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Dubai business licences to get the ‘golden’ touch

Dubai is considering golden licences to raise its game in the GCC economic competition Pexels/Nextvoyage
Dubai is considering golden licences to raise its game in the GCC economic competition
  • Plan to simplify licensing
  • Available outside free zones
  • ‘Rigorous checks’ needed

Dubai is exploring enhancements to its long-term business licensing scheme, offering “golden” licences to entice more investors and business owners to set up in the emirate, company formation experts have told AGBI.

Long-term licences in the emirate, including decade-long options, have been primarily available in select free zones. But plans are in motion to extend these at competitive prices across more areas.

Neha Thomas, head of marketing at the Dubai-based business set-up adviser Creative Zone, said that traditionally multinational corporations, drawn by the promise of regional success, have opted for these longer-term licences.

Businesses capable of shouldering the higher upfront costs — AED 40,000 for five years and AED 60,000 for 10 years — see substantial value in such commitments, she said.

However, James Swallow, commercial director at the company formation consultancy PRO Partner Group, said that only a limited number of companies in Dubai held multi-year licences, and the majority grapple with annual renewals. 

This system, he said, burdens businesses with administrative pressures and costs, providing little in the way of long-term security.

Swallow said he believed the new licensing scheme could also extend to mainland companies and feature golden visas for business owners, competitive pricing and more streamlined procedures. 

He said it was possible that sectors critical to the emirate’s economic and sustainability goals might receive priority for these longer-term permits.

Initiatives such as the Work Bundle, launched in partnership with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, and the emirate’s Invest in Dubai digital platform are intended to reduce processing times for employment and residency permits by 75 percent.

Such efforts, Swallow said, were geared towards securing a stable, long-term business environment for both foreign investors and residents.

A Dubai-based lawyer, who declined to be named, said discussions include the possibility of easing mainland business licence regulations, such as removing the office lease requirement, to attract more companies. 

“However, these are still under consideration,” he said. 

“The overarching goal, like with the golden visa, focuses on upfront payment collection and retaining capital within the country, especially as businesses close or forego licence renewal.”

Abeer Al Husseini, Dubai-based partner at the immigration law practice Fragomen, warned that with an extended licence period the government must implement rigorous checks and balances, ensuring that businesses remain compliant with local regulations and standards throughout their operations.

Creative Zone’s Thomas said there were no restrictions to opting for multi-year licences but all businesses must adhere to strict compliance measures. 

The UAE has already been making its visa policies more flexible over the past couple of years as part of economic reforms to diversify away from oil, offering longer residencies for certain categories of investors, students and professionals.

In January it also removed the AED 1 million minimum down-payment requirement to qualify for a golden visa through real estate investment.

Economic competition within the GCC is intensifying. Saudi Arabia has rolled out residency incentives and a law that requires foreign companies to set up a regional base in the country if they want access to high-value government contracts. 

Companies that set up headquarters in the kingdom are also being exempted from corporate tax for 30 years.

Bahrain’s golden licence initiative has already brought in more than $2 billion in investment since it was introduced last year, underscoring the appeal of such strategies.

Qatar is also attempting to woo talented individuals and entrepreneurs with its new five-year residency scheme, announced last week.

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