative for brands such as Tefal and Vidal Sassoon across New South Wales, Australia. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Employment Relations, History and (Hons) Politics at the University of Wollongong Australia, a unique educational mix which empowers her with a socio-political outlook in dealing with a multicultural workforce and client base.