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The 7 Essential Steps in Moving Your Business to the United Arab Emirates

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According to the World Bank, the United Arab Emirates ranks number 11 in the world when it comes to the ease of doing business and number 25 for the ease of starting a business. Overall, this can indeed be taken to mean that the UAE is a fantastic place to set up a company or move your existing operations.

Over the past decade, the UAE has made significant improvements when it comes to the simplicity and efficiency of setting up shop inside their country. This translates to fewer processes, minimal cost, and less waiting time for entrepreneurs and savvy business owners who are privy to the benefits that this country can bring.

If you want to know what it takes (or are ready and raring to go), read on to discover the seven essential steps to take when moving your business to the United Arab Emirates.

1. Recognize why you want to make this move.

Opting to move your company to a different country is a big decision to make for any individual and any firm, regardless of how big it is, how long you have been in business, or what the value of the products that you sell amounts to. Therefore, it is essential that before you start dreaming about your new life and career in the UAE, you spend some time figuring out why exactly you want to make this move.  

Generally, the top reasons why a company wants to move to the UAE is so that they can benefit from fewer tax responsibilities, administer global transactions without too much hassle, create a strong network of connections, and have unrivaled access to some of the globe’s wealthiest purchasers.

2. Consider the free zones.

One of the main reasons that companies from all around the world want to move their operations to the UAE is what is known as the free zone. Free zones are areas of the country that have been designed specifically for boosting international business and can be found across the UAE in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain.

By extending some of the most progressive provisions for trading and business establishment, these free zones go out of their way to make it as easy as possible to start a business or move your existing operations to their area. Within the free zones, you can maintain 100% ownership of your business and have full control over your company’s bank accounts. This is particularly special to this part of the world as it is usually standard practice to need a local sponsor.

If you don’t choose to move to a free zone, then you will have to find a UAE national shareholder/service agent who is willing to join your business and register with you as a limited liability company (LLC). This partnership will provide you with the necessary freedom to operate from anywhere in the country.

3. Compose (and then follow) a relocation plan.

Moving your operations to the other side of the world is a big undertaking and one that is only going to result in a disaster if you don’t plan it far enough in advance and consider all of the necessary logistics. Give yourself at least a year to plan the move so that you have enough time to research the location, understand the market, and start making connections.  

If you are planning to move to the UAE along with your business operations, then make sure you look into the legal requirements, as well as whether or not you can afford the cost of living. Opening a bank account in Dubai is pretty simple so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your finances in order over there, but it may take you a little longer to find a place to live.

Brush up on your Arabic so that you can exchange pleasant greetings with your neighbors, colleagues, and potential business partners and do everything you can to immerse yourself in the culture – it will benefit you greatly both personally and professionally.

4. Conduct market research.

One of the gravest mistakes that entrepreneurs all over the world make is that they ignore the advice that is provided by those who have already been through the process which they are about to embark on.

Don’t be like these people! Instead, collect as much advice as possible and then use your mind and your instinct to follow what feels right for you and your company.

One of the worst things that you can do is to get so attached to the idea of moving your business that you fail to see the practical matters at hand. Ensure that your products or services are going to align with the purchasing culture of the UAE, which will require you to conduct extensive research into the market and your niche.

In your business plan, you need to have a thorough study of the market conditions, your potential competition, as well as your business forecasts. Look for ways to adapt your current products or services (or your marketing and branding) to suit the UAE market more appropriately. Don’t merely presume that what worked in one country can be replicated in another – unfortunately, that isn’t generally how the world works.

5. Learn how to benefit from the Dubai Expo.

Now is the best time to start moving your operations to the UAE because in 2020, they will be hosting the Dubai Expo. Declared as one of the most significant events ever staged in the Emirates, EXPO 2020 Dubai marks the first time a city in the Middle East is hosting such a grand convention. The Expo is set to bring in a significant amount of money and business to the Emirates on both a short-term and long-term basis.

The notable impact on the economy will then turn into a significant impetus for growth in several important business areas such as trading, construction, transportation, tourism, and hospitality. Furthermore, it is expected to produce an enormous influx of jobs and firms into the city and the country.

As a future UAE business owner, you want to be looking for ways to utilize this Expo for your own benefit. This means preparing yourself for new business opportunities and networking so that you can put yourself face-to-face with the movers and shakers and the critical people in your industry. It also means positioning yourself to be noticed by the high-quality talent that is going to be more interested than ever in potential opportunities within Dubai and the UAE.

If you needed a sign that this was the right time to make this move, this is it.

6. Recruit the right people.

Investing in your team has to be one of your main priorities when looking to move your business overseas. These are the people who are going to represent your company on a global scale. They are going to have to work with you to get to know your new target market on a deeper level. And they are going to be by your side as you navigate the rocky waters of brand expansion.

It is a lot, which is why your recruitment and hiring process can’t be left until the last minute or be a forgotten thought. Instead, to get the most out of building your company in the UAE, you need to compile a team of passionate workers who are not only dedicated to your firm’s mission, but are also committed to studying and communicating with your new potential customers.

To ensure that you are utilizing all your in-house resources to their full potential, seek to outsource specific tasks (such as your bookkeeping and accounting services or your social media curation) as soon as possible.

7. Get the professionals involved.

At the end of the day, you can’t do everything on your own — nor should you expect yourself to be able to (or at least, not accurately). Instead of placing that pressure on yourself and your business, opt to work with the necessary professionals to make this transition as smooth as possible.

It is highly recommended that you work with top lawyers in the UAE who will be able to walk you through all the necessary legal aspects of forming and sustaining your business in this new country. Their expertise will be invaluable for a range of subjects including choosing the appropriate licensing category (commercial, industrial, or professional), protecting your intellectual property, correctly signing the paperwork among founders, and setting you up to raise capital.

From the beginning, you want to have the best legal representation available to ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to follow the law. Also, it helps ensure that you have the peace of mind that only comes from starting your new venture on the right foot.

Have you ever started a business overseas or decided to move your operations internationally? If so, what do you wish you had known when you started? Do you have any tips or lessons to share with the community? If not, would you ever consider moving your firm abroad? Let’s start a discussion in the comments below!  

Sharon Danso-Missah is the Head of Marketing at Al Tamimi & Company, the largest law firm in the Middle East, with 17 offices across nine countries. Established in 1989, they are a full service commercial firm combining knowledge, experience and expertise to ensure all clients have access to the best legal solutions that are commercially sound and cost effective.

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