Introductory Business Guide: United Arab Emirates Legal Overview

Wassim Kudmani

BridgePoint Law

12.09.22 Download PDF

Legal Overview

General and Business Overview about UAE

UAE is one of the major business hubs in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). Over many years, the country has developed a sophisticated business environment, in order to attract international companies to base their regional representation and operations in the country. The country provides a competent international standard legal system and an income and corporate tax-free environment (except for foreign banks and oil companies) and offers an extensive range of facilitation services enabling businesses across the board to grow and excel. UAE also brings an extensive foreign trade network, by offering global marketing outlets for goods and services, and operates as a major re-export hub for the region. The UAE stands as a strong country based on the foundations of security, hope, economic strength, its modern outlook and progressive society bringing it into the front ranks of the MENA region in many different areas.

UAE works on building and maintaining its position as one of the latest milestones and most desired locations to invest, establish a business, work, and live in. With timely strategized economic diversification projects, increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FD) inflows, come an attractive country for foreign investors. As a business powerhouse abundant with investment opportunities and world-class facilities, UAE fosters distinct business activities within its specialized jurisdictions. Since every business needs a unique structure to incorporate, UAE facilitates different legal forms to help companies establish, grow and prosper.

The UAE follows global best practices and creates a conducive environment for businesses to operate and presents ample opportunities for both investors from the region and from all around the world. The government encourages the private sector in a free trade regime with low tariff barriers and minimum legal hurdles. Many multinational corporates have established themselves in different ways by establishing a regional representation office, a manufacturing and assembling facility or a regional distribution center.

UAE is a rich country with its mineral resources and the economy still relies on oil revenues but over the past years, the country developed its other sectors shifting the economy from a fuel base to a highly diversified one. The development and growth in manufacturing and trade industries, construction and real estate, finance, tourism, information technology, and many other services sectors promoted the economy and made it diverse. The country has always worked on investing in developing and improving the service sector aiming to provide cutting edge services in many industries such as tourism, transportation, e-commerce, healthcare and education.

International Recognition

In the year 1996, the UAE has become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The UAE supports open trade and has stable trade relations with countries throughout the world. By obtaining its open economy, attractive business environment, and continued economic growth the UAE has emerged as a key international trading hub between the east and the west. UAE has earned the title of the MENA economy leader when it comes to global trade and also as one of the top 30 countries worldwide as well.

The UAE Government’s free market policy and flexible economic and commercial laws are the prime factors

in the country’s rise as one of the regional and global leaders. UAE local currency (Dirham) has been plugged into the US Dollar making it a clear advantage when it comes to international business.

Establishment of Enterprises in UAE


There are seven Emirates in UAE overseen by the federal government of UAE. The business establishment can differ from one Emirate to another depending on the rules and regulations of the Emirate. The tax laws, however, are federated and apply to all Emirates. Therefore, establishing a business in UAE needs to be registered in the Emirate that is relevant to the business nature and targeted market. You may find many businesses registered in more than one Emirate or branched out to another Emirate. Companies may be registered in the mainland or in one of the widely spared free-zone parks and areas in the UAE.

The licenses are issued by the Department of Economic Development (DED). Some business categories require the approval of certain ministries and other government authorities. DED has more than 3,000 activities grouped under a wide range of business license categories for investors to choose from at the company foundation phase. Shareholding structure, capital investment, and business activity are the major

factors for choosing the suitable business category for the company. Founding and operating a company in UAE provide advantages that are quite considerable to the investors such as corporate tax cuts for most sectors, no personal or income tax, freedom to repatriate capital and profits and no currency restrictions.

The investors have to choose among seven categories of business formation under the Federal Law when it comes to corporate registration: Limited Liability Company (LLC), Branches, Partnership, Joint Venture Company, Private Shareholding Company, Public Shareholding Company and Share Partnership Company. With their legal limitations entitlement, the LLC and Branch registration is the most common cate- gory for the foreign investors. A branch is basically referred to as an extended form of a foreign parent company. A representative office is a comparable registration to the branch; however, the representative office can only carry out the activities of the parent company with the exception of income earning activities. The other registration forms such as partnerships and joint ventures are not commonly used and favored by foreign investors.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

LLC is a separate and distinct legal entity to a certain extent due to its limited liabilities exposure. The number of shareholders starts with one investor and could reach a number of 50 investors. There are no restrictions on the allowed share capital, but the entity should have adequate capital to achieve the purposes of its incorporation and the capital shall consist of shares equal in value and there is no requirement to deposit the share capital in a UAE registered bank. One director should be appointed by the shareholders who can have the authority to manage the business.

Overall, the foundation processes to obtain an LLC license in UAE generally involves five steps: The reservation of the trade name of the entity with the licensing authority, obtaining initial approval from the licensing authority, executing the entity’s memorandum of association, office lease, and registration with the relevant authority, and the final registration with the licensing authority and the license issuance.

LLC Free Zone Registration

FZ-LLC is a limited liability firm with activities restricted to the free zone area in which it is incorporated and

licensed. At present, there are 45 free zone areas and parks located in different parts of the UAE. These zones are activity-specific but still not limited to one sector. For example, Dubai Healthcare City serves those in the healthcare industry, while Jebel Ali free zone is directly linked to the largest port in the region and favored by those in the import-export trade business. Foreign companies have the privilege to retain complete ownership and are not liable to pay any income tax or customs duty.

The process of organizing a business in a free zone is simple and straightforward and it takes an average of 15 days to complete the establishment. But the process might differ for some business activities. Free zones do offer various desk and virtual packages with the liberty to access addresses and other facilities in an ad-hoc manner.

FZ LLC can be owned by one or more foreign shareholders (individuals or corporate bodies). At least one director and secretary need to be appointed. Some free zones allow one individual to appoint and hold the position of director and secretary. An FZ LLC wishing to carry out business in mainland UAE should appoint a mainland UAE registered company to act as its distributor. Alternatively, it may set up a branch office in the respective Emirate.

Branch Registration

A branch is not regarded as a separate entity but rather, treated as an extension of its parent company using the same articles of association, as is required by law for very certain activities to appoint a national agent, who holds UAE nationality. The process of incorporation is similar to that of LLC., the formation, however, is required to be registered with the UAE Ministry of Economy (MOE) and must provide a board resolution from the parent company to set up its branch in the UAE. The branch would be managed by a sole manager who will operate pursuant to a power of attorney issued by the parent company.

Representative Office Registration

Identical in all aspects to a branch office with the exception that it is not permitted to perform contracts or any other activities other than marketing the parent company’s products and services and not allowed to issue invoices in its name.


A branch is not regarded as a separate entity but treated as an extension of the parent company. There is no share capital requirement since a branch is not a separate legal entity from the parent entity, and one general manager needs to be appointed by the parent company.

Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) are financial free zones in the United Arab Emirates.

The areas of business within DIFC and ADGM include banking, professional services, global corporations, insurance, wealth management, and access to capital markets. The DIFC and the ADGM have gained international recognition as world class regulators offering private equity platforms that are competing in a very meaningful way with the traditional Cayman Islands funds regime. They are doing so by being proactive, cost-effective, and extremely creative at meeting and increasingly exceeding the demands of sponsors and private equity and venture capital fund managers.

The financial free zones laws allow the creation of independent jurisdictions within the UAE since the financial free zones established under the law are exempted from all civil and commercial laws of the UAE. The DIFC and ADGM each also have their own two-tier court system based on English law and subject to the English Civil Procedure Rules.

ADGM AND DIFC have recently introduced the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) regime supporting a broad range of business types, uses, and industry sectors. These include corporates, sovereign wealth funds, the subsidiary undertaking of a body incorporated under federal law or by a law of any Emirate in the UAE, single-family offices, trustees, and individual investors.

Taxes in the United Arab Emirates

Sales TAX (Value Added Tax):

In 2018, the country introduced and applied the sales tax also known as Value Added Tax (VAT) on a federal level. Any business must register for VAT if its taxable supplies and imports exceed AED 375,000 (Almost USD 100,000) per annum. However, all companies in UAE are still voluntarily required to register for VAT even if their annual revenue is less than AED 375,000 per annum. The VAT is charged at each step of the supply chain. The end consumers generally bear the VAT cost while businesses collect and account for the tax, acting in a way as a tax collector on behalf of the government. Companies have to keep their records of financial transactions and ensure the accounts are audited periodically so that they stay compliant with the VAT regulations and avoid any default. At present, foreign companies registered in free zone areas and parks are not subject to any tax or customs duty, they are not required to pay any corporate and personal tax, neither import nor export tax. They are also exempted from the sales tax VAT (which is currently set at 5%).

Corporation Income Tax

In general, the UAE does not apply any corporate income tax on a federal level on companies registered in both mainland and free zones. However, some of the Emirates have introduced their own banking tax decrees applicable on branches of foreign banks and oil companies with a rate of 20%.

Personal Income Tax

Perhaps one of the advantages of living in the UAE is the utilization of income tax free advantage. Up to date, there are no federal or Emirate personal tax laws constituted and imposed on individuals living and working in the UAE.

Withholding Tax

There are currently no withholding tax regulations in the UAE that would apply to payments such as royalties, interest or dividends. The withholding tax is made out of the UAE entities to another person (resident or nonresident). Municipal property taxes are levied in the various emirates in various forms, but generally as a percentage of the annual rental value. In some cases, separate fees are payable by both tenants and property owners. For instance, in Dubai they are currently levied at 5% of the annual rental value for tenants or for property owners at 5% of the specified rental index. These levies are administered differently by each Emirate. These levies may also be collected at the same time as (or as part of) license fees, or the renewal of licenses, or by another method. For example, in Dubai the payments have recently started to be collected via the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s billing system.

Other Taxes and Consideration

In general, customs duties in the UAE are fixed at 5% of the Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF) value of most products. However, alcoholic, carbonated, and sweetened beverages products have a 50% duty and e-smoking devices (tools and liquids used in them) and tobacco products are assessed a 100% customs duty. The seller and purchaser in the UAE are required to pay registration fees at a rate of between 1% and 4% of the value of the property (typically split equally between the parties).

Double Taxation Agreements

In the framework of global strategic partnerships and to enhance the competitiveness  of  the  United  Arab  Emirates, the Ministry of finance is working on expanding its Double Taxation Agreements (DTA) and Bilateral Investments Treaties (BIT) network, where it concluded 193 DTAs and BITs, with the purpose of exempting or reducing taxes on investment and profits from direct and indirect taxes in addition to protecting those investments of all kinds of non-commercial risks to ensure that those profits can be transferred in a free convertible currency. UAE has a large double tax treaty network in place. With agreements with 90 countries, UAE have more double tax treaties than other tax favorable countries.

The advantage of being part of an international tax framework provides important protections and benefits for UAE companies and expatriates. Double taxation avoidance agreements allocate taxing rights and ensure individuals and businesses are only taxed once. They clarify how certain types of income, such as dividends, property income, and pensions, should be taxed and lay out rules on non-discrimination to prevent different treatment based on factors such as nationality or residency.

Tax conventions to avoid double taxation and the provisions they contain, such as the Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP), help stimulate the economy and its growth. MAP is designed to: relieve double taxation, typically arising from transfer pricing cases, resolve treaty related tax disputes and issues in interpreting or applying a tax treat. MAP provides a bilateral mechanism for the Ministry of Finance to engage with the competent authority of another contracting formality.

Wassim Kudmani



BridgePoint Law
Bay Gate Tower, Office 902
Business Bay, Dubai, UAE
Tel. +971 4 526 9898
Fax +971 54 485 9898
Wassim Kudmani

Tax overview

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven Emirates with Autonomous Emirates and Local Government. The country is located in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, is bordered by the Persian Gulf to the north, Oman to the east, and Saudi Arabia to the south and west. The Emirates are: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Ras Al-Khaimah, and Fujairah. The federation was formally established on 2 December 1971, and the capital is Abu Dhabi. Arabic is the official language of the United Arab Emirates, with English widely spoken and used in business, and the currency is the United Arab Emirates dirham (AED).

The United Arab Emirates has a well-established infrastructure, stable political system, and one of the most liberal trade regimes in the Gulf region. It continues to be increasingly important, relevant, and attractive to businesses from around the world as a place to do business and as a hub for the region and beyond. The United Arab Emirates is also one of the best examples in the region of an economy that has successfully moved away from reliance on the energy sector. A significant proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP) is being derived from non-oil revenues.

UAE tax overview

Particulars Rates
Personal income tax 0%
Corporate income tax Import, delivery.
(Except oil companies and foreign Banks) 0%
Corporate income tax-oil company 0-55%
Corpporate income tax-Foreign Bank 20%
Withholding tax, Capital gain tax,

Net Wealth Tax, Inheritance tax, Gift tax

Value added tax (VAT) 5% (standard rate)
Excise tax 50-100%
Tax on Tourist facilities

(Hotels, hotel apartments, restaurants, resorts)

Tourism tax 10%(rent & service)
Municipality fee 10%
Torism fee 6%
City tax 6-10%
Tourism fee on Room Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah AED 7-20/room/night

Corporate income tax

The United Arab Emirates does not have a federal corporate income tax regime. Instead, corporate income tax is determined on a territorial basis under the respective Tax Decrees issued by the government of each individual Emirate (of which there are seven that make up the United Arab Emirates). Some of the Emirates have also issued specific Banking Tax Decrees, which impose corporate income tax on branches of foreign banks operating in each respective Emirates

Under the Tax Decrees of Emirates, corporate income tax is payable under a progressive rate system, with rates up to 55%. Branches of foreign banks are subject to corporate income tax at a flat rate of 20%.

Notwithstanding the above, corporate income tax is currently not enforced on Companies except on foreign oil companies engaged in upstream petroleum activities, certain companies engaged in petroleum related activities and branches of foreign banks.

In addition, free zones across the various Emirates have their own rules and regulations, and typically they offer “tax holidays” or tax exemptions (usually reference to corporate income tax) to businesses set up in the respective free zone for a period between 15 and 50 years (generally renewable).

On the basis of the above, most entities registered in the United Arab Emirates are currently not required to file corporate tax returns in the United Arab Emirates, regardless of where the business is registered.

Given the current tax position as described, matters of expense deductibility, (potential) double taxation of dividends and gains and the ability to carry forward tax losses are currently of limited practical relevance from a domestic corporate income tax perspective to most businesses operating in the United Arab Emirates

Tax residence under the tax decrees of the various Emirates is based upon the French concept of territoriality. Basically, the French territoriality concept taxes profits based on territorial nexus and does not tax profits earned outside the country.

Permanent Establishment (PE)

The United Arab Emirates generally follows the definition of a PE in Article 5 the 2014 OECD Model Tax Convention. Non-resident companies carrying out a trade or business in an Emirate through a PE in that Emirate are prima facie taxable under the relevant Emirate tax decree.

The definition of PE generally includes a branch, place of management or other fixed place of business, and an agent that has and habitually exercises authority to conclude contracts on behalf of the non-resident company.

Tax rate

Corporate tax

(except for oil and gas companies, and subsidiaries of foreign banks)


There are no taxes levied by the Federal Government on income or wealth of companies and individuals

The Abu Dhabi Income Tax Decree of 1965, the Dubai Income Ordinance of 1969 and the Dubai Income Tax Decree, as well as the Sharjah Income Tax Decree 1968 dictate that: Every corporate body that conducts trade or business through a permanent establishment situated in the Emirate is subject to tax at a sliding scale (in general this

only applies to oil, gas and petrochemical companies and branch offices of foreign banks).

Different rates may be agreed with the relevant authority under specific government concession agreements.
The rates below applies to oil, gas, petrochemical companies and branch of foreign banks.
Income less than AED1,000,000 0%
AED 1,000,000 to AED 5,000,000 10% to 40%
Income above AED 5,000,000 55%
Tax on profits made by branches of Foreign Banks Generally, 20%
Main allowable deductions and Tax Credits Deductions for taxale income are determined based on accounting principles and tax decrees of the various Emirates. In general, deductions are not that significant as most companies in the UAE are not subject to taxation on income (except for upstream oil and gas companies, foreign Banks.

Corporate-other taxes

Value-added tax (VAT)

VAT was introduced in the United Arab Emirates on 1 January 2018. This is a Consumption Tax. The standard VAT rate is 5% and applies to most goods and services, with some goods and services subject to a 0% rate or an exemption from VAT (subject to specific conditions being met). Businesses collect the tax (output tax) on behalf of Government and pay to Government after deducting the tax they pay (Input tax) on their purchases.

The 0% VAT rate applies to goods and services exported outside the VAT implementing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, international transportation, the supply of crude oil/natural gas, the first supply of residential real estate, and some specific areas, such as healthcare and education.

A VAT exemption applies to certain financial services, as well as to the subsequent supply of residential real estate after the initial period of three years after construction. Further, transactions in bare land and domestic passenger transport are also exempt from VAT.

Certain transactions in goods between companies established in UAE Designated (Free) Zones (DZs) may not be subject to VAT. The supply of services within DZs is, however, subject to VAT in accordance with the general application of the UAE VAT legislation.

For UAE resident businesses, the mandatory VAT registration threshold is AED 375,000, and the voluntary registration threshold is AED 187,500. No registration threshold applies to non-resident businesses making supplies to UAE on which no person is responsible for the liability to pay tax.

VAT grouping is allowed, provided certain conditions are met.

There are specific documentary and record keeping requirements, such as the requirement to issue tax invoices and submit VAT returns (on a quarterly or monthly basis depending on the allocation by the Federal Tax Authority [FTA]).

Excess input VAT can, in principle, be claimed back from the FTA, subject to a specific procedure. Alternatively, VAT credits may be carried forward and deducted from future output VAT.

Businesses that do not comply with their VAT obligations can be subject to fines and penalties. There are both fixed and tax-geared penalties.

Customs duties

Generally, a customs duty of 5% is imposed on the cost, insurance, and freight (CIF) value of imports. Other rates may apply to certain goods, such as alcohol and tobacco, and certain exemptions and reliefs may also be available.

The United Arab Emirates is part of the GCC Customs Union, which was established in 2003 to remove customs and trade barriers among the GCC member states. No customs duties are levied on trade between the GCC member states. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates grants duty free imports to most national goods originating in member countries of the Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement, Singapore, and the European Free Trade Association countries (i.e. Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein).

While the UAE FTZs are areas within the territory of the United Arab Emirates, these are, however, considered outside the scope of the customs territory. Therefore, goods imported into the UAE FTZs are not subject to customs duty. Customs duty is suspended until the goods are imported into the GCC local market.

Excise taxes

This is indirect tax levied on goods which are typically harmful to human health or environment. It was introduced on 1 October 2017 on tobacco and tobacco products, carbonated drinks and energy drinks.

On 1 December 2019, the United Arab Emirates expanded the scope of excise tax to include sweetened drinks, electronic smoking devices and tools, as well as liquids used in electronic smoking devices and tools.

The applicable tax rates are as follows:

  • 100% on tobacco and tobacco products, electronic smoking devices and tools, liquids used in electronic smoking devices and tools, and energy drinks;
  • 50% on carbonated drinks and sweetened drinks.

Businesses are required to register for Excise tax. Returns and tax payment are required monthly. Businesses that do not comply with their Excise tax obligations can be subject to fines and penalties.

Municipal or property tax

Most Emirates impose a municipality tax on properties, mostly by reference to the annual rental value. It is generally the tenants’ obligation to pay the tax. In some cases, separate fees are payable by both tenants and property owners. For example, in the Emirate of Dubai, the municipality tax on property is currently imposed at 2.5% on annual rental value for commercial properties (paid by property owners) and 5% for residential properties (paid by tenants).

A registration fee may be levied on transfer of ownership of land or real property. For example, a land registration fee is levied in the Emirate of Dubai at a rate of 4% of the fair market value of the property (a cost generally shared between the buyer and seller), payable to the Dubai Land Department. In Dubai, the registration fee may also apply on the direct or indirect transfer of shares in an entity that owns real property. These levies are imposed and administered differently by each Emirate.

Social security contributions

There is a social security regime in the United Arab Emirates that applies to qualifying UAE and other GCC national employees only. Non-GCC nationals are not subject to social security in the United Arab Emirates.

For UAE national employees, social security contributions are calculated at a rate of 17.5% of the employee’s gross remuneration as stated in the local employment contract. Social security obligations also apply to employees of companies and branches registered in an FTZ. Out of the 17.5%, 5% is payable by the employee and the remaining 12.5% is payable by the employer. A higher rate of 20% is applied in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (where the contribution of the employer is 15%). For other GCC nationals working in the United Arab Emirates, employee social security contributions are determined in accordance with social security regulations of their home country.

In the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the DIFC Employee Workplace Savings Scheme (DEWS) has been introduced, replacing the End of Service Gratuity Benefit (EOSG), with the aim of protecting long-term employee savings. The new scheme was rolled out on 1 February 2020, and employers now are required to make monthly contributions to DEWS or an alternative regulated Qualifying Scheme, as opposed to paying a lump sum ‘gratuity payment’ to an employee at the end of their employment. Employers are required to contribute monthly contributions of 5.83% or 8.33% of the employee’s basic salary (the actual percentage is contingent upon the employee’s length of service) into the scheme.

Hotel tax and tourism levies

Most Emirates impose hotel levies, which apply on the value of hotel room rental, services and entertainment. These levies are imposed and administered differently by each Emirate.

A Tourism Dirham fee is levied in the Emirate of Dubai. This is a charge on hotel guests and tenants of hotel apartments ranging from AED 7 to AED 20 per room per night depending on the star classification of the hotel, for example a five star hotel will levy a Tourism Dirham fee equal to AED 20 per room per night whereas a two star hotel will levie a Tourism Dirham fee equal to AED 10 per room per night. In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, hotels will levy a tourism fee equal to 6% of the hotel room rental and a destination fee of AED 15 per night.

In addition to the above tourism fees and destination fee, the Emirate of Dubai also requires hotels to levy a 7% municipality fee on each hotel sale. Likewise, in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, hotels are required to levy a 4% municipality fee. A hotel sale is revenue generated by a hotel for services provided to their guests or visitors which includes rent for the hotel room, food, beverages and other services.

License FEE

This is applicable to all companies, the fee charged by the municipality in each Emirate at the time of issuance or renewal of a trade license. It is calculated as 10% of the annual rent of offices and warehouses and 5% of the annual amount paid for accommodation of its employees.

Accounting rules

Companies are required to comply with the Commercial Companies Law No. 2 of 2015 where it is required to follow IAS/IFRS standards. SMEs have the option to choose between IFRS for SMEs and full IFRS Standards. IFRS  financial  statements  are  required for  all  companies  listed on the UAE stock exchanges and for Banks and Emirates Securities and Commodities Market Authority. Companies are also required to submit yearly audited financial report to Ministry of Finance (for trading companies) or to the Ministry of Industry (for Industrial Companies). This obligation serves for the renewal of license.

Double Taxation Treaties

The UAE has Double Taxation Treaty Agreements (DTTA) with 94 countries to avoid double taxation on investments overseas. The agreements on the Avoidance of Double Taxation are aimed to:

  • Promote the country’s development goals and diversify its sources of national income;
  • Eliminate double taxation as well as additional, indirect taxes and tax evasion;
  • Eliminate any obstacles related to cross-border trade and investment flows;
  • Provide protection to taxpayers from double taxation, whether direct or indirect;
  • Promote the exchange of goods and services and the free movement of capital.



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P.o. Box 36916 Dubai
Tel. +971 5 452 44 43
Fax +971 4 442 9729
Firas Eid

ESSAAR & ASSOCIATES Chartered Accountants
Office Suite 606, Level 6
United Bank Ltd Building
Bank Street, Bur Dubai
P.o.Box 124560 Dubai
Tel. +971 50 457 70 27
Fax +971 4 355 19 20
Sathyan P.K.

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