HomeBlogRegistering a Company in the UAE: Main Steps Explained

Registering a Company in the UAE: Main Steps Explained

May 07, 2024

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    If you're looking to register a business in the UAE, you'll be pleased to know that the setup is - for the most part - very streamlined. However, it's not without its nuances. For example, some steps for free zones differ from those on the mainland. 

    In this article, then, we will explain the main steps of company registration and what nuances you must know about to ensure everything goes smoothly. At the end of the article, you’ll also find a list of registration services with prices and timelines for different types of companies. 

    Step 1. Select Company Type and Jurisdiction

    When starting a company, the first phase is always preparation. One of the initial decisions you'll need to make is what jurisdiction to choose for your business. You essentially have two broad paths:

    1. Register within a free economic zone.
    2. Or go with a company formed on the mainland territory.

    The steps going forward will depend on which of these routes you select.

    The next key consideration is whether you require a physical office space, or if operating with a virtual office will suffice for the jurisdiction you've chosen and the context of your business.

    To apply, you'll need to gather all the necessary documents. It's worth pointing out that in many cases, the entire registration process can be handled online. However, depending on the specific region and type of company, there may be certain legal permissions to be obtained or in-person obligations required at various stages.

    Once you've settled on that, you can proceed with filing for registration.

    Step 2. File an Application

    The first universal step in registering a company is to directly contact the authorized body that regulates the registration process, and file your application. On the mainland, this is the Department of Economic Development (DED). In a free economic zone, it is the zone's sales or dedicated compliance team.

    The application is filled out and submitted either online or in person, depending on the jurisdiction, and the process is typically streamlined.

    When you first begin this process, the regulator will provide you with the following:

    • A list of economic activities.
    • A registration form.
    • Information about associated fees.

    The registration process is streamlined as much as possible in most UAE jurisdictions. After selecting the type of activity the business will engage in, the registration process begins.

    The applicant submits all necessary personal documents, such as a passport, personal address, contact information or, in the case of a legal entity, all company documents. Then documents pertaining to the new company are submitted:

    • Three potential names of your company (in case the first choice is taken).
    • The legal form of your company.
    • Roles of the shareholder(s).
    • Allocation of shares between them.
    • Contact details.
    • And, depending on the jurisdiction, a business address or office details.

    If you don’t plan on opening a physical office, some free zones alternatively provide the option to register the company using a virtual office.

    Step 3. Sign Documents and Wait for Approval

    Next, you will need to complete and submit the documents and pay the application fee. This typically happens online. Once received by the regulator, the documents go through an initial screening and KYC compliance check.

    In many free zones, payment for registration must be made at the time of document submission, while in others payment can be made gradually.

    It's worth noting that in mainland and certain traditional Free Zones — such as Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) —  where complicated business activity is being registered, the applicant's physical presence is required to sign all documents. There is also the option of signing via power of attorney if the person cannot be present in person.

    After successful verification, the company is registered and all licenses and documents are issued. Depending on the jurisdiction, you will receive either a virtual office lease agreement or, depending on the jurisdiction, a physical office lease.

    Note that if you were registering on the mainland, you would have already obtained an office, as that's one of the requirements for registration there.

    Step 4. Obtaining Special Permits and Licenses (Optional)

    After obtaining the main license, depending on the type of business activity, additional permits from local authorities and regulators may be required. This depends on the specifics and industry of the business. Below are the main cases where you’ll need to get special permits:

    • Oil and gas industry. You will need to obtain special licenses and approvals from government bodies.
    • Financial services. This industry has requirements for minimum share capital that you’ll need to meet. You’ll also have to obtain licenses from the UAE Central Bank or relevant regulators.
    • Healthcare. In healthcare, you’ll need to certify both the medical equipment and staff qualifications.
    • Construction and real estate. There are additional permits needed for construction and to prove the safety of specifications in the projects you plan to undertake.
    • Trade. You’ll have to obtain licenses for import and export of goods, as well as compliance with quality standards.


    Despite the seeming simplicity of the overall process, there are nuances when it comes to registering in specific industries. For example, the application process differs between free zones - some require a physical presence to submit documents, while others process everything online. The choice of free zone itself depends on the type of business.

    Although it is possible to go through the registration process independently, it is not recommended. Experts already know which type of registration suits which business and where bottlenecks can occur. Assistance with registration will speed up the process and help to avoid mistakes.

    On the UPPERSETUP platform you can choose the type of business and find out the exact cost of registration and how long it will take. Choose the path that suits you best and we will provide you with support at all stages — help you establish the company at the first attempt and within the specified timeframe.

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