How to Set Up a Business in Dubai as a Foreigner

Business Setup,Business Locations,Company Formation
How to Setup Business in Dubai as a Foreigner


Dubai has established itself as a leading global business hub, attracting entrepreneurs and investors from all over the world. Known for its strategic location, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and business-friendly policies, Dubai offers a plethora of opportunities for foreign investors looking to set up a business. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the process, benefits, and challenges involved in establishing a business in Dubai as a foreigner

Benefits of Setting Up a Business in Dubai

Benefits of Setting Up a Business in Dubai

Dubai’s appeal as a business destination is underpinned by several key benefits:

  1. Strategic Location: Dubai’s geographical position makes it a gateway between the East and the West, facilitating trade and commerce with Asia, Europe, and Africa.
  2. Tax Benefits: Dubai offers attractive tax incentives, including zero corporate tax, zero income tax, and no withholding tax, which can significantly enhance profitability.
  3. Robust Infrastructure: The city boasts world-class infrastructure, including advanced logistics, state-of-the-art telecommunications, and extensive transportation networks.
  4. Diverse Economy: Dubai’s economy is not reliant on oil; it has diversified into various sectors such as tourism, finance, real estate, and trade.
  5. Ease of Doing Business: Dubai ranks highly in global indices for ease of doing business, thanks to its streamlined regulatory environment and supportive government policies.

Types of Business Entities in Dubai

Types of Business Entities in Dubai

When setting up a business in Dubai, foreign investors can choose from three main types of business entities:

  1. Free Zone Companies: These are located in designated free zones where businesses can benefit from 100% foreign ownership, full repatriation of profits, and exemption from import and export duties.
  2. Mainland Companies: These businesses are established in non-free zone areas and require a local sponsor who owns 51% of the business. However, they have the advantage of being able to trade directly within the UAE market.
  3. Offshore Companies: These are primarily used for international business activities and asset protection. They are not permitted to conduct business within the UAE but can enjoy benefits such as tax exemptions and confidentiality.


buiness in dubai
  • Free Zone Companies offer more control but are restricted to specific areas.
  • Mainland Companies allow broader market access but require a local partner.
  • Offshore Companies provide tax benefits and privacy but cannot operate within the UAE.

Legal Requirements and Documentation

Setting up a business in Dubai involves several legal steps and documentation:

  1. Choosing the Business Activity: Identify the nature of your business, as this will determine the type of license required.
  2. Selecting the Legal Form: Decide on the business structure, such as an LLC, branch office, or representative office.
  3. Registering the Trade Name: Ensure the chosen trade name complies with Dubai’s naming conventions and register it with the Department of Economic Development (DED).
  4. Obtaining Initial Approvals: Secure initial approvals from relevant authorities based on your business activity.
  5. Preparing the Memorandum of Association (MOA): Draft and notarize the MOA, outlining the ownership structure and operating procedures.
  6. Office Space Requirements: Secure a physical office space, as virtual offices are not allowed for most business types.
  7. Applying for the Business License: Submit all required documents and pay the fees to obtain the business license.

Steps to Set Up a Free Zone Company

Steps to Set Up a Free Zone Company
  1. Choosing the Right Free Zone: Select a free zone that aligns with your business activity. Each free zone has its own regulations and benefits.
  2. Application Process: Submit an application form along with the necessary documents, such as passport copies and business plans.
  3. Capital Requirements: Ensure you meet the minimum capital requirements, which vary by free zone.
  4. Licensing and Registration: Once the application is approved, pay the license fee and register the company.
  5. Visa Applications for Employees: Apply for visas for yourself and your employees, as free zones offer visa sponsorship.

Steps to Set Up a Mainland Company

mainland company formation
  1. Local Sponsor Requirements: Find a local sponsor who will hold 51% of the shares. Alternatively, consider setting up a sole proprietorship or civil company, which may offer more control.
  2. DED Process: Submit the necessary documents to the DED, including the trade name registration and initial approval.
  3. Office Space Requirements: Lease office space as required by the DED regulations.
  4. Licensing and Registration: Complete the licensing process by submitting the MOA and paying the required fees.
  5. Visa Applications for Employees: Apply for the necessary visas through the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

Steps to Set Up an Offshore Company

offshore company in dubai
  1. Choosing the Jurisdiction: Select an offshore jurisdiction within the UAE, such as Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) or Ras Al Khaimah International Corporate Centre (RAK ICC).
  2. Application Process: Submit the application along with the required documentation, including passport copies and proof of address.
  3. Capital Requirements: Fulfill any capital requirements stipulated by the jurisdiction.
  4. Licensing and Registration: Pay the licensing fees and register the company.

Costs Involved in Setting Up a Business

Setting up a business in Dubai involves various costs, which can vary depending on the type of business entity:

  1. Free Zone Setup Costs: These include license fees, registration fees, office rent, and visa costs. Prices vary significantly between different free zones.
  2. Mainland Setup Costs: Costs include trade license fees, local sponsor fees, office rent, and visa expenses. Mainland setups can be more expensive due to the local sponsor requirement.
  3. Offshore Setup Costs: These include registration fees, annual renewal fees, and any additional services required for international operations.
  4. Additional Costs: Consider expenses such as employee salaries, marketing, utilities, and professional services like legal and accounting.

Challenges and Considerations

  1. Cultural and Business Etiquette: Understanding and respecting local customs and business practices is crucial for success.
  2. Legal and Regulatory Changes: Stay informed about changes in laws and regulations that may impact your business.
  3. Competition: Dubai is a competitive market, so thorough market research and a strong business strategy are essential.
  4. Market Entry Strategies: Develop a clear plan for market entry, including marketing, distribution, and partnerships.


Setting up a business in Dubai as a foreigner offers numerous benefits, including strategic location, tax advantages, and a robust infrastructure. By understanding the different types of business entities, legal requirements, and costs involved, foreign investors can successfully navigate the process. While there are challenges to consider, the opportunities for growth and profitability in Dubai’s dynamic market are immense. With careful planning and execution, establishing a business in Dubai can be a rewarding venture.


1. Why should I set up a business in Dubai?

Dubai offers strategic location, tax benefits, robust infrastructure, and a diverse economy, making it an attractive destination for entrepreneurs.

2. What are the types of business entities available in Dubai?

The main types of business entities are Free Zone Companies, Mainland Companies, and Offshore Companies, each with unique benefits and regulations.

3. What is a Free Zone Company?

A Free Zone Company is established in designated areas that offer benefits such as 100% foreign ownership, full profit repatriation, and duty exemptions.

4. What is a Mainland Company?

A Mainland Company is established outside free zones and requires a local sponsor holding 51% of the shares but allows trading directly within the UAE market.

5. What is an Offshore Company?

An Offshore Company is primarily used for international business activities and asset protection, enjoying tax benefits but not permitted to conduct business within the UAE.

6. What are the initial steps to set up a business in Dubai?

Choose your business activity, select the legal form, register the trade name, obtain initial approvals, prepare the Memorandum of Association (MOA), secure office space, and apply for a business license.

7. How do I choose the right Free Zone for my business?

Select a free zone that aligns with your business activity. Each free zone has specific regulations, benefits, and sector focuses.

8. Do I need a local sponsor for a Mainland Company?

Yes, a Mainland Company typically requires a local sponsor who holds 51% of the business shares. Some legal forms like sole proprietorships may offer more control.

9. What are the costs involved in setting up a business in Dubai?

Costs vary based on the business entity type and include license fees, registration fees, office rent, visa costs, and additional expenses like salaries and utilities.

10. What are the visa requirements for my employees?

Free zones offer visa sponsorship for employees. For Mainland Companies, apply for visas through the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

11. What challenges might I face when setting up a business in Dubai?

Challenges include understanding local culture and business etiquette, staying updated on legal changes, dealing with competition, and developing effective market entry strategies.

12. Can I repatriate profits from my Dubai-based business?

Yes, especially for Free Zone Companies, which allow full repatriation of profits. Mainland and Offshore Companies also offer profit repatriation benefits.

13. What documentation is required to set up a business?

Common documents include passport copies, business plans, trade name registration, initial approval certificates, and the Memorandum of Association (MOA).

14. How long does it take to set up a business in Dubai?

The setup duration varies but typically ranges from a few days to several weeks, depending on the business entity type and the completeness of documentation.

15. Do I need physical office space to set up a business in Dubai?

Yes, most business entities require physical office space. Virtual offices are generally not accepted for business licensing purposes.

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