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.
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.
Head office address: PO Box 66, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
1.World Bank Group, 2017
2.Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017
3.Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2017
4.Trading Economics, 2020
6.The World Bank, 2020
*Map shows cities of economic significance according to the CIA, 2017
for ease of doing business (in a survey of 190 measured economies by The World Bank)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The mix of federal legislation, Emirates’ individual regulatory powers and free zone laws can be complex and potentially confusing.
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.
1 UAE Government, 2018
All indices represent the latest 2017/18 rankings