Starting a business in the UAE: Do I always need an office space?
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Dubai: If you are an entrepreneur with a small team and are in the beginning stages of establishing your business, you probably do not have the budget to rent out a full-fledged office space in the UAE. What are the more affordable or temporary options available to you? And could you possible apply for a trade licence without having a physical office space? Here is all you need to know.

Virtual offices

The Estidama service by Dubai Economy and Tourism (DET) is a virtual office lease that allows small businesses to operate their company without renting a physical space. This virtual office gives start-ups and entrepreneurs the luxury of all the amenities and administrative services of a physical office without high rents or office-related expenses. This means that entrepreneurs or freelancers can work from anywhere around the world with a physical address, reception services, email forwarding and courier for their company.

“An Estidama, or a Sustainability Contract, is a virtual lease option that allows smaller companies with fewer staff to obtain a trade licence without the need to rent a physical office space,” Nazar Musa, CEO at UAE-based company service provider PRO Partner Group explained.


While Estidama allows start-ups to cut down overhead costs and obtain a trade licence for their company, it is not a sustainable option if you are thinking of expanding your business and hiring new employees.

“Estidama has a limit on the number of visas that a company can obtain, with the maximum being four, unlike an Ejari contract, where the quota is unlimited. Thus, this is not particularly suitable for companies that have more than four employees. In this case, if the company is larger or is aiming for an expansion, then an Ejari may be more appropriate,” he added.

Flexi desk

“A flexi desk is a co-working space granted to clients on a limited duration basis per week. The flexi desk is not linked to any specific client but may be utilised by multiple clients at different times. It is also known as a Hot desk, Smart desk, or shared desk,” Ghaith Al Daker, general manager at DUQE free zone said.

Al Daker further explained that because it is not designated to a single client, a flexi desk is often a cheaper option compared to a fixed desk and is also usually included within the basic start-up package for a lease when a client sets up their business in a free zone.


While a flexi desk may be affordable, Mohamed Montasser, the director of operations at Global Link Corporate Services Provider, said that companies using flexi desks might face difficulties when applying for a business bank account or applying for UAE residence visas for their employees without an official physical address. 

Fixed desk

As opposed to a flexi desk, a fixed desk solely belongs to one company and is not shared with other entrepreneurs or establishments.

"Depending on the business centre, dedicated desks are usually located in a shared office or a more private open area within the business centre," Al Daker said.

While this is a slightly more expensive option, compared to a flexi desk, it is still cheaper than a traditional office, as you still would not need to cover utility and amenity-related costs separately.

Traditional office

Whether you are a company that is too big to consider a virtual office or hot desk, or you are a business that started small and wants to now expand, a traditional office is the option that you can consider. While this would require a bigger budget, it is the most suitable option for small businesses that require physical office space for employees to work in a shared space and a more long-term solution for your business.