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An A-Z Guide on Doing Business in Dubai

A is for… As-Salamu Alaikum (Peace Be Upon You)

Speaking the local language (or at least learning some key words) is usually considered best business practice, and the UAE is no different. As-Salamu Alaikum is the most common (and polite) greeting in Arabic and the Muslim world, meaning “peace be upon you”, to which one will receive the response Alaikum As-Salaam. An also accepted short form for this is simply Salam (“peace”).

 B is for… Banking

There are currently over 45 (local and foreign) banks in the UAE, regulated by the UAE Central Bank. Moody’s maintains a stable outlook on the UAE banking system, due to the banks’ resilient capital levels and liquidity buffers. Islamic banking is comprised of 8 fully-fledged Islamic banks and 23 conventional banks offering Islamic banking services and products.

C is for… Customs

Previously known as Farada, and with more than 100 years of operation, Dubai Customs is one of the oldest governmental departments in the UAE. The standard customs duty rate for most goods coming into Dubai mainland (as opposed to goods destined for Free Zones that are exempt from duty) is 5% of the good’s cost, insurance and freight value.

D is for… DED

The Department of Economic Development (DED) is the governmental body responsible for the economic agenda of Dubai and registration of all mainland (i.e. non Free-Zone or Offshore) companies in Dubai, as well as the respective business licensing.

E is for… e-Dirham

Whilst the Dirham (AED) is the local currency for the UAE, the e-Dirham is a method of electronic payment and collection of revenue for both governmental and non-governmental fees.

E is also for… Expo 2020

Dubai will host the Universal Exposition in 2020, which is set to become the biggest happening yet for the Emirate and the Country, who will also endeavour to create and deliver the most inclusive global expo yet. It is the first World Expo to take place in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia. The ambitious theme is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” aims to address three main issues of our time: Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability.   

F is for… Free Zone

There are over 20 economic Free Zones in Dubai which allow for 100% foreign ownership of the incorporated company. These are located within specific “fenced” geographical areas within the Emirate, administered and governed by their own regulatory authorities, and with their own rules and regulations (and in the case of the Dubai International Financial Centre, with their own civil and commercial courts). Different Free Zones are typically tailored for different industry sectors, thus offering different licenced activities. It is important to note however that businesses incorporated within a Free Zone are not allowed to carry out activities in mainland UAE (i.e. outside of the Free Zone).

G is for… Government

The Government of the country is called the Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates, or the Council of Ministers, presided and headed over by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and (currently) 30 additional members of the Cabinet are chosen by the President, with consultation. The Cabinet manages all internal and foreign affairs as the executive authority of the federation. The UAE has been hailed as innovative in appointing exciting new ministerial positions such as Minister of Tolerance, Minister of Future, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Minister for Happiness and Wellbeing, Minister for Youth Affairs (appointed at 22 years of age) and Minister for Artificial Intelligence. 

H is for… Hospitality

Personal contact and relationships are a key to doing business in Dubai and the Arab world in general. Regular face-to-face meetings are encouraged to gain trust and to build a solid business relationship. Both at Arab homes and offices you will be offered coffee (gahwa) as a symbol for hospitality and an opportunity to establish such relationships – you should accept at least one cupful and drink it with your right hand.

I is for… Insurance

The DHA (Dubai Health Authority) is implementing a mandatory health insurance for all foreign residents in Dubai, whereas the employers are responsible for ensuring that their employees are covered and are therefore required to have their policies in place. 

J is for… JAFZA

JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone), founded in 1985, is the oldest free zone within Dubai and also considered the largest free zone in the world, with more than 7,000 global companies spread over 57 square kilometres. JAFZA accounts for more or less 32% of the total Foreign Direct Investment into the Emirates and 21% of Dubai’s GDP. JAFZA is connected to the Port of Jebel Ali, which is the world’s largest man-made harbour and one of the world’s biggest ports in size and number of containers.

K is for… Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the current President of the United Arab Emirates, ruler of Abu Dhabi and the Supreme Commander of the Union Defence Force (armed forces of the UAE). Sheikh Khalifa succeded Sheikh Zayed, his father, as ruler of Abu Dhabi on the 2nd of November 2004 and as President of the UAE on the following day. The Burj Dubai was renamed as the Burj Khalifa in 2010 as a way for Dubai to honour the President – it is currently the tallest building and man-made structure in the world. 

L is for… LLC

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) are the most common form of company in the UAE and are regulated by the new Commercial Companies Law (UAE Federal Law No. 2 of 2015) that replaced the previous Commercial Companies Law (UAE Federal Law No. 8 of 1984, with amendments) on the 1st of July 2015. These are onshore companies (ie in mainland UAE) that require local shareholding of at least 51%. Apart from being able to operate in mainland UAE, only local companies can tender for public contracts. 

M is for… Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. Due to his vision, strategy and driving force, he is (as was his father) responsible the growth of Dubai into a true global city and business hub, and striving to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world by 2021 (through the UAE Vision 2021 program).

M is also for… MOFA

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Corporation (MOFA) is the Government entity that has the power to attest all documents (individual or corporate) by ratifying the validity of stamps and signatures on documents issued within or outside of the UAE.  

N is for… Notary Public

The notaries in Dubai work under the umbrella of Dubai Courts and are an essential part of doing business in Dubai (especially in mainland Dubai). Most contracts (including Memorandum of Associations and Local Service Agency), affirmations and Powers of Attorney must be executed with the local notary public. As of 2013, Dubai lawyers can act as private notaries and provide some notarial services.

O is for… One Advice

One Advice can be your ideal partner to enter into the market of the UAE and help set-up a company or branch with one-stop services and turn-key solutions for all your business needs. 

P is for… PJSC

A PJSC (Public Joint Stock Company) is used in the UAE for the implementation of large projects with substantial assets. The minimum paid up capital for PJSCs amounts to AED 10 million (USD 2 million) and both the majority shareholding and the CEO of the company must be UAE citizens. Contrary to LLCs, PJSCs are also subject (with the exception of banks) to local laws and regulation on Corporate Governance and Corporate Disciplinary Standards.

Q is for… Quota

Private sector companies in the UAE must abide to the local laws and regulations on Emiratization and respective employment quotas for recruiting a stipulated number of UAE nationals into the organization.

R is for… Repatriation

There are no restrictions on capital and profit repatriation in UAE Free Zones and banking relations. In mainland UAE there are substantial incentives offered to foreign investors as well as some corporate governance provisions to ensure that both transparency and accountability are ensured for both the local sponsor/investor and the foreign investor. 

S is for… Sponsor

As mentioned in “LLCs” above, mainland UAE companies must have a local sponsor with at least 51% of the shares in the company. The role and function of a local sponsor might vary from silent partner (i.e. simply a sponsor for the company) to an actual active partner in your business and a key to unlocking and procuring local business deals and opportunities. One must always seek professional help before entering into business locally in order to mitigate any risks of such relation and of a minority shareholding position. New rules and regulations are being implemented in the UAE to waive, under certain conditions (and most probably for specific industries), the local sponsor rule, thus allowing foreign investors to hold 100% of mainland companies. 

T is for… Tas-Heel 

Tas-Heel (translated into “simplification”/“facilitation”) is an online government system that covers the full spectrum of services related to corporate and labour affairs.

U is for… UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven constituent monarchies: the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Each emirate is governed by a ruler which, together, form the Federal Supreme Council, with one of the rulers serving as President of the UAE. With more or less 87% of the total land mass of the UAE, Abu Dhabi city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the capital of the federation and its current ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, serves as the country’s President.

V is for… VAT

Value Added Tax (or VAT) is the tax on the consumption or use of goods and services levied at each point of sale. VAT was implemented in the UAE on the 1st of January 2018 and is currently set at 5% for all goods and services that do not fall into the list of zero-rated or exempt supplies.

W is for… Will

Whilst the general rule in the UAE, as a Muslim country, is the application of Sharia Law in cases of succession, a non-Muslim expatriate resident in the UAE, or with assets in the UAE, may opt for law of their domicile home country to be applied in the distribution of assets and guardianship of minor children, provided that there is a legally executed and recognized will. This can be done via the super legalization and translation of wills from the expat’s home country, or via the new Wills and Probate Registry available at the Dubai International Financial Centre.

X is for… X-Pat

The UAE’s population is extremely diverse with an estimated population of expatriates that account for more than 4/5 of the demographic. As per 2018 sources, it is estimated that the local Emiratis account for 11.48% of the population, while Indians account for 28%, Pakistanis 13% and Filipino around 5% (westerners account for much less than these numbers). An expatriate can only live in the UAE with a residence visa that can be obtained by foreign investment (incorporation of a company or, in certain conditions, purchase of a property), work contract, family sponsor or study visa.

Y is for… Yala

“Yala” is one of the most common colloquial Arabic expressions you are bound to hear. It means “come on”, “let’s get going”, or “hurry up”, but most importantly in a business environment might also mean “all right”, whilst coming to a mutual agreement.

Z is for… Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan

Sheikh Zayed was the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the main driving force behind bringing together the seven Emirates and the formation of the United Arab Emirates, becoming the Union’s first President in 1971 and affectionately named the Founding Father of the UAE. The year of 2018 marks 100 years from the birth of the late Sheikh Zayed, and thus the UAE Cabinet has declared this year to be the “Year of Zayed”, where the global and local achievements of the Founding Father will be looked upon a new light in order to continue to form the country’s progress and modern development.

Caetano Leitão