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  • Writer's pictureJenny Hunt

Unleash Your Business Growth: Is now the right time to start a business in Dubai?

Updated 27 February 2024

In the vibrant heart of the desert, where innovation meets tradition and opportunity knows no bounds, lies Dubai— a city that not only weathered the storm of the pandemic but emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. As the world grappled with uncertainty, Dubai stood as a beacon of stability, its economy thriving amidst the chaos. Now, as businesses globally chart their course for the future, and entrepreneurs unleash their enthusiasm to launch a side business, the question arises: Is now the right time to start a business in Dubai?

In this updated blog we delve into the unparalleled opportunities for both international companies seeking expansion and Dubai expats dreaming of their own side hustle. We explore how Dubai's handling of the pandemic underscores some of the key considerations for setting up and getting licensed today. Let's get started.

Whilst, Dubai had a stringent lockdown protocol when carrying out its sterilization programme during Covid-19, it implemented a gradual reopening of businesses which culminated in companies being able to operate at 100% capacity again by the start of June 2020. During that time, the UAE still managed to record an increase in the number of business licenses issued, confirming the continuity of economic activity whilst providing confidence in the economy and opportunities.

Why is it important to know this?

Throughout the pandemic the UAE consistently ranked as one of the most resilient countries⁽¹⁾. This should be an important consideration for companies eyeing international expansion. Exploring how countries navigated the pandemic's impact and what the consequences would have been for your business had it already been operating there. Would your company have been able to continue its operations? Could you transport your goods? Could you acquire the products you need to operate? How freely could your employees move around? How quickly and easily could your employees get access to vaccinations? How easily could your employees purchase PPE and PCR tests and at what cost? What is the country's policy on food security?

Having had first hand experience of a pandemic, businesses need to consider these crucial questions when deciding where to expand their business internationally forward.

Is now the right time to start a business in Dubai?

Let Dubai's figures speak for themselves.

  1. In 2023, over 67,000 new companies joined the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, increasing it's total number of active members to 217,000. The value of it's member's exports and re-exports increased 4.3% in 2023 to AED284 billion. Also, Dubai Chamber launched 16 new representative offices internationally in 2023, bringing the total number to 31⁽²⁾.

  2. UAE’s food and beverage sector generated $16.4 billion in retail sales in 2023, while consumer spending on food via e-commerce platforms reached $1.1 billion in 2023 and is expected to increase at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.5% between 2023 and 2027⁽³⁾.

  3. The Dubai Economic Agenda (D33) set's out Dubai's goal to double the size of it's economy by 2033 and position itself as one of the top three global cities⁽⁴⁾. Having already surpassed it's trade targets, Dubai has set a new trade goal of $7 trillion in the next 10 years. Dubai’s non-oil foreign trade reached $544.6 billion in 2023, a year earlier than planned⁽⁵⁾.

  4. Dubai's advanced and progressive healthcare sector, a preferred destination for healthcare investments, multinational hospitals and medical centres, grew significantly between 2019 and 2023, with the number of healthcare facilities increasing from 3,431 to 4,922 and the number of healthcare professional rising from 39,548 to 58,788, reflecting Dubai's healthcare status in internationally⁽⁶⁾.

  5. The UAE is projected to see a rise of high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs, someone with a net worth of US$1 million or more) to over 228,000 by 2026, representing a 39% increase since 2021⁽⁷⁾.

  6. In January 2024, the Dubai International Growth Initiative was launched to accelerate the global expansion of Dubai-born SMEs via AED500 million in interest free loans⁽⁸⁾.

International expansion to 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.

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 International Airport (DXB) recorded 87 million guests in 2023⁽⁹⁾, topping pre-pandemic levels, and remains the world's busiest airport in February 2024⁽¹⁰⁾, reinforcing Dubai's accessibility, strategic location and business hub.

Key factors to assess for businesses expanding to Dubai

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 and regulations. 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 trade license in Dubai now. Check out our Youtube video: 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 popular as they are 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. Trendy side hustles include: consulting, blogging, social media, photography 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 a trade license.

We love the Dubai E Trader license for expats starting a side hustle because its the cheapest trade license in Dubai as you don't need to obtain an office lease; and, you don't need a local sponsor, so you can own it 100% yourself. This makes ded trader license for expats the ideal Dubai trade license for home business. 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 trade 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.

In April 2022, Dubai Economy and Tourism announced it had issued over 18,000 E Trader licenses since they were launched in 2017. In Q1 of 2022, the most popular activities of for issued E Traer licenses were: Marketing Services Via Social Media, Marketing Management, Web-Design, Social Media Applications Development & Management, Project Management Services, Fashion Designing, Blogging Services, Internet Content Provider and Calligraphers & Painters⁽¹¹⁾.

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 your specialist area. 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 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 known as the National Media Council. Check out Social Media Influencer License Dubai for more details.

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, either from a Dubai free zone or Dubai Economy and Tourism for a mainland trade license. A smooth business setup comes down to preparation:

  1. Confirm your intended business activities in Dubai

  2. Identify your anticipated clients and where they are located in Dubai

  3. Decide upon the legal structure for your Dubai business

  4. Arrange your corporate documents in your home jurisdiction. Depending upon your chosen legal structure, a number of documents will require notarizing and legalizing.

Scan the qr code to contact Nathan Hunt CEO Gateway Group company formation in Dubai

Letting Gateway Group take care of the business setup details frees up your time to focus on growing your business. Scan the QR code to contact Nathan Hunt, Gateway Group's CEO, about starting your business in Dubai.

Choosing Gateway Group for your business setup has a number of other benefits too:

  1. 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.

  2. Hassle-Free: Our business setup team will take care of the complete company registration process for you, including filing the necessary applications with the government departments, and obtaining your trade license.

  3. 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.

Start Your Business In Dubai Today and Grow Fast free zone company formation in Dubai Gateway Group


⁽¹⁾  The National

⁽²⁾ WAM

⁽³⁾ WAM

⁽¹⁰⁾ OAG

First published on 3rd June 2020, under the title: How to Start a Business in Dubai During COVID-19.

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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

Gateway Group Trusthworthy Business Setup UAE Best business setup consultants in dubai


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