Start a Business in Abu Dhabi - 4 minutes read

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

Step 1- Business Setup in Abu Dhabi

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- Business Setup in Abu Dhabi

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- Business Setup in Abu Dhabi

Get an address

Depending on your type of business, you might need office space, a 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.

Find an Emirati

So you’re ready to be your own boss. But a word of advice. Any expert 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

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 in 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.

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