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Abu Dhabi Company Formations

If you want to do business in Abu Dhabi, you need to register your company to obtain a business license (trade license/commercial license) reflecting the scope of your business activities.

Abu Dhabi Mainland Company Formation

Businesses intending to supply goods and services across the entire Emirate of Abu Dhabi (rather than within the restrictive, geographical boundaries of one of it's free zones) need a mainland business license, referred to locally as either a trade license or a commercial license, issued by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED). It's the most flexible license, permitting businesses to operate throughout the Emirate and directly with the government. 100% foreign ownership is permitted for some business activities, but foreign ownership is capped at 49% in others, so a local sponsor (local partner) may be needed.

Standard Mainland Business Setup

Businesses intending to supply goods and services across an entire Emirate (rather than within the restrictive geographical boundaries of a free zone) need a mainland business license (trade license, commercial license) issued by the Department of Economic Development (DED). It's the most flexible license, permitting the business to operate throughout the Emirate where the license was issued and directly with the government. 100% foreign ownership is permitted in some sectors, but foreign ownership is capped at 49% in others, so a local sponsor (local partner) may be needed.

100% Foreign Ownership

The UAE's Foreign Direct Investment Law (Federal Decree Law No. 7, 2018) permits up to 100% foreign ownership of mainland businesses with certain business activities. The activities permitting full foreign ownership are decided by each individual Emirate and are therefore not consistent across the country.

Corporate Local Sponsor

All mainland commercial enterprises, which do not have business activities permitting full foreign ownership, need to fulfill the requirements of the Commercial Companies Law (Federal Law No. 2 of 2015). Foreign ownership of these businesses is capped at 49%. This means, a local sponsor (local partner) is needed to hold the 51% balance of shares. Gateway Group provides a nominee corporate local sponsor service to meet this requirement, which also mitigates the risk of appointing an unknown local individual.

Standard Mainland Business Setup

Businesses intending to supply goods and services across an entire Emirate (rather than within the restrictive geographical boundaries of a free zone) need a mainland business license (trade license, commercial license) issued by the Department of Economic Development (DED). It's the most flexible license, permitting the business to operate throughout the Emirate where the license was issued and directly with the government. 100% foreign ownership is permitted in some sectors, but foreign ownership is capped at 49% in others, so a local sponsor (local partner) may be needed.

Working with the government

Businesses supplying goods or services directly to the government or quasi-government entities in Abu Dhabi need a mainland license issued by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED). One their trade license is issued, it is necessary to register as a supplier with each of the government entities they wish to do business with, and also with the Ministry of Finance, to ensure they get paid. The supplier registration process varies by entity and can take some time, several months in some instances, so be sure to start the process as soon as possible.

Expanding throughout the UAE

Businesses intending to expand beyond Abu Dhabi to do business across multiple Emirates can do so in a variety of ways, depending upon their legal structure. Foreign Branches need to set up a separate foreign branch in each relevant Emirate; whilst Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) can step into an additional Emirate by setting up a local branch of the main LLC, which is a much cheaper option.

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