Thanks to the United Arab Emirates’ incredible growth and reduced regulations in its various “free zones,” there has never been a better time to expand to the country. In this article, we’ll take a look at two methods to start doing business in the UAE:

  1. UAE virtual phone numbers to establish a local presence
  2. The traditional methods of establishing a business as a foreign entity

UAE Virtual Phone Numbers
Before delving into the intricacies of establishing a physical presence in the United Arab Emirates, you should know that there is a much easier way of doing business in the country that doesn’t involve applying for business licenses, waiting for approval from the UAE government organizations, and a host of other processes (see below). Instead, by using UAE Virtual Phone Numbers, your business can gain unimpeded access simply by subscribing with a service provider like Global Call Forwarding.

Virtual phone numbers are a relatively simple concept, thanks to innovations in VoIP technology and cloud computing. Simply put, virtual phone numbers route calls to another phone number, which is known as a “destination phone number.” When callers dial your UAE virtual phone number, the call is instantly forwarded to a number of your choosing. The process is indistinguishable from “normal” local UAE phone numbers, with the same functionality and instantaneous contact that you would expect when dialing a domestic number.

Conversely, when a call originates from your destination phone number, that call is routed through the UAE virtual phone number. Those who receive the call will see a number with the same +971 country code and remaining digits on their caller ID. This means that local Emirati citizens and businesses, as well as foreign businesses located in the UAE, will consider your business having a presence in the country. This builds authenticity and trust in your potential clients and customers right out of the gate. After all, locals may not want to conduct business with foreign businesses that they feel aren’t “invested” in the region versus those that have taken the steps and paid the fees associated with the traditional methods of setting up shop in the UAE.

Additional Benefits of Virtual Numbers
If you’re considering using UAE virtual phone numbers, you should know there are a number of functionalities built into the technology that can supplement your business model. For instance, you may want to offer a toll free phone number that UAE citizens can call without cost. This provides an option that can be used to contact your business in the event calls outside of the UAE’s borders can’t be made.

Also, virtual phone numbers have such add-ons as call forwarding, which can forward calls to your business depending on the time of day — a crucial feature if your business is located in a substantially different time zone than the UAE.

Best of all, subscribing to a virtual phone number service only takes minutes, with your number being activated, most often, in less than a business day.

Traditionally Establishing a Business in the UAE
So, now that you know the easy way, here’s what it takes to setup traditionally-established businesses in the UAE, and what that physical presence entails.

First, you’ll have to decide whether to set up in the UAE’s 40 free zones, where foreign entities aren’t taxed and enjoy 100% ownership. The decision can be a big one, as the other option (setting up “onshore”) allows you to sell products and services directly to Emirati citizens. Depending on your business model, this can be a big step.

Next, you’ll have to determine the type of company you will be setting up. This can be an LLC (Limited Liability Company) or a foreign branch. While LLCs are advantageous to attain full ownership and limit financial responsibilities, should the venture go under, a foreign branch presents its own opportunities and drawbacks (including appointing a National Service Agent that acts as a liaison between your company and the UAE).

Then comes the load of paperwork and guidelines to follow, which will require significant time, capital, and resources to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. This normally requires acquiring business licenses, finding a viable business name, and a whole host of concerns that goes beyond the scope of this article. However, the process takes as little as four days provided all of your documents are submitted in order and worked on concurrently.

For those that want to begin the process of setting up a business in the UAE, the UAE government offers a step by step guide for foreign businesses. The guide is incredibly informative and up-to-date. Considering UAE is making headway into becoming a global powerhouse, rules and regulations are subject to change. Therefore, to stay current, it is vital to contact the UAE government to ensure that everything is filed in a timely and correct manner.