The United Arab Emirates offers a dynamic and business-friendly environment, attracting entrepreneurs from around the world. When getting a business setup in Dubai, one of the crucial decisions is choosing between a mainland and a free zone company. Each option comes with distinct advantages and considerations, shaping the nature of the business and its operations.
Ownership and Shareholding
Foreign investors operating on the mainland are required to have a local partner, also referred to as a sponsor, who owns at least 51% of the shares. Instead of requiring a local partner, free zones provide foreign investors complete ownership, enabling them to possess 100% of the business.
Business Activities and Licensing
The type of business activities a company can engage in is influenced by its location. Mainland companies have a broader scope of permissible activities and can conduct business across the UAE without restrictions. Free zone companies, however, are confined to the specific activities outlined in their license and may face limitations when operating outside the designated free zone.
Mainland companies have the advantage of conducting business anywhere within the UAE and internationally. This unrestricted geographic scope is advantageous for companies that intend to tap into the entire UAE market. Free zone companies, on the other hand, are typically limited to operating within the specific free zone where they are registered, unless they engage in business through a mainland distributor or agent.
Customs Duties and Import/Export Regulations
Mainland companies are subject to the UAE’s customs duties and import/export regulations. This means complying with the standard customs procedures and tariffs applicable across the country. In contrast, free zone companies benefit from exemptions on import and export duties within the free zone, simplifying international trade operations.
Commercial Rent and Office Spaces
The cost and availability of commercial real estate can vary between mainland and free zone locations. Mainland companies often face higher rental costs for office spaces, especially in prime business districts. Free zones, designed to attract foreign investment, may offer more cost-effective leasing options and additional amenities to facilitate business operations.
Employment and Visa Regulations
Mainland companies have the flexibility to hire employees from various nationalities without restrictions. They can also sponsor employees for UAE visas, enabling them to work and reside in the country. Free zone companies, while having the freedom to recruit internationally, are typically required to obtain visas through the respective free zone authority.
The choice between a free zone and mainland company formation in Dubai hinges on various factors, including ownership preferences, business activities, and geographic aspirations. Understanding the distinctions between these two business structures is crucial for entrepreneurs seeking to establish a successful and compliant business presence in the UAE’s thriving economic landscape.