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10 useful tips for starting a business in the UAE

Updated 19 Jan 2020

1) Understand that the government works in different ways than you are used to. Seek professional advice to guide you through the bureaucracy, legalities and procedures. The process for company formation is complex and can take several months to complete. 

2) Familiarise yourself with the tourist/work visa regulations. There are different types of tourist visas depending on your nationality. A work visa is also your resident visa. Your employer will obtain your work visa on your behalf.  

3) The most important factor when looking to set up an onshore LLC company in the UAE is to ensure that you have reliable and secure local partners. They need to be the right partner for your company in terms of understanding the requirements and needs from the partnership. We would always recommend that your local partner is a company and not an individual Emirati.  

4) Learn about the culture in the UAE and how business is done locally. The main factor for success is relationship building. Learning at least a few words of Arabic is an easy way to demonstrate that a relationship is personally important to you rather than just another business deal. Your effort with be greatly appreciated.  

5) Undertake extensive research into the business sector you wish to operate within. It always pays to do your market research before setting up.   

6) This research should also include what is the best way for your company to incorporate in the UAE. Should it be free zone, a branch office, a professional licence or an onshore LLC?  Make sure you get professional advice on what suits your company the best. Too many companies set up only to find they are not able to trade properly with the trade licence they have obtained.  

7) Make sure you have the contact details of your local embassy in the UAE. All expatriates should register with their embassy

8) Be aware of closure dates and working hours. There are two main religious holidays that differ every year as per the lunar calendar; Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. During this time, the government ministries are closed. The work day usually starts somewhere between 7.30am and 9am, with close of business being at 5pm. Sometimes a split-shift schedule is implemented, where there's a break of a few hours in the middle of the day and working hours end later.

9) Be flexible and patient. These are the most valuable attributes you can demonstrate throughout your business and social life, living and working in the UAE. 

10) Choosing the right type of entity to set up under in the UAE is the most important decision your company will make. Mistakes can be expensive to rectify. You need to ensure you have the right activities for what your company wants to achieve.

This includes:

  • Should it be a free-zone entity or an onshore entity? 

  • If it is a free zone, which free zone best suits your company's needs? 

  • If it is onshore should you open as a branch office, representative office, professional licence or limited liability company?

Please be aware you can still be 100% foreign-owned with an onshore entity. Make sure you are advised well on your options so that you are able to make an informed decision. 

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