Starting a Business in Dubai as a Foreigner or Non-Resident: A Comprehensive Guide 2023


Dubai, a global business hub, is renowned for its welcoming business environment, strategic location, and robust economy. It offers a plethora of opportunities for entrepreneurs worldwide, including foreigners and non-residents. This article explores the process of starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner, the benefits it offers, and the considerations to keep in mind. 

Foreign entrepreneurs can now keep 100% ownership of their businesses in most circumstances, in addition to benefiting from the UAE’s lower corporate tax rate and zero per cent personal income tax. The long-term visa, which enables foreigners to stay in the UAE for protracted periods and possibly retire here at the conclusion of their careers, is one of the most recent reforms. 

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

Below we can find some survey findings that show why expats consider UAE as their home:

  • 37% of expats plan to retire in the UAE. This is up from 28% in 2021, and is likely due to the introduction of the Golden Visa and Retirement Visa schemes.
  • 68% of expats are satisfied with their lives in the UAE. This is slightly below the global average of 72%, but still indicates that the UAE is a popular destination for expats.
  • The top reasons why expats move to the UAE are for the job opportunities, the quality of life, and the weather.
  • The most popular cities for expats in the UAE are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.

The survey was conducted by the National Bonds in 2023, and it surveyed over 2,000 expats and locals.

Here are some other interesting findings from the survey:

  • 76% of respondents consider the UAE a good place to save money.
  • 64% of respondents are on their way towards establishing a reliable fund.
  • 80% of respondents found it effortless to obtain a visa in the UAE.

Overall, the survey found that the UAE is a popular destination for expats, and that they are generally satisfied with their lives here.

Does Dubai Permit Non-Residents to Establish Businesses? 

Yes, Dubai actively encourages foreign investment and allows non-residents to start and own businesses. The government has implemented policies that facilitate foreign direct investment, making it an attractive destination for entrepreneurs worldwide. 

Here are some recent news and updates related to this: 

  • In January 2023, the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED) announced that it would be simplifying the process for non-residents to obtain business licenses. The new procedures are designed to make it easier for non-residents to start businesses in Dubai and to attract more foreign investment to the emirate. 
  • In April 2023, the Dubai government announced that it would be waiving the mandatory local sponsorship requirement for non-residents who are starting businesses in certain sectors. The sectors that are exempt from the local sponsorship requirement include technology, media, and healthcare. 

The government of Dubai is making it easier than ever for non-residents to start businesses in the emirate. If you are considering starting a business in Dubai, I recommend that you keep an eye on the latest news and updates to stay up to date on the latest regulations and requirements. 

Benefits of Starting a Business in Dubai as a Foreigner 

According to an article from Arab News reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is expected to attract 4,500 millionaires by the end of 2023, making it the second most attractive country globally for millionaires. This is attributed to the UAE’s low tax regime, one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates, and Dubai’s role in hosting the first World Expo of the post-COVID-19 era.

The UAE’s immigration policies, which are designed to attract private wealth and international talent, have also contributed to this influx of ultra-wealthy individuals. Notably, affluent Russians seeking to escape the impact of Western sanctions on their country have started to move to the UAE in large numbers.

However, the country witnessing the largest net exodus of millionaires is China, with an outflow of 13,500 in 2023. India is expected to see an outflow of over 6,500 millionaires by the end of this year, while the UK will drop by 3,200, largely due to post-Brexit economic changes and policy shifts affecting tax status.

Dubai offers numerous benefits for foreign entrepreneurs, including: 

  • Stable Economy: Dubai boasts one of the fastest growing and most diverse economies globally, providing a stable environment for businesses. 
  • Tax-Efficient Economy: The UAE has one of the most competitive tax regimes in the world, with low-income tax and no VAT on residential property for businesses operating from a free zone. 
  • Strategic Location: Dubai’s strategic location provides easy access to emerging markets in Europe, Asia, and Africa. 
  • World-Class Amenities: The city offers high-quality infrastructure, healthcare, and public spaces, contributing to a higher quality of life for business owners and their employees. 
  • Safety: Dubai frequently ranks as one of the safest destinations globally, with low crime rates and stringent law enforcement. 
  • Low corporate tax rate: The UAE has a corporate tax rate of 0%, which is one of the lowest in the world. This means that you will not have to pay any corporate taxes on your profits. 
  • No restrictions on foreign ownership: There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses in the UAE. This means that you can own 100% of your business, regardless of your nationality. 
  • Global hub for trade and commerce: Dubai is a global hub for trade and commerce. This means that you will have access to a large market of potential customers. 
  • Business-friendly government: The government of Dubai is very business-friendly. They offer several incentives to attract foreign investment, and they are committed to providing a smooth and efficient business environment. 

Overall, the benefits of starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner outweigh the challenges. If you are looking for a business-friendly environment with a low corporate tax rate and no restrictions on foreign ownership, then Dubai is a great option for you. 

Types of Business Licenses Available for Foreigners 

In Dubai, there are several types of business licenses available for foreigners. The type of license required depends on the nature of the business activity. Here are the most common types: 

  • Commercial License: This license is required for businesses engaged in any kind of trading activity. This includes buying and selling goods, import and export, and other forms of trade. 
  • Professional License: This license is for service providers, professionals, artisans, and craftsmen. It allows individuals to offer their expertise and skills to consumers. Examples of businesses that require a professional license include consultancies, medical services, and repair services. 
  • Industrial License: This license is required for businesses that will engage in manufacturing or any industrial activities. It covers businesses that convert natural material or raw materials into finished goods. 
  • Tourism License: This license is required for businesses that operate in the tourism industry. This includes travel agencies, tour operators, and hospitality services. 

Each of these licenses has its own set of requirements and procedures for application. It’s important to note that some business activities may require approval from other governmental departments outside of the Department of Economic Development. 

Process of Starting a Business in UAE as a Foreigner 

u003ca href=u0022 target=u0022_blanku0022 rel=u0022noreferrer noopeneru0022u003eStarting a business in the UAEu003c/au003e as a foreigner involves a series of steps, including obtaining the necessary visas. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the process: 

  1. u003cstrongu003eDecide on Your Business Activity:u003c/strongu003e

    The first step is to decide on the nature of your business. This will determine the type of license you’ll need to apply for. 

  2. u003cstrongu003eChoose a Business Name:u003c/strongu003e

    You’ll need to choose a unique name for your business that aligns with the UAE’s naming conventions. 

  3. u003cstrongu003eu003cstrongu003eChoose a Business Structure:u003c/strongu003eu003c/strongu003e

    The UAE offers several business structures, such as Sole Proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC), and Free Zone Company. The choice depends on your business activity, the level of control you want to maintain, and your budget. 

  4. u003cstrongu003eChoose a Location:u003c/strongu003e

    You can choose to set up your business in the UAE mainland or in one of the many free zones. Each has its own advantages and regulations. 

  5. u003cstrongu003eRegister Your Businessu003c/strongu003e

    Once you’ve decided on the above, you can proceed to register your business. This involves submitting the necessary documents to the relevant authorities, which may include a business plan, passport copies, and application forms. 

  6. u003cstrongu003eObtain a Business License:u003c/strongu003e

    Apply for the appropriate business license based on your business activity. This could be a commercial, professional, industrial, or tourism license. 

  7. u003cstrongu003eOpen a Corporate Bank Account:u003c/strongu003e

    Once your business is registered, you can open a corporate bank account. You’ll need to provide your business registration documents and other requirements specific to the bank. 

  8. u003cstrongu003eObtain Visasu003c/strongu003e

    As a foreign business owner, you’ll need a visa to live and work in the UAE. Find the processu003cbru003ein infographics.

Remember, the process can vary depending on the specific requirements of the business activity and the jurisdiction (mainland or free zone). It’s always advisable to consult with a business setup advisor to ensure you follow the correct procedures and regulations.   

Documents Required to Start a Business in Dubai as a Foreigner 

The specific documents required for foreigners to start a business in Dubai depend on the type of business license chosen. Here are some of the key documents you will typically need: 

Passport Copy: This is a crucial document for all business-related activities in Dubai. You will need to provide a copy of your passport. 

Visa Copy: If you’re not a UAE resident, you will need to provide a copy of your visa. 

Business Plan: This document should outline your business goals, strategies, and financial projections. It’s a key part of your business setup process. 

Letter of Intent from a Local Sponsor: This is applicable if you’re applying for a mainland license. You will need to provide a letter of intent from a local sponsor. Please note that this is required for very limited activities. 

Certificate of Good Conduct: This document confirms that you have no criminal record. It’s an essential part of your business setup process. 

Financial Statement: This document shows your financial assets and liabilities. It’s crucial for demonstrating your financial capacity to run a business. 

In addition to these, you may also need to provide other documents based on the specific requirements of your chosen business license and operating location. 

Here are some additional tips for starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner: 

  • Do your research: Before you start the process of registering your business, it is important to do your research and understand the different types of business licenses available and the requirements for each. 
  • Hire a lawyer: Hiring a lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal requirements for starting a business in Dubai. 
  • Network with other businesses: Networking with other businesses in Dubai can help you get advice and support from experienced professionals. 
  • Be patient: The process of starting a business in Dubai can take some time, so be patient and persistent 

Things to Consider as an Expat Before Starting a Business in UAE, Dubai 

Before starting a business in Dubai, consider the following: 

  • Understanding Local Business Customs: Familiarize yourself with local business customs and practices. 
  • Choosing the Right Location: Decide between setting up in the mainland or a free zone, each offering different benefits. 
  • Understanding the Costs: Be aware of the costs involved in starting a business, including license fees, visa costs, and operational expenses. 

Cost of Starting a Business as an Expat in UAE 

The cost of starting a business in Dubai varies depending on the business type, location, and other factors. However, you can expect a trade license to cost between AED 15,000 to AED 25,000. 

Company Setup Options in Dubai for foreigners  

Foreigners looking to set up a company in Dubai have several options available to them. These options are largely divided into two categories: Mainland companies and Free Zone companies. Here’s a closer look at each: 

1. Mainland Company: 

Setting up a mainland company allows you to do business anywhere in the UAE, including free zones. You can choose from several legal forms such as Limited Liability Company (LLC), Professional License (sole proprietorship), and Civil Company. 

However, for most types of mainland companies, there is a requirement for a local sponsor or a local service agent. The local sponsor, who must be a UAE national, owns 51% of the shares in the company, while the foreign investor owns 49%. In the case of a Professional License, the local service agent doesn’t have any shares but is needed for liaising with government departments. 

2. Free Zone Company: 

UAE has more than 40 free zones, each catering to specific business sectors such as technology, healthcare, media, design, commodities, etc. When you set up a company in a free zone, you can enjoy 100% foreign ownership, 100% repatriation of capital and profits, and exemption from import and export taxes. 

Free zones also offer a streamlined setup process, and companies within them are not required to have a local sponsor. However, free zone companies are generally allowed to do business only within their own free zone or outside the UAE, unless they have a local distributor or open a branch outside the free zone. 

3. Offshore Company: 

UAE also allows the setup of offshore companies, which are often used for international business and investment. These companies enjoy tax benefits and confidentiality, but they cannot carry out business within the UAE. 

Choosing the right setup option depends on your business activities, where you plan to do business, and your ownership preferences. It’s always advisable to consult with a business setup advisor to understand which option is best for your specific needs 

Start your Business in UAE as an Expat with Adam Global 

Adam Global provides comprehensive business setup services to help you navigate the process of starting a business in Dubai. Our team of experts can guide you through each step, ensuring a smooth and efficient setup process. 


Starting a business in Dubai as a foreigner or non-resident is a promising venture, given the city’s robust economy, strategic location, and business-friendly environment. With the right guidance and preparation, you can successfully establish and grow your business in this dynamic city with the help of Adam Global expert assistance

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