Abu Dhabi has a thriving small business environment supported by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development. Obtaining a business license allows companies to operate legally while benefitting from incentives and growth opportunities across the UAE.
The exact cost of a small business license varies in Abu Dhabi based on:
- Type of business activity
- Number of business activities covered
- Number of business locations
- Size of office space
Generally, license fees range from 5,000 AED to over 50,000 AED based on these factors. Additional costs may apply for establishing an office, hiring employees, etc.
This guide covers everything small business owners need to know about Abu Dhabi business licensing, including:
Overview of Licensing Requirements
- Types of business licenses
- Eligibility criteria
- Documents needed
- Renewal rules
- License fees by business activity
- Other associated costs
- Incentives and fee reductions
Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Licensed
- Choosing a business activity
- Making an application
- Completing the licensing process
Tips for Streamlining the Process
- Using licensing agencies
- Establishing a one-person LLC
- Renting flexi-desks or coworking spaces
Let’s explore Abu Dhabi’s business licensing landscape in detail:
Abu Dhabi Business Licensing Requirements
The Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (AD DED) issues three types of trade licenses:
- Commercial License – For retail, trading, and eCommerce businesses
- Professional License – For professionals and skilled services
- Industrial License – For manufacturing and industrial operations
To be eligible, businesses must:
- Have majority local ownership (51%+)
- Meet minimum capital requirements
- Have suitable office premises
Sole ownership licenses can only be issued to UAE/GCC nationals. Expats and foreign investors require local sponsorship.
Standard documents for Abu Dhabi business licensing:
- Passport copies of owners/partners
- No Objection Letter (if you have a job visa)
- Tenancy contract for office space
- Ownership proof if investing capital in business
- Educational/qualification certificates (for professional licenses)
The exact requirements may vary for different business activities.
- Licenses must be renewed annually before the expiry date
- Renewal can be done within 6 months of expiry
- Expired licenses can also be renewed with late fees
- Trade name and legal form cannot be changed on renewal
Now let’s look at the cost of getting licensed based on type of business activity:
Breakdown of License Fees in Abu Dhabi
The below fees are for sole establishment licenses in Abu Dhabi mainland. Rates vary across free zones.
1. Commercial Licenses
Commercial licenses allow retail trading and eCommerce activities:
| Activity | License Fee | | General trading | 20,000 AED | | Services | 15,000 AED |
| Contracting | 10,000 AED | | Freelance | 5,000 AED |
Additional partners or business locations cost 5,000 AED each.
2. Professional Licenses
These licenses are for skilled services like medical, technical, education etc.
| Activity | License Fee | | Legal services | 50,000 AED |
| Accounting/Auditing | 30,000 AED | | Technical services | 15,000 AED | | Tourism services | 10,000 AED | | Education services | 10,000 AED |
Associates or partners cost 3,000 AED each. Additional locations are 1,000 AED.
3. Industrial Licenses
Industrial licensing applies to manufacturing and production units:
| Activity | License Fee | | Light industrial | 15,000 AED |
| Medium industrial | 25,000 AED |
| Heavy industrial | 50,000 AED |
Partner fees and additional location charges also apply.
Now let’s look at other costs to factor in when budgeting for an Abu Dhabi small business license:
Other Associated Costs
Apart from DED license fees, you may incur costs for:
Renting Office Space
- Average annual rent for commercial office spaces in Abu Dhabi range from 60,000 AED to 280,000 AED depending on:
- Location (city center is most expensive)
- Office grade (smaller spaces cost less)
- You can opt for shared workspaces to save on initial rental costs
- Estimate 2,000+ AED monthly for employee visa, insurance, labor fees
- Salary packages for staff vary based on role, qualifications
- Licensed agencies facilitate licensing for a service fee
- Will guide you through all paperwork and government processing
- May cost about 8,000-12,000 AED depending on license type
Office Setup and Operations
- Furniture, tech support, utilities etc. based on office size
- IT services, telecoms, branding and marketing costs
- Estimate 15,000 to 50,000 AED for smaller office setups
Budgeting for these operational expenses in addition to the base license fees provides a realistic estimate of the total cost of establishing your small business in Abu Dhabi.
Next, let’s walk through the step-by-step process of how to apply for and get your business license in Abu Dhabi:
Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Licensed
Follow these key steps for securing your Abu Dhabi trade license:
Step 1) Choose Business Activity
Select an appropriate trade activity licensed by Abu Dhabi DED:
- General trading, contracting, eCommerce, services etc. for commercial licenses
- Healthcare, technical services, tourism, education etc. for professional licenses
- Manufacturing, production, storage etc. for industrial licenses
Step 2) Prepare Documentation
Collate all required documents before starting the application:
- Passport copies, no objection letters, office contracts
- Capital proof, qualification certificates etc. as applicable
Step 3) Choose Unique Trade Name
Pick a unique business name not used by another company. Check availability.
Step 4) Apply for Initial Approval
Submit the application and all documents for initial approval. Pay any licensing fees due.
Step 5) Obtain Final Approval
Once initial approval is secured, complete any remaining documentation. Get final approval from Abu Dhabi DED.
The standard processing time is 1-2 weeks. The Abu Dhabi DED license is issued after successful final approval.
You can renew it annually subject to minimal documentation and renewal fees.
Now let’s look at some tips to streamline Abu Dhabi business licensing right from start:
Tips for Hassle-free Licensing
Apply the below strategies for a smoother business licensing process:
1. Engage an Agency
Licensed agencies and consultants can manage:
- Documentation and form filling
- Coordinating with all authorities
- Ensuring quick approval times
Agencies reduce effort, cost 8,000-15,000 AED on average.
2. Establish a One-Person LLC
Sole establishment licenses require just one visa. Consider starting as a single shareholder LLC to simplify business setup.
Hire freelancers or outsource instead of employees initially to minimize visa costs and paperwork.
3. Opt for Coworking Spaces
Rent smaller flexi-desks or shared offices in coworking spaces:
- Available for around 800-2,000 AED per desk monthly
- Much cheaper than commercial office rental
- Easy cancellation anytime as business activity expands
These tips can help Abu Dhabi startups and SMEs ease into operational business while keeping overheads at a minimum.
Let’s recap the key takeaways from this guide on Abu Dhabi small business licensing:
- Abu Dhabi issues commercial, professional and industrial licenses for legal business operations
- License costs range from 5,000 AED to over 50,000 AED based on type of activity
- Additional expenses apply for office space, employees, business setup costs
- Complete documentation is key for securing approvals within 1-2 weeks
- Agencies, one-person LLCs, coworking spaces simplify getting licensed
Ready to get your Abu Dhabi business license? Follow our step-by-step guide for the full application process.
The Abu Dhabi mainland and its creative free zones provide an excellent ecosystem for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners.
While license costs may seem intimidating initially, the long-term growth opportunities make it a worthwhile investment. Business activity incentives, tax benefits, funding access also propel profitable expansion post-licensing.
Strategize documentation diligently, utilize available support tools, and the licensing process can be completed swiftly without major roadblocks.
Comply with all renewals and protocols, and your business can continue thriving in Abu Dhabi for years to come!
Now let’s address some common questions about Abu Dhabi small business licensing:
Q: How long is an Abu Dhabi business license valid for?
A: Abu Dhabi business licenses are issued annually and must be renewed after one year.
Q: Can I get an Abu Dhabi business license as a freelancer?
A: Yes, Abu Dhabi offers freelance licenses for 5,000 AED per year covering services-based solo projects.
Q: What are the fees for an instant Abu Dhabi business license?
A: Instant licenses have higher fees starting from 16,000 AED due to the expedited same-day processing.
Q: How much bank guarantee is required for an Abu Dhabi business license?
A: Bank guarantees start from 50,000 AED and may reach 300,000+ AED for larger business setups in Abu Dhabi.
Q: Can I get an Abu Dhabi free zone license for my small business?
A: Yes, free zones often provide waived fees or flexible licenses tailored for solopreneurs and SMEs.
Q: What are the penalties for not renewing my Abu Dhabi business license on time?
A: Late renewals after license expiry incur penalties of 1,000 AED per month of delay.
Q: Can I get a restaurant business license in Abu Dhabi?
A: Yes, you can apply for a commercial business license covering the restaurant dining sector in Abu Dhabi.
Q: What is the validity period of an initial approval for an Abu Dhabi business license?
A: Initial approvals are valid for 6 months during which all licensing procedures need to be completed.
Q: Can I register multiple business activities under a single Abu Dhabi license?
A: Abu Dhabi licenses can have a maximum of 5 allied business activities registered under one trade license.
Q: Which free zone is best for small business licensing in Abu Dhabi?
A: Twofour54 and Hub71 are recommended free zones for fast registration, flexibility and incentives for startups.
Q: What support does Abu Dhabi offer for innovative product licensing?
A: Innovative product manufacturers can approach the Quality & Conformity Council in Abu Dhabi for licenses and certifications.
Q: Where can I check for black points against business licenses in Abu Dhabi?
A: You can check for black points and other license violations on the Abu Dhabi DED business compliance profile.
Q: Can a business license in Abu Dhabi cover multiple emirates?
A: No, your trade license will be limited to commercial activities only within Abu Dhabi emirate.
Q: How do I cancel or delete my existing Abu Dhabi business license?
A: License holders can cancel or delete their license by submitting an application directly to the Abu Dhabi DED.
Q: What are the fees and process for converting an Abu Dhabi mainland license to a free zone?
A: You can directly check conversion charges and process with the target free zone before initiating your license transfer.