How to Start a Business in Dubai During COVID-19
Updated: Sep 17
3rd June 2020, updated 17 September 2023
Despite the global lockdowns in relation to COVID-19, you can still start a new business in Dubai and get a new trade license issued.
Whilst, Dubai had a stringent lockdown protocol whilst carrying out its sterilization programme, it is now open for business again and very much focused on opening up businesses and returning to some kind of normal. Dubai has had a gradual reopening, but as of today (3rd June 2020), it is allowing businesses to operate with 100% capacity. As would be expected, there are of course stringent hygiene measures which need to be followed including social distancing and wearing of face masks.
Is now the right time to start a business in Dubai?
Despite COVID-19, the UAE has recorded an increase in the number of business licenses issued during May, which confirms the continuity of economic activity whilst providing confidence in the economy and opportunities here.
Being the owner of a number of businesses myself, I think it is important for companies to take action. Those companies which have a clear direction and are quick out of the starting blocks now, as economies start to reopen, will be the companies which thrive. Companies badly affected by the pandemic, which fail to transform, will suffer.
International expansion into Dubai
Business is about informed risk taking and those which have the cashflow to be able to make investments to expand into Dubai and have products and services which will benefit Dubai and its strategies and plans for the future, will surely make their investment work, but will need to take the necessary actions to get active in the market.
However, with such a large investment of expanding into Dubai, do be sure of where your brand will sit and whether any changes might be required in order to adhere to local customs. Be confident that you have a strong pipeline of business and the right team in place. It is essential to know the market, understand how business is done here and to have knowledgeable and well connected employees on the ground to be successful. If you can tick those boxes, then there is no reason that you shouldn't get a business license in Dubai now. Check out our Youtube video, presented by Gateway Group's founder, Jenny Hunt called Biggest mistake companies make setting up in Dubai
How to start a side hustle in Dubai online from home
Have you thought about starting a side hustle? Side hustles are a growing trend, not surprisingly they have been propelled by lockdown. Side hustles are a way of legally making extra money. For some, they are a way of monetizing their hobby; whilst for others it is a way of testing the market before going self employed, full time. Popular side hustles include: consulting, blogging, social media, photography and of course monetizing Youtube videos and being a Youtuber. All the time any of these activities are a hobby, you are doing them purely through your own passion; but as soon as your start getting paid, you need the appropriate business license.
We love the Dubai E Trader license for expats starting a side hustle because its the cheapest trade license in Dubai, and you don't need a local sponsor, you can own it yourself. To be eligible for the E Trader license you need to be over 18, have a valid Emirates ID and be a resident with a Makani number in Dubai. As with any business license, it is essential to understand the requirements and restrictions, so check out How to Start Your Business in Dubai with the E Trader License to see whether it is suitable for your personal circumstances.
Another popular side hustle, and even full time business for some, is being a social media influencer. If you have a social media platform with an engaged following, you might well be considered an influencer, subject matter expert, or thought leader in the topic of your platform. The most well known sectors for influencers are fashion and beauty, but if they don't spark your passion, not to worry, you could position yourself as an influencer in almost any niche. Have a think about the things you enjoy doing, love talking about, and the products you buy - the most important thing is to convey your genuine enthusiasm and excitement. What could be better than talking about a topic you feel passionately about and being paid by brands to promote their products? And, if you are an influencer in Dubai getting paid, you need be correctly licensed. To be a licensed influencer, you need a trade license and a special influencer license from the Media Regulatory Office (MRO; previously, influencer licenses were issued by the National Media Council, but those responsibilities have now be assumed by the MRO). Check out Social Media Influencer License Dubai for more details.
Travelling to and from Dubai
One of the key elements which affects business is the movement of people, especially when setting up a new business in a foreign country. Companies are reliant on air transport for getting their employees into the country to carry out feasibility studies, due diligence and building up a network of connections - all before the process of starting a business. Business travel is somewhat essential when expanding overseas. The good news is that Dubai's Emirates Airline has started to fly again. In May it started flying to nine destinations (London, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne). A further 30 destinations were relaunched on 1st June and the airline is aiming to be flying to 80 destinations by the end of this month as more countries ease their travel restrictions.
Tender fees cancelled
Further good news is that the Ministry of Finance has this week announced that it is cancelling fees for the purchase of tender documents in federal entities to boost the business environment. This is great news for companies intending to tender for federal government projects. Just remember, that you will need to have your trade license issued prior to tendering, so its a good idea to start setting up your Dubai company well in advance to ensure that you have the right corporate documents in place - there may be delays in getting corporate documents notarized and legalized around the world.
How to start a business in Dubai
There are many different ways of setting up a business in Dubai. Engaging a company formation expert like Gateway Group will ensure that you get the correct trade license, issued from the most appropriate jurisdiction (one of the numerous free zones in Dubai or Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism for mainland trade licenses). A smooth business setup comes down to preparation:
Confirm your intended business activities in Dubai
Identify your anticipated clients in Dubai
Decide upon the legal structure for your Dubai business
Arrange your corporate documents in your home jurisdiction (a number of documents will require notarizing and legalizing and these will be determined based upon the chosen legal structure)
Letting Gateway Group take care of the business setup details frees up your time to focus on growing your business. Choosing Gateway Group for your business setup has a number of other benefits too:
✅ Super Easy: Our cloud platform guides you through the process, step-by-step, of providing your details and uploading your documents. Everything is saved automatically so you do not have to do it all in one go, and if you need to come back later, all the information you already input will still be there, you won’t lose anything.
✅ Hassle-Free: Our business setup team will take care of complete company registration process for you, including filing the necessary applications with the government departments, and obtaining your trade license.
✅ Everything included: Our packages and pricing uniquely includes all government and third-party fees, as well as taxes, so you can be confident that you're getting the complete package, with no surprises.
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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