Why Start a Business in the United Arab Emirates?

Have you ever thought of setting up an international business in another country? Perhaps somewhere exotic, maybe even somewhere like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Despite its small size, this former British colony — now proudly ruled by seven hereditary emirs and a single national president who is based in the thriving capital of Abu Dhabi — is estimated to have the seventh-largest oil reserves in the world, and is known as a business-friendly environment that welcomes foreign investment.

united arab emirates business prospects
Image by mohsin mohamed

The country is a great place do business for many reasons, but first and foremost, it has gained its overwhelmingly positive reputation because of its political, social and economic stability. Look no further than the country’s high ranking on the Human Development Index, or the fact that per capita income in the UAE is the seventh-highest in the world. In fact, the IMF even classifies the UAE as a ‘high-income developing country’ — yet another indicator that your investment is safe in the UAE.

But how does one go about setting up an international business in the UAE? And what are some of the other advantages of doing so?

Where to Start

A great way to make your dream a reality is to visit www.business.abudhabi.ae, an English-language website set up by the UAE government. The easy-to-use site is dedicated to helping new businesses and start-ups, and is loaded with practical advice for international entrepreneurs and investors considering starting a business in the UAE.

According to the government, setting up an international business involves a handful of fairly straightforward steps:

  1. Determine the type of economic activity the business will conduct and how the business is legally defined (Limited Liability Company, Corporation, etc.). This is information the government will require in the application.
  2. The next step is to register a trade name for the business with the UAE government.
  3. Once a ‘trade name certificate’ has been issued by the government, an investor must seek ‘initial approval’ from the government. This involves getting permission from the Commercial Protection Division, though foreign investors must also get permission from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. Once initial approval is applied for and granted — and the General Directorate has also given its approval — an investor can secure a physical site for the proposed business and move on with final approvals in order to secure a ‘business license’.
  4. The Department of Economic Development (DED) authorizes the final business license and collects any fees incurred during the application process. For an additional fee, investors can have a DED representative guide their application through the entire licensing process, from start-to-finish.

What Type of Business?

The type of business you start is limited only by your imagination. The government grants licenses from activities ranging from tourism to agriculture, and given the UAE’s strategic location on the Persian Gulf and close proximity to large population centres, many investors are interested in the financial opportunities available in providing import/ export services and shipping to countries throughout the Middle East and Asia. And of course, given the country’s vast oil reserves, there is a great deal of economic activity around the extraction and exportation of oil. Dubai in the UAE is a major banking centre, and Abu Dhabi has a large banking and financial services sector also.