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Business setup in Dubai UAE Guide

Mainland License Dubai: Why It's Pricier Than Free Zone

Discover why a mainland license in Dubai costs more than a free zone license. Understand the benefits and challenges of business setup in Dubai mainland.

Dubai, the thriving commercial hub of the Middle East, offers two primary jurisdictions for business setup: the mainland and free zones. Each jurisdiction has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but one noticeable difference is the cost. Setting up a business with a mainland license in Dubai is often pricier than establishing a free zone business. This blog explores the reasons behind the higher costs associated with a mainland license Dubai, while also providing the latest insights into both business environments.

Understanding Mainland License Dubai:

A mainland license allows businesses to operate within the whole of Dubai and across the UAE, without any geographical restrictions. This means companies with a mainland license can engage in a broader range of activities and cater to both local and international markets.

Key Features of Mainland License Dubai:

  1. Wider Market Access: Businesses can trade directly with the UAE market and internationally without restrictions.
  2. No Limit on Office Space: Companies can establish offices anywhere in Dubai.
  3. Eligibility for Government Projects: Only mainland companies can bid for lucrative government contracts.
  4. Flexible Business Activities: There are fewer restrictions on the type of business activities that can be undertaken.

Cost Factors for Mainland License Dubai:

  1. Office Space Requirement: A physical office space is mandatory for mainland businesses, which can be expensive depending on the location.
  2. Local Sponsorship Fees: Foreign entrepreneurs must have a local sponsor who holds 51% of the business shares, entailing additional sponsorship fees for few business activities depend on legal type of company.and also can own 100 % ownership for few business actviities 
  3. Government Fees: Higher registration and licensing fees compared to free zones.
  4. VAT Registration: Mainland companies must register for VAT if their annual turnover exceeds AED 375,000, leading to additional compliance costs.
  5. Employee Visa Costs: Obtaining visas for employees involves higher costs, including health insurance, visa processing fees, and other related expenses.

Comparing Mainland License Dubai and Free Zone Business Setup:

Business Setup in Dubai Mainland:

  • Market Reach: Access to the local UAE market and international markets without restrictions.
  • Office Space: Mandatory physical office space within Dubai.
  • Ownership Structure: Requires a local sponsor who owns 51% of the business shares for few business activities.
  • Government Projects: Eligibility to bid for government projects.

Free Zone Business Setup:

  • Market Reach: Limited to operating within the designated free zone and exporting goods/services outside the UAE.
  • Office Space: Options for flexi-desk or shared offices, reducing costs.
  • Ownership Structure: 100% foreign ownership allowed without the need for a local sponsor.
  • Government Projects: Generally not eligible for government tenders.

Why Choose a Mainland License?

Despite the higher costs, many businesses opt for a mainland license due to the significant advantages it offers. The flexibility to operate across the UAE, the ability to bid for government projects, and the absence of restrictions on business activities make it a preferred choice for many entrepreneurs.

Steps for Business Setup in Dubai Mainland

  1. Decide on Business Activities: Identify the specific business activities you plan to engage in, as this will determine the type of license required.
  2. Choose an Office Location: Find a physical office space that suits your business needs and complies with regulatory requirements.
  3. Get Initial Approval: Apply for initial approval from the Department of Economic Development (DED).
  4. Draft a Memorandum of Association (MOA): Prepare and notarize the MOA with your local sponsor.
  5. Register the Business Name: Choose and register a unique business name with the DED.
  6. Submit License Application: Submit the application along with all required documents to the DED.
  7. Pay Fees and Obtain License: Pay the necessary fees and receive your mainland business license.

Dubai Mainland: Recent Updates and Trends

The business landscape in Dubai is continually evolving, with recent government initiatives aimed at fostering a more business-friendly environment. Here are some of the latest updates:

  • Economic Substance Regulations: Companies must demonstrate substantial activities in the UAE to comply with the new regulations.
  • Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan: Focus on sustainable development, with enhanced infrastructure and commercial zones.
  • Golden Visa Scheme: Long-term residency options for investors and entrepreneurs, making Dubai a more attractive destination for business setup.
  • Digital Transformation: Increased emphasis on digital services and e-government initiatives to streamline business processes.

Pros and Cons of Dubai Mainland Business Setup


  • Market Access: Unrestricted access to both local and international markets.
  • Government Contracts: Ability to participate in government tenders.
  • Business Activities: Flexibility in the range of permissible business activities.
  • Location Flexibility: Freedom to choose office locations anywhere in Dubai.


  • Higher Costs: Significant initial and ongoing expenses related to office space, local sponsorship, and compliance.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Need to adhere to various local regulations and VAT requirements.

Free Zone Business Setup: An Attractive Alternative:

While a mainland license offers extensive advantages, free zone business setup presents a cost-effective alternative for many entrepreneurs. Free zones are designed to attract foreign investment by offering various incentives, including:

  • 100% Foreign Ownership: Complete ownership without the need for a local partner.
  • Tax Benefits: Exemption from import/export duties and corporate taxes.
  • Simplified Setup Process: Streamlined procedures for business registration and licensing.
  • No Physical Office Requirement: Flexi-desk and virtual office solutions to reduce costs.

How to Choose Between Mainland and Free Zone?

Deciding between a mainland license and a free zone business setup depends on several factors, including:

  1. Nature of Business: Consider the type of business activities you intend to undertake. Mainland licenses offer more flexibility for a wider range of activities.
  2. Market Reach: If you need to operate within the UAE market, a mainland license is essential. For export-oriented businesses, free zones are more suitable.
  3. Budget: Evaluate the initial setup and ongoing costs. Free zones generally offer a more cost-effective solution.
  4. Ownership Preferences: If retaining full ownership is a priority, a free zone setup is preferable.
  5. Long-term Goals: Align your choice with your long-term business strategy and growth plans.

At Plan My Firm, we can guide you through every step of the business setup process. Not only do we assist with obtaining a mainland license Dubai, but we also offer comprehensive business advice, residency services, bank account opening, accounting, legal contracts, and much more. Contact us if you want to start a business in Dubai, UAE. We are here to help you succeed.


What is the cost of a mainland license in Dubai?

The cost of a mainland license in Dubai can vary depending on several factors, including the type of business activity, office space requirements, and local sponsorship fees. Generally, the total cost can range from AED 15,000 to AED 50,000.

Can I get 100% ownership with a mainland license in Dubai?

Yes, recent changes in UAE law allow for 100% foreign ownership in certain business activities and sectors without the need for a local sponsor.

What are the requirements for obtaining a mainland license in Dubai?

The requirements for a mainland license in Dubai include selecting a business activity, finding a local sponsor (if necessary), securing office space, obtaining initial approval from the Department of Economic Development (DED), drafting a Memorandum of Association (MOA), registering a business name, and submitting the license application along with the required documents.

What is the meaning of a mainland license in Dubai?

A mainland license in Dubai allows businesses to operate within the entire UAE market, both locally and internationally, without any geographical restrictions. It enables companies to engage in a wide range of business activities.

What activities can I undertake with a Dubai mainland license?

A Dubai mainland license allows for a wide range of business activities, including trading, professional services, industrial activities, and more. The specific activities permitted depend on the type of license obtained.

What is the cheapest mainland license in Dubai?

The cost of a mainland license can vary, but some of the more affordable options start at around AED 15,000. Costs can be minimized by choosing shared office spaces and selecting less complex business activities.

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