If you have grand designs on launching your own business in the Emirates, Abu Dhabi could be a prime place to begin your new venture.

A great opportunity to start your own company in the city and turn your commercial dream into a firm reality.

In these last years it has become progressively easier to set up a business in the Emirates with laws being adjusted to attract more foreign investments to the country.


No longer is AED 150,000 capital required, free zones are being constructed to allow 100 percent foreign ownership and other laws are being evaluated for the future.

These factors combined with the tax-free market make Abu Dhabi a great place to start a business.

First of all, you need an idea and a business plan.

Once you have established your target market, your product or service and your goals, you need to make the business official.

You will set up as an LLC (limited liability company) Foreign Branch Establishment in the free-zone or onshore.

If onshore you will need to engage with an Emirati partner or an 100 percent Emirati owned company.

Once these decisions are made, it’s time to make it all legal and consulting a law firm is the next step.

Few steps … to the success:

  • Choose a business licence

A limited liability company (LLC) licence is the main choice.

While the licence requires an Emirati sponsor, the foreign entrepreneur is then able to own 49 percent of the business anywhere in the UAE.

Alternatively, the UAE is establishing free zones which allow 100 percent ownership which also comes at a fee.

The LLC is the most popular form of business licence because it allows 49 percent ownership for an expat, requires no start-up capital (of course, having this is essential but no longer legally required), is tax free and allows capital and assets to be named under the company, rather than the Emirati sponsor’s name.

For businesses that rely on a specific location (not in a free zone) the LLC is the most suitable option.

  • Your Emirati partner

For any business opened in the UAE that is not within a UAE free zone, you need an Emirati partner.

Your local sponsor can either participate in the business or be paid an annual fee; however you can tailor the arrangement to suit your set-up.

According to the experts, foreign entrepreneurs need to ensure their agreements in a written document between themselves and their sponsor so both of they are protected. There are firms available to match you up with a sponsor, and also tailor a mutually beneficial contract for you and your sponsor.

  • A trade name for your company

Your trade name will differentiate your business from others in an official capacity. This name needs to be unique to your business. Register for this at the Department of Economic Development (DED).

  • Initial commercial licence approval

Receiving an initial commercial licence approval is essential before you can progress with your plans and paperwork. This is obtained from the DED too. It will enable you to receive approval for various licences, including the business licence.

  • How to decide on a location

Where will optimise your business?

Rental prices can be high and prove challenging for new businesses.

The largest expense for business is rent so you need to consult a real estate agent to find somewhere appropriate for your needs and budget.

Your workforce will need visas too.

  • Starting a business in a Free Zone

Foreign investors interested in establishing a business venture in Abu Dhabi can also look at free zones.

Set up as part of the Emirate’s economic diversification plans, outside investors can help the local economy while reaping attractive benefits for themselves.

Each free zone has an independent Free Zone Authority (FZA) that is responsible for issuing free zone operating licences and assisting companies to establish their business as a Free Zone Establishment or Free Zone Company. It will be considered a Limited Liability Company that will be subject to the laws and regulations of the free zone in which it was established.

In summary, once you have done your research, consult a business specialist and lawyer, find a sponsor, get your trade name, see the DED for initial approval, pick a commercial premises, get your business licence and organise visas and you will be ready for business.


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