Abu Dhabi offers a supportive business environment for entrepreneurs and investors looking to establish or expand their operations. An important step in setting up a business in the emirate is obtaining the relevant trade license, which allows you to carry out business activities legally.

This comprehensive guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to get a trade license in Abu Dhabi, the types of licenses available, costs involved, documents required, renewal process and more. We also offer useful tips and recommendations throughout to help make the licensing process smooth and efficient.

Types of Trade Licenses in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi issues several categories of trade licenses based on business activity and ownership:

  • Commercial:For trading goods or services aimed at making a profit.

  • Professional: For professionals providing services requiring special skills/qualifications.

  • Industrial: For manufacturing and related activities.

  • Tourism: For tourism and hospitality related businesses.

  • Agricultural: For agricultural, livestock and fisheries activities.

In addition, trade licenses are classified based on ownership:

  • Local: For UAE/GCC nationals, with 100% local ownership

  • Branch: For foreign companies with presence in UAE

  • Free Zone: For 100% foreign ownership companies in free zones

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Trade License in Abu Dhabi

Follow these key steps to ensure a smooth license application process:

1. Identify Business Activity and Location

  • Determine the nature of your business and intended activity in Abu Dhabi. This will define the type of license needed.

  • Select a location for your business - either mainland, or one of Abu Dhabi's free zones.

2. Choose the Right License Type

  • Commercial, professional or industrial license for mainland.

  • Free zone license if setting up inside free zones.

  • Tourism license for tourism/hospitality activities.

3. Select a Business Name

  • The name must be unique and approved by authorities.

  • You can check availability through the Department of Economic Development.

4. Find a Local Partner (if applicable)

  • Foreign investors need to appoint a UAE national agent with a local service agent license.

  • The service agent should own 51% of the company.

  • Local partners are not required in free zones.

5. Obtain Initial Approvals


  • Requirement
  • Department of Economic Development
  • Name reservation, initial approval
  • Abu Dhabi Municipality
  • Approval of office premises
  • Civil Defense
  • Fire safety inspection 

6. Prepare Required Documents

  • Copy of valid passport/emirates ID

  • No objection letter if employed

  • Proof of address

  • Commercial/industrial license deed

7. Submit Trade License Application

  • Applications are submitted online on DED's website

  • Relevant fees are paid online as well

8. Fulfill Final Procedures

  • Emirates ID registration

  • Immigration procedures

  • Ministry reporting

  • Bank account set-up

  • Mandatory health insurance

Cost of a Trade License in Abu Dhabi

The exact fees depend on:

1. License Type

  • Commercial: AED 10,000-70,000

  • Professional: AED 3,000-20,000

  • Industrial: AED 5,000-50,000

  • Free zone: Varies by authority

2. Business Activity

Some professional activities have higher fees. For example, medical and legal services have fees upwards of AED 100,000.

3. Number of Shareholders/Partners

Fees increase if number of shareholders exceeds 10.

4. Number of Employees

More employees means higher immigration fees.

So budget appropriately considering all these factors. Various government bodies also charge annual renewal fees.

Renewing a Trade License in Abu Dhabi

  • Licenses must be renewed every 1-3 years depending on type.

  • The entire application process, including document submission, must be completed again for renewal.

  • Renewal fees are paid according to prevailing fee structures. Additional penalties may apply for late renewals.

  • It takes 15-20 working days to process, provided all paperwork is complete.

  • Alternatively, businesses can cancel licenses if closing operations.

Key Takeaways

  • Identify the right license category based on your activity and corporate structure.

  • Free zone companies have less restrictions on foreign ownership.

  • Appoint a local service agent with majority ownership if setting up on mainland.

  • Obtain the necessary approvals before submitting license application.

  • Renew license within deadline to avoid penalties.

  • Seek advice from a reputable consultant to streamline the process.

Getting a trade license in Abu Dhabi marks an important milestone when establishing your business. We hope this guide provides clarity and sets you up for success as you venture into the UAE's business landscape.


Obtaining a trade license in Abu Dhabi requires careful planning and preparation. Follow all the steps covered in this guide - identifying the right license type, getting the required approvals, submitting application correctly and fulfilling final establishment procedures. Pay attention to renewal timelines as well. Reach out for specialist help if needed. Stay compliant at every stage and you'll have your license up and running smoothly.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long does it take to get a trade license in Abu Dhabi?

It typically takes 4-6 weeks to obtain a new trade license in Abu Dhabi if all paperwork is complete. The process may take longer if additional requirements need to be fulfilled.

2. Can a foreign company get a trade license in Abu Dhabi?

Yes, foreign companies can get trade licenses by appointing a local service agent who must own 51% of the business. Alternatively, setting up in a free zone allows 100% overseas ownership.

3. What are the fees for getting an Abu Dhabi trade license?

Fees start from AED 3,000 for certain professional licenses. Commercial licenses cost AED 10,000 upwards. Additional factors like business activity, shareholders, employees etc. impact the final license fees.

4. Do I need an office to get a trade license in Abu Dhabi?

Yes, you need to provide proof of a commercial office space or lease agreement in your name when applying for the license. Approval from Abu Dhabi Municipality is also required.

5. Can I get an Abu Dhabi trade license without being a resident?

No, only residents and citizens can apply for trade licenses in Abu Dhabi. Investors need to first get residency permits before applying.

6. How do I check if my trade license is valid in Abu Dhabi?

You can check your trade license validity online on the Department of Economic Development website using your license number.

7. Can I renew my Abu Dhabi trade license after expiry?

Yes, licenses can still be renewed even after expiry. However, late renewal penalties will apply which increases the government fees substantially.

8. Do I need an Emirates ID to renew my trade license in Abu Dhabi?

Yes, providing a valid Emirates ID is mandatory when renewing an existing or applying for a new trade license in Abu Dhabi.

9. Can a free zone company get a trade license in Abu Dhabi?

No. Free zone companies are licensed to operate only within their respective free zones. To conduct business in Abu Dhabi, they would need to set up a separate mainland company.

10. How do I cancel my Abu Dhabi trade license?

To cancel the trade license, visit any Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development branch. Pay cancellation fees, submit required documents and get appropriate approvals to complete the cancellation process.

11. Can I use my trade license from Dubai in Abu Dhabi?

No, Abu Dhabi and Dubai issue separate licenses. To operate in Abu Dhabi, you must secure an Abu Dhabi issued trade license.

12. Do I require an Emirati shareholder for the Abu Dhabi trade license?

For mainland companies, appointing an Emirati local service agent to own 51% shares is mandatory. However, in free zones 100% overseas ownership is permitted.

13. Can I have an office in Abu Dhabi but trade license in Dubai?

No, your trade license location should match your commercial activities and office premise location. So license should also be in Abu Dhabi.

14. How do I apply for multiple trade licenses in Abu Dhabi?

You can set up several companies and apply for separate trade licenses provided they have different activities, shareholders, memorandum of association etc. as per Abu Dhabi licensing laws.

15. Can a freelancer get a trade license in Abu Dhabi?

Yes, freelancers can apply for professional trade licenses in relevant categories like media, healthcare, engineering, education etc. depending on their freelance work.

16. What are the penalties for operating without an Abu Dhabi trade license?

Financial penalties of AED 1,000-100,000 and/or imprisonment sanctions apply for carrying out commercial activities in Abu Dhabi without securing proper licensing first.

17. Can I get an alcohol trade license in Abu Dhabi?

Alcohol licenses are extremely restrictive in Abu Dhabi. Only hotels rated 3 stars or more can apply. Special permissions by multiple authorities are also required.

18. Is a business bank account needed to obtain my Abu Dhabi trade license?

No, you can open a business account after license approval. But proof of share capital deposit in a UAE bank is required when applying for the license.

19. What are the documents needed for renewing an Abu Dhabi trade license?

Passport copies, residency visas, Emirates IDs, previous licenses, corporate documents and touch base confirmation from Immigration is required.