The Essential Steps to Getting a General Trading Licence in the United Arab Emirates

The Essential Steps to Getting a General Trading Licence in the United Arab Emirates

August 22, 2023

general trading

So you’ve decided to start a general trading business in the UAE. Congratulations! It’s an exciting step to becoming an entrepreneur in one of the world’s most thriving economies. But before you can import or export anything, you need to obtain the proper licensing. Getting a general trading licence in the UAE may seem complicated, but follow these essential steps, meet the necessary requirements, and stay on top of the latest regulations, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

Choose your business location wisely. There are numerous free zones across different emirates in the UAE, each with its own specialties and benefits. Research and compare the free zones that are relevant to your industry and trading activities. Consider factors such as location, facilities, infrastructure, and the specific services they offer.

Follow these key steps, meet the necessary requirements, and stay on top of the latest regulations. Before you know it, you’ll be building your very own general trading empire in the Emirates.

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What is a General Trading Licence in the UAE?

A General Trading License in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a type of business license that allows a company to engage in a wide range of trading activities. This license permits the company to import, export, distribute, and trade a variety of products across different sectors, excluding items that are prohibited or restricted by UAE laws and regulations.To obtain one, you'll need to register a trading company and meet several requirements.

To be eligible for a General Trading license, you must be at least 21 years old, possess a university degree or relevant experience in a related domain, provide a comprehensive business/marketing plan detailing your intended trading operations, meet the stipulated minimum share capital, and gain approval for a unique trade name that is not already registered.

Here are some key points to consider about a General Trading License in the UAE:

Scope of Activities: A General Trading License allows businesses to trade in a broad spectrum of goods, such as electronics, textiles, food products, consumer goods, machinery, and more. It's a versatile license suitable for companies engaged in diverse trading activities.

Regulatory Authorities: The issuance and regulation of business licenses in the UAE are overseen by the Department of Economic Development (DED) in each respective emirate. The specific requirements and procedures can vary between emirates.

Company Structure: To obtain a General Trading License, you can set up a new company or establish a branch of an existing foreign company in the UAE. Different company structures, such as Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Free Zone Company, have their own advantages and requirements.

Local Sponsorship: Depending on the emirate and company structure, you might need a local partner or sponsor who is a UAE national. The ownership structure can vary based on the emirate and the type of license.
Location: If you're establishing your company in a UAE free zone, you'll generally need to conduct your trading activities within the boundaries of that free zone. Free zones offer various benefits, such as tax incentives, 100% foreign ownership, and streamlined procedures.

Documentation: The specific documents you must submit will depend on the nature of your business plans. However, there are a few prerequisites that must be met, and you will be required to submit the following information at the start of the application process:

  • A list of potential names for the entity you want to incorporate in order of priority
  • A clear colour scan copy of your passport
  • Proof of residency, such as a recent utility bill with your name and address clearly scanned, your most recent UAE entry stamp, or your residency visa 

Key Requirements for Obtaining a General Trading Licence

To obtain a general trading license in the UAE, there are a few key requirements you’ll need to meet.

Emirati Local Partner: First, you'll need an Emirati sponsor to operate your business. Locals hold 51% of the company shares, though you maintain full operational control. Unlike mainland companies, where having a local partner or sponsor is necessary for certain business activities, free zones offer the advantage of 100% foreign ownership.

Office Space: You'll need to secure suitable office space for your new venture. The space must be properly zoned for commercial business activity in the Emirate you choose to set up shop in.

Documentation: The specific papers needed depend on your business activity. It’s best to check with the Department of Economic Development or your licensing authority for details.

Fees: There are licensing and set up fees to be paid. The exact amount depends on business activity and location. Government entities like the DED determine the fees.

Time Frame: The entire licencing process usually takes 3 to 6 weeks. Timelines can vary depending on how quickly you can submit the required documents and forms. It’s best to start the application well in advance of your target launch date.

Step-by-Step Process for Applying for a General Trading Licence

To obtain a general trading licence in the UAE, you’ll need to follow some essential steps.

Apply for Initial Approval
The first step is to apply for initial approval from the relevant licencing authority in your emirate. For most areas, this will be the Department of Economic Development or DED. You’ll submit details about your proposed trading activity, company ownership, capital, and other key information. The DED will review and either grant or reject your initial approval.

Leasing a Commercial Space
With initial approval in hand, you can proceed to lease an appropriate commercial space for your business. The space must be specifically meant for commercial or industrial use - residential properties won’t be permitted. Your landlord will need to provide a legally registered lease contract for the space.

Obtain Additional Documentation
Gather any additional documents required, like personal identification, company registration papers, bank statements, and more. The specific papers needed can vary in different emirates and for different business activities. It’s best to check with the licensing authority for the complete list.

Submit Your Licence Application
Submit your general trading licence application with all the necessary documents and approvals to the DED. This typically requires paying an application fee. The DED will review your application and documents to ensure everything is in order before granting your licence.

Final Inspection and Licence Issuance
Once your application is approved, the DED will conduct a final inspection of your commercial space. If everything meets the requirements, your general trading licence will be issued. You can then officially commence business operations in the UAE. Regular licence renewals and inspections will be needed to maintain your licence.

Following these essential steps carefully will set you on the path to obtaining a general trading licence in the UAE. 

Costs Associated with Getting a General Trading Licence

To obtain a general trading licence in the UAE, there are certain costs to keep in mind. The overall cost will depend on several factors, including business activity, location, and the specific free zone. In general, you can expect to pay:

Licence and Registration Fees
To register your business and obtain the actual general trading license, you'll pay around the amount specified by your licensing authority. This covers the cost of business registration, office space, licensing, and other administrative fees. Within free zones, license fees are typically at the lower end of this range. Trading licences for certain activities like foodstuff or pharmaceutical trading may incur additional licencing fees.

Visa Costs
As the business owner, you'll need an investor visa to reside in the UAE. You'll also need visas for any employees.

Rent and Utilities
Office space in the UAE does not come cheap. Renting a small office space will likely cost a lot in the UAE. On top of rent, you'll also pay for utilities like electricity, internet, phone, and more annually. When you are a startup, it is best to search for cost-effective options.

Renewing and Maintaining Your UAE General Trading Licence

To maintain an active General Trading licence in the UAE, there are a few important steps to keep in mind.

Renewing Your Licence
General Trading licenses in the UAE are valid for 1 to 3 years, depending on the specific licence and location. Make sure you renew your licence on time to avoid any penalties or disruption to your business. The renewal process is similar to the initial application, requiring documents like audited financial statements, a detailed business plan, owner's details, etc. 

Updating Company Details
If any of your company details change, such as business activity, ownership, location, or capital, you must inform the relevant licencing authority immediately. Failing to update key details can lead to legal issues and even licence cancellation. The process to update company details typically requires resubmitting a new business plan, owner's details, location contracts, etc. and paying an amendment fee.

Audits and Inspections
Expect regular inspections and audits from licencing authorities to ensure your company remains compliant. Provide any information requested accurately and on time. Audits typically review things like financials, records, employee details, and more. Passing audits and inspections is mandatory to maintain an active trading licence.

Local Sponsorship
If you have a mainland licence, you must maintain a relationship with your local sponsor. Provide sponsorship fees on time according to your contract and ensure your sponsor continues to support your licence renewal and amendments. Failure to pay sponsorship fees can lead to licence suspension.

Why start your company with UAQFTZ?

The Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone (UAQFTZ) offers many benefits for new companies looking to establish themselves in the UAE. Here are a few of the main reasons to consider starting your business in the UAQFTZ:

Low costs: Compared to other free zones in the UAE, UAQFTZ is very affordable. Licencing and operating costs are low, saving you money as you build your business. Office spaces and warehousing are also very reasonably priced. These lower overheads allow you to focus your capital on growing your company.

Fast and easy setup: The setup process for new companies in UAQFTZ is streamlined and straightforward. Licences can be obtained in a matter of days, not weeks. The free zone authority aims to get businesses up and running as quickly as possible. Requirements are minimal, and the approval process is fast. This efficiency allows you to launch your company and get to work right away.

Strategic location: UAQFTZ has an ideal location, only 45 minutes from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It offers easy access to the E311 highway, connecting you to major roads and transportation hubs. The free zone is also located near Umm Al Quwain port, one of the fastest growing ports in the region. Whether importing, exporting, or distributing goods, the location provides opportunities for business.

100% foreign ownership: UAQFTZ permits 100% foreign ownership of companies, allowing you full control and flexibility. You can retain ownership of your business rather than requiring a local partner or sponsor. This arrangement also allows for easier repatriation of profits and greater security over assets. For many business owners, 100% ownership is an essential requirement.


Can foreign nationals own 100% of the company in a free zone? 
Yes, in most UAE free zones, you can have 100% foreign ownership of your company. UAQ Free Trade Zone offers this significant advantage for many businesses, considering the traditional requirement of a local sponsor or partner for mainland businesses.

How long does the setup process take? 
The setup process in UAE free zones is generally streamlined and efficient, often taking a few weeks. The exact timeline can depend on factors such as the chosen free zone, the completeness of your documentation, and the specific procedures in place at the time. At UAQ FTZ, you can set up your business in a day.

Can I open a Corporate Bank Account? 
Yes, most free zones provide options to open corporate bank accounts within their jurisdiction. You'll need to meet the bank's requirements and provide the necessary documentation, including your business license and other relevant papers.  UAQ FTZ facilitates priority banking services for its investors with banking partners such as the National Bank of Umm Al Quwain (NBQ) and WIO Bank. 

Are there any trading restrictions?
While a General Trading License allows for a wide range of activities, it's important to be aware of any specific restrictions or regulations related to certain product categories. Certain goods, like pharmaceuticals or chemicals, might require additional approvals or licenses.

Do I need physical office space to operate with a General Trading License? 
Many free zones require you to have physical office space ensures that you have a legitimate business presence in the free zone. UAQ FTZ offers not only dedicated offices but also  flexi-desks which satisfies this requirement while bringing down costs.


So there you have it, the key steps to obtaining your general trading licence in the UAE. While the process can seem daunting, with the right business decisions, you'll be well on your way to establishing your business. Remember, do your research, find a local sponsor, secure office space, get the proper visas, open a business bank account, and register your trade name. Once you have all your ducks in a row, you can look forward to the rewards and opportunities of joining UAEi's thriving business community. The path to success may not always be easy, but for the entrepreneur willing to put in the work, the UAE offers fertile ground to cultivate your business and watch it grow. Best of luck!



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