How to start a business in Abu Dhabi?
We’re here to help you through every step of the process

To legally do business in Abu Dhabi, you need to incorporate a company and obtain a Commercial License, also referred to as a Trade License. Setting up a company in Abu Dhabi is likely to be very different from your home jurisdiction, so its vital to research first, understand the regulations, the ongoing commitments, restrictions etc…so that you can make an informed decision that is right for your business.

Where Do You Start?

The first question you need to ask is what type of business will be most suitable for your planned activities. It would be incorrect to assume that the quickest/cheapest option is best – usually it isn’t suitable. A full market research and feasibility study is recommended. The type of business, but more importantly where your clients are located, is likely to determine whether your business should be onshore or in a free zone.

Onshore or Free zone Companies

Firstly you need to decide if you are setting up on the mainland or in a free zone. Abu Dhabi currently has four free zones, and a fifth is under construction:

TWOFOUR54 – the media free zone

Kizad – the industrial free zone

Masdar City – the renewable energy / green tech free zone

Abu Dhabi Airports Company – the logistics free zone

Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) – currently being developed as a financial free zone (scheduled to open in 2015)

Free zone companies

The free zones generally attract businesses from certain sectors. This is deliberate, so that they can supply goods and services to each other. This is important because legally, a free zone company must carry out their work within the geographical limits of the free zone....

Mainland companies

In many cases, the activities you want to engage in will determine the legal structure of the business; however, this is not always the case. There are three main onshore structures to be considered: Representative Office, Foreign Branch Office or Limited Liability Company (LLC).....

Open LLC Company

In this form of sponsorship, the shares are divided between the investor and sponsor. At Emirates Zone, we guarantee the safety of our clients' shares and investment.

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Branch Company

In this form of sponsorship, we help investors establish a branch company. This company is 100% owned by the client, and we can charge a fixed annual fee for our services.

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How much does it cost to set up a company in Abu Dhabi?

Freezone setup costs

Costs will vary by freezone, structure, activity, premises, and number of visas. However, these are the costs to be aware of:

  • Registration Fee (one time fee)
  • Name reservation fee (one time fee)
  • Annual License Fee
  • Annual rental for premises
  • Visa per person (lasts for 3 years)
  • Legal templates are usually used and personalised, accordingly.

Note:
If an individual is setting up an LLC, they will also be required to show share capital of AED150,000 throughout the incorporation process. Upon receipt of the Trade License, this share capital can be converted to working capital.

Mainland setup costs

Costs will vary depending on structure, activity, premises and the number of visas. However, there are the costs to be aware of:

  • Government and third party fees (Trade License, Notary fees, legal translations, typing centres, government department registrations – mix of one time and annual fees)
  • Incorporation fees (submission of documents, arrangement of approvals/inspections – one time)
  • Sponsor fees (annual)
  • Legal fees (one time)
  • Commercial premises (annual)
  • Registration of new company with Immigration and Ministry of Labour (one off, with renewal of Establishment card only, every two years)
  • Visa per person (usually lasts for 2 years)

Ongoing costs

There are a number of annual costs:

  • Annual costs to maintain a free zone entity in Abu Dhabi
  • License fee
  • Premises rental
  • Corporate PO BOX
  • Annual costs to maintain a Rep Office or Foreign Branch Office in Abu Dhabi
  • PRO Service fees to manage the Trade License renewal
  • Trade License fee
  • Chamber of Commerce registration
  • Ministry of Economy registration
  • Nadafa (Centre of Waste Management) fee
  • Annual audit by a locally-registered Auditor
  • Premises rental
  • Corporate PO BOX
  • Annual costs to maintain an LLC in Abu Dhabi
  • PRO Service fees to manage the Trade License renewal
  • Trade License fee
  • Chamber of Commerce registration
  • Nadafa (Centre of Waste Management) fee
  • Premises rental
  • Corporate PO BOX

Trade License Activities

It is important to apply for the correct activity on your Trade License as it will have various impacts:

1)The activity(ies) selected should reflect the activity(ies) of the business, 2)The activity should be reflected in the Trade Name of the company, 3)It will reflect the type of premise required

Commercial Premises in Abu Dhabi

Every company is required to have a premise that relates to the activities on their trade license, e.g. a trading company will be required to have a store or warehouse, whilst a management consultancy will be required to have an office space. The space should be large enough to carry out the business.....

Legal documents

As mentioned above, free zones generally provide legal templates. Legal documents required to set up a Representative Office or a Foreign Branch Office in Abu Dhabi. The following parent company and signatory’s documents will be required:

Certificate of Incorporation of the parent company....

Timescales

When the legal documents are in executional format, the incorporation process for an LLC can be set up in approximately two to three weeks (if no special approvals are required) and a Foreign Branch Office or a Representative Office will take a little longer – approximately three weeks to obtain....