IT Business in Dubai: How to Start as a Foreigner


Dubai passes as one of the most developed and wealthiest countries across the globe. The country’s technology infrastructure is also above par and IT companies in the country can be credited for the milestone. Due to its stable and growing economy, Dubai attracts a lot of foreign investors. Investing in Dubai for any type of business as a foreigner requires proper planning. The country’s policies on business or company formation are favorable to foreign investors. Also, getting a coworking space in Dubai as a foreign investor for your IT business is super easy because of establishments like Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Centre which boasts over a thousand spaces for hire. The process of starting an IT business in Dubai as a foreigner is more like starting any other business in the country, only that it requires strict adherence of laid down policies and guidelines. There are several requirements that one should meet before their business is up and running.

Guidelines Foreigners Should Follow When Setting Up IT Businesses in Dubai

Business Plan

Having a business plan is an essential part of setting up any business, and so it is for an IT business. Before anything else, an outlined business plan is paramount when starting out. Things are easier to implement when there is a clear structural format of what the business should represent and look like. Entrepreneurs are able to see the bigger picture with a business plan in place. A plan is also vital in helping investors to lay out achievable goals, track business performance or progress, carry out market analysis and logistics, decide on how much to invest in the business, among other important details. A well laid out business plan is also important in attracting the right investors to a business project. In Dubai, it is difficult to obtain a license for a business that doesn’t have a clear plan. Also termed as a business CV, a business plan is one of the required documents from foreign investors by Dubai business licensing authorities. It helps them get a clear picture of what the business is all about, before deciding whether it is worth licensing or not.

Decide Where the Business Will Run From

Foreign investors looking to invest in Information Technology businesses in Dubai are required to decide where they will run their business from. They have to choose between Dubai (mainland Dubai market) or any of its available free zones. Some of the appropriate free zones to set up an IT business in Dubai include Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Outsource Zone, among others. IT businesses or companies in free zones are registered by Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority. Running a business in any of the free zones has its benefits such as enjoying tax exemptions and zero currency restrictions. However, free zone-based businesses have to depend on local agents or distributors so as to trade with the mainland market because they cannot do so directly. Mainland-based businesses on the other hand do not enjoy free zone benefits but are enabled to directly trade with the wider UAE local market.

Residency Visa Application and Bank Account Opening

Once foreign investors have chosen a free zone for their IT business, the next step is all about acquiring a bank account and a resident visa. These documents are necessary because their copies are needed to obtain a business license. On visa, some zones will require applicants to submit both staff and dependents (spouse, children, house help) details as well. The whole process of visa application has several stages which include a medical test, entry permit, biometric capturing, and adjustment of status. Opening a bank account is also part of the process, and foreign investors have a range of both local and international banking institutions to choose from. The most outstanding ones include Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Emirates NBD, Barclays, Commercial Bank of Dubai, Citibank, etc.

Company Name

Deciding on a business name is part of the business formation process. A business name represents the agenda of the business and gives it an identity. Any foreign investor looking to set up a business in Dubai should readily adhere to the country’s stringent naming conventions. Any political, FBI, or religion-affiliated business names are not welcome. Offensive or blasphemous deemed names can attract huge fines or even worse, revocation of business licenses. To make sure that the names of their IT businesses align with UAE’s naming conventions, foreign investors can rely on local agents or business consultants for help. It is also important to note that initials or abbreviations are not condoned, even when listing the names of business partners.

Obtain a Business License

It is mandatory for foreign investors to comply with Dubai laws and regulations regarding business licensing. Foreign investors can either apply for a professional license or commercial license for their Dubai-based IT business. Professional licenses are for IT businesses that deal with software and other program creation, marketing, and consultancy services. Commercial licenses on the other hand are for businesses that sell IT-related products or are involved in manufacturing and processing. Investors without the know-how of applying licenses for their IT Businesses in Dubai can rely on business formation consultants for professional help with licenses application. Documents such as copies of visa and passport and business CV are required when obtaining a foreign business license in Dubai.

The Bottom Line

It is important to note that involving a local agent in the whole process is a welcome idea. Not every foreign investor has everything figured out once they decide to invest in a foreign country. However, some foreigners do take their time to study and learn the ropes of setting up and running a business in Dubai, and for that reason, they may not necessarily need help with anything when it is time to start a business there. Help from local agents, therefore, comes in handy when someone truly requires help with several things such as registering the business, finding the right name for the business, (blasphemous and offensive names are not allowed in UAE), obtaining a business license, etc. It is however important to only involve reputable and industry-approved local agents to avoid falling into the hands of crooks or fraudsters.