Dubai has emerged as a global hub for trade and business over the last few decades. Its free economic policies, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and strategic location have attracted investors worldwide. However, starting a business on Dubai Mainland has specific laws and regulations that need compliance.

This article offers an overview of the current business landscape in Dubai Mainland. It also provides critical information on commercial licenses, permitted activities, documentation, fees, and everything related to business setup and compliance on Dubai Mainland.

Commercial Licenses in Dubai Mainland

The Department of Economic Development (DED) in each emirate oversees the issuance of business licenses. There are three types of commercial licenses in Dubai:

Trade License:-

This allows trading in goods and products imported from a foreign country. A trade license holder cannot open retail outlets or distribute goods within Dubai.

Industrial License:-

This permits importing raw materials, goods manufacturing, and export/trade. Industrial units have higher rent and maintenance costs.

Professional License:-

This is for services, professionals, and artisans. Consultants, trainers, designers, artists, etc. need this license.

Permitted Activities and Documentation

Over 2,000 commercial activities are permitted across general trading, manufacturing, and service categories. Allowed activities fall under defined groups.

To apply for a license, the activity must comply with pre-set regulations. Business locations must also meet area suitability norms. Required documents include:

  •     Passport copies with valid residence visa

  •     No-objection letter from sponsor (if needed)

  •     Tenancy contract for office space

  •     Ownership proof of office premises is self-owned

  •     Ministry-attested educational/experience certificates

  •     Detailed business plan

Expats with valid UAE residence can have 100% business ownership in Dubai Mainland and other emirates, except Sharjah.

Fees for Business Licenses

Dubai has a moderate cost framework for business setup and renewal. Key elements determining total license costs include:

a) License type: Trading vs Service vs Industrial

b) Shareholder/Partners: Individual vs Partnership/LLC firms

c) Staff headcount: Salary costs per employee

d) Office area: Commercial space lease costs

e) City: Dubai vs Other emirates like Sharjah

Depending on the above factors, business license costs range from AED 7,500-20,000 per year approx. Subsequent renewals have a 50-60% lower fee. Overall expenses for small trading setups start from AED 15,000 annually. More prominent firms with more shareholders, employees and office space have proportionately higher outlays.

Apart from DED license charges, additional costs apply:

  •     Federal fees and E-signature costs

  •     Municipality fees

  •     Professional consultation charges

  •     Bank guarantee costs (if applicable)

  •     Translation and attestation expenses

Emirates, like Sharjah, has 10-15% lower business costs than Dubai.

How to Get a Business License in Mainland Dubai?

Follow these steps to obtain and renew your business license in Dubai Mainland:

1. Identify Business Activity: Choose from DED's list of 2,000+ permitted activities. Each has norms for premises size, employees, etc.

2. Finalize Location: Select suitable premises meeting government requirements for your activity. Acquire tenancy contract after verifying ownership title deed.

3. Apply for Initial Approval: Visit the DED office in your area to specify activity details. Get initial approval if compliant.

4. Complete Documentation: Prepare sponsor/partner MOA, ownership proof, tenancy contract, passport copies, educational/experience certificates, etc.

5. Draft Business Plan: Outline the firm's ownership, office details, activity, target market, etc. Mention number of staff, area size and other vital details.

6. Pay Fees: With DED approval, deposit license fee, federal charges, E-signature costs, etc. Provide bank guarantee if needed.

7. Get Final Approval: DED reviews and approves application in 2-4 weeks. Visit the office on the appointed date for license collection.

8. Arrange Municipality Fees: Get NOCs from Health/Civil Defence etc. if needed. Pay municipality fees.

9. Renewal: Renew license each year within one month of expiry by paying 50% renewal charges. Inform authorities of updated company details or activity changes.

By following the step-by-step process and engaging consultants, obtaining a Dubai Mainland business license is straightforward for serious entrepreneurs.

Which are the Best Free Zones for Business in UAE?

Free economic zones from Dubai Mainland offer 100% business ownership and tax relief for expats. Some top free zones in UAE are:

1. Dubai Airport Free Zone: Caters to aviation, logistics and e-commerce firms with the facility to store goods for re-export. Fast license approval.

2. DMCC Free Zone: High-tech infrastructure for international trading companies focused on gold, diamonds, precious metals, jewellery, etc.

3. Jebel Ali Free Zone: The World's most extensive free zone housing over 7500 firms. Caters to manufacturing and warehousing entities. Excellent logistics and facility management.

4. Dubai Silicon Oasis: Technology companies focused on electronics, IT products/services, chip design, etc., benefit from a high-tech ecosystem.

5. Sharjah Airport Free Zone: Low business setup costs and customs duty relief. Petrochemicals, transport, and logistics players prefer this location.

Free zones offer tax exemption, fast legal verdicts using English common law, high ownership freedom and other advantages over Dubai/UAE mainlands.

Key Takeaways

  •     Over 2000 commercial activities are allowed in Dubai across trading, manufacturing and services verticals.

  •     Individual expats can have 100% ownership of Dubai Mainland companies

  •     License fee starts from AED 7500 per year with 50% savings on subsequent renewals

  •     Low business setup costs coupled with tax incentives for expats make Dubai an ideal global startup hub

  •     Apart from the mainland, free economic zones like DMCC DAFZA also enable full ownership and tax relief


Dubai Mainland has clear frameworks supporting business formation. With practical steps and expert help for government/administrative dealings, starting a company in Dubai Mainland is convenient.

Low setup costs, sustained government focus and world-class infrastructure provide an enabling base. Dubai's diverse resident mix, comprising 200 nationalities, offers a thriving, dynamic marketplace that supports ideas and investments into profitable ventures.

For global entrepreneurs, Dubai offers the fitting launchpad to scale innovative business models catering to regional demand across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the different types of business licenses in Dubai Mainland?

A: The three main licenses Dubai's Department of Economic Development (DED) issued are a trade license for import/export activities, an Industrial license for manufacturing and a Professional license for services.

Q: What is the procedure to apply for a business license in Dubai Mainland?

A: Key steps are - to identify preferred commercial activity, zero in on a suitable location, get initial approval from DED, prepare documents like ownership proof/tenancy contract, draft a business plan, pay a license fee, and collect the final license.

Q: How much capital is required to start a business in Dubai?

A: Dubai's mainland business setup has no minimum capital requirement. However, DED evaluates applications based on detailed business plans. Seed capital helps secure necessities like commercial workspace, business services, etc.

Q: Can expatriates or foreigners have 100% business ownership in Dubai?

A: Yes, expats are permitted 100% ownership of companies set up in Dubai and other UAE mainland except Sharjah. The business should be legally compliant with government rules.

Q: What are some popular free zones for business formation in Dubai?

A: Top free zones in Dubai are DMCC for bullion trading, DAFZA for aviation/logistics, Dubai Silicon Oasis for tech startups, Dubai Media City for media ventures, Dubai Internet City for internet/IT services etc.

Q: Where can I get assistance obtaining a business license in Dubai?

A: You can get professional assistance from business setup consultants for your UAE/Dubai business license application. They help identify activity and location, complete documentation, and follow up with authorities.

Q: What are the costs of setting up a business in Dubai?

A: Typical business setup expenses in Dubai Mainland are - DED license fees (AED 7500+), office rent, federal charges, legal consultant charges, translation/attestation costs, etc. The overall costs range from AED 15000 to 20000 per year.

Q: What are some key sectors suitable for business investments in Dubai?

A: Strategic sectors attracting investments in Dubai include tourism, real estate/construction, financial services, IT, education, healthcare, professional services consulting, trading & eCommerce and green industries.

Q: Is it easy for expats to relocate and stay in Dubai for business?

A: Expats can quickly relocate to Dubai by finding a job or sponsor to get a residence visa. Further, they get renewable residence visas as business owners facilitating a long-term stays. Dubai offers a high-quality, secure lifestyle to expats.

Q: What are the benefits of setting up business in a Dubai-free zone vs the mainland?

A: Free zones offer 100% ownership, zero corporate/personal tax, fast license approval, onsite customs clearance and a better legal framework for business dispute resolution through the court system vs mainland arbitration.

Q: Does my business partner need to be in Dubai for the license application?

A: No, business partners don't need to be present physically. With POA consent and passport copies, consultants can complete paperwork. Partners need to visit later for authority submissions if needed.

Q: How long does it take to get an initial approval vs a final business license in Dubai?

A: Initial approval takes 2-3 days if activity and documents are compliant. Final approval is given at least 2-4 weeks after paying license fees, depending on the agency processing workload.

Q: Which documents do I need from my home country for the Dubai business setup?

A: The primary documents needed from the home country are passport copies, educational/experience certificates for all partners/shareholders/directors, financial proof if investing as a shareholder and any other activity-specific requirement that may be stipulated.

Q: Can I open a branch office of my existing overseas company in Dubai?

A: Yes, you can apply to open a branch office of your overseas parent company in Dubai Mainland or free zones. The branch can fully support your regional expansion plans from Dubai.

Q: What are the visa options for company owners/investors and staff?

A: Business setup owners/directors can apply for a 3-year investor visa, further renewable for longevity. Staff can be sponsored for renewable 3-year employment residence after getting NOC from the DED/Free zone.