Dubai: Offshore Business Sectors
Jebel Ali Free Zone
This page was last updated on 10 March 2021.
The Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ) was established in 1985 to facilitate investment. Accordingly, the procedures for setting up in the zone are relatively simple. Its legal status is quite distinct: companies operating there are treated as being "offshore", or outside the UAE for legal purposes.
The option of setting up in Jebel Ali is therefore most suitable for companies intending to use Dubai as a regional manufacturing or distribution base and where most or all of their turnover is going to be outside the UAE.
100% foreign ownership is permitted in the JAFZ. There is exemption from all import duties and 100% repatriation of capital and profits is guaranteed.
There is freedom from corporate taxation for a period of 50 years, a concession which is renewable. There is a high level of administrative support from the Free Zone Authority. In addition, there are no import or re-export duties, no personal income taxes, no currency restrictions, and no restriction on hiring foreign employees.
Companies approved for operation in Jebel Ali Free Zone are granted one of the following types of licences, renewable annually for as long as the company holds a valid lease from the Free Zone Authority:
- A General Trading Licence allows the holder to import, distribute and store all items as per Jafza rules and regulations.
- A Trading Licence allows the holder to import, export, distribute and store items specified on the licence.
- An Industrial Licence allows the holder to import raw materials, carry out the manufacture of specified products and export the finished product to any country.
- A Service Licence allows the holder to carry out the services specified in the licence within the Free Zone. The type of service must conform to the parent company's licence, issued by the Economic Department or Municipality of the relevant Emirate in the UAE.
- A National Industrial Licence is designed for manufacturing companies with an ownership or shareholding of at least 51% AGCC (Arabian Gulf Co-operation Council).
Companies holding a Free Zone licence are permitted to operate in the Jebel Ali Free Zone and outside the UAE. Operation within the UAE can be undertaken either by a commercial agent, representative, distributor, or the mother company licensed by the relevant UAE authority. Any company holding a Free Zone licence can itself purchase goods or services within the UAE.
Any company wishing to set up a project in Jebel Ali Free Zone must first complete a simple questionnaire. The license application process then takes place and will include a meeting to discuss and finalise the project details. If everything is satisfactory, the Authority will issue conditional approval for the project. Thereafter, a lease agreement and, if required, a personnel secondment agreement will be prepared by the Authority for signature by the company.
At the time of signing, the applicant will be required to provide the insurance policies called for in the agreements and should pay the agreed rental and licence fee prior to collection of the licence.
If the company wishes the Free Zone Authority to sponsor employees on its behalf, applications for entry permits may be submitted once the licence has been issued. The bank guarantee called for in the personnel secondment agreement will be required at this stage together with visa charges.
If the company's project involves the erection of a structure, detailed plans must be submitted after the lease has been signed. When the plans have been agreed, a building permit will be issued.
Administrative work, such as importing equipment or engaging labour for installation of equipment, may proceed in parallel with construction work. But application for entry permits for operatives to be sponsored by the Free Zone Authority will not normally be accepted until a completion certificate for the construction has been issued.
A Free Zone Establishment - or FZE - is an establishment formed and registered in Jebel Ali and regulated solely by the Free Zone Authority.
Such establishments must have a capital of at least AED 1 million and liability will be limited to the amount of paid-up capital. A FZE need only have a single shareholder and is an independent legal entity.
Any company, organisation or individual wishing to form a Free Zone Establishment must submit a completed application form to the FZE Department of the Free Zone Authority. A decision on whether permission has been granted will be given within 30 days of receipt of the application and any other information and documentation required.
If permission is granted, the Authority will record all relevant details in the FZE Register and issue a Certificate of Formation. This will specify the date of registration after which the FZE will be free to conduct any such business as is permitted in its Special Licence.
The free zone is the base for thousands of leading international firms, including many Fortune global companies from various sectors.
The Free Zone and Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) are inextricably linked, they are led by one chairman and share a strong, symbiotic relationship. The Free Zone is built around the DPA's Jebel Ali terminal, enabling customers to take full advantage of the port's ISO-certified container and general cargo operations. Specialized unloading facilities and purpose-built storage such as the cool and cold stores are also at the disposal of Free Zone companies. Jebel Ali terminal offers efficient cargo handling, and with rates among the lowest in the world, the prospect for exporting is good.
In February 2000 Dubai ruler Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum issued a decree setting up a free-trade zone for electronic commerce and technology, known as Dubai Internet City.
Legal and fiscal privileges in the DIC are similar to those applying in the Free Zone.
The physical location of the Internet City is on Sheikh Zayed Road, next to the American University. This area overlooks the Emirates hills golf course development. The City opened for business in late 2000; highlights include:
- World class technical infrastructure: high bandwidth, low cost telecom infrastructure and secure, high speed support infrastructure;
- State-of-the-art urban infrastructure: cost competitive, flexible office space and world class housing, medical and education facilities;
- Access to talent pool: large pool of high skill, low cost knowledge workers;
Straight-forward laws and regulations: easy and fast company registration laws, hassle-free immigration process and straight forward legal procedures;
- Supportive environment: Government backed e-business initiatives, business incubators, venture capital funds and e-education programs;
Gateway to markets: access to regional markets in Middle East, North Africa, Indian Subcontinent and CIS.
In line with Dubai's liberal economic policies and regulations, Dubai Internet City offers foreign companies 100% tax-free ownership, 100% repatriation of capital and profits, no currency restrictions, easy registration and licensing, stringent cyber regulations, protection of intellectual property.