November 21, 2023

Mainland Company Formation UAE - Better Than A Freezone?

There is no doubt that the UAE is a great place to setup your new business or expand an existing business into. It offers all the qualities conducive to business success! However one of the first hurdles for many of our clients is a hard decision...freezone or no freezone?

As a previously UK-only based business with an ambition to expand our services into the thriving UAE market, Prism 7 Group once faced exactly the same crucial decisions of choosing between mainland and freezone company formation as you may be facing right now! Navigating the intricacies of UAE company formation can be a daunting task, especially for foreign businesses unfamiliar with the local regulations and processes. However, with our first-hand experience establishing a presence in the UAE, combined with the knowledge of our company formations experts, we have the ability to help you make an informed decision and move forward with a business setup plan that aligns with your business goals.

We should make it clear from the start, that these 2 options for company formations are not just legal or theoretical standards for company formations. Taking Dubai as an example, a freezone (there are a few to choose from) and mainland Dubai are physical parts or areas in the city, that have different sets of rules and regulations. Either area has strategic locations that facilitate unique ecosystems for business development, and not all are equal, there may be unique benefits to your specific business type that only you will be able to determine by exploring the areas yourself, that is where it gets really exciting for you! However in this article today we are just going to stick to the overall facts, pro and cons of the 2 main options, hopefully to help you make a more informed decision on the route you may wish to take. We would be thrilled to dive into nitty-gritty of specific areas with you if you decide to move forward with Prism 7 Corporate for your company formation!

Mainland Company Formation: Establishing a Presence in the UAE's Mainstream Economy

Mainland company formation in the UAE is the process of establishing a business that is legally permitted to operate within the country's onshore territory. This type of company formation is ideal for businesses that target the UAE's domestic market and aim to establish a strong local presence. It's also vital for a business that wishes to operate on a B2C basis.

Requirements for Mainland Company Formation:

  1. Local Service Agent (LSA): Every mainland company must appoint a UAE national or a company wholly owned by UAE nationals as its LSA. The LSA acts as the company's legal representative and facilitates interactions with government authorities.
  2. Minimum Share Capital: The minimum share capital requirement varies depending on the business activities and the number of shareholders. Generally, the minimum share capital ranges from AED 150,000 to AED 3 million.
  3. Shareholder Structure: Mainland companies can have a maximum of 50 shareholders, who can be individuals or corporate entities.
  4. Business Activities: The specific business activities must be approved by the relevant Department of Economic Development (DED).

Pros of Mainland Company Formation:

  1. Unrestricted Market Access: Mainland companies can trade freely within the UAE and engage in commercial activities throughout the country.
  2. 100% Foreign Ownership: Mainland companies can be fully owned by foreign investors, allowing them complete control over their business operations.
  3. Repatriation of Profits: Mainland companies can repatriate their profits freely, without restrictions on foreign exchange transactions.
  4. Access to Local Talent: Mainland companies can employ both UAE nationals and expatriates, giving them access to a diverse pool of talent.

Cons of Mainland Company Formation:

  1. Requirement for Local Service Agent: The involvement of a LSA may add an additional layer of complexity and cost to the business setup process.
  2. Higher Costs: Mainland company formation generally involves higher setup costs and ongoing expenses compared to freezone company formation.
  3. Local Sponsorship Requirements: For certain business activities, mainland companies may require a local sponsor to act as a minority shareholder.

Freezone Company Formation: Capitalising on Specialised Business Environments

Freezone company formation in the UAE offers businesses the opportunity to operate within designated free zones, each with its own set of regulations and incentives tailored to specific industries as mentioned at the start. Freezones provide a specialised business environment, often with lower taxes and fewer bureaucratic hurdles, making them an attractive option for businesses seeking a more streamlined and cost-effective setup process.

Requirements for Freezone Company Formation:

  1. Freezone License: Businesses must obtain a license from the respective free zone authority, specifying the approved business activities.
  2. Physical Presence: Some free zones may require a physical office presence, while others may allow virtual offices.
  3. Visa Sponsorship: Freezone companies can sponsor visas for employees and their families.

Pros of Freezone Company Formation:

  1. Specialised Business Environment: Freezones offer tailored regulations and incentives aligned with specific industries, fostering a supportive ecosystem for specialised businesses.
  2. Reduced Taxes: Freezone companies typically enjoy lower or zero corporate taxes and customs duties.
  3. Simplified Regulatory Framework: Freezones often have streamlined administrative procedures and reduced bureaucratic processes.
  4. 100% Foreign Ownership: Freezone companies can be fully owned by foreign investors.
  5. Repatriation of Profits: Freezone companies can repatriate their profits without restrictions.

Cons of Freezone Company Formation:

  1. Limited Market Access: Freezone companies are generally restricted to operating within their designated free zone, limiting their access to the broader UAE market.
  2. Visa Restrictions: Visa requirements may vary depending on the specific free zone and the type of visa sponsorship.
  3. Restrictions on Business Activities: The range of permitted business activities may be narrower within free zones compared to the mainland.

Comparing Mainland Company Formation and Freezone Company Formation:

FeatureMainland Company FormationFreezone Company Formation
Market AccessUnrestricted access to the UAE mainlandLimited to designated free zone
Local Service Agent RequirementYesNo
Local Sponsorship RequirementsMay be required for certain activitiesNo
TaxesStandard corporate taxes applyLower or zero corporate taxes
Regulatory FrameworkMore complexSimplified
Visa SponsorshipYesYes, but may vary by free zone

The choice between mainland company formation and freezone company formation in the UAE depends on the specific needs and objectives of the business. Mainland companies offer unrestricted market access and the ability to establish a strong local presence, but they also involve higher costs and the requirement for a LSA.

If you need further advice or help with your company formation in the UAE, please don't hesitate to get in touch with our team for a free consultation.


Q: Which UAE locations are best for business?

A: The UAE offers several promising business destinations, including:

  • Sheikh Zayed Road: A commercial hub for multinationals and retail.
  • Jumeirah: Luxurious lifestyle and hospitality.
  • Deira: Traditional markets and local businesses.
  • Dubai: Global business center for tourism, finance, tech, and real estate.
  • Abu Dhabi: Growing business hub for energy, manufacturing, and government work.

Q: What About Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Operations in Freezones?

A: A mainland business is the better choice for B2C businesses. Freezone companies are primarily designed for conducting business-to-business (B2B) transactions and international trade. They are not permitted to engage directly with consumers within the UAE's mainland market. To operate a B2C business in Dubai, you will need to register a mainland company and obtain the necessary licenses and approvals. Mainland companies have unrestricted access to the UAE's domestic market and can directly interact with consumers.

Q: Who Needs to Approve My Mainland Company License

Acquiring a mainland company license in Dubai necessitates approvals from several government agencies including the following: Department of Economic Development (DED), Ministry of Labour, General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA)

Additional approvals may be required for specific business activities, such as healthcare or environmental permits.

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Prism 7 Corporate Services provide services for business and owners to ease the process of setting up & running your business
Part of the Prism 7 Group (UK & UAE)
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Reg Address: Office 3003, HDS Business Centre, Cluster M, JLT, Dubai, UAE
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