Setting Up

About The UAE

The UAE is a federation of seven emirates; Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al-Quwain.

With an estimated population of 8.26 million (United Arab Emirates' National Bureau of Statistics), the UAE has exploited its prime geographical location at the crossroads of the major Western and Eastern economies and successfully diversified its economy becoming a regional and global centre for business, trade and finance.

There are subtle differences between each of the emirates in setting up a business although the fundamental principles under federal law remain the same.

The information below has been taken from Pinsent Masons ‘Doing business in the UAE’ guide. Further information on setting up a business in Dubai can be found under ‘Doing Business in Dubai’ in this Information section.


Dubai has established itself as the Gulf region’s exhibition, financial, trade and tourism hub having benefitted from years of investment in infrastructure (both physical and regulatory).

Dubai hosts the vast majority of the UAE’s economic Free Zones and boasts excellent connectivity to the wider region through Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport; its airline, Emirates; and through Jebel Ali Port, currently the largest in the Middle East.

The Northern Emirates

Collectively referred to as the Northern emirates; Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah are less developed than Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and so attract less foreign investment. However, to varying degrees they are taking steps to develop their economies with each having its own port and some an international airport.


Sharjah, the third largest of the emirates making up the UAE, hosts a significant portion of the UAE’s manufacturing base. Sharjah has established two economic free zones (Sharjah Airport Free Zone and Hamriyah Free Zone), and has two active ports. Sharjah is more conservative than Dubai; the sale and consumption of alcohol is not permitted at all in the emirate, and Sharjah’s decency law requires that people dress modestly in public at all times.


Ajman lies to the northwest of Sharjah and is home to one economic free zone – Ajman Free Zone. Industry in Ajman is focussed on manufacturing, with a variety of factories producing goods including foodstuffs, beverages, tobacco, textiles, leather goods, paper products and readymade garments. Ajman also has an active boat building industry, manufacturing boats ranging from traditional wooden dhows, to more sophisticated luxury yachts.

Umm Al Quwain

Umm Al Quwain (UAQ) is the least populated of the emirates. UAQ hosts a variety of industrial developments, such as a cement factory and manufacturing units producing pipes and corrugated sheets. Agriculture and fishing are another important part of the local economy. With less development than Dubai and Abu Dhabi, steps have been taken by the UAQ government to encourage tourism in the emirate, which is home to a number of natural attractions.

Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is the northern-most of the emirates, and is the main farming area of the Northern Emirates. Mining is also an important industry in RAK, with two quarries and four cement plants. Factories also produce tiles and ceramics, glass tableware and pharmaceuticals. The RAK Government has established RAK Free Zone, which is proving to be a viable alternative to the Dubai Free Zones. Geographically, RAK is strategically located at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, and hosts a deep-water port.