Under UAE law, foreign entities interested in establishing a formal presence in the UAE have five options: create a permanent establishment, of which there are seven different types; establish a branch office; create an entity in a UAE free zone; create a civil company (only in Sharjah and Dubai); or enter into a commercial agency agreement.
The UAE Commercial Companies Law (CCL) requires that each company established in the UAE has one or more UAE national partners who hold at least 51 per cent of the company's capital. Companies that undertake certain activities (oil industry, production of electricity and gas, treatment and distribution of water) are exempt from the 51 per cent requirement. Companies established in free zones are also exempt from the 51 per cent requirement, if the relevant free zone has special provisions regulating the company. Foreign banks are exempt from having to appoint a sponsor.
Click here for more detailed information on company formation.
Further information is available on the UAE Ministry of Economy website and through each Emirate's Department of Economic Development.
Chambers of Commerce
Chambers of Commerce in each emirate are invaluable sources of information and assistance for anyone intending to do business in the country: they keep investment databases, issue and authenticate licences and other documentation, arbitrate on disputes and provide business facilities, such as meeting and conference rooms.
Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce
Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Ajman Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Umm al-Qaiwain Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Ra’s al-Khaimah Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Fujairah Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture
Free Trade Zones
Establishing a business entity in one of the UAE’s Free Trade Zones (FTZs) can be an extremely attractive option for foreign investors. The major attributes of a free zone are:
In addition to free zones, major industrial clusters such as Abu Dhabi’s Higher Corporation for Specialized Economic Zones (HCSEZ) are hubs for manufacturing, logistics and trade across a number of sectors, offering unique opportunities for efficiencies of scale and market access. Specialised Economic Zones offer investment incentives such as reduction on infrastructure costs, administrative support, simplified approvals procedures and residential cities for workers. Companies situated in these zones are subject to the requirements of the CCL, including the 51 per cent UAE participation requirement.
Dubai Design District
Dubai Gold and Diamond Park
Dubai Healthcare City
Dubai International Financial Centre
Dubai Internet City
Dubai Knowledge Village
Dubai Maritime City
Dubai Media City
Dubai Multi Commodity Centre
Dubai Outsource Zone
Dubai Silicon Oasis
Dubai Studio City
International Media Production Zone
Jebel Ali Free Zone
Dubai Techno Park
Dubai Auto Zone
Dubai International Academic City
Dubai Energy and Environment Park
Jumeirah Lake Towers Free Zone
Ajman Free Zone
Ahmed bin Rashid Free Zone