Expanding To Dubai: What You Need To Know When You Are Ready To Expand Your Business

John Marcarian   |   31 Aug 2023   |   8 min read

Planning a move overseas is a big step, no matter where you are going. There are different social expectations, legal rules, business regulations, tax requirements, and more to figure out.

You need to determine whether you or a key team member is going to make the physical move to head up the overseas expansion, and facilitate this move to be as smooth and efficient as possible. 

Then there are business decisions such as deciding whether to set up a brand-new company, or trade overseas directly under your head company. While there are too many factors to consider in one article, and it is essential to get tailored advice for your situation, you can get a head start by considering an overview of the key concepts that you will need to cover.

1. Operation Zones

Companies in Dubai can choose to operate as free zone companies, offshore companies, or Mainland companies. This decision will have an impact on where you can do business.

If Dubai is going to be your hub for regional or international commerce, then a free zone entity may be the best option. This is because Free Zone Companies can only operate within their Free Zone and abroad, not on the mainland. However, if you are intending to provide goods and services to the UAE, then a Mainland firm would be the required option.

Free Trade Zone Company

There are over 40 zones throughout the UAE that are Free Trade Zones. These zones have special tax, customs, and import regimes. Businesses operating within these Free Trade Zones may be exempt from paying corporate tax as well as import and export taxes. However, they are restricted from doing business with the Mainland.


A Mainland business can be set up in Dubai or any other emirates, so they can operate in the UAE as well as internationally.

Offshore Company

If your company is incorporated in the UAE offshore, you can operate with minimal capital requirements and operate on an international basis.

2. Income Taxes

From June 2023 all companies operating in the UAE under a commercial licence are taxed after the first 375,000 AED of their net profits. The tax is charged at a flat rate of 9% and only applies to the profits above this first 375,000 AED. This makes it one of the more appealing corporate tax rates in the world.

Note that Free Trade Zone companies may continue to be exempt from paying corporate tax under their specific free zone incentives. 

In line with the Global Minimum Corporate Tax Rate agreement, multinational firms with profits exceeding EUR 750 million, will have to pay 15% tax. 

From June 2023 businesses operating under the new rules now need to register with the Federal Tax Authority and lodge tax returns for the business on an annual basis.

3. VAT and Excise Tax

Since 2018 a goods and services tax, or a value-add tax, known as VAT, has been applicable at a flat rate of 5%.

There are some exclusions to which items incur VAT, including exports of goods and services, international transportation, some education and healthcare services, investment-grade precious metals, and new construction of residential properties. Some Free Trade Zeons are also exempt from paying VAT for trade within their zones. 

In 2017 the UAE implemented an excise tax. This is an indirect tax that is imposed on goods that are considered to be harmful to either personal health or the environment. This includes a 50% tax on carbonated drinks and a 100% tax on energy drinks and tobacco products.

4. Employer Responsibilities

As an employer you are responsible for paying your employees under the local employment rules and regulations. There are a range of responsibilities that you are required to cover for your employees, including:

  • Paying wages in accordance with local laws and regulations. This includes proper job documentation, conditions of labour, and paying wages on time. As there is no individual income tax there is no tax withholding regime to consider.
  • Providing health insurance for employees. This is a compulsory requirement for all employers.
  • Under UAE law the employer is responsible for paying the travel and recruitment costs, including entry visa, of any employee they are recruiting or moving to the UAE.

5. Moving To Dubai When Expanding Your Business

A visa residency through employment is required for any individual moving to Dubai for work purposes. Note that it is the employer’s responsibility to organise and pay for an employment Visa.

The standard work Visa lasts for two years. This requires an employer sponsor to confirm employment in Dubai.  

A “Green Visa” is applicable for freelancers or self-employed individuals. This requires specialised educational qualifications and evidence of your annual income to prove financial solvency. This Visa is for five years.

Finally, the “Golden Visa” is a residency permit that allows foreigners to live, work, or study in the UAE for 10 years without a sponsor. Investors, entrepreneurs, and more can apply for this Visa. This Visa also allows the immediate family to be sponsored so they can move to Dubai as well.

It is also important that individuals moving to Dubai are aware of local expectations, laws, and requirements, which may be vastly different from your home country.

6. Other Business Responsibilities

As with running a business in any other location, there are essential rules, regulations, licensing, and other requirements that your business needs to be aware of as part of your setup and operation.  Some of these are listed below.

Bank Account

It can take two to four weeks to open a bank account for commercial purposes. While the required documents vary according to the bank and the type of account you open, the Business Manager will need to have their own residency visa in order before you apply.

Trade Licence

Every business that operates in the UAE must have a trade licence, or a business licence. This may be a commercial licence, a professional licence, or an industrial licence, depending on your business activity.

Business Entity

You can set up your business as a sole proprietorship, an LLC company, or a branch office. If operating from a Free Trade Zone your business can be 100% foreign-owned.

7. Double Tax Agreements (DTAs)

The UAE is expanding their list of DTAs throughout the countries of the world in order to facilitate strategic global partnerships. These agreements help ensure that the consequences of being taxed in multiple tax jurisdictions is mitigated via exemptions or reductions in taxation on investments from profits.

While the USA does not have a DTA with the UAE, there is currently a DTA between the UAE and Singapore, as well as the UAE and the UK. Australia is in the process of establishing a DTA with the UAE. 

8. Property Taxes

Although there is no capital gains tax or inheritance tax in the UAE, there is a transfer charge on the transfer of property within the UAE. The rate of charge varies in each Emirate, with a 4% charge applying in Dubai. This transfer fee is typically paid by the buyer of the property.

9. Rental Tax

Although there is no individual income tax in Dubai, there is a rental tax. The tax on rental properties varies between Emirates. In Dubai commercial tenants pay 10% and residential tenants pay 5%. In some locations citizens are exempt from the rental tax.

Foreigners In The UAE

As there is no income tax for individuals, both residents and non-residents of the UAE are not required to lodge an income tax return in the UAE.

However, if you remain a resident of your home country then you will need to lodge a tax return in your country of residence, and this may require the inclusion of income earned from the UAE.

Depending on how your business in the UAE is set up, you may also be required to report this income as foreign income in a local company tax return.

Local Taxation Experts

As there is no individual income tax and corporate tax is new to the UAE, there may be limited access to accountants, and limited experience with the UAE tax regime on a local level.  

It is therefore especially important to seek the advice of International Tax Experts who can help you navigate the new requirements in Dubai, as well as the impact of doing business across multiple borders.

CST have been assisting Australian and expat clients for over 30 years. Helping businesses to set up overseas and connect with local tax experts is an essential part of the support we offer clients around the globe. With the UAE now introducing a corporate tax into their tax regime it is more important than ever that you get the right advice for your expansion into Dubai. 


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