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How to setup a business in Abu Dhabi


25th November 2014

If you are successfully running a business and looking to expand into Abu Dhabi, be aware that you can’t just arrive and start doing business. You need to legally set up a company and get a Trade License and the regulations are likely to be very different in Abu Dhabi than what you are used to in other jurisdictions.

Onshore or Free zone?

Firstly you need to decide if you are setting up on the mainland or in a free zone. The type of business activities and identifying who your clients are and where they are located will help to determine this.

For the remainder of this article, it is assumed that you are intending to start a company onshore in Abu Dhabi.

What legal structure?

You will need to choose a suitable legal structure for your requirements, eg. Representative Office, Foreign Branch Office or Limited Liability Company (LLC).

Understand the set up costs and the ongoing fees

Its important to understand the one off costs involved in setting up a company, which will include legal translations, notary fees, company signboards, company stamps, registrations with various government departments, and incorporation fees, as well as trade license fees, legal fees, and premises. Once you have your trade license, it is necessary to renew the trade license annually and there are various costs associated with this depending on the structure that you have opted for.

Find a local partner

Setting up onshore you are required to engage with a local partner in some way either as a National Service Agent or a fully-fledged shareholder (usually called a local partner or sponsor).  Understand the risks, the financial commitment and what you actually want from the relationship with your local partner - ie. an actively engage partner or a nominee partner.

What approvals will be required?

Certain activities will require various approvals from specific government departments related to that industry. E.g. if you are setting up a training company it will be necessary to have your accredited courses evaluated, you will be required to have a dedicated training facility and suitably qualified and experienced staff. This will all need to be approved at the start of the incorporation process. If you are in hospitality working with food and beverage, then design and layout of your kitchen will need to be approved and note, if you are wanting to serve non-muslim products, such as pork or alcohol, then additional licenses need to be obtained. For companies wanting to work with the National Oil & Gas companies, then Supreme Petroleum Council (SPC) approval is a must!

Source premises

All trade licenses require a premise and this must be relevant to the activity that you want to engage in. It is usually necessary to pay for a year’s lease in advance.  It is also necessary to have it fitted out prior to an inspection by the authorities during the incorporation process.

What about your legal documents?

Its worth engaging a locally-based firm to either draft or at least review your company documents. They will be familiar with the local laws and regulations, as well as certain terms and words that are accepted by the Notary Public.

You will need to identify a locally-based auditing firm

It is a requirement for Foreign Branch Offices and Representative Offices to appoint a local auditing company to conduct an annual audit of their Abu Dhabi-based entity. A letter confirming the engagement will be required during the company set up. It is necessary for these types of companies to have an annual audit in order to be able to renew the trade license each year.

Opening a bank account

There are two options – international brand or a local bank. Whichever you choose, you will need to sign the application forms in person at the bank. Be sure to check out the fees and have all of the necessary documents ready to save time. Opening a corporate bank account can take a few days, sometimes even a week or two.

Visas for staff

Once you have successfully obtained your Trade License, its necessary to register the company in Immigration and the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) so that you can then apply for visas and Emirates ID cards for your staff.  Everyone working in Abu Dhabi is required to have a visa, Emirates ID card and health insurance.


Once we have all of the documents ready to start the incorporation, an LLC can be set up in approximately three to four weeks (if no special approvals are required) and a Foreign Branch Office or a Representative Office will take a little longer - approximately four weeks to obtain the Trade License and then there is a period of 30 days in which to lodge a bank guarantee and complete the registration process with the Ministry of Economy.


Related Blogs that you may be interested in:

How to find a local partner     CLICK HERE

How to protect your investment in an Abu Dhabi LLC      CLICK HERE


For help with setting up your business in Abu Dhabi, contact Gateway Group of Companies.  Email us at: info@GatewayToAbuDhabi.com

Jenny Hunt Business setup specialist Abu Dhabi

Jenny Hunt, CEO Gateway Group of Companies

email Jenny@GatewayToAbuDhabi.com

Twitter @JennyatGateway

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