Company Formation as a foreigner in Dubai

5 Things To Know Before Starting a Business in Dubai (as a Foreigner)

Entrepreneurs from all over the world call Dubai home. 

VirtuZone reported that over 20,000 new businesses launched in Dubai last year alone.

The long-term visa, which enables foreigners to stay in the UAE for protracted periods and possibly retire here at the end of their careers, is one of the most attractive things about this place. 

Even non-residents can set up their company in the UAE and manage their company from any location in the world with the right assistance. 

But how do you really start a business in Dubai as a foreigner?

What are the steps involved?

Here’s a detailed guide about how to launch a business in Dubai.

Is it possible for a foreigner to start a business in Dubai?

It’s very possible for non-residents to start a business in Dubai.

In fact, over 80% of the residents are foreigners, and many of them run their own businesses.

Dubai actively welcomes foreign investors and entrepreneurs. The emirate is home to a large number of setup agents and company formation specialists who were established to assist foreign business owners with the license, visa, and business incorporation procedures.

Tax exemptions, simplicity in starting a business, speedy procedures, a booming economy & political stability are just a few benefits for foreigners starting new businesses in Dubai and other UAE emirates.

The short answer is that yes, expatriates can easily register a new business in the UAE.

Things to know before starting a business in Dubai

Before we get into explaining how to start a business in Dubai as a foreigner, it is important to understand how things work in the city.

Why Dubai?

The city has gained international prominence as the economic hub of the Middle East. Its strategic geographical location provides easy connectivity to suppliers in the Gulf, Asia as well as the African subcontinent. Also, 90% of the city’s population comprises expats from all over the world.

Dubai has an excellent infrastructure with a very safe living environment and tax-friendly policies. The visionary leadership which supports technology and innovation, create highly conducive for entrepreneurs to thrive. 

Therefore, starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner provides you with the option to live in such a lucrative city.

Corporate structure

One of the first decisions you need to make before starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner is the type of company you want. 

This will be determined by various factors, including the nature of your business, the purpose of your company and its operational aspects, among others. 

There are two major types of corporate structures that you can choose from: Limited Liability Company and Sole Establishment.


In Dubai, you can set up shop either on the mainland or in one of the many free zones. Starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner, one may wonder what is the difference between mainland and free zones.

Mainland — operating a company on Dubai Mainland allows you to trade within the local markets as well as trade internationally. The process of company formation is quite systematic. Moreover, you can get a business license within a day.

Free zones — Setting up a business in free zones is quite reasonable and favourable for new businesses. Some of the most prominent free zones in Dubai include Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA), Dubai Media City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), Dubai Healthcare City (DHC), and Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC). 

The rules and regulations for businesses and timeline for business setup formalities, however, may vary from one free zone to another as they are governed by their own authorities.

Steps to start a business in Dubai as a non-resident

Setting up a company in Dubai is straightforward if you know the rules and regulations maintained by the government. To start a business in Dubai as a foreigner or non-resident, follow these steps:

1. Decide your business type

The type of business you want to build is one of the most important decisions you need to make before starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner. 

The activity you choose will define the structure of your company. You can launch a sole proprietorship that allows you to be the sole owner of your business. 

Furthermore, you can form a limited liability company (LLC), the most common type of business structure in Dubai that allows you to have a separate legal structure.

2. Choose a trading name

Trade name reservation is a precondition for a company’s registration. 

Your company name must reflect the type of business you do. The legal advisors at AB Capital can help you choose a name that is not previously registered, does not violate public sentiments, and complies with your business activities.

3. Obtain a license

Acquiring a license is mandatory to start a business in Dubai as a foreigner. The trade license can be obtained directly from the respective free zone authorities, or from the DED.

4. Business registration and incorporation

Once you’re done with all the steps mentioned above, you can register your business with the concerned jurisdiction and get started with your operational activities in the UAE. 

Registering would mean gathering all documents, identity proofs, trade licenses, permissions, bank accounts, etc. Your business becomes a legal entity in Dubai post-registration only.

5. Get a business visa

A business visa facilitates the movement in and out of the country for the business. 

Besides, it allows three of the senior business staff to apply for residency. The people who want to start a business in Dubai as an expat can get a long-term visa for themselves and their dependents. You can get the visa by contacting the local embassy. 

Furthermore, anyone willing to relocate to the UAE to establish a business is eligible to apply for a business visa.

Cost of starting a business in Dubai as an expat

The cost of starting a business in Dubai as an expat or a foreigner is dependent on various factors like type of business, license cost, location, and other documentation. 

For example: the trade license would cost you between AED 15,000 to AED 25000, approximately depending on the region.

Also, if you pick a foreign name (non-Arabic) for your company you have to pay an additional fee of AED 2000.

Approvals required

In Dubai, specific businesses need to acquire permission from various government agencies. For instance, to open a restaurant in Dubai, you will need to get a permit from the municipality for food and safety. Similarly, you need to lease or rent factory space of a specific minimum area to carry out any industrial activities.

Expert assistance

Still wondering how to start a business as a foreigner?

Consult UAE company formation experts at AB Capital Services FZE. 

Our experienced legal corporate advisors will help you figure out the best possible corporate structure and choose a suitable jurisdiction. 

Book a free consultation with us and let us help you form a successful business in Dubai.

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