Setting up a company or office in a free zone

There are over 20 free zones operating in Abu Dhabi. A free zone offers business licences to foreign-owned businesses. Each free zone is designed around one or more industries and offers licences to companies working within them. The free zones will also have offices and warehouses that are specifically built considering the requirement of the type of business that is approved in that free zone.

Each free zone is governed by an independent Free Zone Authority (FZA) responsible for only the free zone that is allocated to it. The FZA provides the infrastructure, ancillary services and the regulatory framework to support free zone business set ups. Therefore, you will need to apply to the respective FZA for permission to start your business (see Main free zones in Abu Dhabi overleaf).

The advantages of setting up a company in a free zone include:

  • Option of having 100% foreign ownership of the business 
  • Waiver of corporate tax for 15 years; this can be renewed for another 15 years upon expiry not withstanding any subsequent change to federal or local laws
  • Import and export tax exemptions of up to 100% 
  • Personal income tax waiver 
  • Documentation is less and is mostly in English 
  • Repatriation of capital and profits up to 100%
  • Assistance in recruiting labour assistance in sponsorship and housing and other support services

Companies can operate as the following:

  • A branch in a free zone (of an existing parent company overseas)
  • A free zone establishment (FZE) with a single shareholder
  • A free zone company (FZCO) with two or more shareholders
  • A limited liability company (LLC); setting up an LLC can be a slightly longer process and have a minimum capital requirement which varies from free zone to free zone, but is not required for a in certain branch companies
  • A sole proprietorship

Prerequisites

  • Minimum capital requirement is set by each individual free zone authority

What to bring

  • Application form downloaded from free zone website
  • Passport and residence visa (copy) of shareholders and managers
  • Business plan template
  • Board resolution and/or power of attorney for the manager; this must state the manager’s full name as per passport

Procedure

  • Check with the free zone to see which types of licences it supports
  • Applicant deals with the FZA on the premises
  • For a fee, FZA will assist with visas, permits and various government paperwork
  • Submit application for registration online

If approved

  • Submit all paperwork to the relevant FZA
  • Pay required application fees
  • Open a corporate bank account
  • Open a company PO Box
  • Deposit minimum capital amount (not required for branch company)
  • Submit proof of capital letter to FZA
  • Licence and lease is prepared (two days)
  • Sign sponsorship agreement and lease agreement
  • Collect licence (and keys if applicable)

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