Doing business in the Dubai International Financial Centre

The Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) is a financial free zone within the UAE with an independent civil and commercial legal framework based on International Standards and Principles of the English Common Law.

The DIFC provides an excellent regulatory environment for all the registered businesses. Furthermore, companies are entitled to benefit from i) freedom of capital and profit repatriation; ii) full exemption from corporate taxes for 40 years and iii) complete foreign ownership.

Business activities

The core businesses in the DIFC evolve around regulated activities related to i) banking; ii) investment; iii) asset and wealth management and iv) finance. However, it is also possible to register non-regulated and non-financial businesses like retail and convenience stores, restaurants as well as art galleries within this UAE free zone. Refer to the complete list of business activities below:

  • Financial business

    • Areas of business

      BankingBrokerageFund management
      Private bankingCapital MarketsAsset management
      Investment bankingInsurance, reinsurance & captivesWealth management
      Private EquityIslamic finance

    • Business categories

      The financial activities that are permitted in DIFC are divided into 5 Categories as follows. Each Category has different Government fees and capital requirements.

      Category 1Category 2Category 3ACategory 3BCategory 3CCategory 4Category 5
      Accepting DepositsDealing in Investments as Principal (Not as Matched Principal)Dealing in Investments as Principal (Only as a Matched Principal)Providing Custody (Only if for a fund)Managing a Collective Investment FundArranging Credit or Deals in InvestmentAn Islamic Financial Institution whose entire business is conducted in accordance with Shari’a and Which Manages a Profit Sharing Investment Account
      Managing a PSIAuProviding CreditDealing as agentActing as the Trustee of a FundManaging AssetsAdvising on Financial Products or creditArranging Custody
      Providing Trust Services as a Trustee of an Express TrustInsurance Intermediation
      Managing a PSIArInsurance Management
      Providing Custody (other than for a fund)Operating an alternative Trading System
      Providing Fund Administration
      Providing Trust services other than as a trustee of an express trust
      Operating a Crowdfunding Platform

    • Government fees and capital requirements

      Financial Services (in US$)Registration
      (One-time Fee)
      Commercial License
      (Annual Recurring Fee)
      Data Protection FeeDFSA ApplicationDFSA Annual Renewal FeesBase Capital Requirements
      Category 1 & 5$8,000$12,000$1,000$70,000$70,000$10 million *
      Category 2$8,000$12,000$1,000$40,000$40,000$2 million *
      Category 3A&3 C$8,000$12,000$1,000$25,000$25,000$500,000 *
      Category 3B$8,000$12,000$1,000$25,000$25,000$4 million*
      Category 4$8,000$12,000$1,000$15,000$15,000$10,000 *
      Category 4 (Crowdfunding platform)$8,000$12,000$1,000$5,000$10,000$140,000


      Indicative fee structure is subject to change. For latest fees, please visit the following Government webpages: DFSA (click here) and DIFC (click here)

  • Non-Financial business

    • Areas of business

      BrokersConsultanciesService ProvidersProduct Providers
      Labor Recruitment Brokerage Office ServicesComputer ConsultanciesAdvertisement Designing & ProducingAntiques & Rare Collections Repaire
      Leasing Property Brokerage AgentsFacilities Management ConsultancyAntiques & Rare Collections RepaireAuction Hall
      Feasibility Studies ConsultanciesArt GalleryBaby Food Trading
      Financial Analysis & ConsultancyAuctions OrganizingBeauty & Personal Care Equipment Trading
      Human Resources ConsultanciesAward Rendering ProgramBeauty & Personal Care Requisites Trading
      Information Studies & ConsultanciesBeauty Salon Training CenterBody Building Club
      Internet ConsultancyBuilding Cleaning ServicesBooks Binding
      Management ConsultanciesBuilding MaintenanceBooks, Newspapers & Publications Trading
      Marketing Research & ConsultanciesBusinessmen ServicesCaffeteria
      Network ConsultanciesCar Park Rental & ManagementCalligraphers
      Project Development ConsultantCards & Envelops PrintingCar Rental
      Quality & Standardization ConsultantsCarpets & textiles mendingCarpets Trading
      Sourcing & Procurement ConsultantCarpets CleaningCoffee Shop
      Tourism and Recreation ConsultantsCloth Pressing ServicesComputer & Data Processing Requisites Trading
      CollegeComputer Electric Accessories Trading
      Communication Engineering ServicesComputer Equipment & Requisites Trading
      Community CollegeComputer Software Trading
      Compliance & Risk ManagementConfectionary & Chocolate Trading
      Computer Graphic Design ServicesCutlery & Silverware Trading
      Computer Software HouseDates Trading
      Conferences & Seminars OrganizingDistribution of Advertising Materials & Samples
      Cost Control & Risk Management ServicesDried Vegetables & Fruit Trading
      Customer Care CentreEducational Aids Trading
      Data Entry ServicesElectronic Precision Instruments Trading
      Design & Artwork ServicesFlowers & ornamental Plants Trading
      Dieting & Weight Control ServicesFood & Beverages Trading
      Documents Clearing ServicesGifts & Jewellery Box Making
      Documents Copying ServicesGifts Trading
      Documents TransportGrocery Store
      Dry Cleaning ServicesHandbags & Leather Products Trading
      Education & Training Computer SoftwareHealth Food Trading
      Education InstituteIce Cream Shop
      Educational Facilities Management ServicesIce Cream Trading
      Educational Technologies Research & DevelopmentIllustrated Magazines & Catalogues Trading
      Electrical Fitting ContractingImitation Jewellery Trading
      Electronic Chips programmingInvitation & Greeting Cards Trading
      Electronic ManagementJewellery Trading
      Employment AgencyJuice & Soft Drinks Shop
      Event ManagementMini Store
      Fabrics, textiles & readymade garments screen printingMobile Phones Trading
      Fashion DesigningNovelties Trading
      Five Stars HotelNuts Trading
      Four Stars HotelOriental Carpets Trading
      Foreign Language InstitutePaintings & Frames Trading
      Full Service Postal AgencyPara Pharmaceutical Products Trading
      Fund AdministrationFund Administration
      General ClinicPearls & Precious Stones Trading
      Gents Cosmetic & Personal CarePerfumes & Cosmetics Trading
      Gents Haircutting & Hairdressing SalonPharmacy
      Gents Spa ClubReadymade Garments Trading
      Gents TailoringRestaurant
      Gents Wears Tailoring & Embroidery WorkshopRestaurant & mini store
      Gift Wrapping serviceRoastery
      Government Liaison OfficeSandwich Shop
      Hotel Apartments RentalSculpture & Beautification Elements Works For Private Shows
      Hotel ConsultantsSelling Commodities By Automatic Vending Machines
      Hotel ManagementShoe Trading
      Interior DecorationSmoking Requisites Trading
      Internal Communication Network Installation & MaintenanceSnack Food Trading
      Internet Content ProviderSoap & Hair Care Products Trading
      Internet ServicesSpectacles & Contact Lenses Trading
      IT InfrastructureStationery , Drawing & Writing Instruments Trading
      Jewellery repairingSuitcases & travel requisites trading
      Ladies Cosmetic & Personal CareSunglasses trading
      Ladies Gown's tailoringSupermarket
      Ladies Haircutting & Hair DressingTelephones & Telecommunications Equipment Trading
      Ladies Physical fitness clubTextile Trading
      Ladies Oriental BathTobacco & Cigarettes Trading
      Ladies TailoringTobacco Trading
      Laundry ServicesTrees Seedings, ornamental plants & annual flowers trading
      Legal TranslationUsed Jewellery trading
      Letters & Post Items DeliveryVegetables & Fruit Trading
      Management ServicesWatches & Clocks & Spare Parts Trading
      Managing Office
      Marketing Management
      Meditation centre
      Men physical fitness club
      Nursery
      Office Of International Organization
      On Demand Labors Supply Services
      Operations & Security Control Center
      Parcels Delivery
      Plastic Cards Printing
      Poly Clinic
      Portal
      Portal Building
      Promotional Gifts Preparing
      Property Guard & Surveillance Services
      Proprietary Investment Company
      Proprietary Investments
      Public Networking Services
      Public Relations Management
      Real Estate Management Supervision Services
      Restaurants Management
      Self-Owned Property Leasing & Management Services
      Shoe Making
      Shoe Polishing
      Shoe Repairing
      Social Club
      Specialized Professional Institute
      Sports & Recreational Club
      Sub- Postal agency
      Testing Center
      Three Stars Hotel
      Tour and Travel Agency
      Tourism Guidance Services
      Translation Services
      Travel agent
      Typing & Photocopying Services
      University
      Valet Parking Services
      Watches & Clocks Repairing
      Web-Design

    • Non-financial businesses requiring DFSA registration

      • Non-financial firms which fall under the category of “Designated Non-Financial Business or Profession (DNFBP)” will need to register with the DFSA. This process will take 2 months;
      • Business activities that fall under the DNFBP category are: i) Real estate developers and agents; ii) dealers in precious metals and/or stones; iii) dealers of products with saleable price equal to or greater than US$15,000; iv) law firms, notary firms and other legal businesses; v) accounting, audit or insolvency firms; vi) company service providers and vii) single-family offices;

DIFC rules and regulations

Several institutions have been created to provide autonomy to the DIFC: i) an independent judicial system governed by the Dispute Resolution Authority (DRA) and DIFC Courts, that have jurisdiction over all disputes arising within the DIFC; ii) the Dubai Financial Services Authority (“DFSA”) which is in charge of regulating, supervising and monitoring all banking and financial institutions; and iii) the DIFC Authority, responsible for development and administration of laws and regulations for non-financial businesses;

Steps to register a financial business in the DIFC

Healy Consultants Group PLC will project manage the A to Z of our Client’s DIFC company formation. Unfortunately, our Client will need to travel to Dubai for 1 day, before the license is issued, and the bank account is opened. Securing a license for the DIFC takes approximately 8 months as follows:

  • Pre-incorporation steps – 1.5 months

    1. Consultation phase: Prior to starting the DIFC company incorporation process, our Client explains their existing and proposed business activities and business goals as well as their requirements for their new entity. Healy Consultants Group PLC and our Client plan the optimal structure for the entity to be setup and agree on the i) fees payable for the engagement; ii) potential licensing requirements and iii) details of the directors and the share allocation;
    2. Planning phase: At this point, our Firm takes all the information provided to plan the process in detail from the beginning till the end of the engagement, including i) Dubai business incorporation; ii) multi-currency corporate bank account opening; and iv) securing applicable licenses, thereby increasing transparency as well as setting Client expectations and minimizing disruption to project completion. Our deliverable is a detailed project plan (click to see an example) mapping out the step by step details of this engagement;
    3. Business plan, LOI and initial assessment by the Authorities: With the information supplied by the Client, our Incorporation Team i) drafts a detailed business plan; ii) drafts a Letter of Intent (LOI) and iii) requests a meeting with the DIFC Authority and the DFSA. During this first meeting, the Authority will informally review the application and consider the suitability of the applicant and the category of license for which the application is made. A list of required documents is supplied to Healy Consultants Group PLC;
    4. Document preparation: Next, our Dubai Incorporation Team gathers all the documents required to submit a quality incorporation application to the DIFC;
  • Incorporation steps – 6 months

    1. Document submission: Healy Consultants Group PLC prepares a complete quality incorporation application and lodges the same online;
    2. In-Principle approval: Following a detailed review of the business plan, the application and documents supplied, the Authority i) confirms name reservation and ii) issues an in-principle approval. Note that it is usual for the authorities to revert multiple times during this pre-approval stage requesting for additional documents and information. Consequently, the process usually takes a minimum of 4 months. Once the In-principle approval is issued, it has a validity of 3 months;
    3. Document attestation: Thereafter, we supply our Client a complete list of documents that require the UAE embassy’s attestation in the country of origin and assist our Client to submit them in a timely manner;
    4. Entity registration: The attested documents together with the in-principle approval certificate are submitted to the Registrar of Companies (ROC). The ROC issues a provisional certificate of incorporation;
    5. Bank account and deposit of capital: Our Banking Team assists our Client to open a Dubai corporate bank account for their business within 5 weeks. Unfortunately, our Client must travel to Dubai for a one-hour interview with the bank officer, before the account is opened. Immediately after the corporate bank account is issued, our Client deposits the paid-up share capital;
    6. Office premises: Simultaneously with the step above, we assist our Client to locate office space and sign a 12 months lease agreement, necessary before the license is issued. It is important for our Client to sign a lease agreement for office premises located within the Free Zone. Fortunately, the DIFC offers a wide range of office options ranging from co-working space to business centers, retail space, and commercial office space;
    7. License issuance: Within 1 week from the moment Healy Consultants Group PLC submits to the DIFC and the DFSA i) a certificate of capital deposit; ii) the signed lease agreement and iii) the payment slip for the payment of the office rental fees. The Authorities then issue the commercial license. Our Client can now conduct business in the UAE;
  • Post incorporation steps

    1. Additional registrations: Now that the company is fully incorporated, we can register the entity for VAT and apply for employee visas;
    2. Registration completion: Following the receipt of all necessary approvals and documents, Healy Consultants Group PLC couriers a full company kit to our Client, including original corporate documents, unopened bank correspondences, and lastly a Client feedback survey to make sure that all the Client expectations were met during the entire engagement period.
    3. Statutory compliances: Following our Client’s Dubai registration, our Client must appoint a Dubai qualified auditor within 1 month of registration and submit quarterly VAT reports and prepare annual audited financial statements. Depending on the business category, additional financial reportings may be needed.

Fees

The estimated total engagement fee for a DIFC company engaged in financial services amounts to US$56,700.

Please refer to our invoice for a detailed breakdown of the fees. Kindly note that this fee excludes the DFSA application fee and the paid-up share capital requirements (both mentioned in the business activity section above);

The estimated total engagement fee for a DIFC company engaged in non-financial services amounts to US$45,500. Please refer to our invoice for a detailed breakdown of the fees.

Contact us

For additional information on our company registration services in Dubai, please contact our in-house country expert, Ms. Chrissi Zamora, directly:
client relationship officer - Chrissi