A Guide to Opening a Grocery Store in Dubai


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Opening a grocery store in Dubai is an entry into a dynamic market filled with opportunities and a diverse consumer landscape. The flourishing economy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), coupled with a robust retail sector, coupled with its strategic location and constant influx of tourists and expats, has created a thriving marketplace for various businesses. The grocery sector, in particular, is a key player in the retail game. With a population that appreciates diversity in food choices and a growing emphasis on quality, opening a grocery store aligns perfectly with the needs of the bustling Dubai community.

As highlighted in a recent Statistica report, major supermarkets like West Zone, Al Maya Supermarket, Carrefour Market, Spinneys, and Waitrose are currently dominating the grocery retail scene, each claiming a significant market share. This not only emphasises the competitive nature of the market but also underscores the consistent demand for diverse grocery offerings. Food retail is the undisputed leader, holding the largest share of the UAE retail market. This trend isn’t a fleeting one, experts predict its continuation, making it an opportune time to carve your niche in this sector.

This blog dives into the step-by-step process of opening a grocery store in Dubai, from understanding the market intricacies to crafting a business plan that sets you up for success.


To thrive in the competitive grocery market of Dubai, a well-thought-out business plan will be your roadmap to success. Craft a comprehensive document that outlines your unique business model, identifies your target market, and presents realistic financial projections.

Then you must analyse your target market. Understand the preferences, habits, and needs of Dubai’s diverse population to tailor your offerings accordingly. Crafting a unique selling proposition (USP) that sets your grocery store apart will be instrumental in capturing the attention of discerning consumers.

Your business plan should also delve into financial projections. Outline your initial investment, operational costs, and revenue forecasts. This not only serves as a guide for your own financial management but is often a requirement when seeking funding or partnerships.


Ensuring compliance with licensing and legal requirements is a critical step in establishing and operating a successful grocery store in Dubai. The regulatory landscape in the UAE demands meticulous attention to detail, particularly when it comes to obtaining the necessary trade license and permits specific to food retail. Here’s a detailed exploration of the process involved, and how it differs based on whether you choose to establish your grocery store on the mainland under the Department of Economic Development (DED) or in a free zone.

Licensing and Permits

Obtaining a Trade License in the Mainland

The Department of Economic Development (DED) is the key authority responsible for issuing trade licenses in Dubai. Securing the appropriate license is paramount, and the process involves several steps:

  1. Initial Approval
    Before diving into the licensing process, you must obtain initial approval from the DED. This endorsement signifies that the UAE government permits the establishment of your grocery store. Without this crucial approval, further steps in the application process cannot proceed.
  1. Documentation
    Prepare a comprehensive set of documents, including passport and visa copies of the owner(s), the tenancy contract, Ejari (a legal requirement for tenancy contracts), approvals from the Dubai Municipality, and trademark registration from the Ministry of Economy.
  1. Trade Name Approval
    The trade name is a crucial aspect of your grocery store’s identity. Ensure it complies with DED guidelines, is in line with your business activities, and is free from controversial or derogatory terms. The DED must approve the trade name.
  1. Location Approval
    Finalise the location of your store and obtain necessary approvals from the DED. If the location is subject to change, prior approval is required.
  1. License Issuance
    Once all documentation is in order, and necessary approvals are secured, you can proceed to the issuance of your commercial license. For a grocery business, a commercial license is essential, specifying that only grocery items can be sold under its purview.
  1. Fee Payment
    Don’t forget to pay the required grocery license fee within the specified timeframe to ensure the continuous validity of your issued license.

Obtaining a Trade License from a Free Zone

Securing your grocery store’s trade license in a free zone follows a streamlined process designed to foster business growth. The efficiency and business-friendly environment of free zones significantly contribute to expediting the setup process, enabling you to focus on establishing a thriving grocery store in Dubai’s dynamic market.

  1. Business Activity Selection

Choose the relevant business activity for your grocery store, which typically falls under the classification of “Retail sale in non-specialized stores”. Specify if food, beverages, or tobacco predominate, as this will impact the subclassification.

  1. Trade Name and Application

Select a suitable trade name adhering to the free zone regulations. Complete the application forms, providing essential details about your business.

  1. Location Choice

Decide on your business location within the free zone, taking advantage of the flexibility and incentives offered by the chosen zone.

  1. Fee Payment and License Issuance

Pay the required fees associated with your business setup. Upon approval, receive your trade license, granting the legal authority to operate your grocery store in the chosen free zone.

 Food Safety Regulations and Legal Compliance

Operating a grocery store involves adherence to stringent food safety regulations and other legal compliances set by Dubai Municipality and relevant authorities. Key considerations include:

Quality Control
Ensure that all products sold in your grocery store meet quality standards. Products with fake trademarks are strictly prohibited by law.

Advertisement Approvals
Any promotional activities, including advertisements, banner ads, and wall stickers, must receive pre-approval from the DED. Adhering to this regulation helps in avoiding legal complications.

Taxation and Invoicing
Obtaining a VAT registration number is imperative for your grocery store, in alignment with UAE government regulations. Implement proper invoicing procedures for all sales transactions, with the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate standing at a modest 5%.

Notably, corporate tax in the UAE is set at 9% on profits for businesses exceeding 375,000 AED (approximately USD $100,000). However, exemptions from corporate tax apply to specific businesses. Businesses categorised as ‘Free Zone Persons’ may also benefit from a 0% rate, and verification can be sought from the respective Free Zone Authority.

Corporate Tax Rates, according to the Ministry of Finance, are structured as follows:

  • 0% for taxable income up to AED 375,000
  • 9% for taxable income exceeding AED 375,000

Additionally, the customs duty rate is set at 5% of the goods’ value, inclusive of Cost Freight Insurance. Notably, alcohol incurs a 50% customs duty, while cigarettes face a 100% duty. It is crucial to understand that if your grocery store operates within a free zone, exemptions from customs duties apply, marking a significant financial advantage for businesses in these zones.

Ongoing Compliance and Amendments:

Keep in mind that any amendments or changes to your license require approval from the relevant authorities, including the DED and Dubai Municipality. Staying informed about evolving regulations and promptly updating your business operations accordingly is crucial for sustained legal compliance.

In Conclusion

As you embark on the journey of establishing and operating a grocery store in Dubai, the success of your venture lies in a combination of meticulous planning, regulatory compliance, and a dedication to providing unparalleled customer service.

Begin by making informed decisions about your investments, business location, and company structure. Craft a detailed business plan that reflects your vision, market trends, and financial projections. Then obtain the necessary trade license, whether from the Department of Economic Development (DED) or a free zone authority. The choice between mainland and free zone comes with distinct advantages, so choose wisely to align with your business goals. Ensure compliance with taxation regulations, including Corporate Tax and VAT registration, and you will be able to set up a business that contributes significantly to the vibrant and ever-evolving retail landscape of this dynamic city.

Ready to launch your grocery store in Dubai? Let Set Hub be your guide.
Our seasoned business setup consultants are ready to assist you through the entire process, ensuring a seamless journey. Book a free consultation with our experts today by calling 800-SETHUB (738482) or +97142222565.