The UAE is an ever-expanding business hub, and Dubai accounts for around a third of the region’s GDP.
In addition, the population is ever-growing, although fewer than 15 per cent of people living there are UAE nationals – most are from overseas. With so many sectors adding to the diversification of Dubai’s economy, the region’s reliance on oil has fallen since its heyday. Now, Dubai is about retail, wholesale, manufacturing, tech and travel and tourism.
Financial centre in Dubai
Traditionally, the business centre of the emirates was the Dubai Creek. This has spread a lot over recent years, along the huge Sheikj Zayed 12 lane motorway which runs towards its neighbour, Abu Dhabi. It’s here you’ll find the financial centre – in the Jumeirah district with its distinctive Burj Dybai skyscraper.
Starting a business in the UAE is relatively straight forward, although there are a fair amount of steps to take before you can dive into business. The business language is English, but documents will be in Arabic, which can make it challenging for some newcomers to the region.
Depending on the sector you are interested in starting up under, you may be restricted in terms of business ownership. For example, onshore (or mainland) business start-ups are restricted to 49% ownership for non-UAE nationals. You must find and retain a UAE-national business partner in this case. However, if you are starting up in one of the 40+ free zones then you could be eligible for complete ownership and the tax exemptions available. Regardless of the type of business you are undertaking, it’s always useful to know how to travel in and around the UAE.
Dubai International (DXB) is not only the regional hub for the UAE, but also incredibly well connected from Heathrow Airport. It’s also the third busiest airport in the world when judged on passenger traffic and the sixth busiest for cargo freight. In 2016, the airport transported 83.6 million passengers and recorded 418,220 aircraft movements. You’ll find it in Al Garhoud, which is around 3 miles from Dubai.
Al Maktoum International
This airport is part of the massive Dubai World Central development (now called Dubai South Free Zone), and opened in 2010. It’s at the centre of a construction plan that will eventually result in the largest airport in the world. The project will take several decades but should end up with five runways, four terminals and a capacity for 160 million passengers very year.
Taxis in the UAE
The official taxis from Dubai Airport are coloured in cream, so easily to spot, and take around half an hour to reach downtown Dubai. There are also metro links to the airports from all main areas of the city, with trains running regularly.
Taxis are also easy to get hold of across Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi and charge reasonable rates. Watch out for surcharges after 22:00, always check with your driver.
To flag down a cab, look out for an approaching or stationary taxi with a yellow light. If the light is red then it’s occupied or not in service. Stick out your arm and try and catch the driver’s eye, they will then pull over to you.
Hiring a car
Highways in the UAE are in generally excellent condition, with a huge amount of traffic on the main roads between Dubai and Sharjah. To rent a car in the UAE you’ll need an international driving licence, or if you have UAE residency a local licence. Car rentals are reasonably priced and are generally based on the size of the car.
The road systems should be relatively familiar as they’re run on European standards, with roundabouts and channelled traffic. Drivers in the urban centres of the UAE do drive aggressively in general and you should be prepared for this if you’re driving anywhere, particularly when there is heavy traffic.
Public transport in Dubai
Dubai has a Metro, monorail and tram network and has invested heavily in public transport over recent years. It remains the best served region in the UAE, although Abu Dhabi’s buses are also pretty reliable.
Public transport is operated by the Roads & Transport Authority, which covers trams, metro, buses and water buses. Use wojhati.rta.ae for a handy planner for travelling in Dubai using public transport.
Main routes include Dubai Metro Red Line which stops near lots of sights along the Sheikh Zayed Road and in Deiraa and Bur Dubai. The Dubai Tram is a good way to get around the Dubai Marina.
Hire a bike
Found in Downtown Dubai, Dubai Marina and on the Palm Jumeirah, Nextbike is a bike sharing business. You do need to register online beforehand.
When to travel
Rush hour runs from about 07:00 to 10:00 and 16:30 to at least 20:00 in Dubai, and brings traffic to a congested halt. Metro trains are also very crowded during these times. Friday afternoons and during Saturdays expect to find roads near beaches, malls and family attractions clogged.
If you’re travelling at night, then it’s simplest and most convenient to use taxis. Bear in mind that walking in Dubai is pretty much impossible, apart from in certain areas. It’s definitely not the best way to navigate the city.
For more information on starting a business in the UAE and for help with Visas, contact the team at Pro Partner Group.
James Swallow is Director of Middle East based PRO Partner Group, which specialises in company formation and support services in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the wider UAE and Oman.