I: Demystifying the UAE Trade Licence: What Companies Need to Know (10 things to know before setting up a business in the UAE)

18 May, 2023 - UAE Life & Economy

We often get asked by our clients and businesses looking to establish presence here in the region, what is a Trade Licence? The UAE has gained global recognition as a thriving business hub, attracting companies from all corners of the world. Conversely, before establishing a company in the UAE, understanding the trade licence requirements is crucial.

In this article, we will explore the essentials of obtaining a UAE trade licence and what companies need to know.

Understanding the Trade Licence

A trade licence is a legal document issued by the UAE government that permits a company to conduct business activities within the country. It is a fundamental requirement for every enterprise, irrespective of its size or nature of operations. It provides credibility and ensures that businesses operate within the framework of the law.

Having a valid trade licence not only ensures the legality of business operations but also enables companies to engage in transactions, open bank accounts, apply for visas, enter into contracts, and participate in government tenders. The UAE offers several types of trade licences, including commercial, industrial, professional, and tourism licences, each tailored to specific business activities.

Business Jurisdictions

The UAE consists of seven emirates, each with its own regulatory framework for business incorporation. Two main types of jurisdictions are available for companies: mainland and free zones (more than 45). Mainland companies allow businesses to operate throughout the UAE market and engage with local clients. Free zones, on the other hand, provide specialized facilities and incentives to foreign investors, allowing 100% ownership and exemption from certain taxes.

Determining Business Activity and Licence Type

Before applying for a trade licence, companies must identify their primary business activity, as this will determine the licence type required. It is essential to carefully select the activity that aligns with the company’s operations to ensure compliance with the UAE’s regulatory framework.

Licensing Authorities and Procedures

The licensing process in the UAE involves multiple government entities depending on the chosen jurisdiction. Mainland companies are regulated by the Economy and Tourism (DET) in each emirate, while free zone authorities oversee licensing within their respective zones. The procedures involve submitting the necessary documentation, fulfilling legal requirements, obtaining approvals, and paying the relevant fees.

Documentation and Requirements

To obtain a trade licence, companies must typically provide the following documents:

  • Application form
  • Copy of the passport of the company’s owners/shareholders
  • Proposed trade name
  • Memorandum of Association (for mainland companies)
  • No Objection Certificate (NOC) from sponsor (for expatriate-owned mainland companies)
  • Office lease agreement
  • Bank reference letter
  • Business plan and feasibility study
  • Share capital (for certain licence types)

Licence Renewal and Compliance

Trade licences in the UAE are typically valid for one year and must be renewed annually. It is crucial for companies to comply with the UAE’s laws and regulations, including financial reporting, visa requirements, taxation, labour laws, and other business-related obligations. Failure to comply can result in fines, penalties, or even business closure.

Obtaining a trade licence is a fundamental step for companies looking to establish a presence in the UAE. Understanding the trade licence requirements, selecting the appropriate jurisdiction, and complying with legal obligations are essential for successful business operations in the country. By navigating the licensing process effectively and staying compliant, companies can unlock the countless opportunities offered by the UAE’s vibrant and dynamic business landscape.