The United Arab Emirates is a state in the Middle East with a population of 10.2 million people, the capital of Abu Dhabi. For many people, the first association with the UAE and Dubai is recreation and the sea. For others, it is oil and the desert. In the global business community, however, the United Arab Emirates is known from a different side. Hundreds of new companies are registered here every day by businessmen from around the world looking to expand their sales markets and simplify their taxation processes.

What makes this state an attractive place for registering and conducting business?

- 0% income tax;

- the possibility for a foreign investor to own 100% of the company;

- a variety of activities;

- 100% capital repatriation;

- the possibility of registering offshore companies and trust funds to protect their assets;

- strategic location (33 percent of the world's population can be reached within four hours by air);

- stable economy and state structure;

- high-quality infrastructure for work and leisure.

Options for starting a business in the UAE

UAE laws allow a foreign investor to register several types of companies. It all depends on the goals you are pursuing:

  • A company in the free zone.

UAE free zones are special economic zones located in assigned areas within the country. Foreign entrepreneurs can register a business with 100% ownership under their own legislation. There are 50+ free zones in the UAE now, each of which has its own advantages. For example, the largest free zone DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Center) is known for the high cost of company registration, but it is a very prestigious business location. Dubai Internet City is a free zone in Dubai that is home to IT companies. Offices of such world giants as Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, and Telegram are present here. By the way, Pavel Durov, the creator of VK and Telegram, chose Dubai for the registration of his head office.

Free zones such as JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority), DAFZA (Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority), and SAIF (Sharjah Airport Free Zone), located near seaports and airports, provide easy access to logistics services.

  • A local UAE company (mainland company)

You can register a so-called local company directly with the Department of Economic Development of one of the seven emirates. Until 2020, a requirement was that at least 51% of the company belonged to a citizen of one of the seven emirates. However, this requirement is now only relevant to certain types of activities, and foreign investors have the right to register their company with 100% ownership.

The main advantage of registering this company is the ability to conduct business throughout the UAE. In addition, you can participate in public and private tenders and register your office anywhere in the emirate.

  • An offshore company

Indeed, in the UAE it is possible to open an offshore company. This opportunity is provided by three free zones. The registration process is quite simple and fast. In addition, this type of company allows you to register companies in the UAE in other jurisdictions, which will provide you with 100% protection of your assets.

How much does it cost?

Now let's talk about the most interesting aspect of UAE company registration - the cost. Objectively, the cost of setting up a business in the United Arab Emirates is quite high in comparison with the well-known tax-free and offshore jurisdictions. But Dubai and other emirates can offer you much more than the British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

We will use free-zone companies as an example because the registration of a local company will cost you about the same amount. The cost of registering an offshore company turnkey is about USD 5000.

Formation of companies in the UAE

First, we will look at the services you need to pay for when you register a company.

You will find a summary table with the costs of opening a company in the UAE below the article if you do not want to read each item in detail.

Registration fee. This is a payment for the registration authorities of the free zone for filing an application for your company. The cost varies depending on the prestige of the zone, on average it will cost you about USD 1000.

License. The payment for the company's license is one of the most important parts of the company's expenses. Commercial activity without a license in the UAE is strictly prohibited and is against the law.

UAE licenses can be classified as follows:

- commercial (trading) - allows you to trade certain groups of goods;

- the general trading license is a license for trading activities that allows you to choose a wide range of goods for commercial activities. But be careful, banks will closely monitor your invoices, and if you start selling goods from groups that weren't listed when you got a license, they may ask questions. Banks pay special attention to these types of licenses when opening bank accounts, which can involve constant requests for additional documents;

- service license - allows you to provide services to various industries.

- industrial license (production) - allows you to manufacture goods in the UAE. It is important to note that not all free zones have production sites available for your equipment.

- more specific licenses such as an e-commerce license, logistics license, freelance license.

The cost of a license depends both on the type of activity and on where the company is registered. Additionally, the number of resident visas that a company can apply for is rationed. In general, licenses issued by the free zones of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are more expensive than licenses from the northern emirates. Price ranges can be large: a trade license in the Dubai World Trade Center free zone can cost USD 1,350, while a general trade license in the already mentioned DMCC free zone can cost USD 13,000 or more. Licenses in free zones are often sold as a package of services with the lease of office space. Find out what options are available.

Office space for rent. One interesting aspect is that when registering a company in a free zone, you have to rent an office (warehouse, production room, showroom) only on the free zone's territory. So, bear this in mind when choosing your location. For local, mainland companies, you can choose an office anywhere in the selected emirate if you already have one in a free zone. Registering an offshore company in the UAE does not allow you to lease an office, but you can acquire office space as your property.

Now let's talk about the options and prices.

1) Flexi desk

Using this option, you will be sharing an office space with a dozen other companies, so you will be able to use it according to the schedule a couple of hours a week, or even less. This option is suitable for those companies that do not plan to use the office in their current activities.

There is a wide range of prices. For example, renting a Flexi desk in the SAIF Zone in Sharjah will set you back USD 729 per year, allowing you to apply for three resident visas. The DWTC zone in Dubai charges USD 4050 per year to rent this option, and you can only apply for two visas. The service packages in free zones usually include the rental price.

2) Workstation

Under this sly name, it hides an office table in a business center associated with your company. This table is yours alone, and you will not be forced to share it with anyone. This option does have some disadvantages, and the most notable one is that banks do not treat it as a real office. As a result, you may have difficulty opening an account for your company. We will talk about this in more detail later.

The cost of this option is higher than that of the Flexi desk. For example, in the free zone JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority) the cost is USD 8100 per year, and you get the opportunity to apply for two resident visas.

3) Standard office

The office, as we know it, finally came into view. Each free zone has its own business center, where office space of all sizes can be rented. DMCC free zone deserves special mention. Located in the Jumeirah Lake Towers area of Dubai, the area is home to 80 residential and office skyscrapers built around three artificial lakes and a park. You will be able to rent an office for your company in any of the office buildings in the DMCC zone if you register your company in the zone. You have a lot of options. Furthermore, this area is very close to EXPO 2020, which is also very convenient.

Rent for offices starts at USD 130 per sq. m., and visa application numbers are correlated with the rental area. There is usually one visa per 9 sq. m.

4) Other rental options.

You can rent or purchase warehouses, showrooms, production sites, or land to build premises, depending on the type of your business. Choose a free zone carefully based on your needs. The warehouses and production sites should be conveniently located near seaports, highways, and airports, and the showrooms should be close to the flow of customers.

As an example, let's look at the cost of renting these options in the JAFZA free zone. Warehouse rent: USD 120-170 per year per sq. m.; showroom rent: USD 160 per year per sq. m. (available area 780-900 sq. m.); lease of land for construction: USD 10-25 per year per sq. m. Even though the prices are a bit high, you should remember that all this is located practically on the territory of the largest port in the world, Jebel Ali, and is easily accessible from Al Maktoum International Airport.

UAE residence visa

Citizens of most countries don't need visas to visit the UAE. Legally, you can stay in the country for 30 to 90 days. You can also extend your stay if you wish. A residence visa in the UAE is actually a residence permit. The permit is valid for a period of 10 years, giving the holder the opportunity to open a bank account, enroll their children in school, take out a loan, obtain a driver's license, etc.

There are several ways to obtain a resident visa for the UAE, including buying real estate in the UAE with a value of at least USD 272,000 (1 million UAE dirhams); business investment, or outstanding and proven success in science or art. In addition, you need to be both an employer and an employee.

Take a closer look at the process of obtaining a resident visa. Once we receive all your documents, we apply for an entry permit. You must go through this process even if you are already in the UAE. After receiving this authorization, we will accompany you to a medical examination. In practice, there are no queues and the process is quick. Both blood tests and fluoroscopy are required. You must also submit your fingerprints separately. That's it, now your passport will be stamped with a glued-in visa. Your Emirates ID card will be issued once your passport arrives. A UAE resident ID is widely used to obtain a variety of services within the country.

The entire process can take up to three weeks. For one visa, including all fees and agent services, the total turnkey price will be approximately USD 2500. If you wish to speed up the processing of your request, you can pay separately to the UAE Immigration Authority.

Opening a bank account in the UAE

We always tell our clients to pay attention to opening a corporate bank account. UAE banks inspect account applications under a microscope. You have to prepare your documents carefully to open an account in a UAE bank. Be careful with your digital footprint, too. Banks check social networks and search engine results for company directors.

Banks do not charge fees for filing an application for opening an account. Preparing the documents properly is the most critical step.

Some helpful tips for opening a bank account in the UAE:

- consider the type of activity you intend to list in your business license. In some cases, banks pay special attention to these factors, which can significantly slow down the opening of an account. Activities such as general trading and consultancy are suspicious.

- find out if your country is on the "special" UAE bank list. UAE banks categorize the countries of the world into several groups. You will not be able to open a local bank account if you are a North Korean or Iranian. In contrast, opening a bank account will be quick and easy for citizens of many developed countries. Some countries, however, are considered "high risk". Examples would be China and the CIS countries. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, opening an account could take forever. It can also happen quickly and smoothly if the documents have been properly prepared. Before signing an agreement, our specialists analyze the client's profile and give recommendations on the timing of opening a bank account.

- pay attention to the choice of office space. As we mentioned earlier, Flexi desks and workstations are the most cost-effective rental options for companies in the UAE. Unfortunately, the requirements of banks are always higher for citizens of countries that are included in lists of high-risk countries. You may find yourself in the following situation: you rented a Flexi desk in a free zone, obtained a license for your company, received a resident visa, and applied for a bank account. You receive a request after long consideration of your documents: "Provide a lease agreement for a real office!" And believe us, you cannot negotiate with the bank on this issue. Emirates has a very efficient risk management system. Therefore, either your license will hang "like a dead weight" or you will have to hire an additional office, which will increase your company's budget.

Summary table of expenses for setting up a company in the UAE

Description Price, USD
Registration fee (one time) 500 - 2000
License fee (annually) from 700
Office rent (annually) from 750
Residence visa fee (3-year validity) from 1500
Make Fortune Business Solutions fee: company set up from 1700
Make Fortune Business Solutions fee: obtaining visa assistance from 675
Make Fortune Business Solutions fee: opening bank account assistance from 1000
*the cost varies depending on the type of license, terms of opening an account, types, and sizes of offices, etc.

Business support in the UAE

It's official, you have a company in the UAE, a resident visa, and a long-awaited bank card. Now that the company is open, you can start doing business in the UAE. Let's think about what costs you'll have to cover for maintaining the business, in addition to employee salaries, utility bills, and other running costs.

Renewal of license. You paid for the company license. Now you'll get charged for renewal every year. It's like a hidden tax. When planning your business, keep these costs in mind.

Taxes, accounting, and auditing. To accurately reflect your business activities, you must keep accounting records according to UAE law. It's easiest and most reliable to hire a dedicated accounting company here in the UAE. Services are paid monthly and based on the number of transactions. We recommend verified and licensed accounting firms that offer special conditions to our clients. Additionally, with a monthly payment, you'll get quarterly VAT refund applications and an annual audit. Most free zones require a report on the finished audit for the annual license renewal. The monthly price starts at USD 500.


In this article, we discussed in detail what costs you will face when opening a business in the UAE. Here are some other things you should consider. This is the service of a company that assists you at every stage of starting a business. It is true that you can sometimes open a business in the UAE on your own, without the help of an intermediary. It is always possible to unintentionally lose a lot of money and time by not knowing the "pitfalls". Again, we emphasize the importance of opening a bank account, because many clients underestimate the importance of this step. There were cases (not in our practice) in which a company obtained a license and then could not open a bank account for years. 

We are always happy to answer your questions after reading this article. If you leave your contact information on our website, we will contact you shortly. Please stop by our Jumeirah Lake Towers office if you plan to visit Dubai.