Dubai is the preferred location for business in the UAE. Since 2000, Dubai has witnessed incredible growth throughout all sectors of its diverse economy and its Government is constantly working to improve its commercial transparency and introduce dynamic regulations that aid the formation of small and medium enterprises. Setting up a company in Dubai is now one of the most attractive options for entrepreneurs in the UAE.

With its central geographic location between Asian and European markets, Dubai has established itself as an internationally recognised trading hub.

What makes company formation in Dubai so attractive, is the features of its free zones. Dubai’s many free zones have enabled the United Arab Emirates to attract more foreign investment as free zones adhere to unique laws regarding ownership, taxation and labour. Unlike businesses in the rest of Dubai, which require at least 51% ownership by a UAE national, free zone businesses can have 100% foreign ownership.


Why set up a business in Dubai?

Here are some of the key advantages to setting up a company in Dubai:

The UAE is focused on helping businesses to succeed. The government has invested significantly in business development and support over the years. This is especially evident in the free zones – areas where foreign entrepreneurs can set up a business without requiring an UAE sponsor. Starting a business in a Dubai free zone is efficient and cost effective. You can operate with freedom, plus benefit from the multiple amenities, facilities and networking opportunities on offer.

Another reason why forming a company is Dubai is attractive is that fact it is perfectly situated for both onshore and offshore companies. It links the east and the west, and is a world-leader in terms of international trade. It’s also well-connected, with two international airports, two commercial ports, plus excellent overland transport links.

Dubai is politically stable and is a global trailblazer in terms of business and commerce. To encourage foreign investment, the government has made it incredibly straightforward, with the correct guidance, to set up a company in Dubai, and there are numerous tax incentives too.

Dubai offers a good working environment, and a great lifestyle for residents too. Once you’ve set up a company here, you can easily apply for a residency visa, which allows you to rent property, purchase vehicles, and travel without restriction. You’ll also find that there’s plenty to see and do in the UAE, with activities for all the family.


Things to consider when you set up a company in Dubai

Do you need a UAE national to act as a sponsor?

If you’re setting up a company in one of Dubai’s free zones, you won’t require a local sponsor (a UAE national who acts as a partner, owning 51% of the company). However, if you’re setting up an onshore business, a sponsor is required. Please note that sponsors will also charge an annual fee.


What location works best for you?

There are numerous location options when setting up a business in Dubai.

Operating in one of Dubai’s free zones benefits many businesses, in a variety of different sectors. However, if you need to be in the centre of the city (e.g. if you run a retail company), setting up in a free zone might not be the best option. There are many other geographical considerations too. For example, does your business need to be near one of the ports, or one of the airports? Is it B2B or B2C? Are there good transport links nearby? We will consider these important questions before advising where to locate your company.


What sort of set-up works best for you?

There are three different types of business set-up in Dubai, and each offer different advantages. The options are:

Offshore. An offshore company can’t trade in UAE, so you won’t be entitled to a visa. However, 100% foreign ownership is permissible.
Free zone. The situation is the same as it is for offshore, but you can apply for a visa.

Onshore. Dubai Mainland Company Requirements mean you must obtain a DED licence, and a local partner must own 51% of the company. This is the right option if you plan to open a shop in the centre of Dubai selling clothing, for example.


Are you eligible for a visa?

If you want to operate an onshore business in Dubai, you’ll need to have a visa for both you and your staff. These aren’t difficult to obtain, but be aware that you’ll need to fulfil certain criteria in order to be eligible. The authorities will want to know details about your business operations, who the investors are, and how large your premises are (among other things). To get a visa, you’ll also need to provide documents like your passport, proof of address, and a letter from your sponsor (if you’ve got one).


What assistance do you need?

Most businesses in Dubai choose to work with a specialist agency. These agencies have the advantage of being familiar with the process of setting up a company in your chosen country. Charterhouse Lombard are on hand to help with starting a business in Dubai, either in one of the free zones, or another location and assist with residence visa processing


What sort of office?

Identify what sort of premises you require, and whether anything suitable is available. You’ll need to consider your budget, and think about the future too (e.g. what options you’ll have if you need to upscale your business).


What licence do you need?

Starting a business in Dubai requires a license. There are several different licence categories in Dubai. Weigh up your options carefully, as you don’t want to select a licence that limits your business. This is something that an advisory agency can assist with.


Which bank will you use?

There are a lot of options in Dubai, and choosing the right bank isn’t just a matter of selecting the one with the best reputation. Find out what charges are involved, and if the bank places any limitations on your business activities. Remember that you’re looking for a bank that allows you to grow without restriction.


Dubai’s free zones

There are around 30 free zones in Dubai, and each offers its own set of advantages. Here’s some information about the best-known ones.

Dubai South

Dubai South was previously known as Dubai World Central. This free zone supports businesses in the aviation, logistics, commercial, residential and humanitarian sectors, and more.

IFZA Dubai

Formerly located in Fujairah and now a leading free zone situated at Dubai Silicon Oasis.


This free zone is located in Jumeirah Lake Towers, and has won ‘Global Free Zone of the Year’ on multiple occasions.

Jebel Ali

Jebel Ali is the world’s biggest free zone, and caters to a multitude of businesses, in a variety of different sectors.

Dubai Airport

Dubai Airport free zone is ideal for those who need proximity to the airport, and well over 1500 companies currently operate there.

Dubai Internet City

This is an information technology hub, which focuses on internet-based companies.

Dubai Media City

Dubai Media City is home to businesses that operate in the media sector (including online media, broadcasting and more).

Dubai Knowledge Village

As the name suggests, Dubai Knowledge Village specialises in promoting knowledge-based businesses; in the field of education, professional development and HR.


Dubai Company Set Up FAQs

How do you set up a business in Dubai?

It’s a good idea to work with a specialist agent, who can guide you through the process. They’ll offer you professional advice and support, assisting you at every stage; from completing the relevant forms, to applying for a visa.


How do I become a Dubai resident?

Following the establishment of your company, we can assist you with the processing of your resident’s permit, which will need to be renewed after three years.


How do I open a bank account?

Charterhouse can guide you on the opening of company and personal accounts.


How Charterhouse Lombard can help you

Over the past 15 years, Charterhouse Lombard has been offering Dubai company formation services and has helped many clients start up businesses in Dubai. We have the knowledge and expertise to guide clients through the complexities to help them successfully start a business in Dubai and be able to reap the benefits of this jurisdiction.

For more information on our Dubai business setup services, contact a member of our team.