Start a business in Abu Dhabi

Fed up working for someone else? Find out how to become your own boss Comments

© ITP Images
Step 1

Plan ahead
Regardless of the business type you want to start, it is 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. There are a number of companies available to help you with this step (see box below), however it is always a good idea to research rival companies before commissioning a market study.
If you don’t have the cash for an official market study, you can always do one yourself. For example, if you wanted to open a food and beverage outlet in a mall, you could visit the mall and take notes of how many people visit their food court and determine how much traffic each outlet gets. There are numerous ways of getting the necessary information.

Step 2

You can’t drive your business without a license
Most start-ups look to obtain a Limited Liability Company (LLC) license. An excellent resource can be found on the Abu Dhabi e-government page, under the business section ( or call 800 555). We sought legal advice from Ziad Salloum, a lawyer working in Abu Dhabi. ‘The license requirements change according to what type of business you are opening and where you are opening it. A business in the Free Zone will have different rules for functioning than an onshore one; or one opened on the mainland.’

Step 3

Get an 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 license for business, you first need a lease. But you can’t get an office lease without already having a license! ‘In order to solve this problem, the way to proceed is to register their company first as an ‘Incorporation’ as opposed to an actual company and obtain the tawtheeq,’ says Ziad. ‘The tawtheeq 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 for a specific fee.’ If all you require is a postal address, then setting up a PO Box with Emirates Post will suffice.
( or call 02 610 7211).

Step 4

Find an Emirati
So you’re ready to be your own boss. But a word of advice. Any expat living in Abu Dhabi needs to have an Emirati partner to register a company. ‘Sole proprietorship of businesses here can only be done by locals,’ says Ziad. ‘In any company started by an expat, 51 percent of shares should belong to one or several locals. However, this does not mean that 51 percent of profits go to the local; the
agreement could be tailored so that the expat gets the majority of the profits.’

Step 5

Money, money, money
Everyone knows that you can’t start a business without some capital. In the past, a person needed to have Dhs150,000 in the bank in order to be able to get a license for a small business but this rule was removed in 2009. ‘Although this law was officially removed, it is still common practice to require that sum before granting a business the right to operate,’ Ziad informs us.

Step 6

Protect yourself
A key part of your business will be patenting your ideas and copyrighting your material. After all, you don’t want people copying your idea. The UAE follows stringent copyright laws that are in line with international standards, such as Federal law No. 7 of 2002. Abu Dhabi has many mechanisms and resources for helping people succeed at their careers. A notable case was Mosa Isa Mosa, a UAE national, versus Etisalat. In 2010, Mosa sued Etisalat for using his mobile TV invention without his permission, and subsequently won Dhs30 million.

Know your market

These companies can help. They perform market studies, do consumer profiles And they also help with The legal side of starting new businesses.

Healy Consultants

HLB Hamt Chartered Accountants

Middle East and Africa Monitor


Case study

We spoke to Shafic Sayegh, Managing Director of Sperat Group, about how he launched his Abu Dhabi-based company.

Tell us about your business
I run an advisory firm, which combines my work and life experience in the UAE and overseas. My firm takes a holistic approach to time and business management.

How did you go about setting it up?
Having spent over half my life here, I feel that I understand the intricacies of how everything comes together. First I came up with a name and registered it. I did a lot of research online for the steps I had to do. At the moment, I’m still looking for an office but I have a registered PO Box.  I followed this up by creating a two-year plan, with benchmarks to check my progress.

What is the appeal of becoming an entrepreneur in a city like Abu Dhabi?
We are very lucky to be living in a city with so much business potential. Aside from a thriving economy, the government regularly updates laws to support small businesses and new start-ups.

The UAE ranked 33rd in the World Bank Report on Doing Business 2012, making it an ideal place to start a company

By Sara Taher
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

User reviews:

Posted by: Reda on 08 May ' 15 at 20:19

Edited by

Hello, I'm making fashion jewelry at home. What type of licence I should obtain in order to have legal business? Considering that quantities are very small I need licence that would not be too costly. Maybe freelancer? Regards Reda

Posted by: Farah on 16 Apr ' 15 at 06:09

I need to start a small business so what kind of help could be provided from your side.

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