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  • Writer's pictureJenny Hunt

5 Essential Tips for Starting a Successful Business in Abu Dhabi in 2024

Updated 19th January 2024.

This guide provides essential insights for individuals considering starting a business in Abu Dhabi in 2024. Given the dynamic nature of Abu Dhabi's ever-evolving business environment, we've updated and expanded on the tips we originally published to ensure their relevance today. Leveraging our practical expertise in helping companies to establish a footprint in Abu Dhabi over the last 10 years, these tips will give you a profound insight to ensure your successful business setup. Let's get started.

5 Essential Tips for Starting a Successful Business in Abu Dhabi in 2024

Tip 1: Conduct Thorough Market Research

Over the past decade, Abu Dhabi's business environment has experienced significant transformations, reinforcing the need for continuous updates and ongoing market research to stay informed and compliant. This goes beyond just conducting an initial exploratory investigation. Understanding the legal and tax regulations, licensing conditions, and cultural nuances lays the groundwork for executing your Abu Dhabi market entry effectively. Staying well informed, adapting to changing market conditions and embracing regulatory changes are key factors that will define your company's success. To kickstart your journey into setting up in Abu Dhabi, consider the following:

  • Online desk research.  While online resources are a great starting point, be cautious of potential inaccuracies and outdated information. Verify details from multiple reliable sources.

  • Connect with your Embassy. Utilize the expertise of your embassy's trade advisors to help you with your research inquiries and connect you with reputable local companies.

  • Participate in trade missions. Organised visits to Abu Dhabi with a comprehensive schedule of activities are valuable introductions to the emirate. These trade missions connect delegates with government and private sector contacts, providing specialist insights into market regulations and opportunities.

  • Attend conferences and exhibitions. These events offer a wealth of information about the Abu Dhabi market, including current trends, challenges, and opportunities. Networking with professionals in your sector, identifying potential customers and competitors, and even exhibiting your business at such events can be instrumental in building relationships.

  • Join local business groups. (See Tip 2.)

  • Read the local newspapers. Stay informed by regularly reading local newspapers and new portals such as The National, Gulf News, Khaleej Times, Arabian Business and WAM. To streamline your information gathering, Gateway Group's blog collates the essential headlines on the UAE's economy, trade, and investment, providing a convenient weekly update. Subscribe, now it's free.

UAE Weekly Business News blog a collation of the Abu Dhabi economy trade and investment headlines every Monday subscribe for free

Tip 2: Build and Nurture a Robust Network

Networking is crucial in Abu Dhabi's transient hub where faces come and go. Maintaining a strong network ensures a continuous flow of information and support. Immerse yourself in the local business environment by regularly attending diverse networking events, to leverage the strong sense of community in Abu Dhabi. Remarkably, prominent business professionals are surprisingly accessible, a unique characteristic not often found in other parts of the world. Identify events that align with your goals. Search online to find local business groups, business councils and chambers hosting useful events.

Tip 3: Embrace the local culture

Cultural understanding and respect are paramount for business success in Abu Dhabi. While both Arabic and English are widely spoken, making an effort to learn basic Arabic phrases is not only welcomed but appreciated. Embrace the Arabic way of doing business, where relationships and trust are built through conversations over coffee. Being available for short-notice meetings is often expected, and it's common to have numerous meetings that may not immediately dive into business discussions. I like to say: "Don't underestimate the value of a cup of coffee."

Expat women aren't required to wear an Abaya (the long gown worn by Emirati ladies) or cover their heads with a sheyla (head scarf). However, dressing modestly, ensuring shoulders and knees are covered, is appropriate. Note that certain government departments and judicial buildings strictly enforce modest dress codes. Having experienced instances where knee-length, tailored skirt suits were not accepted, I now keep an abaya in my car to prevent such occurrences.

Investing time in learning about cultural 'Dos and Don’ts' ensures respectful interactions with Emiratis. Practicing business etiquette not only demonstrates commitment but could also be the key difference in winning or losing a contract in Abu Dhabi.

TIP 4: Adapt to Market Changes

Over the last decade, Abu Dhabi has undergone significant regulatory, digitization, and consumer behavior shifts. Enhancing its competitiveness, the emirate relaxed restrictions on foreign business ownership, and visa reforms fostered increased stability. The rise of payment gateways transformed the once cash-centric society into online shoppers. Lifestyle changes have made home-delivered coffee, meals, and groceries a norm rather than a luxury, with the entire market transitioning online for quicker transactions.

Embracing change involves continuous monitoring of market trends, attending relevant seminars, and seeking professional advice. This proactive approach prepares businesses to pivot, staying ahead and remaining relevant in Abu Dhabi's dynamic business landscape.

Tip 5: Seek Professional Assistance for Company Formation

Business setup in Abu Dhabi requires navigating complex regulations and procedures. Limited knowledge and experience in Abu Dhabi company formation can lead to unnecessary challenges, costs and delays for new businesses. Seeking professional assistance streamlines the process and offers several key benefits:

Abu Dhabi company formation specialist Awais Chughtai general manager gateway group
  1. Differentiate between mainland and free zone licenses.

  2. Stay informed about ongoing regulatory requirements.

  3. Efficiently manage the incorporation process.

Professional guidance not only ensures a smoother setup but also helps businesses make informed decisions, adhere to legal requirements, and position themselves for success in the Abu Dhabi market.

Trust the experts recommended by the Abu Dhabi government: Gateway Group. We know the local landscape, navigate the nuances, and deliver results.

Ready to unlock Abu Dhabi's potential and start your Abu Dhabi business setup journey? Scan the QR code now and connect directly with our GM, Awais Chughtai, on Whatsapp, to start doing business in Abu Dhabi in 2024.

Starting a Business in Abu Dhabi in 2024

In summary...

10 years on, I'm still struck by the same observations:

  • Many newcomers arrive in Abu Dhabi unprepared, anticipating immediate contract wins.

  • Some expect to replicate their methods from back home without adjustment.

  • Surprisingly few individuals and businesses conduct proper due diligence.

  • People often accept information without verification.

  • A brief holiday in the UAE doesn't make someone an 'Abu Dhabi' expert.

Abu Dhabi is a jewel among the emirates, offering a business-friendly environment, a positive can-do attitude, and endless opportunities for those willing to put in the groundwork. Utilize these tips to analyze risks, conduct due diligence, and formulate a business plan that paves the way for success. Check out this article for "10 Tips for Expanding your Business to Abu Dhabi".

First published:11th September 2014 under the title: 3 Top Tips Before Starting A Business in Abu Dhabi.

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Written by Jenny Hunt

Founder, Gateway Group, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, United Arab Emirates

FORBES' Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Middle East

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