Dubai has become a popular global business hub due to its strategic location, business-friendly regulations, infrastructure, and tax incentives. Many entrepreneurs and investors from around the world are interested in opening a company in Dubai. A common question that arises is - can I open a business in Dubai without having a visa?

Requirements for business owners and investors

The Dubai government offers several options for business ownership and investment for those with and without UAE residence visas. Here are some of the main requirements:

  • Sole Proprietorship: The business owner requires a valid residence permit/visa. Without this, one cannot obtain the required trade license to operate legally.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC in Dubai's mainland requires at least 51% local ownership by an Emirati/GCC national. The foreign investor can own up to 49% shares without needing residency.
  • Free Zones: Several free zones in Dubai allow 100% foreign ownership without requiring residency visa. However, investing through a registered local service agent is mandatory.
  • Offshore Company: Foreign investors can fully own an offshore company in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) or Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) without requiring a residency visa.

So in summary - yes, you can open certain types of companies in Dubai without having residency, depending on:

  • The legal structure you choose
  • Whether you set up in mainland or free zones
  • Using a registered local service agent

Below are some popular options covered in detail.

Open an LLC company in Dubai mainland

An LLC or limited liability company allows foreign investors 49% ownership in Dubai without requiring a residency visa. The rest 51% stake must be held by a local Emirati/GCC partner according to UAE Companies Law.

Here are key steps to open an LLC without residency visa:

a) Choose an activity: Select your LLC’s economic activity from over 2000+ license types in Dubai.

b) Get local sponsor: Appoint an Emirati/GCC national shareholder(s) to own 51% equity and legally represent your LLC.

c) Rent office space: Lease commercial space in your target location for LLC license registration. Virtual office packages are also available.

d) Apply for approval: Your local partner or professional services firm will apply for trade name reservation followed by initial approval from DED.

e) Open a business bank account: Set up an account to deposit the LLC's share capital. This is frozen until issuing the license.

f) Obtain license: The final step is license issuance upon completion of due processes and submission of all documents.

The entire process takes 4-6 weeks with proper guidance. As an overseas investor, you can easily invest through appointing service agents without entering Dubai. However, when applying for visas for staff and making strategic decisions, your physical presence will be required.

Invest in Dubai free zone company

Dubai houses over 45+ industry-specific free zones that allow 100% foreign ownership. These zones provide office spaces, residences, high-class infrastructure, business networking platforms and zero tax rates coupled with faster setup.

Here’s how to invest in a Dubai free zone company without residency visa:

  1. Select relevant free zone: Choose a free zone that caters to your target industry such as IT, consulting, financial services etc. Some zones have minimum capital requirements.
  2. Appoint a registered agent: Free zones require foreign investors to appoint a locally registered company formation agent for licensing, compliance and visa services.
  3. Submit documents: Paperwork includes shareholder's passport/proof of identity and no-objection letters if you operate elsewhere. Some zones require additional attested documents.
  4. Make payments: Pay license fees, rent, and other applicable charges. Fees start from AED 10,000 excluding government levies. Rent varies by facility size and zone.
  5. Obtain trade license & visa quotas: Within 4-6 weeks, you'll receive a commercial license allowing legal residency quota for staff without requiring your physical presence.

Free zones offer the most flexibility for offshore entrepreneurs to invest and conduct business without entering UAE. With the help of an authorized agent, the entire business setup can be done digitally in a hassle-free manner.

Set up an offshore company in DIFC/DMCC

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre free zones located in prime areas allow setting up an offshore company with 100% overseas ownership. The steps are similar:

  • Identify business activity not conflicting UAE regulations
  • Submit incorporation paperwork digitally or via a registered agent
  • Make payments for licensing fees starting from USD 1,150
  • Receive commercial registration and ability to apply for staff/residence visas

These zones offer strong corporate structuring options like opening a branch, subsidiary or representative office. Bank account opening assistance, tax exemption up to 50 years, and capital repatriation make them ideal platforms to conduct global operations from Dubai.

The major difference compared to mainland LLCs and standard free zones is that DIFC entities fall under independent jurisdiction following English Common Law. This offers better protection in areas like data regulation and avoiding local ownership laws for key sectors.

Key takeaways

  • Sole proprietorships require investors to have a UAE residence visa - no way around this regulation.
  • Mainland Dubai allows 49% foreign ownership in LLCs without needing residency, provided 51% is held by Emirati/GCC partners.
  • Numerous industry free zones offer 100% ownership, fast licensing, and residency quota without requiring investors and shareholders to live in Dubai.
  • Global business centers like DIFC and DMCC allow establishing fully owned offshore companies without residency visa requirement for investors.

So in summary - yes, Dubai offers flexible options to open and operate companies without residency depending on:

  • The type of legal structure
  • Location (mainland vs free zones)
  • Local partnerships
  • Appointing registered agents for licensing assistance and sponsorship


Dubai provides an attractive environment for global business and investments, with multiple options for overseas entrepreneurs to set up operations without requiring residence visas for themselves.

By appointing local shareholders or authorized business agents, you can launch companies in mainland LLC form with 49% ownership or within specialized free zones with 100% control. Offshore formations in DIFC and DMCC also spare any residency obligations.

As regulations evolve continuously, it’s best to seek updated guidance from investment/company formation advisors before structuring an offshore Dubai company. Careful planning right at the onset helps avoid roadblocks at later stages after sinking extensive capital.

While Dubai residence may not be mandatory for all investors, periodic visits and localized decision making are crucial particularly during the initial phases of establishing foreign companies.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I fully own a Dubai mainland company without residency visa?

No, to operate an LLC on Dubai mainland, overseas investors are permitted only 49% ownership without needing residency. 51% must be owned by an Emirati/GCC shareholder.

2. What are the ownership rules in Dubai free zones?

Unlike mainland, free zones situated across Dubai allow 100% foreign ownership without requiring residency visa. Do verify zone-specific share capital and space requirements.

3. Can I manage a Dubai company remotely without entering UAE?

Yes, it’s possible to start a company in Dubai free zones or mainland through a registered local agent without entering Dubai even once. However, for expansion strategies and operational decision making, occasional visits become essential.

4. Is renewable residency visa guaranteed for business investors?

Sponsoring residency visa depends mainly on the amount invested or the turnover generated annually rather than mere business ownership. Do check latest regulations with authorized agents.

5. What are the criteria to get UAE investor visa?

Some of the common avenues to obtain UAE residence visa by investing include purchasing property worth over AED 1 million, establishing a fully owned startup/SME, investing in an innovative idea under government programs, etc.

6. Can I issue UAE residence visa to myself from my company?

Any legally registered mainland/free zone company with suitable facility size and share capital has self-sponsorship quota approval. So yes, business owners can sponsor their own Dubai residence visa subject to meeting immigration criteria.

7. What is the initial cost to start business in Dubai?

The cost of business setup in Dubai starts from as basic as AED 10,000 for certain professional licenses in free zones and goes upwards of AED 300,000 - 500,000 to launch larger trading operations including rent, local sponsorship fees, government levies etc.

8. How much cash should I show at Dubai immigration for visit visa?

While entering Dubai either as a tourist or for business visits, it is recommended to carry AED 2000 - 4000 cash, besides having a valid return ticket and hotel reservation to avoid visa rejection.

9. Can someone exit Dubai if business visa expires?

For business trips, Dubai offers visa-on-arrival for several nationalities which permits a 30 days stay. Yes, you can exit Dubai normally after its expiry without paying any penalties or overstay fines at the airport.

10. How fast can I get a Dubai business visa?

Both airlines and local sponsors like hotels/tour companies offer express visa processing within 24-72 hours in Dubai for an additional fee. The standard visa procedure through general trading companies may take 7-10 working days.

11. Can I open multiple companies in Dubai free zones?

Yes, there are no restrictions imposed by Dubai free zones regarding opening more than one company. You can establish multiple ventures across different industries from the same zone or specialized zones based on respective operational requirements.

12. Is renewable residency visa guaranteed for business investors?

Sponsoring residency visa depends mainly on the amount invested or the turnover generated annually rather than mere business ownership. Do check latest regulations with authorized agents.

13. Can I open a business bank account in Dubai without residency visa?

Yes, several banks in UAE now offer opening a corporate account to those holding tourist, business or investor visas thereby enabling initial financial transactions even before obtaining residency permits.

14. Can I sponsor family member visa without my Dubai residence?

No, for sponsoring dependent visas like for parents, spouse and children, the Dubai residency visa holder needs to be based within UAE as per immigration laws. Temporary CSS-visas are provided only if you exit Dubai.

15. How to renew expired Dubai residence visa living abroad?

If your Dubai visa has expired while stranded overseas during COVID lockdowns, you cannot renew until entering Dubai based on latest regulations. Processing is done with fines after biometric validation at immigration.

16. Can I get 10 year UAE golden visa through business setup?

Yes, investing in an existing or new business venture through the golden visa scheme grants 10 year residency in Dubai without requiring employers or sponsors. Eligibility and regulations vary across Emirates.

17. What is the process of issuing visit visas to relatives?

UAE residence holders need to sponsor visit or tourist visas for their family online through ICA website. Documents required are attested passports, photos, and copies of resident’s visa/Emirates ID + financial ability proofs before applying.

18. How to verify UAE visa without entry stamp?

Those outside UAE can verify issued Dubai e-visas on arrival by contacting airlines, approved sponsors like hotel booking entities or independently via ICA website using passport details and application reference numbers.

19. Can I sponsor my parents on Dubai residence visa?

Yes, those holding valid UAE residence permits can now sponsor permanent residency entry visas for their parents jointly or individually subject to meeting salary requirements as per recent immigration reforms.

20. What are fees for issuing UAE golden visa?

The Dubai golden visa scheme has a processing cost of AED 15,000 for pre-approved occupations like investors, entrepreneurs, professionals, etc. Changes or renewals apply additional service charges per applicant.