Mainland vs. Free Zone Companies in Dubai: Which One is Right for You?

As a business owner or entrepreneur considering setting up a company in Dubai, you might have come across the terms “mainland” and “free zone” companies. Understanding the differences between the two is crucial for making the best decision for your business. In this blog post, we’ll explore these differences and help you decide which option is best suited for your needs.

Mainland Companies in Dubai

Pros of Mainland Companies

  1. Business activities in UAE: Mainland companies can engage in a wide range of activities, including providing services or products directly to customers in the UAE.
  2. VAT compliance: Although mainland companies need to charge a 5% VAT on their products and services, they can easily comply with the UAE’s tax regulations.
  3. Easier banking: Mainland companies generally have an easier time opening corporate bank accounts in Dubai.
  4. Less hassle in renting or buying office space: Mainland companies can rent or buy office space with fewer permits and documents required.
  5. Faster incorporation process: Mainland companies can be established and fully operational within two weeks or less, compared to the month or more needed for free zone companies.
  6. Asset protection: Mainland companies can own property in the company’s name, which can provide a level of protection against personal liability.

Cons of Mainland Companies

  1. Higher cost: Mainland companies are generally more expensive to establish than free zone companies.
  2. Corporate tax from 2023: Mainland companies will be subject to a 9% corporate tax starting in 2023, whereas free zone companies remain tax-free.

Free Zone Companies in Dubai

Pros of Free Zone Companies

  1. 100% foreign ownership: Free zone companies can be fully owned by foreign investors, without the need for a local partner.
  2. Tax-free status: Free zone companies are not subject to corporate tax in the UAE.
  3. Ideal for non-UAE based businesses: Free zone companies are a good fit for entrepreneurs who do not plan to do business in the UAE or require a corporate bank account.

Cons of Free Zone Companies

  1. Limited business activities: Free zone companies cannot engage in certain business activities within the UAE mainland.
  2. Longer incorporation process: The incorporation process for free zone companies can take up to a month or more.

Making the Right Choice for Your Business

When deciding between a mainland and free zone company, consider your specific business needs and objectives. If your primary goal is to engage in business activities within the UAE, hire local employees, and maintain a strong presence in the country, a mainland company may be the right choice.

On the other hand, if you are looking to establish a tax-free business for personal residence or investment purposes, without a strong focus on UAE-based operations, a free zone company may be more suitable. Ultimately, it’s essential to evaluate the pros and cons of each option and select the one that aligns with your long-term business goals.

Additional Factors to Consider

Visa and Residence Options

Both mainland and free zone companies offer visa and residence options for company owners and employees. However, the process may vary slightly between the two. In general, mainland companies may have a faster visa processing time compared to free zone companies.

Reputation and Business Opportunities

Mainland companies tend to have a better reputation among local banks, businesses, and government entities. This can lead to improved business opportunities and networking possibilities within the UAE. On the other hand, free zone companies may be more suitable for businesses that focus on international markets and do not require strong local connections.

Regulatory Requirements and Compliance

Each type of company has specific regulatory requirements and compliance procedures. Mainland companies may have more stringent regulations due to their broader scope of business activities and interactions with the local market. Free zone companies, on the other hand, may have fewer regulatory hurdles, as they operate within designated areas with specific regulations tailored to their business activities.

Seeking Professional Advice

Before making a final decision between a mainland and free zone company in Dubai, it is essential to seek professional advice from experts familiar with the local business environment. They can provide valuable insights into the specific requirements, costs, and benefits of each option, ensuring that you make the best possible choice for your unique business needs.


In conclusion, the choice between a mainland and a free zone company in Dubai depends on your specific business goals, activities, and preferences. While mainland companies offer a more comprehensive range of business activities and easier access to the local market, free zone companies provide tax-free benefits and are ideal for businesses focusing on international markets. By carefully considering the pros and cons of each option and seeking professional advice, you can make an informed decision and establish a successful business in Dubai.

Thomas Raynott

Thomas Raynott

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