Home > UAE Company Setup > Open a Franchise in UAE: Everything You Need to Know (2024)

Open a Franchise in UAE: Everything You Need to Know (2024)

Apr 15, 2024 | UAE Company Setup

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a significant commercial hub, welcoming local and international franchises across various sectors. In the UAE, franchise options are diverse, with the industry boasting an annual turnover exceeding $30 billion—a figure that continues to grow. Prospective franchisees can choose from over 100 different types of franchises, ranging from cost-effective to high-investment opportunities. Popular choices include mail and packaging services, dry cleaning, food delivery, restaurants, fast food outlets, fashion and retail stores, automotive services, and convenience stores.

For those interested in launching a franchise in the UAE, it’s crucial to understand the legal and regulatory framework specific to franchising. This includes franchise agreements, local business laws, and compliance with specific industry standards.

If you want to open and operate a successful franchise in the UAE, read our comprehensive guide below.

How to Open a Franchise in UAE

Opening a franchise in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can be a lucrative business venture, given the region’s thriving economy and status as a commercial hub. Here is a comprehensive guide detailing every step you need to take to establish a franchise in the UAE successfully:

1. Research the Market

To successfully launch a franchise in the UAE, begin with an in-depth market analysis. Consider factors like consumer preferences, existing competition, and market gaps. Resources such as UAE industry reports, local business news, and market analysis from reputable sources will be valuable. Historically, the UAE permitted only its nationals or companies fully owned by its citizens to operate businesses, including franchises. However, recent legal reforms now allow foreign investors to own and manage businesses without the need for an Emirati sponsor. This significant change opens up the market to a wider array of franchise opportunities.

2. Choose the Right Franchise

When selecting a franchise, consider the two primary types available in the UAE: single-unit and multi-unit (or developed) franchises. A single-unit franchise allows you to operate one outlet or office under the franchisor’s brand. In contrast, a multi-unit franchise agreement gives you the right to open and manage multiple locations, expanding your business footprint under one company.

Choosing the right type of franchise business in the UAE is crucial. Start by identifying an industry that aligns with your interests and resources. Evaluate various franchises based on their business model, profitability, brand reputation, and support offered to franchisees. Attending franchise expos, consulting with existing franchisees, and hiring a franchise consultant can also provide insights.

Gather testimonials and reviews from existing franchisees to gain insights into their experiences. Select a franchise that fits your expertise and budget, ensuring it offers the best potential for success in the UAE market. If possible, request the company’s Franchise Disclosure Document and learn more about the company.

3. Develop a Business Plan

Developing a detailed business plan is essential when opening or buying a franchise in the UAE. Your business plan should include:

Executive Summary: A concise overview of your business, outlining your company’s purpose, ownership structure, and business model.

Business Description: Detail the nature of the franchise, including the products or services you will offer, the franchisor’s history, and the unique aspects of the business.

Market Analysis: Conduct thorough research to define your target market, understand customer demographics, and assess market needs. Include a competitor analysis to identify market trends and outline your competitive advantage.

Marketing Strategy: Describe how you plan to attract and retain customers. Include your strategies for pricing, promotions, advertising, and sales. Specify your channels to reach your target audience, such as online marketing, traditional media, or community outreach.

Operational Plan: Outline the day-to-day operations of your business. This should cover location, facilities, equipment, staff requirements, and suppliers. Detail the operational workflow and any support you expect to receive from the franchisor.

Financial Plan: Project your revenues, expenses, and profitability over the next 3-5 years. Include startup costs, operational expenses, and cash flow forecasts. Clearly state your funding requirements, potential funding sources, and any existing financial commitments.

Risk Management: Identify potential risks associated with your franchise, such as market fluctuations, regulatory changes, or operational challenges. Propose strategies to mitigate these risks, including contingency plans and insurance.

4. Secure Financing

Determine the initial investment required and explore financing options. Many franchises require upfront fees, premises, equipment, and initial working capital investment. UAE banks offer various business financing options, but you may also need to consider private funding or investor partnerships.

5. Choose Your Business Location: Free Zone vs Mainland

Deciding whether to open your franchise in a UAE Free Zone or on the Mainland is a pivotal choice that impacts your business operations, regulatory requirements, and growth potential. Here’s a guide to help you make an informed decision:

Free Zone Benefits:

  • 100% Foreign Ownership: Free Zones allow you to own the franchise entirely without needing a local Emirati partner.
  • Tax Advantages: Most Free Zones offer tax exemptions, including no personal income tax and no corporate tax.
  • Customs Benefits: Enjoy exemptions from import and export duties.
  • Ease of Setup: Generally, Free Zones facilitate a quicker setup process and easier business registration.

Free Zone Considerations:

  • Business Scope Limitation: Activities are restricted to the Free Zone boundaries, and trading directly with the UAE mainland market may require local distributors or additional licensing.
  • Cost: While offering numerous benefits, Free Zones might have higher setup and operational costs. Here is a blog listing the cheapest Free Zones in the UAE.

Mainland Benefits:

  • Market Access: On the Mainland, you can trade directly anywhere in the UAE without restrictions, offering greater market reach.
  • No Business Activity Limitations: Unlike Free Zones, the Mainland allows businesses to operate in any industry without specific zone restrictions.
  • Local Presence: Setting up on the Mainland facilitates closer connections with the local market and consumer base, which can be beneficial for certain types of franchises.

Mainland Considerations:

  • Local Sponsor Required: To operate in the Mainland, foreign investors typically need a local Emirati sponsor who owns 51% of the business, although recent reforms have started to reduce this requirement for some business types.
  • Regulatory Requirements: The Mainland may have more stringent regulatory and legal requirements compared to Free Zones.

For assistance with these procedures, contact one of our business setup consultants at Virtuzone. We have years of experience helping entrepreneurs start their businesses in the Emirates.

6. Register Your Business and Apply for a Trade Licence

Registering your business and obtaining a trade licence is a critical step in setting up your franchise in the UAE. This process ensures that your business is legally recognised and compliant with local regulations. Here’s how to navigate the registration and licensing process:

Choose a Business Name: Select a unique and meaningful business name that complies with UAE regulations. Avoid names that are already in use, contain offensive language, or imply governmental affiliation.

Decide on the Business Structure: Choose the most suitable legal form for your franchise, whether an LLC, sole proprietorship, or another structure.

Apply for a Trade Licence: Submit your application for a trade licence to the Department of Economic Development (DED) for Mainland setup or to the respective Free Zone authority for Free Zone setup. The application must detail your business activities and align with your franchise agreement. Include all necessary documents, typically your passport copy, visa copy (if applicable), NOC from your current sponsor (for residents), and your franchisor’s corporate documents. Pay the required fees once your application is approved.

Additional Approvals: Depending on the nature of your franchise, you may need additional approvals from other governmental bodies (e.g., the Ministry of Health if you are opening a food franchise).

Choose the right support services to register your business and get the necessary licences you need to start your franchising business. With help from Virtuzone, you will get advice on starting a business in the UAE, and they will also handle the licence application process on your behalf.

7. Apply for a Visa

Obtaining the appropriate visa is essential for you and any foreign staff you wish to employ in your franchise in the UAE. As a franchise owner, you are likely eligible for an Investor Visa. It gives you a residency status, enabling them to live in the UAE and manage their business operations. Investor visas are typically valid for 3 years and can be renewed.

For your staff, you would need to sponsor Employment Visas. These visas are tied to the job and the employer, meaning the employee must work for the sponsoring entity. For visa applications in a Free Zone, you will typically process your visa directly through the Free Zone’s immigration service. On the Mainland, applications go through the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA).

To apply for the visa, you and your staff will also have to take a mandatory medical exam.

The size of your franchise business, its profits, setup, and proof of accommodation will determine the number of family members you can sponsor. Learn more about how to sponsor your dependents and have your family with you in the UAE once you set up your franchise.

Alongside the visa process, apply for an Emirates ID, which serves as your official identity card in the UAE for both governmental and non-governmental services.

8. Prepare a Franchise Agreement

You must have a robust agreement with the franchising company. The franchise agreement is a vital legal contract between the franchisor and the franchisee. The document contains all the information, rules, and regulations between the two parties.

This agreement can contain information such as:

  • The scope of the agreement, including duties and expectations
  • Franchise fee
  • Duration of the agreement
  • Quality assurance and training
  • Site selection
  • Dispute resolution
  • Limitation of liability
  • Percentage of profit share
  • Advertising
  • Intellectual property rights

It is best to involve a lawyer when drafting the franchise agreement. Before both parties agree and sign the agreement, they have to disclose it before a Dubai court or the court of the Emirates to affirm you are starting the franchise in the United Arab Emirates.

Note that the franchise agreement is binding, and all parties must adhere to it. Therefore, ensure all the vital information about business information is clearly stipulated in the agreement.

9. Open a Corporate Bank Account

You must have a corporate bank account to do any business in the UAE. Knowing the various financial institutions available in the UAE is a wise idea before choosing one. This will help you select a bank that is best suited for your business. Similarly, opening a UAE franchise business is no different.

When opening a business bank account in the UAE, you will need:

  • A business plan
  • Your CV
  • Your company’s corporate documents
  • A utility as proof of residency or address
  • Corporate bank statement, if the company has been in existence
  • Your personal and partners’ bank statements for the past six months

The banks require your corporate documents because they indicate proof of business ownership. This is vital, especially for existing companies. The corporate document can also be the Certificate of Incumbency or any latest document from the authority.

You will need to include a comprehensive CV to show your business experience and professionalism.

Consult one of our Virtuzone Business Setup Consultants, and we will show you all the documents you need to open an account. Your consultant can help you through the process and ensure you submit every document correctly and promptly.

10. Find a Location

Choosing the right location is critical for the success of your franchise. Consider factors such as target audience, foot traffic, accessibility, and proximity to competitors. Negotiate lease agreements carefully and ensure that your chosen location complies with all local zoning laws and regulations.

11. Build Your Infrastructure

Prepare your physical and operational infrastructure according to the franchisor’s standards. This includes fitting out your premises, purchasing necessary equipment, and implementing standard operating procedures. Hiring qualified staff and ensuring they receive proper training per the franchisor’s guidelines is also crucial.

12. Market and Launch

Develop a marketing strategy to launch your franchise. Utilize both traditional and digital marketing channels to reach your target audience. Coordinate with the franchisor for any grand opening support, as many franchises provide marketing materials and strategies to help new franchisees.

A picture of a franchise in the UAE.

The Cost of Opening a Franchise in the UAE

The cost of opening a franchise in the UAE can vary significantly based on several factors, including the type of business, location (Free Zone vs Mainland), and the specific emirate in which you are setting up. Here’s a general breakdown of the costs:

Trade Licence Costs

Mainland: The cost for a trade licence on the Mainland typically ranges from AED 15,000 to AED 50,000 annually. This cost can be higher depending on the nature of the business, the number of business activities included under the licence, and the specific requirements of local government bodies.

Free Zone: Costs in Free Zones can be lower or comparable, ranging from AED 10,000 to AED 50,000. Some Free Zones offer packages for startups and small businesses that can be less expensive. Free Zones often bundle the trade licence cost with other services like office space, making them sometimes more cost-effective depending on your business needs.

Business Registration Costs

Fees for initial approval and business registration can range from AED 1,000 to AED 10,000 or more. These fees are often part of the trade licence fee but can be listed separately depending on the emirate and specific authority.

Depending on your business structure, you may also need to pay professional fees (legal, consultancy), visa processing fees for yourself and your employees, and office rental. Visa costs can vary, with each visa potentially costing between AED 2,000 to AED 5,000 or more, including medical tests and Emirates ID processing.

Overall, setting up a franchise in the UAE could see initial costs ranging widely from around AED 20,000 to over AED 100,000, excluding ongoing operational costs. It’s highly recommended to consult with a business setup consultant who can offer detailed insights and up-to-date information specific to your business type and desired location within the UAE. This way, you can get a tailored estimate that reflects your specific business needs and setup.

Contact us at Virtuzone for a free consultation. We offer a wide range of Pro Services, including obtaining licences, residence visas (and the associated medical tests), gaining or renewing Emirates ID cards and more.

A female franchise owner in the UAE.

The Benefits of Opening a Franchise in UAE

The UAE offers both local and foreign investors the freedom of self-employment. The region has a flourishing economy that attracts several international businesses. Furthermore, the government has allowed investors to exploit the rich Emirates cities and encourages franchisors and franchisees to invest in the region.

There are several reasons why you should open a franchise in UAE, including:

1. Shared Advertising, Marketing, and Business Launch Campaign Costs

One of the primary reasons for opening a franchise in the UAE is the substantial savings on branding and marketing expenses. Since franchises come with established brand recognition, business models, and marketing strategies, initial costs for designing logos or sales literature are mitigated. However, franchisees typically contribute to a marketing fund for broader advertising initiatives, which helps local market penetration and requires investment.

2. Thriving Economy

The UAE boasts a powerful and diversified economy driven by its rich natural resources like natural gas and petroleum, which are increasingly supported by non-oil sectors such as tourism, retail, finance, and construction. This economic diversification makes the UAE an attractive environment for investment and provides a stable base for business growth. Also, the UAE has a very high per-capita GDP and one of the highest average monthly salaries.

3. Ready Target Market

Over 80% of the UAE’s population lives in urban areas such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain, and Ajman, with Dubai alone housing around 2.9 million people. These cities’ cosmopolitan and predominantly expatriate population presents a diverse customer base for new businesses. Establishing a franchise in any of Dubai’s Free Zones can be particularly beneficial due to their specific industry-focused benefits, enhancing networking opportunities and market exposure. Also, since Dubai is one of the most popular shopping destinations in the world, your business will be exposed to many customers who are ready to spend.

4. Zero Taxes

Franchise opportunities in Dubai’s Free Trade Zones are especially lucrative due to significant tax advantages, including zero corporate and personal income taxes, which enhances profitability. However, it is essential to note that a Value Added Tax (VAT) at a standard rate of 5% applies to most goods and services throughout the UAE, impacting overall pricing strategies.

5. Industry Know-how and Proven Brand Recognition

Franchises offer access to established business practices and brand prestige, significantly reducing market entry barriers. Franchisees benefit from a business model that has been tested and refined over time, ensuring they adopt already successful strategies.

6. Less Risk of Business Closure or Failure

Due to their proven models and ongoing franchisor support, franchises often report higher success rates than independent start-ups. This ongoing support minimises the risk typically associated with new business ventures, providing franchisees with a safety net of expert guidance.

7. Semi-monopoly

Many franchises offer territorial exclusivity, reducing direct competition within certain geographical boundaries. This semi-monopoly allows franchisees to capitalise on brand loyalty and customer base without the immediate threat of same-brand competitors. Though you will still have to deal with competitors, your brand and business location can set you apart.

Coffee cups on coffee machine at local UAE franchise business.

Choose the Right Franchise to Open in the UAE

Selecting the ideal franchise in the UAE requires comprehensive research and careful consideration. Given the complexities of the market and regulatory environment, working with an expert business consultant significantly streamlines the process.

At Virtuzone, we specialise in helping entrepreneurs establish their businesses in the UAE. With our extensive experience and deep understanding of the local laws and business landscape, we can guide you through every step of setting up your franchise, ensuring that all aspects of your venture are correctly aligned with local regulations and market needs.

Contact us today to learn more about franchising opportunities in the United Arab Emirates and consult with our experienced team. Let us help you make an informed decision and start your franchise journey on solid ground.

FAQ’s

How Much Does it Cost to Open a Franchise in the UAE?

The cost to open a franchise in the UAE varies widely depending on the type of franchise, location, and scale of operations. Generally, investments can range from AED 20,000 to over AED 100,000, excluding ongoing operational costs. This includes franchise fees, setup costs, legal fees, and initial operating expenses. Additionally, you should budget for ongoing costs such as rent, staff salaries, marketing, and royalties, which are typically a percentage of your revenue.

Are Franchises a Good Investment?

Franchises can be a good investment due to their turnkey business model, which often includes established brand recognition, a proven operational system, and ongoing support from the franchisor. This can significantly reduce the risks typically associated with starting a new business. However, success depends on choosing the right franchise that aligns with your interests, market demand, and investment capabilities. Additionally, while franchises offer a structured business model, they also require adherence to the franchisor’s guidelines and payment of ongoing fees. Before investing, you should thoroughly research and consider both the benefits and commitments involved in franchising.

What are the Popular Franchise Sectors in The UAE?

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the franchise landscape is diverse, with several sectors standing out due to strong growth potential. The food and beverage industry is particularly vibrant, featuring everything from fast food to gourmet dining options, reflecting the country’s cosmopolitan makeup. The retail sector is also robust, with international fashion and lifestyle brands populating the UAE’s expansive shopping malls. Additionally, beauty and fitness franchises are gaining traction, driven by an increasing focus on health and wellness. The education sector caters to the diverse expatriate community, offering a range of educational and training services. Healthcare franchises are expanding, too, with a growing emphasis on enhancing healthcare infrastructure. Finally, as the UAE advances its digital transformation, technology and IT service franchises are becoming increasingly crucial, underscoring the nation’s ambition to integrate smart technology solutions across various industries.

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