UAE Free ZonesUAE Golden Visa

How to set up a company in the UAE and which zone to choose?


What is the UAE’s Golden Visa?

The Golden visa in the UAE is a residency permit that allows foreign talents to live, work, or study in the country for an extended period of time. Its exclusive benefits include a six-month entry visa with multiple entries to start the residence issuance process, a renewable residence visa that’s valid for either 5 or 10 years, the freedom from requiring a sponsor, the option to stay outside the UAE for longer than the usual six months without losing the visa’s validity, the capacity to sponsor family members such as spouses and children of any age, the ability to sponsor an unlimited number of domestic helpers, and the authorization for family members to remain in the UAE until the end of their permit duration if the Golden visa’s primary holder passes away.

Golden Visa requirements

The requirements for the Golden visa vary depending on the type of residence sought, whether investor, talent, entrepreneur, and so on.

Investors in public investments must provide a letter from an accredited investment fund in the UAE, stating that they have a deposit of at least AED two million, or a valid commercial or industrial license with a memorandum of association indicating that their capital is not less than AED two million. Additionally, they must submit a letter from the Federal Tax Authority, stating that they pay the government no less than AED 250,000 annually. They must also fully own their invested capital and provide proof of medical insurance for themselves and their family. Successful investors are granted a Golden visa for a period of 10 years without a sponsor.

Real estate investors who own one or more properties valued at no less than AED two million can be granted a Golden visa for a period of 5 years, which is renewable on the same conditions and without a sponsor. They must provide a letter from the land department of their respective emirate and purchase property through a loan from specific local banks approved by the competent local entity.

Entrepreneurs who own an economic project of a technical or future nature based on risk & innovation can obtain a Golden visa for a period of 5 years, subject to an approval letter from an auditor stating that the project’s value is not less than 500,000 dirhams, approval from the authorities in the emirate that the project is of a technical or future nature, and accreditation from a business incubator in the UAE to establish the proposed activity in the country.

Outstanding specialized talents, such as doctors, scientists, creatives, executives, and specialists in various scientific fields, including engineering and science, are also eligible for the Golden visa. They must meet certain criteria, including holding a doctoral degree and having an approval letter from the relevant authorities.


Step by Step Creating your company in Dubai

What do you need to know before setting up?

Free Zones vs Offshore

Prior to establishment, it is crucial to determine whether you prefer to operate within a Free Zone or Offshore. Depending on your prerequisites, each option presents unique advantages and specifications.


While offshore companies can be registered in a free zone and reap similar advantages, they cannot serve as a complete substitute for a free zone company. The primary distinction between a free zone company and an offshore company lies in their business operations. Offshore companies are permitted to engage in business activities beyond the UAE, whereas they are prohibited from operating within the country. Furthermore, they do not have any stipulations for a minimum amount of capital to be deposited before incorporation.

Nevertheless, unlike operating as a free zone company, offshore companies necessitate a sponsor, which restricts foreign ownership to a maximum of 49%.


If you wish to retain complete ownership of your business, consider acquiring a license and establishing a location in one of Dubai’s free zones. The Dubai government introduced the free zone concept to pique foreign interest in setting up enterprises in the city. Essentially, it is a designated economic zone where business owners can benefit from complete ownership, a corporate tax rate of 9% (applicable to UAE businesses on profits exceeding AED 375,000), and no personal income tax.

Nevertheless, a significant limitation of operating a company in a free zone is the prohibition on conducting direct trade with the local market in the UAE.

Dubai has several free zones, each with its own specific focus and regulations. Some of the popular free zones in Dubai include Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA), Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO), Dubai Media City (DMC), and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). Each of these free zones caters to specific industries, such as technology, media, finance, and logistics, and provides a range of facilities and services tailored to the needs of businesses operating in those sectors.

Creating a company in Dubai involves several steps, which include: 

  1. Determine the legal structure of your company: Dubai allows several types of legal structures for companies, including Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Sole Proprietorships, Free Zone companies, and Branch Offices.
  2. Choose a business activity: You must select the business activity that your company will be involved in. This is an essential step, as it will determine the licenses and permits you will need.
  3. Choose a trade name: You must choose a unique name for your company, which must comply with the naming guidelines provided by the Department of Economic Development (DED).
  4. Apply for a trade license: You will need to apply for a trade license from the DED. The type of license you require will depend on the nature of your business activity.
  5. Register your company: You must register your company with the DED, along with the required documents, which will include your trade license, passport copies of shareholders, and the Memorandum of Association.
  6. Obtain approvals and permits: Depending on the nature of your business activity, you may need to obtain approvals and permits from various government departments and authorities.
  7. Open a corporate bank account: Once your company is registered, you must open a corporate bank account in Dubai.
  8. Rent office space: If your company requires physical office space, you must rent a suitable office space that meets the legal requirements.
  9. Obtain visas: If you plan to hire employees, you must apply for visas and work permits for them.

These are the basic steps involved in creating a company in Dubai. However, the exact requirements and procedures may vary depending on the legal structure and business activity of your company. It is advisable to seek professional advice from a local business consultant or a law firm to guide you through the process.

Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: An Investment Comparison

The initial spark for economic and infrastructural development in the two emirates was undoubtedly the discovery and extraction of oil. Nevertheless, it was the swift progression and broadening of industries in the subsequent years that morphed Abu Dhabi and Dubai into the contemporary, cosmopolitan metropolises they are recognized as today. These emirates have successfully reinvented themselves as international centers for business, finance, and tourism, magnetizing hundreds of thousands of newcomers annually.

Abu Dhabi

Serving as the capital of the UAE and holding the distinction as the largest emirate in terms of both size and GDP contribution, Abu Dhabi presents substantial advantages to overseas investors.

Main Business Sectors

The oil and gas industry remains the predominant sector, accounting for 44.2% of Abu Dhabi’s GDP. However, other sectors such as manufacturing, construction, transportation and storage also contribute considerably.

Further business prospects are available in burgeoning sectors including health services, information communications technology (ICT), pharmaceuticals, and tourism, primarily due to an AED 2 million investment from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) aimed at fostering the development of these sectors.

Free Zones in Abu Dhabi

Beyond the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), which primarily serves the financial sector, Abu Dhabi features several other free zones:

  • Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD) – Connected to Khalifa Port, KIZAD provides easy access to over 60 global ports, facilitating the import of bulk raw materials and export of finished products.
  • Masdar City – This unique economic free zone focuses on clean technology and renewable energy. Recognized as one of the world’s most sustainable urban communities, it offers excellent opportunities for clean energy startups.
  • Abu Dhabi Airport Free Zone (ADAFZ) – Strategically located near Abu Dhabi International Airport, ADAFZ provides commercial office spaces, warehousing units, and logistics services to the companies established within its premises.
  • Twofour54 – A media-centric free zone, housing over 600 companies, is dedicated to supporting the growth of local, regional, and international media businesses.


Dubai, the most populous among the seven emirates, has become synonymous with the UAE. It boasts a thriving tourism industry, drawing more than 16 million international tourists each year with its luxury hotels, expansive shopping malls, and innovative architecture. Over time, Dubai has effectively shifted from an oil-dependent economy to one primarily driven by tourism and services.

Main Business Sectors

The wholesale and retail sector is the leading contributor to Dubai’s economy, making up 22.7% of the emirate’s GDP. Following closely behind are the financial services and insurance sectors, contributing 11.9% to the GDP, and the transport and storage sector, contributing 11.7%. The manufacturing, real estate, and tourism sectors also significantly impact the GDP.

Free Zones in Dubai

Dubai, and indeed the entirety of the UAE, has traditionally relied on economic free zones for investment promotion. These regions are viewed separately from the UAE mainland, offering distinct tax and regulatory benefits.

Presently, over 46 free zones are spread across the UAE, with more than 20 of them located in Dubai. Each free zone is dedicated to a specific business sector and provides tax benefits and customs duty advantages to foreign investors.

  • Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC)
  • Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA)
  • Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZ)
  • Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)
  • Dubai Internet City (DIC)
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