Dubai offers exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs looking to open retail shops. With a vibrant economy, world-class infrastructure, and business-friendly regulations, Dubai attracts retailers from around the globe. However, foreign investors need to understand the process of business ownership and meet eligibility criteria to open shops in Dubai.
Overview of retail sector in Dubai
Over the last decade, Dubai has emerged as the retail hub of the Middle East due to various factors:
- Strategic location and connectivity to global trade routes
- Cosmopolitan population with high purchasing power
- Developed infrastructure and transport facilities
- Global tourism and shopping festivals held annually
- Government support and incentives for the retail sector
The retail sector is a key pillar of Dubai’s diversified, non-oil economy. According to government data, the total retail sales turnover reached AED 163 billion in 2021. With the growing population and infrastructure development in the lead up to Expo 2020, the sector is slated for steady growth.
Steps to open a retail shop in Dubai
Foreign investors keen on opening stores in Dubai must follow these key steps:
Choose business activity
First, you must decide the retail activity - whether to open a supermarket, clothing store, furniture shop, electronics showroom etc. Your eligibility and licence requirements will vary accordingly.
Identify a commercially viable location in a market, community mall or shopping centre based on your target customers. Rental costs may be higher in premium areas, so factor this while budgeting.
Complete business plan
Develop a sound business plan covering operational aspects like:
- Proposed business activity
- Target market
- Projected revenue & expenses
- Staff recruitment plan
- Inventory & supply chain management
- Marketing strategy
Select legal business structure
You need to choose an appropriate legal structure for your retail business:
- Sole Proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company (LLC)
- Branch of a Foreign Company
- Civil Company
LLC is the most popular option - it offers limited liability protections to owners. As a foreign investor, you can have 100% ownership of an LLC in Dubai.
Obtain trade license
Based on your legal structure, you must apply for relevant licenses from the Department of Economic Development (DED). The exact requirements, fees and documentation will vary.
Register for taxes
Like other businesses, your retail shop needs to register for corporate taxes and VAT. You may also have to register for excise tax if selling specific goods.
If relocating to Dubai, get an investor visa. You can also sponsor visas for key staff once you obtain the trade license.
Finalize retail space
With the trade license in hand, you can finalize the lease or purchase of your desired shop/showroom space in Dubai. The rent is typically paid annually in advance.
Arrange for fittings & inventory
Order the shop fittings, furniture, billing systems and security equipment. Also, coordinate the inventory purchase and delivery logistics.
Key benefits of owning a shop in Dubai
Dubai offers an unmatched platform for retail business owners:
World-class roads, airports, ports connectivity for seamless goods transportation. Ultra-modern shopping malls and retail clusters attract customers.
Favorable government policies
The Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism promote private investments by simplifying rules and increasing ease of doing business.
Booming retail consumption
Rising disposable incomes, high consumer confidence, strong tourism contribute to robust retail spending in Dubai.
Access to global markets
Dubai’s connectivity makes it easy to source products cost-effectively from overseas markets. You can efficiently cater to expatriate and tourist shoppers.
No personal income taxes coupled with low corporate taxes and import duties make Dubai a tax-friendly base.
Global financial hub
Presence of major banks and easy access to funding makes it simpler for retailers to get working capital and grow in Dubai.
Eligibility criteria for foreign investors
For overseas entrepreneurs to open retail stores in Dubai, the key requirements are:
To start the business set-up process, the foreign owner must have a valid residence visa - investor, property owner or family visa. Tourist visas are not acceptable.
Business activity approval
Your planned retail business activity should feature on the DED’s approved list of economic activities open for foreign investors.
You must show adequate financial resources to open the retail facility. Some categories may require higher minimum capital investments.
Local service agent
Appointing a UAE national or company as the local service agent/sponsor is compulsory for expats opening shops here.
Evidence of the shop/showroom lease or purchase agreement in an approved retail area is needed while applying for the license.
By satisfying these key conditions, overseas retailers can invest and reap the benefits of running stores in Dubai.
Dubai offers an unparalleled ecosystem for entrepreneurs to launch successful retail businesses catering to both locals and expats. Thanks to a vibrant economy, pro-business environment and infrastructure, Dubai continues to strengthen its position as the regional shopping and lifestyle hub. With proper planning and adherence to the regulations, international brands and small-scale investors alike can capitalize on the opportunities in Dubai's flourishing retail landscape. By following a step-by-step process, foreigners can unlock lucrative prospects and stay ahead in the competitive retail sector.
Q: What are the popular products to sell in a retail shop in Dubai?
Electronics, furniture, footwear, clothing, jewelry, perfumes, cosmetics, foodstuff, and appliances sell well in Dubai due to rising consumer demand. Choose product categories wisely based on target customer profiling.
Q: How much capital is required to open a retail business in Dubai?
The minimum capital investment ranges from AED 300,000 to AED 2,000,000 depending on your legal business structure and the retail activity planned. Sufficient working capital must be shown while applying for the trade license.
Q: Can I operate multiple retail outlets in Dubai?
Yes, you can apply for licenses to open more than one store once you have registered your first shop. However, separate paperwork will be required for each additional retail outlet.
Q: Can I get financing to open my store in Dubai?
Banks and financial institutions in Dubai offer credit facilities, working capital loans, and retail investment funding options for businesses. As a foreign investor, you can approach them once you obtain your visa and initial approvals.
Q: How much rent must I pay for retail space in Dubai?
Rental costs for physical shops vary significantly depending on location, size, category of market area, etc. Expect to pay AED 2,000 - AED 15,000 yearly per square foot in established shopping malls.
Q: Can I operate an e-commerce store from Dubai?
Yes, obtaining a trade license for online retail activities is possible in Dubai. E-commerce licenses fall under the DED’s professional category rather than the standard retail category.
Q: How long does it take to get a retail business license in Dubai?
It can take 2 to 4 weeks to obtain approval after submitting a complete application for the retail trade license from the DED. The entire set-up process may take 6-8 weeks.
Q: Do I need an Emirati local partner to open a shop in Dubai?
Appointing a local service agent (LSA) is mandatory in Dubai for expats. An LSA liaises with government departments on your behalf. However, there are no Emirati ownership requirements.
Q: Can I open a retail pharmacy in Dubai as a foreign investor?
Currently, opening private retail pharmacies is reserved only for companies fully owned by UAE nationals under government rules. Expats cannot get licenses.
Q: Are there any restrictions on foreign investment in Dubai’s retail sector?
Apart from a few activities like pharmacies reserved for locals, 100% foreign ownership is now permitted in most retail sub-sectors without Emirati involvement.
Q: Can I sell products imported from my home country?
Yes, in Dubai, you can easily import inventory/goods for resale purposes from overseas once you have the trade license. Just ensure the products adhere to municipality rules.
Q: Can I open a retail shop in a Dubai free zone?
Yes, free zones like Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC) or Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority (DAFZA) allow 100% foreign retail ownership without needing local sponsors or agents.
Q: Do I need any experience to open a retail business in Dubai?
There are no minimum experience requirements set by DED. However, basic business/management experience can help you navigate the Dubai retail market better. Financial capacity is more important.
Q: How much tax do I need to pay to run shops in Dubai?
You need to pay 5% VAT on sales of goods and services. Additionally, net profits from the retail business are subject to corporate taxes - between 0 to 9% depending on profit slabs.
Q: Can I hire foreign staff for my stores?
Yes, as a licensed retail business owner, you can readily hire qualified expatriate staff by obtaining work permits and employee visas for them in Dubai.
Q: Is financing available for inventory procurement and working capital?
Banks in Dubai offer trade financing, overdraft facilities, payment term loans etc. specifically for the retail sector for inventory procurement, shop fit-outs and short-term working capital needs.