By George Hojeige
As of summer 2018, there are 49 free zones established in the UAE, says Virtuzone CEO
Economic free zones are not a new concept. Indeed, they’ve existed in some form since the time of the Ancient Greeks – according to PKF International, a business advisory group.
In the UAE, whose first free zone was launched in 1985, the model has provided a powerful tool for entrepreneurs to launch all manner of companies.
As of summer 2018, there are 49 free zones established in the UAE. So, if you’re considering using a free zone as a vehicle for launching your company, it’s worth getting to know the main free zones in the country and what sets them apart.
Here, we look at 10 of the most popular free zones in the country.
Fujairah Creative City – for creative industries
Based in the eastern city of Fujairah, Fujairah Creative City caters to industries such as media, advertising and broadcasting, as well as relevant sub-sectors including HR, e-commerce, IT, publishing, training, consultancy, and design.
* The variety of business types allows you to share knowledge and transfer your skills between subsectors.
* You can apply for several visas without the need to lease physical office space
* Incorporation is extremely easy, with minimal paperwork
* No need for a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your current employer, meaning you can set up your business while still working for someone else.
Sharjah Media City – for media industries
Sharjah Media City (Shams) is based in the emirate of Sharjah, one of the UAE’s historic cultural hubs. Sharjah is where the UAE’s first ever newspaper was founded, and Shams carries this legacy forward as a free zone catering to new media businesses and creative professionals.
* Low cost company set up
* Strong community focus – the free zone aims to build and foster a vibrant community
* No deposit is required
Dubai South – for logistics and related industries
Billing itself as the ‘City of You’, Dubai South is built around Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport. Given its location by an airport, it’s no surprise the free zone focuses on supporting logistics and aviation companies, although it also caters to more general commerce and the humanitarian sector.
* Excellent location for businesses with a focus on aviation and logistics – with direct access to Jebel Ali Sea Port and Al Maktoum Airport
* No proof of share capital required
RAKEZ – for trading and business services
Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone – or RAKEZ – is based in the northern-most emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and aims to service a broad range of businesses including import/export, services such as consulting, and light manufacturing.
* A variety of real-estate facilities – from warehouses to serviced offices
* State of the art infrastructure
* One of the lower-cost free zones in the UAE
DMCC – for commodities trading
The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) is a leading international centre for trading commodities – including gold, diamonds and precious metals, as well as other goods like tea, food and industrial materials. The DMCC is fast-growing and home to thousands of successful businesses.
* Perfectly set up for any commodities trading business
* Meet, collaborate and compete with firms in your sector
* A vibrant community feel
* World-class infrastructure
Dubai Internet City – for IT and communications
Dubai Internet City is the biggest information technology trading park in the Middle East. It’s home to a wealth of international businesses like Microsoft, IBM and Dell, as well as tech startups and entrepreneurs. It’s a great launch pad for businesses hoping to expand into the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
* Great location for major tech firms
* Offers a leg-up for startups thanks to incubators
DWTC – opportunities for most business types
Based in the Dubai World Trade Centre, DWTC is a bustling business hub which accommodates over 2000 types of business activity. Perhaps its biggest draw is its location – right in the heart of Dubai’s business district and attached to an enormous multi-purpose events and conference space. This makes connecting with other businesses easy and seamless.
* Great location – easy access to the whole of Dubai, as well as international transport
* Prestigious address, yet with low set up costs
* No requirement for an NOC from your current employer – which is great for entrepreneurs who are setting up a business while working for someone else
JAFZA – opportunities for most business types
As the UAE’s oldest and largest free zone, JAFZA, or the Jebel Ali Free Zone, offers an ideal base for entrepreneurs from almost any sector. Today, over 7,000 companies call JAFZA home, and it counts for over 50% of Dubai’s total exports.
* Excellent location close the airport and Jebel Ali seaport
* Advanced network of warehouses
* State of the art technology and communications infrastructures
* A wealth of hotels and accommodation within the free zone
* The International Standards Organisation (ISO) awarded JAFZA the world’s first ever free zone ISO certificate in recognition of its excellence
DIFC – for the finance industry
The Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) is a leading financial hub for the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. It provides the infrastructure and support services that finance businesses need, as well as its own independent regulator and judicial system.
* Location – Dubai is at the crossroad between Asia, Africa and Europe, and its time zone situates it perfectly for conducting business across Asia, Europe and Africa.
* DIFC is something of a ‘city within a city’ offering everything from accommodation to cultural events, entertainment and eating, all of which make it a great place for meeting clients.
ADGM – for the finance industry
The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) is located in the heart of the UAE’s capital, and provides services for the financial sector. It is particularly focused on wealth management, asset management, and private banking – letting you tailor your services to the city’s elite.
* Located in central Abu Dhabi
* No physical office space is required
* 0% tax for 50 years
The free choice of free zones
When it comes to free zones, the only drawback for UAE entrepreneurs is that the choice of where to set up can become overwhelming. If you’re struggling to choose which free zone is right for you, a business set-up consultancy can walk you through your options