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A Comprehensive Guide to Obtaining a General Trading License in Dubai

general trading licence in dubai


Dubai, renowned for its strategic location and thriving business environment, offers vast opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses. One of the most sought-after business licenses in Dubai is the General Trading License. This license allows businesses to trade in a variety of goods and commodities, providing a gateway to tap into local and international markets. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the details of obtaining a General Trading License in Dubai, covering everything from its benefits and requirements to the step-by-step application process.

What is a General Trading License?

A General Trading License in Dubai permits businesses to engage in trading activities that involve the import, export, and re-export of a wide range of goods and products. Unlike specific trade licenses that limit businesses to a single product category, a General Trading License offers the flexibility to trade multiple unrelated products under one license. This makes it an attractive option for businesses looking to diversify their product offerings.

Benefits of a General Trading License

Versatility and Flexibility

One of the primary advantages of a General Trading License is its versatility. Businesses can trade in various commodities, including electronics, clothing, accessories, furniture, and more, without needing separate licenses for each product category. This flexibility allows businesses to adapt quickly to market demands and trends.

Access to Local and International Markets

With a General Trading License, businesses can operate within the UAE and engage in international trade. Dubai’s strategic location, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and well-connected logistics network make it an ideal hub for global trade. Businesses can leverage this position to reach markets in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and beyond.

Full Repatriation of Profits

Dubai’s business-friendly environment allows for the full repatriation of profits and capital, ensuring that business owners can freely move their earnings without restrictions. This is a significant advantage for foreign investors and entrepreneurs.

Tax Benefits

Dubai offers a tax-friendly regime with no personal income tax and minimal corporate taxes. Businesses in free zones enjoy complete tax exemptions, further enhancing the appeal of setting up a trading company in Dubai.

Types of Trading Licenses in Dubai

Before diving into the specifics of the General Trading License, it’s essential to understand the types of trading licenses available in Dubai:

Mainland Trading License

A Mainland Trading License allows businesses to operate throughout Dubai and the UAE. It requires a local sponsor (UAE national) who holds 51% of the shares. However, recent reforms allow for 100% foreign ownership in certain sectors.

Free Zone Trading License

Free zone trading licenses are issued by specific economic zones, offering 100% foreign ownership, tax exemptions, and full repatriation of profits. Free zones provide a simplified setup process and flexible workspace solutions.

Offshore Trading License

An offshore trading license is suitable for businesses that intend to operate outside the UAE. These companies benefit from complete foreign ownership, tax advantages, and confidentiality but cannot conduct business within the UAE market.

Steps to Obtain a General Trading License

1. Determine the Business Activity

The first step in obtaining a General Trading License is to determine the specific business activities you wish to undertake. Ensure that the activities fall under the general trading category as defined by the Department of Economic Development (DED) or the relevant free zone authority.

2. Choose the Legal Structure

Decide on the legal structure of your business. The options include setting up as a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), or a branch of a foreign company. The choice of legal structure will influence the ownership, liability, and operational requirements of your business.

3. Select the Business Name

Choose a unique and appropriate business name that complies with the naming conventions set by the DED or the free zone authority. The name should reflect the nature of your business and avoid any offensive or religious terms.

4. Apply for Initial Approval

Submit an application for initial approval to the DED or the free zone authority. This approval indicates that the authorities have no objection to you starting a business. You will need to provide:

  • Completed application form
  • Copy of passport for all shareholders
  • Proposed business name

5. Draft the Memorandum of Association (MOA)

For Mainland companies, draft a Memorandum of Association (MOA) outlining the shareholding structure and business activities. This document must be notarized. In the case of free zone companies, an MOA may not be required, but other legal documents will need to be prepared.

6. Lease Office Space

Secure a physical office space as per the legal requirements. Free zones often provide flexible workspace options, while Mainland businesses must lease office space in a commercial area. The size and location of the office will depend on the nature and scale of your business.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Apply for the necessary licenses and permits based on your business activity. This includes obtaining the General Trading License from the DED or the relevant free zone authority. You may also need additional permits depending on the products you intend to trade.

8. Register for Immigration and Labor Cards

Register with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) to obtain immigration and labor cards for hiring employees. This step is crucial for businesses planning to employ staff.

9. Open a Corporate Bank Account

Open a corporate bank account with a local or international bank in Dubai. Provide the necessary documents, including your business license, MOA, and passport copies of shareholders. Having a corporate bank account is essential for conducting business transactions.

Key Considerations for a General Trading License

Choosing Between Mainland and Free Zone


  • Pros: Freedom to operate anywhere in the UAE, access to local market, eligibility for government contracts.
  • Cons: Requires a local sponsor holding 51% of shares (in some cases), potentially higher setup costs.

Free Zone:

  • Pros: 100% foreign ownership, tax exemptions, full repatriation of profits, simplified setup process.
  • Cons: Limited to operating within the free zone and international markets, restrictions on dealing directly with the UAE market.

Selecting the Right Free Zone

Dubai has over 30 free zones, each catering to specific industries. Some prominent free zones for general trading include:

  • Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA): Suitable for logistics, manufacturing, and industrial activities.
  • Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC): Ideal for trading, commodities, and financial services.
  • Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA): Focused on high-value products and proximity to the airport for efficient logistics.

Cost of Setting Up a General Trading Business

The cost of setting up a general trading business in Dubai varies depending on the legal structure, business activity, and location. Key expenses include:

  • Licensing fees
  • Office rent
  • Local sponsor fees (for Mainland companies)
  • Visa and immigration costs
  • Professional service fees (legal, accounting, etc.)

Legal and Compliance Requirements

Ensure compliance with UAE laws and regulations, including:

  • Employment Law: Adhere to labor laws regarding employment contracts, working hours, and employee rights.
  • Taxation: While Dubai offers a tax-friendly environment, businesses must comply with VAT regulations.
  • Annual Renewal: Renew licenses and permits annually to avoid penalties.

Benefits of a General Trading License

Expansive Market Reach

A General Trading License allows businesses to trade in a variety of goods, providing access to multiple markets and customer segments. This versatility can lead to increased revenue and market presence.

Streamlined Operations

With a single license covering multiple products, businesses can streamline their operations and reduce administrative burdens. This efficiency can lead to cost savings and improved operational performance.

Enhanced Business Credibility

Having a General Trading License from Dubai enhances your business credibility and reputation. It signals to partners and customers that your business is legitimate and adheres to the regulatory standards of a globally recognized business hub.

Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Regulatory Changes

Stay updated on regulatory changes and compliance requirements. Engage professional services, such as legal and accounting firms, to ensure adherence to the latest regulations.

High Operating Costs

While Dubai offers numerous benefits, operating costs can be high. Carefully plan your budget and explore cost-effective solutions, such as shared office spaces in free zones.


Dubai’s thriving business environment attracts numerous companies, leading to intense competition. Conduct thorough market research and develop a unique value proposition to stand out.


Obtaining a General Trading License in Dubai presents numerous opportunities for growth and success. The emirate’s strategic location, business-friendly environment, and world-class infrastructure make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurs and investors. By understanding the requirements and navigating the setup process efficiently, you can establish a thriving trading business in Dubai.

Whether you’re looking to tap into the local market or expand your global presence, Dubai offers the ideal platform for achieving your business goals. With careful planning, diligent execution, and a keen understanding of the local landscape, your business venture in Dubai can flourish in this vibrant and prosperous environment.


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