top of page
Lucas Vincent Blue Background_edited.jpg

Welcome to our Know-How Hub here at The Dubai Navigator.

We are experts in tax-optimized investment and relocation strategies for individuals and businesses alike, with a focus on Dubai and the UAE. Enjoy our free articles, and if you are looking for more in-depth 1-on-1 support, check out our paid services.

Comparing the UAE's Best Freezones

Updated: Mar 4, 2023


The best free zone for opening a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the UAE heavily depends on your needs and objectives.


Unlike what others may make you believe, for every business and individual, there is likely a different free zone that best suits them.


There are now more than 40 unique free zones, based in 7 different emirates, and new zones are constantly being opened and developed.


In order to open a company in one of these zones, you will need to pay for the company (LLC) registration fee, an annual business license fee, and visa fees, depending on whether you want your company to sponsor visas for yourself, business partners and/or employees.


The business license fee depends on what type of business activity you intend to perform.


Larger free zones allow close to any imaginable business activity, while other, smaller free zones specialize in certain business sectors such as media production or general trading.


There are many factors to consider when choosing a free zone. Registration and business license fees vary greatly between zones. Some zones have attractive, integrated residential communities. Other free zones have direct port access.


In this guide, we are covering 5 popular free zone options and discussing which one is best suited for what purpose.



DMCC is located in Dubai's Jumeirah Lakes Towers Neighborhood


DMCC: The most popular free zone in Dubai, the UAE, and the World


The UAE’s most popular free zone is DMCC with a staggering 22,000 companies registered here.


In fact, this number also makes DMCC the most popular free zone in the entire world.


Aside from registration numbers, DMCC has also been rated the world’s best overall free zone by fDi Magazine for 8 years in a row. fDi Intelligence Magazine is based in London and associated with the UK’s leading financial newspaper the Financial Times.

DMCC stands for Dubai Multi Commodities Center. While companies registered here have the option to operate in a large range of industries from traditional professional services to technology, the main focus is still trading. Founded in 2002, DMCC differentiated itself through its onsite commodities exchange, which allows companies to trade goods from special metals to agricultural products tax-free within the zone.


DMCC is located in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) community in Dubai. As the name suggests, the entire zone consists of high-rise towers that house both office and residential spaces, alongside hotels. There are no warehouses or factory spaces located inside the zone.

If your company requires access to warehousing, you may take advantage of DMCC’s partnership with the nearby Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) which allows DMCC companies to use JAFZA warehousing facilities. We are covering Jafza in detail later in this article.

The side-by-side location of offices and residential towers in JLT and as a result DMCC allows employees to live just a stone’s throw away from their offices. Considering Dubai’s infamous rush hours, this can save you hours every day.

Jumeirah Lakes Towers is located alongside Sheikh Zayed Road, the main highway connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and is located within easy reach of two Dubai metro stations that connect the district to the wider city.


Opposite of Jumeirah Lakes Towers, also within walking distance, is Dubai Marina with its many tourist attractions and public beach.


Just behind DMCC are villa communities in various price categories, all within just a 10min car drive away.

While all these features make DMCC world-leading in many ways, the zone’s biggest drawback is the relatively high cost of business registration and business licenses. Expect to pay up to 3 times as much as in other free zones.

If you just operate a small business or want to open a company simply to get a visa, it is probably better to choose a more affordable free zone. If you have a larger business with multiple employees, however, DMCC makes sense. Business registration and licensing costs are fixed: larger businesses pay the same as smaller companies. The only variable cost here is the visa fees for additional employees.

Due to the popularity of nearby Dubai Marina and the overall abundance of residential space, it is significantly easier to attract good employees to work for a DMCC-based compared to companies in other free zones.


The latest expansion of the DMCC free zone is Uptown Dubai, a master-planned central business district (CBD) adjacent to JLT. Uptown Dubai is being built in multiple phases, with the first phase including a 340m tall mixed-use skyscraper with ample first-class office space for large corporate tenants, luxury residences, and a five-star hotel.



Uptown Tower is the latest extension to DMCC free zone, here shown under construction


The Chinese home electronics company Hisense and China’s Hikvision are anchor tenants at DMCC’s Uptown Tower.



The Best Freezone for Physical trading


If you are involved with trading physical goods, especially importing and exporting products, it may be a good idea to set up a company at Jafza Free Trade zone.



Shown here is Jafza free zone's headquarter with offices available for rent


Jafza stands for Jebel Ali Free Zone, and is the largest free zone by total land area in the world. Founded back in 1985, the zone is home to around 9000 locally registered companies with 135,000 employees, and more than USD100 billion in annual trade.


Jafza is named after Jebel Ali, an industrial neighborhood in the South-West of Dubai.


What makes Jafza so special is its integrated multi-modal infrastructure access. Without physically leaving the free zone, companies located there have direct access to the UAE’s largest trading port, the Port of Jebel Ali. Jebel Ali port is currently the 12th largest container port in the world, with around 14 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) being handled here every year.



Jebel Ali Port is the UAE's largest trading port and connected to Jafza

Furthermore, Jafza is directly connected to Dubai’s second commercial airport, Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). Many cargo flight routes by FedEx, Emirates SkyCargo, and other cargo airlines are operating from here.


Currently under construction is an Etihad Rail cargo train line that will connect Jafza and the port of Jebel Ali with Dubai Industrial City, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and the other emirates.


Jafza offers a wide range of readily available office, warehouse, and showroom spaces for resident companies to exhibit their products. Opened in the summer of 2022, Yiwu Market Dubai is located within Jafza and offers 1600 individual showrooms for rent, with a total size of 200,000 square meters.



Yiwu Market Dubai, also referred to as Dubai Trader's Market is a newly opened complex with 1600 showrooms for Jafza-based companies



The absolute cheapest freezone(s)


Sometimes you care just about cost and want to get the cheapest option possible. The cheapest free zones offering the lowest annual business licensing fees are all found in the Northern Emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, and Umm Al Quwain.



Ajman free zone offers business licenses in a large range of industries


It is impossible to say which free zone offers the best deal to open an LLC at any moment, as zones are constantly changing their fees and running promotions.


Many zones also do not publicly publish their fees, and you will have to manually contact them to find out their current fee schedule.


The same rule applies to the availability of business activities. Some zones are highly specialized and only offer business licenses in certain areas, such as media production.


The most popular of these affordable free zones are Umm Al Quwain free trade zone (UAQFTZ) with around 9000 companies registered there, Ajman free zone, also with 9000 registered companies, and Sharjah Media City free zone. Company incorporation fees start as low as 6000 AED (around 1500 USD) in the first year.


Be careful and make sure that the quoted fees are not just first-year promotional offers. Always ask about the renewal fees for subsequent years.


And while these free zones offer very affordable company incorporations, they do come with drawbacks.


If you are looking to reside in Dubai, you will have to travel to the respective free zone for urgent matters. Driving licenses, for example, are always issued by the emirate that your visa is from. If you have an Ajman company and as a result an Ajman visa, you need to visit Ajman to apply for a driving license. You will also need to register your car in Ajman and get an Ajman license plate for your car.


Some of these zones, and there are many more than the three mentioned above, do not have good relations with banks and insurance companies, so opening a bank account or getting health insurance can be more difficult.



RAKEZ - The Best Value Freezone


Oftentimes it is good to look at both pricing and the value you get in return. Rakez free zone in Ras Al Khaimah tends to be slightly more expensive than the cheapest free zones but offers a number of perks that are rare to find elsewhere.



Rakez' main office building with offices available for rent


If you are lucky and there is an ongoing promotion, you may even be able to open a Rakez free zone company at the same or lower price than at the traditionally cheaper free zones in Sharjah, Ajman, and Umm al Quwain.


Rakez free zone has 3 advantages over other affordable zones.


The first advantage is that Rakez is offering business licenses in pretty much every business field, from physical trading to consulting and heavy manufacturing. Rakez actually consists of 6 geographically separate areas, with each of them focusing on different business types. Al Hamra Business zone, for example, focuses on companies in the professional services industry and is located nearby Ras Al Khaimah’s best residential neighborhoods.


Al Ghail Industrial Zone, on the other hand, is located further away from the city and specializes in heavy manufacturing, with easy access to work camps and cheap land and factory spaces. Some of Rakez’s zones allow companies to build their own manufacturing, warehousing, and office spaces to suit their needs.

The second advantage of Rakez is its large size. With more than 15,000 companies registered here, Rakez has the economies of scale to partner up with banks and insurance providers. These cooperations allow locally registered businesses easier and faster access to important business support services.


The third advantage is that Rakez operates a representative office in Downtown Dubai. Should you need support with your company or visa renewal, you can simply take a short trip to the Rakez office in Dubai and everything is taken care of. You can open a Rakez company, and don’t even have to visit Ras al Khaimah in person.



The best free zone for freelancers


If you are looking for a more basic business setup as a sole proprietor, e.g., a freelancer, instead of an LLC, Abu Dhabi’s free zone twofour54 is a good option.



twofour54's futuristic headquarter in Abu Dhabi

Twofour54’s freelance sole proprietorship business setup starts at around 750USD/year, or around 2700AED, and thus costs around half to set up compared to a standard LLC in one of the UAE’s other affordable free zones.

A freelancer setup only allows for the issuance of a single work visa for yourself. You cannot hire employees. If you decide to grow your business you will have to re-incorporate as an LLC (Limited Liability Company), and depending on your business activity may need to change free zones. However, you can sponsor dependent family members such as young children and a spouse.

A freelance setup also does not allow you to take advantage of tax-saving multi-company structures that span multiple countries. For that, you always need to open a standard LLC.


For more info on tax-saving multi-company setups, check out our specialized services here.

The twofour54 free zone is specialized in media production, and as result, you will need to choose from one of 60 media-related activities for your sole proprietorship. These, however, are generously defined and include everything from consulting to writing.


Once you have your twofour54 business set up, you may live anywhere in the UAE. You may serve customers all over the world. In-person interaction with customers, however, is limited to the free zone grounds and countries outside the UAE.


Like other free zones, twofour54 has a network of like-minded professionals and offers regular development training programs.



Summary


Before you open a UAE-based company you will need to assess many factors, comparing mainland to free zone companies, assessing the many free zones themselves, and planning ahead to make sure you don't need to pay taxes in other countries if you operate internationally.


We can help you with all of that, and also specialize in ancillary services such as international estate planning, transfer pricing, and setting up international tax-optimized holding company structures. Check out our services below.



Comentários


bottom of page