Are you a foreign investor in the UAE and wondering which free zone is the best for you?
This is what most entrepreneurs will ask themselves. And for a good reason: There are over 45 Free Zones to choose from!
This article explains the options we usually recommend after identifying a customer's needs. Reading it will be as if you are in a sales meeting...
...But then online.
Which Free Zone To Choose?
All free zones have a couple of similar characteristics. 100% Foreign ownership is possible. There is no income tax in the UAE, both for the companies themselves and their staff.
However, there are import duties for import/export companies, and since 2018, most companies have to charge a 5% VAT. There are also differences in price, and what you can do with the company.
In order to understand what free zone is best for you, there are three important questions we always ask our clients:
Why are these questions important?
Will you do business inside the UAE?
What is the business activity?
What kind of UAE “presence” do you need for you, and your business?
: Some businesses have clients outside of the UAE, and don’t do business inside the UAE. They can still use Dubai for its business image and banking services by using a RAK Offshore company.
Most of our clients use offshore companies. They are cheaper than the free zone companies, and easier to set up.
If your business requires the characteristics mentioned, you do not really have to look any further.
We recommend the RAK Offshore company. There are other options, but this is the best. To understand why, read: Different Offshore Companies In the UAE
RAK International Corporate Centre [RAK ICC] - Offshore Company
The RAK ICC Offshore Company is ideal for doing business internationally. You can use the company actively for trading, consultancy or freelance work. You can also use the company passively like holding IP or investment (discover more: Use The RAK Offshore As Holding Company
Compared to trade licenses (see below), this legal entity is very flexible to use, and the process of setting one up is straightforward. It can also have a registered office in Dubai, so for the outside world it looks like a Dubai company.
This company can have a Dubai bank account, but do check beforehand with an agent. UAE banks have become very picky with accepting new clients. This is especially so when there is not a lot of substantial activity in the UAE, as is often the case with a RAK Offshore company.
You cannot use a RAK offshore to rent a local office, get visas, or import goods into the UAE. It might also be difficult to find an online payment provider for this company, in the case of E-commerce.
Other than that, it is a good choice for most foreign investors.
But what if you want to want to do business inside the UAE, or you simply need more substance? Then, the other two questions become important:
Question 2: What is the activity of your business?
Free Zones in the UAE offer Trade Licenses. These differ from general business registrations like a Ltd or LLC, due to the fact that they only allow for a certain activity in a certain field. A financial consultant will need a financial consultancy license. When a furniture trader has a furniture trading license, he cannot suddenly start trading milk.
The logic behind free zones is to provide a hub for similar companies to create synergy. That is why there is a media free zone, a creative free zone and commodities trading free zone.
As a result, this means that not all activities are suitable, or can even be accepted by every free zone.
Question 3: What kind of UAE “presence” do you need for you, and your business?
Not all free zones offer the possibility to rent an office space or warehouse. Or perhaps these are available, but not in a desirable location.
And do you wish to get a visa or hire staff? This affects requirements and costs.
Once we know the answer to these two questions, we usually advice to use one of the free zones below.
We have dealt with a lot of free zones in the past, and these are currently the best functioning and competitive free zones: the Fujairah Free Zone, UAQ, the DMCC Free Zone.
Creative City Fujairah
The Creative City Free Zone is by far the most flexible and easy to set up. Whenever the business activity fits, we always recommend this free zone to our clients. This Free Zone is one of the fastest to set up your business, requires the least amount of paper work and can be setup remotely.
They offer packages without a visa, but also offer one of the cheaper solutions for those who need visas. This is really the best free zone in the UAE to work with. But can you also set up a company like this?
The Fujairah Free Zone Company is perfect for freelancers and international consultants, such as business consultants, managements consultants and lifestyle consultants.
Other activities that the Fujairah Free Zone is good for: internet entrepreneurs, designers, music and entertainment industry, e-commerce, event managers, writers, publishers, online marketing, advertisers, online trainers and many more.
Trading or manufacturing companies cannot use the Fujairah Free Zone.
Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone [UAQ]
Another good setup at a competitive price is the Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone.
A wide variety of activities is possible here, such as trading, industrial activities, consultancy license, service license and an unique freelancer permit.
There is a simple and fast registration process, and no visit to the Free Zone is needed. For single entrepreneurs in need of a visa, this option has the cheapest visa package.
For those into advanced tax planning, this free zone has a MOU signed with the Ministry of Finance resulting in easy to get Tax Residency Certificates.
Dubai Multi Commodities Centre Free Zone [DMCC]
The incorporations mentioned above are often used for lightweight businesses. When your business needs real “substance” or rent an office space to hire staff, you go to the DMCC.
The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre Free Zone is located at an area better known as Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT). Here you can easily rent an office space of any size you want, in a luxurious building.
When you set up your business here, you are in the centre of New Dubai and on a prime location to receive your clients, giving you the ultimate professional image. The Free Zone is connected to the metro and to the new Dubai tram.
This free zone is very innovative and most services like visa applications and incorporation can be done online via a revolutionary online members portal.
Having said that, the process of setting up this type of company requires a number of different steps and visits to the free zone. Our experience is that the set-up takes a couple of weeks at least. Also, the costs are significantly higher than the other Free Zone options especially since you are required to hire an office space or flexi-desk in JLT.
Alternative Free Zone Options
The above mentioned are our most common options. Other notable possibilities are:
Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi [KIZAD]
KIZAD is a Trade, Logistics and Industrial Hub in Abu Dhabi. It has interesting packages with Flexi desk option, meaning that you do not have to rent (1-4 visa packages).
It offers competitive rates, comparable to the Northern Emirates and lower than in Dubai. Abu Dhabi is the most influential Emirate in the UAE and by registering your business there it is easier to open bank account in the UAE, especially without Visa and without physical office.
This free zone does require a paid up share capital of 150.000 AED.
International Free Zone Authority – Fujairah [IFZA]
IFZA is another interesting option for businesses with trading or services activities. They offer compatitive rates, and the company can be incorporated remotely.
This free zone is especially interesting for those setting up a Subsidiary in the UAE, because there is no need for super-legalized documents of the parent company. Legalization is an expensive process needed for normal corporate structures because the UAE is not a member of the Apostille Convention [link
It is also worth noting that this free zone only works through registered agents.
There are many free zones, and procedures, prices and requirements change all the time. The free zones compete with each other for business, which gives them an incentive to innovate, and stay attractive to investors.
Sometimes a Free Zone introduces a new procedure or product, or the market conditions change. As a result, the Free Zone becomes unusable for foreign investors, and falls from this list. Other Free Zones might dive into the space left behind. Make sure to ask our agents the latest news on what particular free zones are good for you.
Contact us now
There are a lot of different free zones in the UAE. Making a choice can be overwhelming. But with a few questions it is easy to identify which free zone is the best option for you.
Contact us by filling in the form below, if you want to talk to someone about setting up your company.
We can help you identify which free zone to choose!
You might also be interested in the following:
Things To Know About Starting A Business In Dubai
Visit the RAK Offshore and Dubai free zone
page to find out more details about setting up your business in the UAE.
In case you want to use the UAE for tax planning, the article UAE Tax Treaty Network Expanding
might be of interest.
Buying a property in Dubai? Read our article on holding Dubai real estate with a legal entity