Choosing the Right Legal Structure for Your Business in the UAE

March 14, 2024by Amy Denny0

Understanding the different business structures in the UAE such as LLCs, Partnerships, PJSCs, Branch Offices, and more will help you make the right decisions. 

 From the dazzling skyscrapers of Dubai to the stunning beaches of Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become a beacon for foreign investors seeking new horizons. The secret behind this allure lies in the UAE’s remarkably diverse range of company types that cater to entrepreneurs of all kinds. In this comprehensive article, we embark on a journey to unravel the various business structures, guiding you toward making the best decision for your venture. 

Embracing Diversity: The UAE’s Business Ecosystem 

As the world’s attention turns towards the UAE, it’s no wonder why foreign investors flock to its shores. The country offers a business environment like no other, accommodating everything from the simplicity of sole proprietorships to the intricacies of company and free zone structures. This exceptional flexibility is one of the key reasons why entrepreneurs find the UAE an attractive destination to set up companies. 

For a complete guide to UAE business setup, see UAE Business Setup Guide: Mainland and Freezones. For a complete guide to Saudi business setup, see A Comprehensive Guide to Company Incorporation in Saudi Arabia. If you would want to incorporate a company in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, or any GCC countries, you may apply or book a free consultation.

Navigating the Choices: Unveiling the Most Common Business Structures 

The UAE boasts a diverse array of business structures that suit different needs and preferences: 

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

The Limited Liability Company (LLC) holds a special place in the hearts of entrepreneurs in the UAE. Offering a separate legal identity, it shields shareholders from personal liabilities, making it a top choice for business setups. The best part is, there’s no minimum share capital requirement, making it accessible to all budgets. Unlike Free Zone companies, an LLC has no trading restrictions within the UAE, and there are no limitations on real estate ownership or the number of visas that can be obtained. 

Advantages of an LLC 

  • Up to fifty shareholders, providing flexibility in ownership. 
  • Shareholders’ liability is limited to their invested capital, protecting personal assets. 
  • Trade freely anywhere in the UAE and the GCC region, including fifty-plus free zones with trade license. 
  • Unlimited work visas, facilitating smooth workforce management. 
  • Options to rent or buy office premises based on business needs. 
  • 100% ownership by foreign shareholders, inviting global investments. 
  • Opportunity to expand both domestically and internationally with subsidiaries in other emirates.


For solo adventurers in the business world, the Establishment structure is a perfect fit. Owned and operated by a sole proprietor, it allows diverse economic activities, from commercial to professional, industrial, agricultural, and real property endeavors. With complete control over the business, the proprietor enjoys 100% ownership and profit retention. 

 Advantages of an Establishment  

  • Sole ownership, ensuring full control and decision-making authority.  
  • No shareholders, eliminating complexities of multiple stakeholders.  
  • 100% ownership of the business, giving complete authority.  
  • Full profit retention, reaping the rewards of success entirely.  
  • Total control of business operations, enabling swift adaptability.  
  • Low startup cost, making it budget-friendly for entrepreneurs.  
  • Quick business registration, reducing administrative hurdles.  
  • No business capital requirement, easing financial burdens.

Free Zone Company or Free Zone Establishment 

If 100% foreign ownership, zero corporate and personal tax, and streamlined setup   procedures entice you, then free zones are the way to go. Keep in mind that each free zone comes with specific regulations and   geographical limitations. 

Key Advantages of a Free Zone entity  

  • Foreign ownership of the business, breaking barriers for international investors. 
  • Full profit repatriation, allowing seamless transfer of earnings. 
  • Tax benefits on imports and exports, facilitating cost-effective trade. 
  • A wide range of business activities, catering to diverse industries. 
  • No currency restrictions, enabling smooth international transactions. 

Civil Company

Designed for professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and consultants, the Civil Company offers 100% foreign ownership and full access to the UAE’s local market. 

Key Advantages of a Civil Company:  

  • Exclusively designed for professionals, creating a niche for specialized services. 
  • Instantly start a corporate bank account with a Professional license, streamlining financial transactions. 
  • Easily sponsor dependents, ensuring a smooth relocation for your loved ones. 
  • Apply for multiple visas, facilitating the hiring of skilled talent from around the world. 
  • No local or corporate sponsor is required, appointing a Local Service Agent is sufficient. 
  • Exceptionally low setup cost, reducing initial financial burdens. 
  • Simplest business legal form, making the formation process straightforward. 
  • 100% business ownership permitted to non-UAE individuals or foreign corporate bodies, providing complete control. 
  • Effortless company formation, saving time and effort for entrepreneurs. 
  • Possibility of having more than one shareholder, promoting collaboration. 
  • Full capital repatriation, enabling the free movement of funds. 
  • No currency restrictions, easing international transactions. 
  • VAT & Corporate Taxes are applicable only after crossing a certain threshold, aiding growing businesses. 
  • Abundance of available labor and energy supply, fostering a conducive environment for growth. 


Whether general or simple limited, partnerships involve accountability shared among partners. General partners are jointly and severally liable, while limited partners’ liability is confined to their capital contributions. 

Key Advantages of a Partnership: 

  • Allows a minimum of two partners, up to fifty, fostering teamwork and diversity. 
  • Partners can invest with cash, assets, or a combination, providing flexibility in contributions. 
  • Unlimited liability for partners, emphasizing responsibility for the company’s debts. 
  • Partners can open corporate bank accounts and apply for visas, streamlining financial and operational processes. 
  • Pooling resources and skills enables tackling larger projects and expanding the business reach. 
  • Shared responsibilities and decision-making, promoting collective ownership and efficient operations. 
  • Profits are distributed based on agreed-upon percentages in the Memorandum of Association (MOA). 
  • Embracing adaptability, partnerships can explore new opportunities and evolve with changing markets. 

Private Joint Stock Company

With a minimum of three founders, a Private Joint Stock Company cannot offer shares to the public. However, it offers flexibility and the possibility of conversion into a Public Joint Stock Company. 

Key Advantages of a Private Joint Stock Company:  

  • Limited liability protects shareholders from personal responsibility for the company’s debts and judgments. 
  • Potential for raising additional capital by selling company shares to investors. 
  • Corporate deductions for benefits provided to employees and executives. 
  • Possible eligibility for corporation status, reducing tax obligations on specific gains and passive income. 

Branch Office or Representative Office

Branch offices serve as extensions of foreign companies, enabling operations without a separate legal entity. Representative offices, on the other hand, act as extensions of existing businesses without engaging in transactions. 

Key Advantages of a Branch office:  

  • Foreign investors enjoy 100% ownership. 
  • Ease of access to a corporate bank account. 
  • Strict workplace confidentiality. 
  • Safe exploration of the MENA region from a secure base. 
  • Zero personal taxes. 
  • Strategic location in a geographically significant area. 
  • Cost-effectiveness for business operations. 

Key Advantages of a Branch office:  

  • Established by dual-interested shareholders alongside several others, limited to a maximum of fifty. 
  • No requirement for share capital, providing flexibility for operations. 

Consulting to Secure the Right Licenses

As you contemplate the best business setup for your goals, company size, and budget, seeking guidance from a business setup consultant, such as ATB Legal, can be invaluable. Our expertise can pave the way to informed decisions and propel your venture to success in the UAE’s dynamic market. 

Before embarking on your chosen business structure, ensure you possess the required business licenses for your economic activities. The UAE Department of Economic Development oversees Commercial, Professional, Industrial, and Tourism licenses, each tailored to specific business endeavors. 

The UAE’s regulatory landscape may appear complex, but with the right support and understanding, you can navigate the waters with ease. A business setup consultant can assist you in identifying the necessary licenses and complying with the regulations relevant to your industry. 

In conclusion, the UAE’s business landscape offers a treasure trove of opportunities for entrepreneurs. By understanding the nuances of each structure and obtaining the right licenses, you can confidently navigate this vibrant market and unlock boundless possibilities for your venture.Embrace the country’s cultural diversity, leverage expert advice, and strategize for success to make your mark in the UAE’s dynamic business ecosystem. With determination, innovation, and resilience, your business can thrive and contribute to the growth and prosperity of this captivating nation. 

About ATB Legal

ATB Legal is a full-service legal consultancy in the UAE providing services in dispute resolution (DIFC Courts, ADGM Courts, mainland litigation management and Arbitrations), corporate and commercial matters, IP, business set up and UAE taxation. We also have a personal law department providing advice on marriage, divorce and wills & estate planning for expats. Please feel free to reach out to us at for a non-obligatory initial consultation.

by Amy Denny

Amy is a legal consultant at ATB Legal, with a unique blend of skills for corporate, commercial and litigation matters. She is a law graduate and certified in Intellectual Property from the World Intellectual Property Organization.

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