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UAE Free Economic Zones: Features and Benefits of the Emirates’ FEZs

A Free Zone (abbreviated from the English term Free Economic Zone) refers to special areas in the United Arab Emirates where unique internal laws and tax regulations are in effect. Here’s what these Free Economic Zones (FEZs) or Free Zones are characterized by:

  • Free Zone companies enjoy 100% foreign ownership. 
  • Enterprises operating in UAE FEZs are exempt from taxes on global income and profits generated from similar structures in FEZs.
  • You don’t need a local agent to register a company there, unlike on the UAE mainland.
  • Companies incorporated there may operate either in the Free Zones in question or abroad. Some exceptions to this rule let Free Zone entities do business with their partners and customers from the UAE mainland.
  • Foreign investors have the right to get UAE resident visas for themselves and the staff they have, depending on the size and location of their rented premises as well as some other factors.
UAE Free Economic Zones

As of 2024, the number of Free Zones in the United Arab Emirates exceeds 40. While the majority of FEZs are in Dubai, you may also freely set up a business in Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, and Abu Dhabi.

Why choose UAE’s Free Economic Zones?

What benefits does registering a company in a UAE Free Zone offer, and why is it advantageous for foreign business persons? Here are the main perks that UAE Free Economic Zones (FEZs) come with in 2024:

  • Excellent services and facilities for new companies in these FEZs, where they compete trying to attract more investors.
  • The country’s sound reputation and stable economy that help businesses grow globally.
  • No residency requirements for the company’s founders, owners, and managers, so anyone can start a business in the UAE, regardless of whether they are non-resident individuals or legal entities.
  • Companies operating in UAE free zones have the right to set up bank accounts in the emirates and repatriate profits to foreign investors without any restrictions.
  • An option is available to get dual licenses or work with a local agent to do business with the UAE mainland companies, without being limited to customers and partners from just the FEZs or other countries.
  • Depending on their status and income, companies in the UAE pay different rates of corporate income tax:
    • 0%: for qualified free zone residents with qualified income.
    • 0%: for non-qualified companies with profits up to AED 375,000 per year.
    • 9%: for regular companies with no qualified status whose profits exceed AED 375,000 per year.
  • Some FEZs, such as ADGM, JAFZA, DMCC, and RAK FTZ, allow the redomiciliation of foreign businesses, i.e., the transfer of a company from abroad to the UAE FEZs.
  • For importers, there are special free zones (e.g., JAFZA, DAFZ, SAIF, FFZ), where goods are exempt from VAT when imported to the UAE or moved between FEZs.

All companies incorporated in the UAE free zones must have an office. Depending on the type and size of your business, this may be either a dedicated workspace or a full-fledged office. A virtual option (flexi-desk) is also available, and it is perfect for freelancers and small startups.

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In 2024, foreigners in the UAE may obtain a residency visa (like a permanent residency permit) by buying property worth AED 750,000 or registering a company. Please be advised that different emirates have varying rules and conditions to regulate this issue.

Dubai’s Free Zones

Dubai is known to be the most popular emirate for entrepreneurs. There is a good reason for it, as they can seamlessly start any business and get the required licenses from the relevant authorities here. In 2023, the Dubai Economy and Tourism Department (DET) together with the Dubai Free Zones Council (DFZC) launched the Dubai Unified License (DUL).

This initiative makes the licensing process easier by creating a single digital registry for all Dubai Free Zones and businesses. It also allows local authorities to get company information from a single source.

Below, you will find the list of Free Zones operating in Dubai, UAE in 2024:

  1. Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA): The largest Free Zone in Dubai, JAFZA caters to different business sectors. Here’s what it offers:
  • Legal Structures (LS): New companies (FZEs or FZCOs with one owner), branch offices, or subsidiaries.
  • Authorized Capital: The authorized capital amount is determined by the company owner.
  • License Types: Trading, service, and manufacturing licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 3 to 4 weeks.

2. Dubai South Free Zone / DWC in Dubai South:

  • Permitted Industries: IT, aviation industry, trade, hospitality, and education.
  • Prohibited Activities and Sectors: Financial and investment activities on behalf of any third parties.
  • License Types: Trading, educational, service, industrial, and logistics licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Business Structure: Limited Liability Companies or branch offices.

3. Meydan Free Zone (MFZ) in the UAE:

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors:  Media businesses, commerce, trading, advertising, consulting, import, export, and some other sectors.
  • License Types: Trading, manufacturing, and professional licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 7 to 10 days.
  • Audits: On an annual basis.
  • Minimum required capital for UAE FEZ LLCs: AED 100,000.

4. Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA):

  • License Types: Trading, industrial, and service licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 20 days.
  • Legal Structures: Branch offices and UAE FEZ companies.
  • Minimum Authorized Capital: AED 1000.

5. Dubai Internet City (DIC): This Free Zone is in its essence an information and communication technology business park.  

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: E-commerce and IT.
  • Free Zone Business Licenses: Software, telecommunications, network, e-commerce, Internet, multimedia, and IT services.
  • Authorized Capital: No mandatory requirements.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 30 days.
  • Legal Structures: LLCs and branch offices of resident or overseas companies in the UAE.

6. Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (DTEC).

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Trading, technology, IT, and other services.
  • License Types: Operational (including service, trading, and industrial licenses) and special licenses (permits to do business in the Dubai Silicon Oasis government-owned Free Zone).
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 10,000.

7. Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC): This is a Free Zone for business, trade, and commerce in Dubai.

  • License Types: Trading, industrial, and service licenses.
  • Legal Structures: LLCs, subsidiaries, as well as branch and representative offices. 
  • Company Registration Period: 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 50,000.

8. Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Banking and brokerage services, capital management, insurance, etc.
  • Legal Structures: Branch offices, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), and partnerships.
  • Authorized Capital: From USD 50,000.
  • Company Registration Period: 4 to 6 weeks.

9. Dubai Media City (DMC): A free zone designed for media businesses, offshore companies, and freelancers.

  • Legal Structures: Offshore companies (FZEs or FZ-LLCs), free zone companies (FZCs and FZCOs), foreign or local company branch offices, and freelancers.
  • License Types: Service licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Authorized Capital: Its amount varies with each legal structure.

10. Dubai Knowledge Park (DKP): A free zone in Dubai.

  • Company Registration Period: 20 to 30 days.
  • Service License Types: Freelance and commercial licenses.
  • Legal Structures: FZ LLCs, branch offices, subsidiaries, and freelancers.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 50,000.

11. Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC): The healthcare Free Zone in Dubai.

  • Company Registration Period: Approximately 40 days.
  • License Types: Professional, clinical, and commercial licenses.
  • Authorized Capital: AED 50,000 for licensed service companies and AED 300,000 for health clinics and hospitals.

12. Dubai Auto Zone (DAZ): The automotive free zone in Dubai is of interest to both foreign and local car manufacturers and equipment suppliers.

  • Legal Structures: FZEs with their single-owner LLCs and FCZOs represented by LLCs with multiple shareholders, and foreign or local company branches.
  • License Types: Trading and service licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 30 to 40 days.
  • Authorized Capital: At least AED 50,000.

13. Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO): Commonly referred to as the Silicon Oasis Technology Park, this free zone fosters knowledge and innovation.

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Nearly all available industries, including aerospace, biotechnology, finance, oil and gas, logistics, and more.
  • License Types: Service, trading, and manufacturing licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 15 to 20 days.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 100,000.

14. Dubai Production City (DPC): This is a freehold zone created to develop the media and manufacturing sectors in Dubai and the UAE.

  • License Types: Service, trading, manufacturing, printing licenses, etc.
  • Legal Structures: Branch offices, UAE FEZ LLCs, and freelancers.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 10,000.
  • Company Registration Period: 15 to 20 days.

15. Dubai World Trade Center (DWTC).

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Trade as well as consulting and other services.
  • License Types: Trading, professional, e-commerce, and event management licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 30 days.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 300,000.

16. Dubai Outsource City (DOC): This free zone is tailored for outsourcing activities.

  • Company Registration Period: 20 to 30 days.
  • Legal Structures: FZ LLCs and branch offices.
  • License Types: Trading licenses.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 300,000.

17. Dubai Gold and Diamond Park (DGDP): A free zone in Dubai catering to major investors in gold and diamonds, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs with substantial capital.

  • License Types: Trading, manufacturing, retail trading, service, e-commerce, and national industrial licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 3 to 6 weeks.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 300,000.

18. Dubai Science Park (DSP).

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Scientific research, medicine, innovation, and other industries.  
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 1 month.
  • License Types: Trading and manufacturing licenses.
  • Legal Structures:  Single or multiple member FZEs and FZCOs as well as company branches.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 300,000.

19. Dubai International Academic City (DIAC): This international educational center in Dubai focuses on advanced training and talent nurturing.

  • Company Registration Period: 3 to 5 weeks.
  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Academic and non-academic service providers, online universities, educational institutions, and private entrepreneurs, including boarding schools.
  • Legal Structures: Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), branch offices, and private entrepreneurs.
  • License Types: Trading, manufacturing, and service licenses.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 300,000.

20. Dubai Design District D3: Meet a designer hub in Dubai promoting creativity and development across various industries.

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Fashion, design, trading, and manufacturing.
  • Legal Structures: Companies, branch offices, and freelancers.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 50,000.
  • Company Registration Period: 20 to 30 days.

21. Dubai International Humanitarian City (DIHC): This is a free zone for humanitarian aid and logistics, working with UN agencies and the Red Cross. 

  • License Types: Humanitarian, commercial, transportation licenses, and more.
  • Company Registration Period: 30 to 90 days.
  • Legal Structures: Free zone companies and foreign branch offices.
  • Minimum Authorized Capital: AED 50,000. 

22. Dubai Flower Centre (DFC): The Dubai FEZ that caters to florists. 

  • License Types:  Trading licenses.
  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Floriculture and horticulture.

Apart from those listed above, you can also set up a business in the Dubai Marine Authority (DMCA) Free Zone or Dubai Textile City (DTC), to name just a few. For more information about Dubai Free Zones, you are welcome to contact the International Wealth expert team.

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Abu Dhabi’s Free Zones in the UAE

1. Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM): Your premier global marketplace and international financial center in Abu Dhabi. 

  • Permitted Activities and Sectors: Financial, trading, service companies, and cryptocurrency businesses.
  • License Types: Trading, service, financial, and cryptocurrency licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 10 to 15 days.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 185,000.
  • Legal Structures: Private limited liability companies, public companies, branch offices, and investment firms.

2. TwoFour54 Media and Entertainment Hub: This free zone is specifically established to cater to media companies. 

  • Legal Structures: Startups and freelancers.
  • License Types: Service and freelance licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 10 to 15 workdays.
  • Authorized Capital: No authorized capital is required.
  • Legal Structures: LLCs, branch offices, freelancers, and startups. 

3. Masdar City Free Zone: It is designed to attract business projects in the sphere of solar energy, water supply, ecology, and efficient equipment for electric vehicles, among other things.

  • License Types: Trading and service licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 3 weeks.
  • Authorized Capital: Not required for branch offices, and makes AED 50,000 or more for newly established companies.
  • Legal Structures: LLCs and branch offices of local or foreign companies.

4. Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD): This industrial free zone in Abu Dhabi allows investors to run businesses in up to 5 different industry sectors simultaneously.

  • License Types: General trading, industrial, and service licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 1 month.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 150,000.

5. Abu Dhabi Airport Free Zone (ADAFZ): It is a dedicated business park for companies that represent aviation, logistics, and aerospace industries.

  • License Types: Service, industrial, and trading licenses.
  • Legal Structures: Companies with single or multiple shareholders, as well as branch offices.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 4 weeks.

In Abu Dhabi, you will also find several other free zones, including ICAD Industrial City, which focuses on industrial activities, Masdar City, dedicated to the advancement of eco-friendly technologies and renewable energy sources, and the Higher Corporation for Specialized Economic Zones (ZonesCorp), whose share in the country’s GDP is approximately 50%.

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To register a company in any of the UAE’s free zones, it is a smart idea to have a bank account ready. Go ahead and open one either in the UAE or beyond the jurisdiction’s borders.

Sharjah’s Free Zones in the UAE

For your convenience, we’ve come up with the list of Free Economic Zones available in the emirate of Sharjah as of 2024:

1. Sharjah Airport Free Zone (SAIF): Situated in Sharjah, the Sharjah Airport Free Zone  accommodates a variety of businesses. 

  • License Types: Trading, service, and industrial licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 10 to 15 days.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 150,000.

2. Sharjah Publishing Free Zone (SPFZ): Here, businesses operating in the Sharjah publishing sector are incorporated. The FEZ allows for up to 5 types of activities under a single license.

  • License Types: Trading, service, and industrial licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: Up to 10 days.
  • Authorized Capital: From AED 50,000.

3. Hamriyah Free Zone (HAFZA): The second-largest free zone in the UAE, HAFZA provides administrative offices and offers individual industrial properties to its residents.

  • License Types: Trading, service, and industrial licenses.
  • Company Registration Period: 7 to 10 days.
  • Authorized Capital: At least AED 150,000.

4. Sharjah Media City (SHAMS): A developing free zone in the UAE, it allows its residents to establish media businesses and obtain freelancer licenses.

5. Sharjah Research, Technology, and Innovation Park (SRTIP): This UAE Free Zone emphasizes research and innovation, attracting interest from foreign corporations, ecosystem product developers, and novice investors.

Foreign entrepreneurs enjoy a tempting opportunity to establish businesses in Sharjah free zones, which grants them access to a range of amenities available in the emirate. These include inter alia office spaces, a big real estate market, and UAE resident visas.

Free Zones in Ras Al Khaimah 

The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE, known for its picturesque mountain ranges and refreshing sea breezes, also offers attractive free zone opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs:

  1. RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA): An investment authority in Ras Al Khaimah, the above Free Zone promotes industrial parks, develops its education sector, expands the real estate market, and actively advances the local transportation, investments, manufacturing, and energy sectors. As a bonus, entrepreneurs have a great opportunity to establish offshore companies in Ras Al Khaimah.
    • License Types: Trading, service, and industrial licenses.
    • Company Registration Period: 10 to 15 days.
    • Authorized Capital: It varies with each particular structure. In the case of FEZ LLCs, the minimum authorized capital is AED 100,000.
  2. Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone: RAKEZ is among the largest free zones in the UAE. Here, you will find customizable warehouses, industrial land plots for development, and various e-commerce licensing options.
    • Permitted Activities and Available License Types: Media companies, trade, e-commerce, services (service license), production and manufacture, etc.
    • Company Registration Period: From 10 days.
    • Authorized Capital Required for FEZ LLCs: From AED 100,000.
    • Legal Structures: LLCs and branch offices.
  3. RAK Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ): This is a government-led free zone initiative, merging RAK Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ) and RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA).
    • License Types: Trading, service, and industrial licenses.
    • Company Registration Period: From 10 days.
    • Authorized Capital: No authorized capital requirements are set.

Besides, the RAK Maritime City Free Zone (RAKMC) in Ras Al Khaimah offers tempting commercial opportunities across four business sectors: retail and warehousing, general cargo handling, industrial manufacturing, and shipbuilding and repair.

Fujairah’s Free Zones

No doubt, the nature in Fujairah is stunning and its climate is super favorable. However, these are not the only draws that the emirate comes with. For business people in search of new horizons, Fujairah offers abundant prospects for establishing and developing onshore companies in its free zones.

  1. Fujairah Free Zone (FFZ): The second-largest container terminal in the UAE after Dubai, FFZ is an important hub for shipping cargo to various destinations worldwide, with a well-connected transportation network.
    • Company Registration Period: 10 to 20 days.
    • License Types: Trading, service, and industrial licenses.
    • Legal Structures: FEZ companies, branch offices, and subsidiaries.
    • Authorized Capital: From AED 150,000.
  2. International Free Zone Authority (IFZA): As an investment-centric free zone in the UAE, IFZA offers a diverse range of licenses in the sphere of commerce, import, export, industrial development projects, professional services, consultancy, and trading.
    • Company Registration Period: From 10 days.
    • Authorized Capital: From AED 150,000.
    • License Types: E-commerce licenses are available.
  3. Fujairah Creative City (FCC): A dynamic and creative hub with its unique ecosystem, FCC exclusively issues service licenses.
    • License Types: Service licenses.
    • Legal Structures: FEZ LLCs and branch offices.
    • Company Registration Period: 5 to 15 days.
    • Authorized Capital: From AED 150,000.

Fujairah is the only UAE emirate bordered by the Indian Ocean.

Free Zones in Ajman

In the emirate of Ajman, foreign investors have the option to register both Free Zone companies and offshore ones. Here are the Free Zones you can find in this region:

1. Ajman Media City (AMC): A free zone that offers licenses for e-commerce businesses, industrial ventures, as well as trading and service companies. The formation process typically takes no more than 15 days, with capital requirements for companies starting from AED 100,000.

2. Ajman Free Zone (AFZA): This Free Zone provides a diverse range of services, catering to service, industrial, and trading enterprises, as well as freelancers. 

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FYI: Foreigners who meet the program’s eligibility criteria are welcome to obtain freelance and residence visas in the UAE (permanent residence permits).

Umm Al Quwain’s Free Zones in the UAE

Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone (UAQ FTZ): Depending on the type of license obtained, entrepreneurs are allowed to engage in multiple types of businesses here. Each license permits you to pursue up to three different activities.

License Types for Foreigners: Trading, service, industrial, and freelance licenses.

The registration period for non-resident companies with one or two shareholders typically is around 10 days (excluding the time necessary to open a bank account). NB: Such companies face no minimum capital requirements.

Free Zones of the United Arab Emirates: summary

In the UAE, you will find a multitude of Free Zones, each with its unique advantages and opportunities for both large investors and beginner entrepreneurs. NB: Before deciding on a particular emirate and its corresponding free zone to establish a new company or expand an existing foreign entity, it makes perfect sense to seek guidance from experienced industry professionals and thoroughly explore all the details and nuances of running a non-resident business in the chosen UAE Free Zone.

At International Wealth, seasoned pros are here to offer you comprehensive assistance on various business, finance, and investment issues. Using our services, you’ll also get UAE residency permits via any program or scheme you choose.

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