​​​Have you already decided to open an office in the UAE or just considering expanding to the Middle East at this stage? As Aspire’s Business Director – Middle East I wanted to share some advice that will help you go from thinking about moving to the UAE to having a full-scale operation here.

I opened Aspire’s office here in Dubai just over 2 years ago, having decided to relocate here, and while I knew not every day would be straightforward, I wanted to lead Aspire into a new location. Aspire also has offices in the UK, Singapore and the USA with the UAE becoming their fourth country of operation.

Research, research, research

As with all new locations for your business the more you learn beforehand the better. Understanding the differences in culture, business practice and day-to-day life will allow you to adjust your current model to make sure you are a success in your new home. No matter how small they may appear, these details are success-makers.

Utilise online research, watch videos and ask peers about their relocations to the UAE. The more you understand the better prepared you will be.

Utilise your networks

The most straightforward way to make your new location a success is moving with a customer base already established. This may mean starting from your current location to build out a set of customers that will be with you once you launch in the UAE. It may be one, or more, of your larger clients already operate there and you can leverage your current relationships to support their Middle Eastern arms.

Setting up a UAE entity

Establishing a company in the UAE involves a straightforward process across all seven emirates. Key steps include identifying your business location, specifying your business activities, and paying the necessary fees for a commercial license. One critical decision is whether to register your business in the mainland or a free zone, each offering distinct advantages. Mainland companies enjoy the freedom to conduct business across the UAE market without restrictions but require a local partner or service agent. Free zone companies, on the other hand, offer full foreign ownership and control over the business within the chosen free zone authority, without the need for a local partner or specific office space.

VISA process

Navigating the visa process is crucial for establishing yourself and your employees in the UAE. With processing times typically ranging from 1 to 2 weeks, foreigners have several visa options to choose from, including the Standard, Green and Golden Visas. Each has its eligibility criteria and benefits, catering to various needs from skilled employees to entrepreneurs and investors. Below are the differentiators of the three visas and some additional tips.

Standard Visa

  • Valid for up to 2 years.

  • A sponsor or employer is required.

  • Applicants must be between 18 and 60 years old.

Green Visa

  • Valid for five years.

  • Open to freelancers, self-employed individuals, and skilled employees.

  • No sponsor or employer is required.

Golden Visa

  • Long-term visa for up to 10 years with renewable options.

  • No sponsor is required.

  • Requires certain criteria for eligibility such as investment, real estate ownership, entrepreneurship, or specialized talents.

UAE Employment Visa Basics

  • Anyone who is 18 years of age or older can apply for a UAE employment visa.

  • Employment visa rules: 18 years old or older, no violations or issues with the company, valid license of the hiring company, job that matches the company's profile.

Where to live

Finding the right place to relocate to can feel like a challenge in itself. While this is not an exhausting list this will hopefully give you an idea of the great options that you have available. The two most popular cities to move to are Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Abu Dhabi housing is newer off-island and the influx of people moving there has led to a great increase in the number of amenities there for residents. Whether it is the waterfront Al Reem Island, the child-friendly Khalifa City or the suburban Al Mushrif there are options to suit everyone.

Dubai also boasts some outstanding neighbourhoods like the family-centric Mirdif, the vibrant town as well as special apartments of Motor City or the traffic-free haven that is Green Community. There are even places for those on a tighter budget like Silicon Oasis.

Personal finances

Managing personal finances in the UAE begins with opening a local bank account to avoid international transaction fees. This typically requires obtaining the Emirates permanent residency card (EID). By familiarising yourself with local banking procedures and regulations, you can streamline financial transactions and ensure financial stability in your new environment.

Be prepared to pivot

As with all aspects of running a business sometimes things do not go exactly to plan. When this happens don’t panic, take a breath and look at what options you have available. If you need to adjust your strategy, trying to stick to a rigid structure won’t set you up for success. Being adaptable will enable you to build a strong business that will succeed for years.

Hire Local or Search Abroad? (UAE)

When building your team in the UAE, consider factors such as the new Emiratisation rule which requires firms with 20-49 staff must hire at least one Emirati. While there are no restrictions on hiring foreigners, recruiting individuals already based in the UAE can offer insights into local practices and expectations, facilitating smoother integration into the business environment. Hiring expats may require covering their relocation costs if they are not already based in the UAE. Additionally, it is important to factor in the cost of private medical insurance when hiring as this is expected for all employees.

If you are looking to start a business in the UAE and need help with building a team or even just want to discuss best practices that I have discovered since relocating here feel free to get in contact with me.