How to start a business in Dubai as a foreigner or non-resident


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Dubai is one of the most welcoming environments on earth for foreign investors. In recent years, the emirate has made it easier than ever for entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe to do business in the UAE.

Not only can foreign businesspeople take advantage of the UAE’s 0% tax rate on corporate and personal income, but they are also now free to retain 100% business ownership in most cases. Other recent changes include the long-term visa which allows foreigners to stay in the UAE for extended periods and potentially retire here at the end of their career.

With the right support, starting a business in the UAE is so easy that even non-residents can set up here and run their business from anywhere in the world.

Keep reading to find out how the experts at Set Hub can get your company up and running – wherever you may be.

Can a non-resident start a business in Dubai?

The answer in most circumstances is yes. Though there may be conditions depending on the type of business you wish to start, your nationality, and the country of your tax residence.

In some cases, you may need to work with a local sponsor who will hold a 51% stake in your business. However, they are not involved in decision making and are paid a pre-agreed fee for their services.

While you can take advantage of the UAE’s 0% tax rate on corporate income as a non-resident, it will depend on your country of tax residency as to whether you can benefit from this rate on your personal income. Set Hub can advise after a short consultation.

Types of business licenses in Dubai

There are two common types of business licenses available to foreigners starting up in Dubai. The first is a mainland license. This license allows you to open a business anywhere in the mainland UAE.

However, as a non-resident, you may need to work with a local sponsor in order to trade, as detailed above.

The other option is to start up in a free zone. This is usually the most straightforward and cost-effective way to start a business as a foreigner or non-resident in the UAE.

Depending on the free zone, you could benefit from 100% customs tax exemption, no restriction on currency, and 0% corporate tax.

Five steps to start a business in Dubai as a foreigner or non-resident

Step 1 – Work with Set Hub

While it is designed to be a straightforward process, there is a little admin to take care of when setting up in Dubai, particularly if you are a non-resident. For this reason, it’s best to work with a local expert such as Set Hubat this stage. We can make sure all your documents are accurate and in order before embarking on your application.

Step 2 – Choose your business activities

The type of business activities that you intend to carry out will have a bearing on the best setup and license type for your business. For example, if your business activities fall into the category of industrial or manufacturing then you will require an industrial license. If you are in the commercial sector – i.e. the buying and selling of goods – then you will require a commercial license.

Step 3 – Free zone or mainland

After a short consultation, the Set Hub team can advise on the best location for your business – free zone or mainland. There is no simple answer to this question; it will depend on your individual circumstances, as well as the type of business you wish to start.

Step 4 – Choose a company name

The process of naming a company in Dubai is a little different to much of the rest of the world. Essentially, you must abide by a strict set of naming conventions.

You should avoid any offensive or blasphemous language. Avoid names of well-known organisations and avoid abbreviations if naming your company after yourself – i.e., Dave Mann Consulting, rather than D Mann Consulting. Set Hub can check that your chosen name is available before registering it for you.

Step 5 – Apply for your license

Now for the vital step – applying for your trade license.

If you are setting up in the mainland you should make you application to the relevant body such as the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED). If you are setting up in a free zone, then you can apply directly to the managing authority.

Documents required to start a business in Dubai

Whether setting up in a free zone or in the mainland, you will usually need to provide:

  • A completed application form
  • Articles of incorporation (if necessary)
  • Passport copies for all shareholders
  • Brief description of intended business activities

Dubai company formation costs

As a guide, a license package in Fujairah Creative City, inclusive of one visa application and use of the free zone’s co-working facility costs just AED 24,775.

However, with so many variables involved when starting any new business, it is difficult to estimate the exact price without the full picture.

The best way to get an idea of the total UAE company registration cost is to discuss your requirements with the team at Set Hub. We can then provide a detailed and personalised quotation.

Start your business in Dubai with Set Hub

Hopefully, this guide has made clear that if you’re armed with the right knowledge, setting your business as a foreigner or non-resident doesn’t have to be overly complex.

That being said, it does require a level of prior knowledge of the process. What’s more, it is important to note that the application process is only straightforward if your license application is complete at the time of submission and free from errors.

To help you to ensure that this is the case, it’s a good idea to work with a Dubai business setup specialist such as Business Incorporation Zone when establishing a new company in the UAE.

We are a team of company registration professionals who are passionate about bringing the dreams of aspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs to life.

As well as handling your license application, Set Hub can also assist with the opening of corporate bank accounts and advise on the most appropriate financial institution to suit your specific needs.

We also offer visa and immigration services and can handle all government formalities, permissions, work permits, and visa applications required to trade in the UAE.

In short, our experts can establish your company on your behalf, make your license and visa applications, and take care of all the necessary admin – leaving you free to get on with running your business.