Stock Masdar City
Masdar City free zone is part of the Mubadala portfolio. On Monday, it introduced updated license set up packages starting from Dh1,000. The aim is to spread the net wide in the search for global talent. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Want to register for a business license in the UAE? You can get one starting from Dh1,000.

That’s right, free zones in the UAE have introduced some of the most aggressive pricing schemes to get a new wave of businesses to launch or operate in the UAE. The message from the various free zone authorities in the country is clear – ‘All startups are welcome’.

The latest packages “target a new generation of businesses,” said the head of a Dubai-based consultancy. “By making the entry point as optimally low as possible, the authorities are targeting two new categories of business owners.

“One, those who are based outside the country and want to offer a product or service in this market, such as online sales, tech solutions, or even gaming services. These businesses need a license to operate and will not have much use for a visa, at least initially.

“Second, someone who may be employed here and want to use off-duty hours to provide some service on a freelance basis. They too immediately benefit from having a business license at the lowest cost.”

Fintech as driver

A post-COVID-19 landscape requires new ways for the UAE to attract businesses – and new types of ventures at that. Jurisdictions such as DIFC and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) are now the go-to places for fintech ventures, whether it is someone offering ‘open banking’ solutions or a consumer-focussed buy now, pay later’ portal.

But there are other business lines which essentially are one-man - or one-woman – operations. And they require a different sort of licenses.

One license, multiple activities

On Monday, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City announced its intentions loud and clear by launching three business license packages, with the least costly one set at Dh1,000. For Package A, the registered business owner can club two activities under that single license and only have to pay Dh1,000 to get started. But this does not come with a visa.

The other two packages are set at Dh7,000 and Dh12,000 and the licenses allow four and five activities to be taken up. These do come with visa provisions. “With the recent government notice to ease the business environment, Abu Dhabi’s position as an attractive global hub that promotes economic diversification, empowers global talent, and supports the emirate’s sustainable development, is further reinforced,” said Abdulla Balalaa, Executive Director, Masdar City.

Balalaa’s emphasis on ‘global talent’ is being echoed loudly in all other UAE jurisdictions that cater to businesses.

“COVID-19 has changed the style in which businesses operate,” said Robin Philip, Director for Assurance and Business Advisory, A&A Associates. “As a result, we have seen a huge spike in ecommerce licenses - more than 50 per cent of the licenses we are applying for right now are for ecommerce establishments.

“The Government has made it more flexible for people wanting to start their business in UAE - and much easier for new entrants. For instance, they do not need a commercial office or physical address to get a license – they can operate a business in Dubai/UAE for one full year without it. They need to produce an ‘Ejari’ certificate only at the time of license renewal one year later.” (Ejari is the rental contract that is registered with the Dubai Land Department.)

Sharjah free zone steps up

Last Friday, the Sharjah Publishing City brought out its own limited-time promotions for new business aspirants, with the most accessible package set at Dh6,500. Under this, a single shareholder – with the option to upgrade available - will receive a stamped license, a Memorandum of Association (MoA) document, and lease agreement. No visa, however, will be granted.

The free zone operator is clear whom it is targeting with these special offers that will run until September 5. The ‘Summer Entrepreneur Packages’ will strengthen the “emirate’s status as a successful business incubator and an entrepreneur-friendly destination,” said Salim Omar Salim, Director of SPC Free Zone. “The ‘World Entrepreneurs' Day’ is an opportune moment to highlight SPC Free Zone’s leading efforts in expanding its outreach to aspiring global entrepreneur.”

True, the race for talent is on – and UAE’s business jurisdictions are right in the thick of it.

Stock Sharjah skyline residential
Sharjah has multiple economic zones that now emphasise startups and new business lines. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News