The UAE Business Spectrum: Exploring the Types of Companies in the UAE

We recently shared an article on "How to Start a Business in the UAE," providing steps and tips for entrepreneurs. Today, we'll dive deeper into the different types of businesses in the UAE: mainland, free zone, and offshore.

Choosing the right type of business structure is crucial when establishing a company in the UAE. It directly impacts your business operations, legal obligations, and growth opportunities. Here's why selecting the appropriate business type is essential:
  • 1
    Legal Compliance.
  • 2
    Ownership and Control.
  • 3
    Market Access and Opportunities.
  • 4
    Taxation and Financial Considerations.
  • 5
    Operational Flexibility.

Mainland Companies

A mainland company refers to an onshore organisation that is officially registered with the government body of an emirate. The trade licence for such a company is issued by the Department of Economic Development of the emirate. Here are the advantages and potential drawbacks of ventures:


  • Access to Wider Market
    Mainland companies enjoy unrestricted access to the local UAE market, allowing businesses to target both local and international clients for growth opportunities.
  • Local Talent Pool
    The UAE offers a diverse and highly skilled workforce, including a growing number of IT professionals, providing companies with access to talented individuals.
  • Flexibility in Business Activities
    Mainland companies can engage in various business activities, enabling enterprises to offer a wide range of services and adapt to evolving market demands.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Local sponsor
    In the case of mainland companies, foreign business owners are typically allowed to possess a maximum of 49% of the company's shares while the remaining 51% ownership is reserved for a local sponsor.
  • Competition
    The high concentration of businesses in the mainland can lead to intense competition for ventures, necessitating strategic differentiation and marketing efforts to stand out.

Free Zone Companies

Free zones are designated areas within the UAE that provide specific business advantages. The United Arab Emirates presents over 40 diverse free zones, allowing expatriates and foreign individuals to maintain complete ownership of their companies. These zones are renowned for their well-developed infrastructure and specialised services, which streamline business operations and significantly reduce time and resource expenditure.


  • 100% Foreign Ownership
    Free zone companies allow 100% foreign ownership, empowering entrepreneurs to retain control of their ventures and make agile decisions.
  • Tax Incentives
    Free zones offer tax benefits, enabling companies to reinvest savings into research and development and attract top IT talent.
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  • Enhanced Infrastructure
    Free zones provide state-of-the-art infrastructure, including high-speed internet connectivity, advanced telecommunication systems, and modern office spaces, facilitating seamless operations.
  • More advantages:
    • Full Repatriation of Capital and Profits
    • Efficient and Expedited Business Setup Processes
    • Thriving Business Communities
    • Complete Waiver of Customs Duties
    • Autonomous Legal Frameworks and Regulations
    • Seamless Access to Regional and Global Markets
    • Contemporary and Advanced Infrastructure

Potential Drawbacks

  • Limited Market Access
    Free zone companies are confined to operating within the free zone and have restricted access to the local UAE market. Businesses may need to explore alternative strategies to reach a wider customer base.
  • Operational Restrictions
    Free zone companies are subject to specific regulations and guidelines set by the free zone authority, potentially limiting operational flexibility and imposing additional compliance requirements.

Offshore Companies

Offshore companies in the UAE are registered outside the country but have certain operational restrictions within its borders. A company established offshore can enjoy 100% ownership; however, it is not permitted to maintain a physical presence within the UAE.


  • Asset Protection and Privacy
    Offshore companies offer enhanced asset protection and privacy, allowing to safeguard intellectual property, proprietary technologies, and sensitive data.
  • International Expansion
    By establishing an offshore company in the UAE, companies can position themselves for international expansion, leveraging the country's business-friendly environment and strategic location.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Limited Local Operations
    Offshore companies cannot conduct business operations within the UAE market. Businesses may need to rely on international operations to generate revenue, which requires careful planning and coordination.
  • Complex Regulatory Landscape
    Establishing and operating an offshore company involves navigating a complex regulatory landscape, potentially requiring expert guidance and legal assistance.
It's essential for entrepreneurs to carefully evaluate their business goals, market strategies, and operational requirements before deciding on the most suitable type of company in the UAE. By understanding the benefits and challenges, ventures can make informed decisions and navigate the UAE's business landscape effectively.

At Lucky Hunter, we help businesses find IT specialists tailored to their specific needs. Contact us today to receive a free consultation.

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