United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to top the Arab nations in global competitiveness. Home to one of the most advanced infrastructures in the region and highest quality road networks in the world, the UAE’s world-class facilities support its economic growth and position it as a prime base for multinational businesses.

Covid-19 latest information

This guide is an accurate reflection of the pre-Covid-19 business environment in UAE. Please note that due to the current situation, some circumstances may have changed in this country. Figures and data in the guide were last updated in May 2021.


Welcome to the UAE

HSBC’s presence in what is now the UAE dates back to 1946 when The Imperial Bank of Iran, a forerunner of HSBC Bank Middle East, opened its doors to the merchants and citizens of the Emirates.

Boasting a high percentage of expats from over 200 countries, the UAE is rich in culture, modernity and innovation. Though traditionally conservative, it’s one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf – following diversification, it’s become a major regional trading and tourism hub and provides a gateway to the Middle East’s most important economic centres.

Instrumental in the establishment of a banking sector across the MENAT region, HSBC is perfectly placed to help businesses make the most of opportunities that exist across the seven emirate states.

Get in touch with us today to find out how HSBC UAE can help you and your business thrive.

Abdulfattah Sharaf Group General Manager, Chief Executive Officer UAE & Head of International HSBC Bank Middle East Limited

Head office address: PO Box 66, Dubai, United Arab Emirates


9.2 million1
83,600 sq km
Main language
Capital city
Abu Dhabi
Other major cities
Dubai, Sharjah, Al Ain, Ajman
Dirham (AED)
Dialling code
USD43,103 per capita5
Top exports
Crude oil, natural gas, re-exports, dried fish, and dates3
Top imports
Machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and food3
Unemployment rate
Corporation tax
No federal corporate income tax regime (but some emirates can apply a sliding scale up to 55%)4
Typical office hours
For government entities, Monday to Friday lunch-time, with Saturday and Sunday the official weekend. Corporates are encouraged to follow this model, but working times can vary.
Time zone
UTC +4
Emergency numbers
999 (police), 998 (ambulance) and 997 (fire)

1.World Bank Group, 2017
2.Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017
3.Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2017
4.Trading Economics, 2020
5.Deloitte, 2017
6.The World Bank, 2020
*Map shows cities of economic significance according to the CIA, 2017

United Arab Emirates: Gateway to the Middle East


# 16

for ease of doing business (in a survey of 190 measured economies by The World Bank)

  • Positive outlook

    In 2016, the UAE government famously appointed a Minister of Happiness to boost wellbeing, supported by a ‘national programme for happiness and positivity’. For many, the hot climate, tax-free earnings policy and lavish leisure opportunities are part of what make this such a good place to be.

  • A cultural crossroads

    Fewer than a fifth of the UAE population are nationals. The remainder are expats from over 200 countries, the majority from South and Southeast Asia – creating a unique cultural meeting-point. The population is predominantly youthful – a fifth are under 14 – with males making up the majority of overseas workers.

  • More than oil

    The UAE has successfully invested to diversify away from its dependence on the oil industry, with the aim of building a ‘knowledge economy’. Each emirate is establishing its own sectoral niches. Non-oil sectors now contribute around 70% of GDP.

  • Sound prospects

    Thanks in part to diversification, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the UAE’s GDP growth to return to 3% over the next few years, as the current fiscal consolidation eases, global trade regains momentum, and investment accelerates.

  • Beyond Dubai

    While attention often focuses on the country’s megacities, lesser-known emirates such as Sharjah offer cultural riches, manufacturing bases and a more affordable alternative to Dubai.

  • Racing for space

    The UAE’s innovation drive is symbolised by its mission to send a space probe into Mars’ orbit in 2021, with the ultimate aims of exploring space agriculture and establishing a colony on the red planet.

Country profile

Strung along the Eastern shore of the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates are a mix of rocky desert, mountains, coastal plains and strikingly modern cities.

Seven emirates make up the federation. The urban powerhouses of Abu Dhabi, the capital, and opulent Dubai are allied with smaller and less populous Northern emirates: Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain and Ras Al-Khaimah. Each has its own cultural and commercial character.

These territories traditionally survived on fishing, farming and pearl harvesting. Oil reserves were discovered in the 1950s and had already been exported from Abu Dhabi for almost a decade by the time the UAE was established in 1971.

Today, with the oil boom firmly in the past, the UAE is seeking to diversify in multiple ways – most eye-catchingly through a mission to colonise Mars.

Sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Oman, the UAE wields political as well as economic clout, playing a key role in regional affairs. It’s governed by a Supreme Council of Rulers made up of the seven Sheikhs, who appoint the prime minister and the cabinet.

Read on to discover more about the dos and don’ts of doing business in the UAE. Also find out how trading in or with the UAE could help boost the future growth of your business.

5 reasons to do business in UAE1

  1. Easy trading
    The UAE has consistently ranked top of Arab countries for ease of doing business, reflecting the government’s efforts to compete on a global scale.
  2. Superb infrastructure
    Infrastructure investment to serve a growing population has produced excellent road, rail, air and sea links, with many further significant developments underway.
  3. A prime position
    The UAE’s strategic location – next to the Southern lines of the Strait of Hormuz – makes it an obvious gateway to other Gulf economies, as well as a strong market for re-export across the world.
  4. Favourable tax regime
    The UAE imposes no tax on personal income. Corporate tax is generally applied only to oil, gas and petrochemical businesses.
  5. Liberal regime
    Free zones established in each emirate, some of them dedicated to specific sectors, can allow 100% foreign business ownership.

5 key challenges1

  1. 1

    Restrictions on ownership

    Outside the free zones, limitations on company ownership apply: a national sponsor must own 51% of the business if it is in an industry of 'strategic impact'. Otherwise, new rules permit 100% foreign ownership outside of free zones.

  2. 2

    Conservative approach

    While it’s among the most liberal of the Gulf countries, the UAE remains conservative. Some media publications do practice self-censorship. Harsh penalties also exist for breaching laws on drugs, alcohol and decency.

  3. 3

    Multiple bureaucracies

    The mix of federal legislation, Emirates’ individual regulatory powers and free zone laws can be complex and potentially confusing.

  4. 4

    Limited stay

    The ‘kafala’ system, which consists of laws governing migrant workers’ immigration to and legal residence in countries in the Middle East, can lead to an over-dependence on employers. Although changes introduced with The New Law in February 2022 appear set to open up more opportunities for overseas employees.

  5. 5

    Costly living

    The UAE is one of the most expensive places to live in the Gulf, according to Numbeo’s global Cost of Living Index 2020.

1 UAE Government, 2018

All indices represent the latest 2017/18 rankings