With an open and diverse economy, the UAE is considered a strategic global business centre. Convenience is key, after all, and the country is a plane ride away to and from key cities in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
To further improve the international business climate in the region, the UAE has also established more than 50 free zones that allow foreign investors to own 100% of their business within the country. Each free zone has its own rules, requirements and benefits. As such, it takes a lot of research and effort to decide where to build your business.
Before you even book a flight to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or any of the major cities in the UAE, ask yourself and your team six questions that will help you choose the right free zone for your business.
What is the purpose of your business? Will you be working in retail, consultancy or e-commerce? With 50+ free zones catering to a variety of industries, it’s important to choose one that fits your business activities.
Being in the right free zone allows you to be close to both partners and competitors. Free zone authorities may also provide support services for recruitment, visa processing, office space leasing, and more.
Here’s a closer look at some of the free zones in the UAE, plus the businesses they cater to.
Fujairah Creative City – If you’re in the broadcast entertainment business, Fujairah Creative City is an ideal free zone for you. Small startups and multinational companies can get licences in this media centre. The area is industry-specific, so you can also interact with fellow creatives in this field and even forge partnerships.
Umm Al Quwain – With its advantageous location, this free zone is convenient for expats flying in from any major city around the world. The free zone authorities here offer both trading and consultancy licences, as well as permits for service providers and freelance professionals.
Dubai South – Also known as Dubai World Central, Dubai South is considered as the Emirate’s flagship urban development. It’s a general purpose zone, and a startup or offshore location for your business is welcome here. Both Jebel Ali Sea Port and Al Maktoum International Airport are within reach as well, making it a prime location for logistics and manufacturing industries.
After identifying the specific nature of your business, you’ll take care of the licence next. As with anything related to paperwork, getting the right licence saves you time and money.
You may need a professional, trading or service licence, and this will also depend on your business. Some free zones may require more than these common licences as well. For example, you’ll need an education licence if you’re offering training and consultancy services.
The UAE has set guidelines in issuing visas for shareholders. If you’re aiming for a physical office in your chosen free zone, ask the local business setup experts about these visas so you can better prepare the required documents for your shareholders. Doing this saves you time and ensures smart business planning and strategy.
As with any sovereignty, the UAE requires residence visas for any foreigner working in its free zones. Some free zone authorities may provide visa processing services, and this may be included in the licencing fees.
It will be your responsibility as the business owner to process and renew the right visas for your employees.
Your required number of employee visas will also affect whether or not you’ll need a physical office space. Depending on the free zone, the type of facilities you get will often involve visa quotas and fees.
In addition, you need to consider the pros and cons of staying in an office versus allowing for a flexible workspace setup. You will need a larger office if you will regularly entertain clients and shareholders. If you have a small startup, a shared or flexi-desk may be enough for your team. This will depend on your type of business as well.
Setting up an office, getting the right licences and knowing the minimum capital requirements are integral parts of your financial plans. The free zones allow for 100% repatriation of capital and profits, so these expenses will be part of your business operating costs.
With all the free zone options available and their unique requirements, it is best to consult the experts to make sure you set up in the right free zone for your business.
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