How to start an import export business in Dubai


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Much is, quite rightly, made of the UAE’s strategic location in the global market. Well connected by both sea and air, the Emirates is just an eight-hour plane journey for two-thirds of the world’s population. Its well established trade links reach Europe, Asia, Africa and of course the Middle East.

While these connections are a huge benefit to all international businesses, they are of paramount importance to those in the import/export trade.

The UAE’s global position is one of the many reasons why the country imports $288 bn and exports $389 bn worth of goods every year to and from a wide range of countries including India, China, Japan, Turkey and many EU states.

Another reason behind the UAE’s status as a major import export hub is how easy it is to set up and trade here. The UAE general trading license allows you to trade multiple goods under a single license while the country’s free zones offer 100% customs, import and export tax exemption. What’s more, with the right guidance, you can set up your UAE import export company in a matter of days. So, if you’re wondering – how do I start an import export business? – here’s everything you need to know.

If you are looking to get your company license in Dubai, Dubai free zone visa, or the cheapest free zone license or visa in the UAE, then our team can help. We also offer monthly installment plans for UAE company registration.

How to start a trading business in Dubai

Choose your trading activity: The first step before you start an import export business in the UAE is to decide exactly what you wish to trade. This will have a bearing on the type of license you require. If you wish to trade multiple, unrelated goods – anything from car parts to shoes – then the general trading license is the best option.

If you’re unsure what to trade and are looking for import export business ideas in Dubai, there are plenty to choose from. The UAE imports and exports a great range of products including jewellery, car and airplane parts, food and drink, beauty products and clothes.

Choose a company name: There a few things to keep in mind when naming a business in the UAE. Here you must abide by a strict, yet easy to follow, set of naming conventions.

In short, 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. You must also check that your chosen name is available to register.

Choose a setup: You can start your import export business either on the Dubai mainland or in a UAE free zone. Due to the direct links with ports, airports and major highways that many free zones offer, this type of setup is usually best suited to import export businesses. Fujairah Creative City, for example, is just 15 minutes from Fujairah Port – the only seaport on the east coast of the UAE, serving direct routes to the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

Free zones also offer 100% exemption from all import and export taxes as well as no currency restrictions and the freedom to repatriate all capital and profits.
Keep in mind, however, that you will need to work with a local partner if you wish to trade directly with the local UAE market – something mainland companies are not required to do.

Applying for your license: If you’re asking – how can I get an important license in Dubai? – here’s your answer. You can apply for your trading license either directly to the Department of Economic Development (DED) or municipality in your chosen emirate if you are planning to set up on the mainland, or to the managing authority of one of the UAE’s many free zones. In both cases, a company formation expert can help you with this step, managing the entire application process on your behalf.

The exact documents required to start a general trading company in Dubai will depend on your business activity and where you choose to set up. In most cases, however, you will be asked to provide:

  • Completed application form
  • Passport copy of the proposed owner or owners
  • Two coloured photos
  • LOE
  • KYC
  • Application form
  • Proof of address
  • Business activity questionnaire

Customs requirements: As you are planning to trade with the wider world, you will need to consider customs requirements. While setting up in a free zone can help you to avoid import export tax, you will still need to request an import code from the Federal Customs authority.

You can obtain your code by applying to the customs department of the emirate you wish to set up in.
In most cases, you will be required to provide:

  • A copy of your general trading license
  • A copy of your passport
  • Details of your trading activities

Visas: As well as applying for your business license, you can also apply for any visas you may require for you and your employees. Again, an expert in UAE company formation can help you with this step.

As the holder of a UAE business license, you can also sponsor others for their visas too. This could be a spouse, parent or child, or a domestic worker such as a housekeeper.

The maximum number of visas you can apply for will depend on the size of your company, your chosen setup and, for dependant visas, your personal earnings.

Import export license cost

There are a few costs to consider when applying for an import export license. The first is the cost of your trade license. To give an example: a general trading license in Fujairah Creative City with one visa and use of the co-working facility would cost AED 19,538.

If you are importing goods to sell to the local market, you’ll also need to consider tax. Any goods that pass for sale from a free zone to the local market incur a duty of 5% (though this can be more on certain products).

Are you ready to start an import export business in the UAE?

As you can see, the process for setting up an import export business in the UAE, whether in a free zone or on the UAE mainland is not overly complicated.
It is important to note, however, that the process is only straightforward if your 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 company formation specialist such as Set Hub when establishing an import export company in the UAE.

We are the team of Business Incorporation Zone, your best business setup advisor across the Gulf Region. If you are looking to open your company in Dubai, across the UAE, in KSA or Qatar, get a free zone license, or start a business in the mainland, then we can help. From visa applications to all the necessary admin tasks, we handle it all – leaving you free to get on with your business.