So you're looking to set up your own consultancy firm in the UAE? Exciting times! The UAE has become a hub for consultants and professional service providers, with opportunities across almost every industry. Before you dive in, you'll need to make sure you understand the licencing requirements to legally practise as a consultant. The rules can seem complicated, but don't worry - we've got you covered.
In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about obtaining a consultancy licence in the UAE.
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A consultancy license in the UAE is a legal authorization that allows individuals or businesses to provide consulting services in various fields. It is required for anyone who wishes to offer professional advice or consulting services in the UAE, whether as an individual or through a business entity.
What services can you offer?
With a UAE consultancy licence, you can offer services like:
The specific licences and permits required will depend on the type of consultancy services you want to offer. With the right licence and qualifications in place, providing consultancy services in the UAE can be a rewarding endeavour. The demand for professional expertise across sectors is on the rise, fueled by business growth and economic diversification in the country. By helping companies and individuals solve problems and achieve their goals, you can build a successful consultancy practise.
The UAE is without a doubt the best GCC country in which to launch a consulting firm. In addition to having a variety of businesses that generate demand for consulting services, it also has a stable economy, no income tax, and low entry barriers.
At an impressive 16.6%, the UAE had the second-highest growth rate in the GCC's consulting market in 2022. As the UAE works to diversify its oil-dependent economy, the public sector's demand is a major driver of the consulting industry there. The UAE has opened its doors to businesses and investment from around the world as part of these diversification efforts, providing incentives like free trade zones, 100% capital repatriation, and low corporate tax rates. Additionally, the nation's advantageous trading conditions and strategic location offer quick access to other Gulf nations as well as a gateway to Africa, Europe, and Asia, making it a desirable regional base for multinational corporations.
To operate a consultancy firm in the UAE, you'll need to obtain the proper licence for your business activities. The specific licence required depends on the type of consultancy services you plan to provide. Below are a few examples:
If you provide business strategy, management, or organisational advisory services, you'll need a management consultancy licence. This allows you to offer consulting on areas like strategic planning, business process optimisation, change management, and more.
For legal advisory services, a legal consultancy licence is required. This covers activities such as legal consulting, arbitration, and mediation. Law firms and legal consultancy companies need this licence.
Tax advisory services like tax planning, compliance, and optimisation require a tax consultancy licence. Accounting firms and tax consultancy companies must obtain this licence to operate in the UAE.
To obtain a consultancy licence in the UAE, there are a few key steps to follow:
Determine your business activities
First, decide exactly what consultancy services your company will provide. The UAE Ministry of Economy allows over 2,000 business activities, so do your research to select the appropriate categories. Some examples of consultancies include management consulting, HR consulting, IT consulting, legal consulting and engineering consulting.
Choose a business structure
Next, determine if you want to establish a mainland company, a free zone company, or a professional licence. A mainland licence requires a local service agent and allows you to operate anywhere in the UAE. Free zone companies operate in designated free trade zones with 100% foreign ownership. Professional licences are for sole proprietorships or partnerships offering professional services.
Obtain necessary approvals
Now you'll need to obtain approvals from the relevant authorities, like the Ministry of Economy, free zone authorities, or local departments of economic development. You'll submit details about your proposed business activities, ownership details, office space agreements, and more. The advantage of free zones is that you will get approval in a few days or even a single day in comparison to mainland licenses.
Apply for your licence
Finally, once you have all necessary approvals, you can apply for your actual consultancy licence. You'll submit your licence application along with supporting documents like approvals, agreements, and details of owners, partners or shareholders.
With some patience and persistence, you can navigate the UAE's consultancy licence requirements, and before you know it, you'll have your own consultancy up and running in the Emirates.
Once you’ve secured your consultancy licence, it’s time to get down to business. Here are some tips to help your new firm hit the ground running in the UAE.
Build your online presence
Establish a professional website and social media profiles to help potential clients find you. Focus on showcasing your expertise and experience. Make sure all business information is up to date across platforms.
Attend industry events and conferences to connect with others in your field. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to new contacts and exchange business cards. Look for opportunities to collaborate with complementary businesses. Word-of-mouth and personal referrals are key to gaining new clients in the UAE.
Provide high-quality service
Go above and beyond for your first clients to get positive reviews and referrals. Be responsive, meet deadlines, and deliver work that demonstrates your skills and knowledge. Building a reputation for excellence will fuel the growth of your new consultancy.
Consider a co-working space
Renting office space in a co-working environment is an affordable way for new businesses to establish a professional presence. You’ll also benefit from networking with other entrepreneurs and having the opportunity to collaborate. Some co-working spaces in the UAE provide additional amenities like meeting rooms, business services, and mentoring programmes.
Stay up-to-date with trends in your industry and area of expertise. Pursue ongoing training and professional development to strengthen your knowledge and skills. Learning new things will make you a better consultant and help you future-proof your business.
The cost to obtain a consultancy licence in the UAE depends on several factors. In general, you can expect to pay between AED 15,000 and AED 30,000 to set up your consultancy business.
Licence and registration fees
To register your business, you'll need to pay fees to the Department of Economic Development (DED) in the emirate you want to establish your consultancy in. Licence fees depends on your jurisdiction. You'll also need to budget for costs like trade name registration, office space rental contracts, and business activity permits.
Certain types of consultancies like engineering, architecture, finance, and healthcare require professional certifications and membership fees for consultants. These can cost AED 2,000 to AED 10,000 per consultant annually. Make sure you understand the requirements for your industry.
Don't forget essential expenses to get your business up and running like office space, supplies, equipment, website development, marketing, and staffing costs. With proper planning and budgeting, you can minimise expenses and start generating revenue and profits within 6-12 months.
To obtain your consultancy licence in the UAE, you'll need to submit several important documents. The specific papers needed depend on your business structure, but here are the basics:
Memorandum of Association: For LLC companies, submit this document which specifies your business objectives, partners and share distribution. Draft with the help of a legal professional.
Local Service Agent Agreement: If you're a foreign company, you'll need an agreement with a UAE national to act as your local service agent. They'll sponsor your licence and represent you legally.
Office Lease Agreement: Provide a lease or title deed for your business premises. If you're home-based, submit a NOC from your landlord or property owner.
Bank Account Opening Letter: Submit a letter from your bank stating that you've opened a business account in the UAE under your licence name.
Certificates of Incorporation and Good Standing: For foreign companies, provide documentation proving your legal status in your country of origin. These must be attested by the UAE embassy there and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE.
Owners' Identification: Passport copies, visa pages, Emirates IDs, and photographs for all partners, shareholders, directors, and managers.
Company Profile: A brief overview of your business activities, target market, business model, and key personnel. Helps the licencing authority evaluate your application.
The UAQ FTZ welcomes entrepreneurs and small business owners with open arms, so take advantage of our consultancy license and the support systems in place to go after your goals. Starting a consultancy company in the Free Zone offers several benefits.
Tax incentives: As a consultancy, you'll pay 0% corporate tax and 0% income tax. Profits can be repatriated without incurring any taxes. This can significantly boost your margins and bottom line.
Ease of business setup: The licencing process is efficient, and bureaucracy is minimal. As long as you have the required documentation, you can be up and running in a matter of weeks. The UAQ Free Trade Zone’'s business-friendly environment also makes it easy to partner with international clients and recruit top global talent.
Strategic location: The UAQ FTZ's strategic location between East and West makes it an ideal hub for any consultancy looking to service clients in Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond. World-class infrastructure like airports, ports, roads, and telecommunications also facilitates access to markets across the region.
How long does it take to obtain a consultancy licence in the UAE?
The time required to obtain a consultancy license in the UAE can vary based on factors such as the emirate where you apply and the completeness of your application. On average, it can take several weeks to a few months to complete the entire process, which includes submitting necessary documents, getting approvals, and inspections. At the UAQ Free Trade Zone, you can expedite this process and get your licence in one day.
Are there any specific regulations or restrictions for foreign individuals or companies applying for a consultancy licence in the UAE?
The UAE welcomes foreign investors and businesses to establish consultancies, but there are specific regulations to follow. Foreign entities typically need a local sponsor or a partnership with a UAE national. When you apply for a licence with UAQ Free Trade Zone, you are at a great advantage because you do not need a sponsor to start your firm.
Do I need a physical space in the UAE to get a consultancy license?
If you are planning to establish your consultancy business in the mainland of the UAE, you typically need to have a physical office space within the emirate where you are registering your business. Free zones like UAQ Free Trade Zone offer "flexi-desk" options, which provide shared office spaces that meet the licensing requirements at a nominal cost.
So, now you have all the key information you need to kickstart your consultancy business in the UAE. While the licencing process can seem complicated, by following the step-by-step guide we've laid out, you'll be well on your way to launching your new venture. Remember, the key is preparation - do your research, ensure you meet the requirements, and take the time to submit a comprehensive business plan. With the right focus and determination, you'll be consulting in no time. The opportunities are there, you just have to go after them. Here's to new beginnings and following your dreams in the UAE! Let us know if you have any other questions. We're here to help in any way we can. Good luck!