All business activities in Dubai, regardless of the type of entity, require one or more licenses. The license is mandatory for businesses set up in Mainland Dubai as well as in one of the Free Zones. The only exception is for entities under the offshore jurisdiction since they are usually non-operational Holding Companies.

Certain regulated activities may require additional licenses from specialist regulatory authorities and appropriate ministries. Banking/ financial institutions require special approval from the Central Bank, media companies require special approval from the National Media Council and manufacturing companies require special approval from the Ministry of Finance.

The Department of Economic Development (DED) issues licenses for entities set up in mainland Dubai (with the exception of licenses for hotels and other tourism-related businesses, which are issued by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

These can be three main types:

  • Commercial license (all kinds of trading)
  • Industrial license (manufacturing or industrial)
  • Professional license (professions, services, and craftsmen)

Also, licenses for some categories of business require approval from certain ministries and other authorities, for example:

More detailed procedures apply to businesses engaged in oil or gas production and related industries. In general, all commercial and industrial businesses in Dubai should be registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

For entities set up in one of the Free Zones, the license is issued by the respective Free Zone authority. Different types of license are available and these vary from zone to zone.

Common Free Zones licenses are discussed below:

  • General Trading LicenceAllows the holder to import, export, distribute and store items. Trading is allowed, but not in the mainland.
  • Trading LicenceAllows the holder to import, export, distribute and store the particular items specified in the licence.
  • Industrial LicenceAllows the holder to import raw materials, manufacture specified products and export the finished products.
  • Service LicenceAllows the holder to offer services specified on the licence within the Free Zone.
  • National Industrial LicenceThe National Industrial Licence is designed for manufacturing companies with at least 51% ownership by GCC Nationals. This particular licence requires a minimum of 40% value added to the product through manufacturing.