What every entrepreneur needs to start up in the UAE

First of all, you need to understand that the market, to a large extent, has already been divided between the players. You can easily enter it only by becoming a part of someone’s already established team, becoming a partner of an established player, or offering a completely innovative product.

If you are new to the Emirates, then it makes sense to enter the country’s market if this market corresponds to the high penetration of your product or services. Then your business will initially be in demand.

Where to begin?

To begin with, define your goals, calculate a budget, consider all expenses, prepare a business plan, calculate the average check. It is necessary to take into account some features of the business climate, the work of regulatory bodies, labor legislation, and, in general, the formats of communication in this country.

When drawing up a budget, consider all costs: utility bills, cooling system bills, air conditioning system bills, service charge, maintenance of the building, parking, security, building’s lighting system, etc. Even if the office space is owned by you, not rented.

After analyzing my experience, I can formulate some tips for starting a business in the UAE.

Tip 1. Prepare for long-term paperwork

Opening an account and preparing other documents in Dubai takes much longer than usual. Paperwork will take up most of your time

For example, a promise to “start a company in three days” may not work. Opening a legal entity in Dubai can take up to six months, even with a simplified company formation. It can also take up to 6 months to open a bank account. The difficulty lies in the fact that in the UAE you first need to prove that you are a real entrepreneur who has a company in your home country. This will require at least account statements for the last year (both a legal entity and an individual), certificates of ownership, contracts with clients, and so on. All this evidence takes a lot of time.

Tip 2. Consider staffing costs

The average salary in the UAE is 10,000 dirhams (approximately $2,720). Another 3 thousand dirhams is a refundable deposit, which is refunded upon dismissal of an employee. Besides, the person must have a labor permit from the Ministry of Labor and a visa. Otherwise, he will be deported from the country, and its cost also falls on your shoulders. Hiring an employee here is expensive.

It is also important to take care of health insurance, which costs the employer about $550-1000 per year for each employee. You can find it cheaper, but in this case, it is better not to take the risk and contact a trusted insurer, as an employee may suddenly get sick, and treatment in the UAE is high quality and expensive. And as an employer, you can easily be billed $10,000 if the insurance company does not cover the costs.

Tip 3. Test employees as long as possible

Given such a high level of salaries, it is better to play it safe and set a probation period of six months (this is the maximum by law). If you decide to fire an employee after the end of the probationary period, he will need to be provided with a notice period, which by law cannot be less than one month. If the dismissal occurs during the probationary period, then the notice period is not granted. This rule does not apply to limited contracts. In this case, different rules apply.

Tip 4. National characteristics

It is important to communicate with the client in their native language and this is not only Arabic. The national flavor in the UAE is very colorful. If you only know English, then when you go to a meeting, you should bring along a person who speaks the language of the person you are meeting with. Most often, such meetings are very fun: usually, you start negotiations in English, then the fellow countrymen switch to their native language. At the end of the negotiations, the participants summarize it in English.

 Promotion and marketing in the UAE are built according to a special scheme: for example, advertising on Instagram, Facebook, Tok-tok is in great demand here. Comparison tables of your product with those of competitors, as well as infographics right in advertising or on your website, work well.

Participation in specialized exhibitions gives a good standing. Owners and top management of companies come to major industry events. This kind of communication is popular in Dubai.

The key to successful negotiations in Dubai is small talk. People like to first discuss general topics: family or EXPO 2021. Only then do they move on to business matters. The same rules apply to correspondence in WhatsApp and other instant messengers.

Before discussing something important, you need to ask your interlocutor how he is doing, ask about his family, children, whether he likes the weather. And if food is brought to you during negotiations, this is a sign that you need to stop discussing business issues during the snack.

Finally, the local business is not aimed at saving, but at finding the most advanced solutions.

How to get the most

• Prepare in advance all the necessary documents for creating a legal entity and opening a bank account. This will help you save time and enter the UAE market faster.

• Respect the different nationalities and communicate in their languages. This approach will give you an edge in the local market.

• Select personnel carefully. The success of your business depends on team effort and collective intelligence.

• Attend exhibitions and major events, communicate directly with top managers.


Larissa Zaplatinskaia, PhD, the founder of ASHER & ELIJAH, came to the UAE from Russia, over 26 years ago. Through her over a quarter of a century of UAE experience, Larissa worked for oil & gas industry, UAE Navy, construction consulting and architecture companies, consultants of NAKHEEL. She worked for Hill & Knowlton – the best PR agency in the world in 2003. Larissa worked for IBM, CMA & CGM and has experience in IT, shipping & cargo industries. She has over 7 years of experience in the financial, investment, private equity, healthcare industries, over 15 years of experience in the educational sector and more than 4 decades of experience in the sports industry. Larissa provided business support, specializes in business setups, expansion, restructuring, reorganizing, crisis management, cost cutting, budgeting, business meetings, HR, UAE & DIFC labour laws. Larissa has a master’s degree in business management from American Military University and PhD in organization management & business technology from Capella University, state Massachusetts. She is a single mom and writer. She wrote several books and many articles on LinkedIn, in English and in Russian. She is an active sport player, participated in 2 Dubai Marathons (2017 and 2020), and multiple half-marathons.