If you’re considering expanding your business or starting a new venture in Abu Dhabi, this article serves as a comprehensive guide to help you navigate through the process. With the assistance of DBS Business Setup, a renowned consultancy and service provider based in Dubai, you’ll gain access to expert guidance and support in various aspects of business setup. From business registration to pro services, from opening corporate bank accounts to tax registration, this guide will provide you with the necessary information to successfully establish your business in Abu Dhabi. Whether you’re a startup or an established company, this guide is designed to assist you every step of the way.

Business Setup Options in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), offers a favorable business environment for entrepreneurs and investors. With its strategic location, robust infrastructure, and diverse economy, Abu Dhabi attracts both local and international business ventures. When considering a business setup in Abu Dhabi, there are several options to choose from, including Mainland Business Setup, Free Zone Business Setup, and Offshore Business Setup. Each option has its own advantages and considerations, catering to different types of businesses and their specific needs.

Guide to Business Setup in Abu Dhabi

Mainland Business Setup

Setting up a business in the mainland of Abu Dhabi provides investors with the opportunity to have direct access to the local market and conduct various business activities. The mainland offers flexibility in terms of location and allows businesses to engage with both local and international markets. Here are the key steps involved in setting up a mainland business:

Legal Structure

Before starting the process, you need to decide on the legal structure of your business. Options include sole proprietorship, civil partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and public or private shareholding company. It is important to choose the structure that best suits your business objectives and ensures compliance with local regulations.

Trade Name Registration

The next step is to register the trade name of your business. The trade name should reflect your business activity, and it must be unique and not infringe on any existing trademarks. This registration is done through the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED).

Obtaining Initial Approval

Once the trade name is registered, you need to obtain initial approval from ADDED. This approval validates your business concept and ensures that the proposed activity aligns with the relevant regulations and policies.

Drafting and Notarizing MOA

To proceed further, you will have to draft the Memorandum of Association (MOA) for your business. The MOA outlines the structure and operational details of the company, including the distribution of shares, responsibilities of partners, and the company’s objectives. It must be notarized by the Notary Public.

Issuing Business License

After obtaining the initial approval and notarizing the MOA, you can now apply for the business license. The business license is issued by ADDED and allows you to legally operate your business in Abu Dhabi.

Applying for Establishment Card

Additionally, you will need to apply for an Establishment Card, which is issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE). This card serves as identification for your business and is required for various government-related procedures.

Employment Visa Procedures

If you plan to hire foreign employees, you will need to apply for employment visas through the MOHRE. This involves obtaining entry permits, medical fitness certificates, and Emirates ID cards for the employees.

Opening Corporate Bank Account

To conduct business operations and facilitate financial transactions, you will need to open a corporate bank account in Abu Dhabi. Various local and international banks offer corporate banking services to businesses in the UAE.

Tax Registration and VAT Filing

As a mainland business, you will need to register for taxation purposes and comply with the UAE’s tax regulations. This includes registering for corporate tax and filing Value Added Tax (VAT) returns, if applicable.

Getting Approvals from Government Departments and Authorities

Finally, before commencing operations, you may need to obtain specific approvals from relevant government departments and authorities based on your business activity. These approvals ensure compliance with industry-specific regulations and requirements.

Free Zone Business Setup

For businesses looking to enjoy tax incentives, 100% foreign ownership, and simplified company registration processes, setting up in a free zone in Abu Dhabi may be the ideal option. Free zones are designated areas that provide an independent business environment, allowing businesses to operate with minimum restrictions. Here are the key steps involved in setting up a business in a free zone:

Choosing the Right Free Zone

Abu Dhabi offers a range of free zones, each catering to specific industries and activities. It is important to carefully assess and choose the free zone that aligns with your business objectives and industry requirements.

Selecting the Appropriate Legal Structure

Similar to mainland setup, you need to decide on the legal structure for your business. Free zones typically offer options such as free zone establishment (FZE), free zone company (FZC), branch of an existing company, or representative office.

Trade Name Reservation

Once the legal structure is determined, you will need to reserve a trade name for your business. Like in the mainland setup, the trade name should reflect your business activity and adhere to the regulations specified by the relevant free zone authority.

Obtaining License and Approvals

After reserving the trade name, you can proceed with obtaining the necessary license and approvals from the free zone authority. The license grants you permission to conduct business activities within the free zone and may have specific requirements depending on your chosen trade activity.

Leasing Office Space

To establish a physical presence in the free zone, you will be required to lease office space. Free zones offer a range of office solutions, including flexi-desks, shared offices, and dedicated office spaces.

Hiring Employees

If you plan to hire employees, you will need to follow the hiring procedures set by the free zone authority. This may include applying for employment visas and fulfilling other requirements such as medical fitness tests and Emirates ID cards.

Opening Corporate Bank Account

Similar to mainland setup, you will need to open a corporate bank account in Abu Dhabi to carry out financial transactions and manage your business operations.

Tax Registration and VAT Filing

Free zones in Abu Dhabi generally offer tax exemptions and incentives. However, if your business engages in taxable activities or exceeds the VAT registration threshold, you will need to register for VAT and comply with the relevant regulations.

Getting Approvals from Free Zone Authorities

Lastly, you may need to obtain additional approvals or permits from the free zone authorities, depending on your specific business activity. These approvals ensure compliance with the regulations set by the respective free zone.

Guide to Business Setup in Abu Dhabi

Offshore Business Setup

Offshore business setup in Abu Dhabi is an attractive option for investors looking to optimize their tax planning, maintain privacy, and engage in international business ventures. Here are the key steps involved in setting up an offshore company:

Benefits of Offshore Company

Setting up an offshore company in Abu Dhabi offers various benefits, including asset protection, tax optimization, confidentiality, and ease of operations for international business.

Choosing the Right Offshore Jurisdiction

Abu Dhabi provides offshore company formation through its offshore jurisdiction, which is governed by the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). ADGM offers a robust legal framework and attractive regulations for offshore business entities.

Documentation and Application Process

The offshore setup requires submitting the necessary documentation, such as the company’s constitutional documents, director and shareholder details, and a business plan. The application process involves reviewing these documents and seeking approval from the ADGM authorities.

Appointing a Registered Agent

To proceed with the application, you will need to appoint a registered agent who will act as a liaison between your company and the offshore jurisdiction. The registered agent assists in the company formation process and ensures compliance with the offshore regulations.

Obtaining Offshore License

Once the documentation is reviewed and approved, your offshore company will be issued an offshore license by the ADGM. This license allows your company to legally operate as an offshore entity.

Opening Offshore Bank Account

To facilitate international transactions and manage finances, you will need to open an offshore bank account. Several international banks operating in Abu Dhabi provide offshore banking facilities.

Maintaining Compliance

As an offshore company, it is crucial to maintain compliance with the regulations set by the offshore jurisdiction. This includes submitting annual returns, financial statements, and fulfilling any other requirements specified by the ADGM.

Tax and Reporting Obligations

While offshore companies in Abu Dhabi enjoy tax benefits, it is essential to understand and comply with the tax obligations of your home country or any other jurisdictions where you conduct business. This may include reporting requirements and tax filings as per relevant regulations.

Legal Considerations

When setting up a business in Abu Dhabi, it is crucial to understand the legal framework and comply with the applicable laws and regulations. Here are some key legal considerations for businesses:

Understanding Legal Framework

Abu Dhabi operates under a civil law system, and the legal framework is based on Islamic Sharia principles. Familiarizing yourself with the legal system and understanding the basic legal concepts will help you navigate the business environment with ease.

Company Laws and Regulations

Abu Dhabi has specific company laws and regulations that govern business activities in the emirate. It is important to understand the legal requirements for business registration, operational practices, corporate governance, and compliance.

Intellectual Property Protection

protecting intellectual property rights is crucial for businesses in Abu Dhabi. Trademarks, patents, copyrights, and designs can be registered and protected through the UAE Ministry of Economy or the relevant government authority.

Labor Laws and Regulations

Employment laws and regulations in Abu Dhabi govern various aspects of the employer-employee relationship. These include provisions related to employee contracts, working hours, leave entitlements, and termination procedures. Complying with labor laws is essential to avoid any legal disputes or penalties.

Contract and Agreement Drafting

Drafting clear and comprehensive contracts and agreements is essential for businesses in Abu Dhabi. Contracts should outline the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of all parties involved, providing a legal framework for conducting business activities.

Dispute Resolution

In the event of a dispute, Abu Dhabi provides various mechanisms for resolving conflicts. These include litigation through the local courts, mediation services, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution methods. Familiarizing yourself with the dispute resolution options will help ensure a fair and efficient resolution process.

Guide to Business Setup in Abu Dhabi

Business Registration

When registering a business in Abu Dhabi, it is important to understand the requirements and procedures involved. Here are the key aspects of business registration:

Trade Name Registration

Registering a trade name is the first step in the business registration process in Abu Dhabi. A unique and appropriate trade name must be selected, reflecting the nature of the business activity.

Choosing the Right Legal Structure

Selecting the appropriate legal structure for your business will depend on factors such as the nature of the business, the number of owners, and the level of liability the owners are willing to assume. Legal structures in Abu Dhabi include sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and public or private shareholding company.

Licenses and Permits

After finalizing the trade name and legal structure, you will need to apply for the required licenses and permits. The specific licenses and permits required depend on the business activity and industry.

Business Activity Approvals

Certain business activities in Abu Dhabi may require additional approvals or clearances from specific government departments or regulatory authorities. It is essential to identify and obtain these approvals to ensure compliance with relevant regulations.

Local Partner Requirements

In some cases, depending on the business activity and industry, local partners may be required to hold a certain percentage of ownership in the business. Understanding the local partner requirements and finding a suitable local partner, if needed, is crucial for successful business registration.

Corporate Structuring

Determining the corporate structure of your business involves finalizing the ownership structure, the distribution of shares, and the management framework. Seeking professional advice and guidance on corporate structuring will help ensure legal compliance and streamlined operations.

Pro Services

During the business setup process and the subsequent operations, professional services are often required to navigate through various government procedures and compliance requirements. Pro services provide assistance with different aspects of business setup and ongoing operations. Here are some common pro services offered in Abu Dhabi:

Government Approvals and Documentation

Pro service providers assist in obtaining all necessary approvals and documentation from government departments and authorities. This includes obtaining initial approvals, trade licenses, immigration permits, and other permits required for business operations.

Immigration and Visa Services

Managing immigration procedures for employees and their families can be complex. Pro service providers handle visa applications, renewals, cancellations, sponsorship, and other immigration-related processes on behalf of businesses.

Employee Sponsorship

For businesses hiring foreign employees, pro service providers assist with employee sponsorship services. This involves obtaining work permits, residency visas, medical fitness certificates, and Emirates ID cards.

Legal Translation and Notarization

Translation and notarization of legal documents are often required during the business setup process and for various government-related procedures. Pro service providers offer accurate translation services for legal documents and ensure their notarization.

Trademark Registration

Protecting your brand’s identity is crucial in Abu Dhabi. Pro service providers assist in trademark registration procedures, ensuring that your brand is legally protected.

Document Clearance and Attestation

Clearing and attesting various documents is a common requirement during business setup and ongoing operations. Pro service providers handle document clearance and ensure that all necessary documents are attested by relevant authorities.

Visa Cancellation and Renewal

Managing visa cancellations and renewals can be time-consuming and complex. Pro service providers handle the process efficiently, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations.

Compliance Monitoring

Pro service providers offer compliance monitoring services to ensure that businesses adhere to all legal and regulatory requirements. Regular monitoring helps mitigate risks and ensures that the business remains in good standing with authorities.

Banking and Finance

Efficient banking and finance services are essential for seamless business operations. Choosing the right bank and understanding the banking procedures in Abu Dhabi can help businesses manage their finances effectively. Here are some key aspects of banking and finance:

Corporate Bank Account Opening

To conduct financial transactions and manage day-to-day operations, businesses need to open a corporate bank account. Abu Dhabi offers a wide range of local and international banks, each with its own set of services and requirements.

Types of Bank Accounts

Abu Dhabi banks offer various types of bank accounts, including current accounts, savings accounts, term deposit accounts, and foreign currency accounts. Understanding the features and requirements of each type will help you choose the most suitable option for your business.

Banking Services and Facilities

Banks in Abu Dhabi provide a range of services and facilities to cater to the diverse needs of businesses. These include electronic fund transfers, payroll management, merchant services, trade finance, and cash management services.

Online Banking and International Transactions

Most banks in Abu Dhabi offer online banking services, providing convenience and flexibility for businesses to conduct banking transactions remotely. Online banking services also facilitate international transactions, allowing businesses to manage their finances across borders.

Currency Exchange and Forex Services

Abu Dhabi has a robust foreign exchange market, with banks offering competitive rates for currency exchange. Additionally, banks provide forex services to assist businesses in managing currency risk and executing foreign exchange transactions.

Tax and VAT

Understanding the taxation system in Abu Dhabi is crucial for businesses to comply with the relevant regulations and fulfill their tax obligations. Here are key aspects of taxation and Value Added Tax (VAT):

Understanding Taxation System in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has a favorable tax regime, with no personal income tax or capital gains tax for individuals. However, businesses may be subject to corporate tax and other taxes based on their activities and industry.

Applying for Tax Registration

Businesses that meet the criteria for taxation must register for corporate tax with the Federal Tax Authority (FTA). The tax registration process involves submitting the necessary documents and information to comply with the tax regulations.

Corporate Taxation

Depending on the nature of your business and the applicable regulations, you may be subject to corporate tax in Abu Dhabi. Understanding the tax rates, exemptions, and deductions applicable to your business activity is essential for tax planning and compliance.

VAT Registration and Compliance

VAT was introduced in the UAE in 2018, and businesses meeting the threshold for registration must comply with the requirements. This includes registering for VAT, charging VAT on taxable supplies, maintaining proper records and invoices, and filing regular VAT returns.

VAT Filing and Auditing

Businesses registered for VAT must file periodic VAT returns, reporting their taxable supplies, input VAT, and output VAT. The returns must be filed within the specified timeframe and accompanied by the relevant supporting documentation. Additionally, businesses may be subject to VAT audits by the FTA.

Tax Planning and Optimization

To optimize tax liabilities and ensure compliance, businesses in Abu Dhabi should engage in tax planning. This involves considering tax incentives, exemptions, and deductions available, as well as adopting strategies to minimize tax liabilities within the legal framework.


Choosing the right business setup option in Abu Dhabi is crucial for a successful venture in the UAE’s capital city. Whether you opt for mainland business setup, free zone setup, or offshore setup, understanding the legal and regulatory requirements is essential. By navigating through the various steps involved in the business setup process, seeking professional assistance, and staying compliant with the laws and regulations, you can establish and grow your business in Abu Dhabi’s vibrant and diverse business landscape.

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