How to start your own business in Dubai

Time Out Dubai is your guide to living in Dubai. As part of our residents' guide we have information on how to start your own business in Dubai.

Area Guides, Living in Dubai
Area Guides, Living in Dubai

Have a great idea for a business but don’t know where to start? Take a look at our guide for some useful tips and inspiration.

Dubai has an international reputation for being ambitious – it’s a city built on the bold risks and creative new ideas of entrepreneurs – and each year sees hundreds more start-ups take the plunge. But setting up a business anywhere isn’t just about following your dreams – it’s a test of everything from your business idea and finances to your optimism and determination. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting a business up and running.

Regardless of the type of business you want to start, it’s imperative to follow up your idea with a market study. Doing market research will help you quantify the needs of the city and ultimately help you decide if your venture is worth the risk. It’s always a good idea to research rival companies yourself, but if you’re looking to commission a market study there are a number of companies available to help you with this. The following offer market analyses, consumer profiles and can help with the legal side of starting a new business: Healy Consultants (; HLB Hamt Chartered Accountants (; Middle East and Africa Monitor (; Commit (

Free zones & licences
The benefit of setting up your business in one of Dubai’s numerous free zones is that 100 percent foreign ownership is permitted. If, however, you’re looking at an area outside a free zone, the law demands a total local equity of no less than 51 percent in any commercial company. Finding all the information you need to set up a business in Dubai can be incredibly confusing. Fortunately, there are tools that can help you navigate decisions such as whether to base yourself in a free zone or not, how to go about applying for a licence, and what kind of documentation you’ll need. can answer many of these questions, while sites like explain how to get a business licensed in TECOM’s media free zone specifically.

Your address
Depending on your type of business, you might need an office space, work address or a PO Box. In the case of office spaces, there is a bit of a legal paradox at play in terms of getting the necessary documentation. To obtain your licence for business, you first need a lease. But you can’t get an office lease without already having a licence. However, a way around this is to register the company first as an incorporation as opposed to an actual company to obtain the tawtheeq, which is a file that will contain all your details concerning the business venture and the lease requirements. In most cases, if you are renting an office space in a building, the landlord will obtain this document for you. If all you require is a postal address, then setting up a PO Box with Emirates Post will suffice (; 600 599 999).

Money matters
You can’t start a business without capital, and in the past it was necessary to have a minimum of Dhs150,000 in the bank in order to get a licence for a small business. This rule was removed in 2009, but it still makes sense to ensure you have significant funds before taking the plunge. Thankfully, there are several organisations that make it their business to invest in new ideas, such as, which focuses on web and mobile businesses, and start-up accelerator Oasis500 (, which is based in Jordan but invests far beyond. Angel investment network Envestors ( and MBC Ventures ( are also good places to start, with the latter offering extra support through TV commercials.

Support groups
It’s not uncommon to face challenges, and sometimes those closest to you might not understand what you’re going through. There are a number of social, community and support groups in the city, including the women-only Heels and Deals (, which also hosts networking events. Also try the many industry-specific groups on, including Dubai Internet Marketing Entrepreneurs. Speaking to other people who have launched their own business (successfully or otherwise) is a great way to start, especially if you’re going it alone. Make Business Hub in Dubai Marina (04 392 9216) and Shelter in Al Quoz
(04 380 9040) both hold regular networking events and talks by local entrepreneurs.

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