Be your own boss



Ever thought about setting up your own business here? Abu Dhabi Week looked at how you can turn your great business idea into a reality

If you have grand designs on launching your own business here, the capital could be a prime place to begin your new venture. Abu Dhabi Week looked into how you can start your own company in the city and turn your commercial dream into a firm reality.

It has become progressively easier to set up a business in the Emirates with laws being adjusted to attract more foreign investment to the country. No longer is  AED 150,000 capital required, free zones are being constructed to allow 100 percent foreign ownership and other laws are being evaluated for the future. This combined with the tax-free market makes Abu Dhabi a great place to start a business.

Establishing your goal is the easy part. Come up with an idea; research the market; formulate a business plan. Legalising the business is where it can get tricky. So once you have established your target market, your product or service and your goals you need to make the business official.

So let’s say, you have your idea; you have done your research and are ready to launch. You need a name for your business; this will go on all the documentation. Links Group business consultant Tyron Farrell says the next step is making some decisions.

“Will you set up as an LLC/Foreign Branch/Establishment and will you set up in the free-zone or onshore,” he said. “If onshore you will need to engage with an Emirati partner or an 100 percent Emirati-owned company.”

Once these decisions are made, it’s time to make it all legal and consulting a law firm is the next step. This is important for a few reasons, they will ensure all your paperwork is legal and complete through each step. Links Group offers consulting services and there are several other businesses in Abu Dhabi devoted to helping establish businesses and assisting entrepreneurs with paperwork.

Farrell said: “As we know sometimes speaking to the right department or person in the UAE can be difficult, through Links’ vast experience and industry know-how, we understand how to navigate through the pitfalls and get the client set up in the quickest way possible.  Abu Dhabi is a small city and we pride ourselves on our reputation so Links will always offer independent advice as to what is best for the client.”

Your next step, choose a business licence.

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) licence is the main choice for expat entrepreneurs. While the licence requires an Emirati sponsor, the expat is then able to own 49 percent of the business anywhere in the UAE.

Alternatively, the UAE is establishing free zones which allow 100 percent ownership which also comes at a fee. The LLC is the most popular form of business licence because it allows 49 percent ownership for an expat, requires no start-up capital (of course, having this is essential but no longer legally required), is tax free and allows capital and assets to be named under the company, rather than the Emirati sponsor’s name.

For businesses that rely on a specific location (not in a free zone) the LLC is the most suitable option. Business owner, Seema Shetty set up her company, Bite Rite, in Abu Dhabi under the LLC licence. She said: “The LLC licence comes with a great deal of perks in terms of the activities you can operate. For every activity you wish to perform, the service will need to be added to your licence and having an LLC makes this process much easier.”


You need an Emirati partner.

For any business opened in the UAE (that is not within a UAE
free zone). Your local sponsor can either participate in the business or be paid an annual
fee; however you can tailor the arrangement to suit your set-up. Although experts warn that you need to ensure your agreement is a written document between you and your sponsor so both of you are protected. Don’t know a suitable person? There are firms available to match you up with a sponsor, and also tailor a mutually beneficial contract for you and your sponsor.

Farrell says business start-ups need to be cautious with agreements; “[be wary of] Empty promises and people claiming they know someone to guarantee you future business. Always get everything in writing and consult and independent law firm to protect your interests,” he said.


Your company will need a trade name.

Your trade name will differentiate your business from others in an official capacity. This name needs to be unique to your business. Register for this at the Department of Economic Development (DED).


Receiving an initial commercial licence approval is essential before you can progress. This is obtained from the DED too. It will enable you to receive approval for various licences, including the business licence. This is certification from the government to go ahead with your plans and paperwork.

You will need to decide on a location.

Where will optimise your business? Rental prices can be high and prove challenging for new businesses. Shetty says easily the largest expense for her business is rent. Consult a real estate agent to find somewhere appropriate for your needs and budget.

Your workforce will need visas too – establishing these is an essential step to conclude.Once this is done, you should be ready to trade! Abu Dhabi has a highly lucrative market and once you have established yourself, it can prove to be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Shetty said: “No matter which kind of business you are, if you are adding value to your customer, then go for it!”

In summary, once you have done your research; consult a business specialist and lawyer, find a sponsor, get your trade name, see the DED for initial approval, pick a commercial premises, get your business licence and organise visas and you will be ready for business.

A word of warning from Farrell however: “Do your research, consult to a law firm and a reputable company like Links before you sign any documentation or hand over
any money.”

For more information, you can contact Links Group:, consultations are welcome or visit the Abu Dhabi Government’s business portals: and


Starting a business in a Free Zone

Foreign investors interested in establishing a business venture in Abu Dhabi can also look at free zones. Set up as part of the Emirate’s economic diversification plans, outside investors can help spur the local economy while reaping attractive benefits for themselves.

According to the website each free zone has an independent Free Zone Authority (FZA) that is tasked with issuing free zone operating licences and assisting companies to establish their business.

In each free zone, a FZA is responsible for issuing free zone operating licences and assisting companies to establish their business. Once registering a business as a Free Zone Establishment or Free Zone Company, it will be considered a Limited Liability Company that will be subject to the laws and regulations of the free zone in which it was established.

Abu Dhabi Week spoke to twofour54, the commercial arm of the Media Zone Authority – Abu Dhabi, to find out what steps were needed to set up a potential media or creative business.

1. Connect: Contact the twofour54 Business Development Team to discuss your business plans

2. Define your business: After you’ve met all the relevant criteria you’ll have to decide if you’d like to set up your business as a free zone limited liability company (FZ LLC) or establish a branch or license as a freelancer. Then you will need to fill out the proper documentation

3. Finalise your requirements: Once you’ve started the process for company registration and licensing, you will have to agree the terms for the office space and other services you’ll need

4. Company registration and business licensing: You will apply for a Business License and, if required, a Dissemination License to register your company. Once you’re company has been licensed by the Media Zone Authority you can start operating in twofour54

5. Get started: Once you’re all moved in you’ll receive a welcome package to help you settle in and discover the opportunities available to you and your company. And a visit to twofour54 tawasol can help you acquire everything you and your staff will need when starting a business in Abu Dhabi

To find out more visit:


Success Stories

Suhail Edward Masri, vice president – sales of explains why they established their business in twofour54 in 2013: “Abu Dhabi is one of the fastest growing business hubs in the region. Our decision to establish a presence here reflects our commitment to facilitate recruitment of local, regional and international top-talent in Abu Dhabi.

“The facilitation team at twofour54 was very helpful in handling all regulatory and governmental requirements, making establishing our office here simple and giving us
the day-to-day support we need to focus on what’s most important to us – finding people in the Middle East the perfect job!”

Saeed Al Mansouri, chairman of B.H Commercial Agencies

“The Abu Dhabi economy is very strong and we have a lot of new companies coming here. To make a complete business chain in the UAE, I have a company that helps other businesses get established. We’ve helped a lot of companies get started and have knowledge in the marketplace. We follow up with them day-to-day to help support them
and help their company grow,” said Al Mansouri.


Case Study

Case Study: Fun Ride Sports

Name: Aboubaker Al Sakaf

Position: CEO

Company: Fun Ride Sports (FRS)

Business Type: Establishment


When was your business started? 

We started in 2003 and submitted the project and were operational by 2008.


Why did you start this business? 

I am an avid bike rider and it was very difficult to ride a bicycle in Abu Dhabi at the time. I found the only bicycle track was on the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Very few people used to
bike there because it was difficult to park your car and carry your bikes to the beach; you had to plan in advance to do this. So I thought, why not create a bicycle rental station at the Corniche itself? The idea was very innovative at the time.


What were some of the challenges you faced when starting a business?

The business was a very innovative concept and it took a while to present my ideas to the authorities. I received a lot of support from the municipality and without it I wouldn’t have this business.


What are some of the benefits of having your own business?

Financially it is good and I enjoy being my own boss. More importantly, I really enjoy providing people with a way to ride bicycles and participate in fitness.


What do you look forward to in the future with FRS?

Currently we have a bicycle shop in Mushrif Mall and rental stations along the Corniche and at Yas Island. In the future I am looking to expand into other Emirates.

For more information visit:

Caitlyn Davey
Posted in Features | 9 Comments

9 thoughts on “Be your own boss

  1. Jean Glen

    This was a very helpful article indeed. I have been in Abu Dhabi for a month and I’m looking to bring my small UK skincare and holistic therapy business over here, but had no idea how to go about it! Thank you

    1. Nasir

      Hi Jean,
      I red your comment and your idea. My wife and i have similar interest in this type of business and modern ladies saloon. If you are interested perhaps we can form some sort of partnership in setting up together in Abu-dhabi.

      We are based in Abudhabi.

  2. Romie

    This was a good article for people who is looking for business sart up. i have been in Abu Dhabi for less than a year. i want to start a business, but i don’t know where to begin.

    Thank you.


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