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Whats The Difference Between A FZE and FZC In Dubai

Dec 23, 2023 | UAE Company Setup

Understanding the difference between a Free Zone Establishment (FZE) and a Free Zone Company (FZC) in Dubai is crucial for entrepreneurs and investors looking to tap into the strategic advantages of the region’s free zones. Both entities offer distinct benefits, including 100% foreign ownership and tax exemptions, yet they cater to different business needs and structures.

We explore the key characteristics, ownership frameworks, and legal prerequisites of FZEs and FZCs, providing insight into how each entity functions within Dubai’s dynamic business landscape. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur or part of a collaborative venture, comprehending these differences will guide you in making an informed decision for your business setup in Dubai.

Business Entities in Dubai

Dubai’s reputation as a business hub in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is well-established, offering a variety of corporate structures to suit your entrepreneurial and investment needs. The emirate’s business-friendly environment, bolstered by a robust economy and diverse culture, has made it a hot spot for international business ventures. Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) has seen a significant uptick in new startups, a testament to the city’s allure for business growth.

The legal framework for starting a business in Dubai is set out by the Commercial Company Law of 1984, which is uniform across all emirates. Under this law, you’ve got 11 different types of companies to choose from for onshore establishment. It’s worth mentioning that the government doesn’t encourage forming partnerships limited by shares or partnerships-en-commandite.

One of the most popular onshore business entities is the Limited Liability Company (LLC). It’s a favourite because of its limited liability feature, where your liability is only up to your share in the capital. To set up an LLC in Dubai, you’ll need a local sponsor who’ll hold at least 51% of the share capital. These companies can operate in various sectors, except for insurance, banking, and investment on behalf of others, with a minimum share capital requirement of $328,000. Up to five managers, who can be partners or external individuals, can run the company.

Foreign companies often opt to establish a branch office in Dubai, which allows them to keep 100% ownership and operate under the parent company’s name. However, they must appoint a local service agent to manage government interactions. Representative offices are another option for foreign businesses. Still, they’re limited to marketing the parent company’s services in a foreign country.

Joint ventures are a go-to for project-based collaborations. These don’t have operating licences or need a separate licence and let you agree on how to distribute profits and losses. Still, the local partner must hold at least 51% equity and is on the hook for all liabilities unless the agreement is made public.

For solo entrepreneurs, sole proprietorships offer a straightforward business structure with complete ownership and control. But remember, you’re fully on the line for any debts and financial obligations. While foreign nationals can own a professional sole proprietorship, commercial or industrial ones are usually for UAE and GCC nationals. If a non-national owns it, a Local Service Agent is necessary.

In Dubai, partnerships can be general or limited. The former requires UAE nationals as general partners. Limited partners can be from other countries but can’t meddle in management or administrative matters.

Free zones in Dubai come with their own rules, separate from onshore entities. They boast perks like 100% foreign ownership, zero taxes, and free repatriation of profits. The types of companies in free zones vary, and there’s no minimum capital requirement for offshore companies, which can engage in a wide array of activities save for banking and insurance.

Choosing the right business entity in Dubai hinges on several factors, such as how much control you want, the kind of activity you’re planning, and the level of liability you’re willing to shoulder. With no corporate or personal tax and the freedom to send investments and profits back home, Dubai continues to be an attractive spot for setting up shop.

Screenshot Of The DED Website Dubai

Understanding a Free Zone Establishment (FZE)

Characteristics of an FZE

An FZE is a business model within the UAE’s Free Zones that operates with a single shareholder, who can be an individual or a corporate body. This structure is particularly appealing for entrepreneurs seeking sole ownership of their enterprise.

Ownership and Shareholder Structure

The ownership of an FZE company is uncomplicated due to its single-shareholder system. This allows for undivided authority over the company’s affairs, streamlining management processes. Nonetheless, any transfer of shares must be approved by the Free Zone authorities to ensure compliance with local regulations.

Governance and Legal Compliance

FZEs are subject to the governance guidelines specific to their Free Zone, detailed in the FZE Implementing Rules and Regulations. These guidelines mandate the appointment of at least two directors and a company secretary. However, one individual can fulfil both roles.

FZEs are also required to obtain a Free Zone Licence to operate legally within the Free Zone. Additionally, they must present audited financial statements to the Free Zone Authority annually within three months of the fiscal year’s conclusion. This practice reinforces the commitment to financial transparency within the Free Zones.

Defining a Free Zone Company (FZC)

An FZC is a business entity with the capacity for up to five shareholders, distinguishing it from an FZE. The name of an FZC reflects its shareholder structure.

Features of an FZC

Shareholders of an FZC can determine the distribution of shares as they see fit. They also have the option to either manage the free zone company themselves or appoint a manager. Some free zones offer different packages for FZCs, which may include varying fees based on the number of shareholders.

Shareholder Requirements and Options

The establishment process for an FZC requires the participation of all shareholders in the documentation and signing process. Unlike mainland LLCs, there is no stipulation for a minimum share percentage for any shareholder, allowing for a share allocation that aligns with the company’s strategic objectives.

Company Management and Operation

Shareholders of an FZC can choose to either take on management roles or appoint someone else to manage the company, depending on their expertise and the company’s operational requirements. The cost of establishing an FZC may differ across Free Zones, with some charging more for companies with multiple shareholders.

Key Differences Between FZE and FZC

Number of Shareholders

An FZE is designed for a sole shareholder, while an FZC can have between two and five shareholders. This distinction influences the ownership and operational structure of the business.

Capital Requirements

The initial capital investment for these entities is not uniform and can range from $55,000 to $328,000, varying according to the specific Free Zone and the nature of the business activity.

Liability and Legal Status

Both entity types provide the benefit of limited liability, safeguarding personal assets from business risks. Share transfers in either entity require approval from the relevant Free Zone authorities to maintain regulatory compliance.

Business Operations and Scope

The operational guidelines for both FZEs and FZCs are dictated by the regulations of their respective Free Zones. The requirement for a minimum of two directors and a company secretary is mandatory, with the option for one person to fulfil both roles. Timely submission of audited financial statements is essential for maintaining transparency and adhering to the independent Free Zone authority’s governance standards.

Screenshot Of The Local Service Agent Website In Dubai For Help With FZE And FZC

Choosing the Right Entity for Your Business

Assessing Business Needs and Goals

Selecting the appropriate corporate structure in the UAE requires a thorough analysis of your business objectives. The decision to establish operations within a Freezone or on the mainland will hinge on various factors, including the investor visa desire for complete ownership, which Freezones facilitate for expatriates.

Whether to incorporate as an FZE or an FZC should be based on the scale of your venture and your personal ambitions.

Understanding Tax and Legal Implications

Grasping the tax benefits and legal requirements associated with your chosen business format is crucial. In Free Zones, corporate shareholders have the liberty to allocate ownership stakes as they wish, unlike mainland entities, where such distributions are subject to more stringent regulations.

This autonomy can significantly benefit strategic planning and tax management. However, unanimity among shareholders is essential for critical decisions, such as modifications to the business licence or the dissolution of the company.

Procedures for Setup and Registration

The procedures for establishing and registering a business in a Freezone are influenced by the entity type and the specific Free zone’s regulations. Some Free Zones stipulate the permissible range of shareholders for different company formation packages, which can affect the cost structure.

While the initial financial contributions need not be proportionate among shareholders, consensus on the investment amounts and the managerial framework is imperative. Whether opting for a professional manager or assuming management duties directly, active participation in governance is key.

Final Reflections on FZE and FZC Options

Making an informed choice between a Free Zone Establishment (FZE) and a Free Zone Company (FZC) is pivotal for your business’s successful launch and sustainable growth in Dubai’s dynamic economy. Whether you lean towards the autonomy of an FZE or the collaborative framework of an FZC, both entities are designed to bolster your own business development aspirations with the advantages of strategic location, financial incentives, and a streamlined regulatory environment. The decision should align with your business model, management preferences, and investment capabilities.

By understanding the legalities, operational frameworks, and financial commitments of each free zone company’s entity type, investors can confidently navigate Dubai’s economic landscape. Leverage the unique benefits each free zone offers, ensuring that your business is compliant with local laws and poised for prosperity in the global marketplace.


What is the meaning of FZE and FZCO?

FZE stands for Free Zone Establishment, while FZCO stands for Free Zone Company. Both are types of limited liability companies established within a free zone in the UAE. The key difference between them is in the number of shareholders they can have. An FZE is limited to having only one shareholder, which can be either an individual or a company. On the other hand, an FZCO can have between two to fifty shareholders. These structures are regulated by the laws and regulations of the specific free zone in which they are established​​​​.

What is the difference between FZ LLC and FZCO?

FZ LLC refers to a Free Zone Limited Liability Company. This broader category can include both FZE and FZCO types of companies. FZ LLCs are generally limited liability companies established within free zones in the UAE. The distinction between an FZCO and an FZ LLC is not explicitly defined, as FZCO is a type of FZ LLC. The main difference is typically in the number of shareholders and the specific regulations of the free zone authority governing these entities. An FZCO, as mentioned, requires a minimum of two shareholders and can have up to fifty​​​​.

What is the difference between LLC and FZE?

An LLC (Limited Liability Company) and an FZE (Free Zone Establishment) differ mainly in terms of ownership and operational scope. An LLC in the UAE typically allows only up to 49% of the company shares to be owned by foreign nationals, and a local sponsor or partner who is a UAE national must hold at least 51% of the company shares. LLCs are permitted to conduct business both within and outside the UAE. In contrast, an FZE allows 100% foreign ownership, operates within the free zones, and can repatriate profits and capital. While an LLC offers limited liability protection, it has more restrictions on foreign ownership and operational scope compared to an FZE​​.

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