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How To Start An Online Business In Dubai (2021 Guide)

From choosing a business name, to applying for your visa, this guide takes you through everything you need to know about starting an online business in Dubai.

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There has never been a better time to start an online business in Dubai than now.

Experts anticipate retail e-commerce sales to reach a new high by 2022, growing from $4.28 trillion in 2020 to $5.4 trillion. This massive growth is fueled by the always improving availability of electronic devices, new generations of mobile network technology, and more accessible online payment methods, just to name a few factors.

When choosing the best place to start an online business, Dubai should be high on your list. Not only does the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have the most advanced e-commerce market in the whole MENA region, but businesses that decide to incorporate in Dubai can look forward to many benefits, such as:

  • Minimal bureaucracy
  • 0% tax rate
  • 100% business ownership
  • Low operating expenses
  • No import/export duties

Best of all, starting an online business in Dubai is much easier than you might think, and we explain everything you need to know in this article.

Starting An Online Business In Dubai In A Few Simple Steps

The process of starting an online business in Dubai is deliberately straightforward to attract as much business activity as possible. Essentially, it involves filing an application for an e-commerce license, which then allows your online business to operate and sell products or services specified in the license.

Before you go ahead and file your online business application, there are some decisions that you need to make.

1- Choose Your Jurisdiction

The UAE consists of two main economic zones, or jurisdictions:

  • Mainland: Businesses incorporated in the UAE mainland are free to operate anywhere in the UAE market, meaning they can do business both inside and outside the UAE. They can also take on government contracts.
  • Free Zone: On the other hand, businesses incorporated in the UAE free zone are now allowed to conduct their operation in non-free zone without the support of a local agent. However, such businesses get to enjoy a special tax, customs, and imports regime.
2- Pick A Name For Your Company

If you haven’t done so already, now is the right time to pick a name for your online business. While this may seem like an easy decision, you need to keep in mind that the UAE has strict naming conventions, and you definitely want to avoid names that include:

  • Offensive language
  • References to Allah
  • Sectarian or political groups
  • Initials and abbreviations
  • Politically charged terms

If you’re having trouble picking a suitable name for your online business, then you may want to consider hiring a consulting firm with a deep understanding of the UAE, its culture, and customs.

3- Prepare Your Business License Application

You can now submit your business license application. The application process will take far less time if you have all basic documentation in order, including:

  • Properly filled out application form
  • Passport copy of the proposed owner or owners
  • Two-color passport photos

Again, any inaccuracies in the application form can lead to unnecessary delays and complications, so we highly recommend you double-check everything before you submit your business license application. If everything goes right, your application should be approved in a week or so.

You can, of course, let a company formation expert take care of this step for you, but you need to be ready to pay a rather steep fee for the service.

4- Apply For Your Visa

Although your online business may not need physical premises like a brick-and-mortar store, you are required to have a legal address. In order to move to a Dubai-based office, you and your employees will need a valid visa.

All entrepreneurs who have set up a business of their own at some point in the past can apply for a business visa, which is part of the Golden Visa system under which foreigners can obtain a long-term visa for themselves and their dependents.

5- Open A Bank Account In Dubai

As a Dubai-based online business, you need a local bank account. The good news is that non-residents don’t have to jump through too many hoops to open a bank account in Dubai. As long as you have a password, your UAE identification card, a copy of your visa, and your business license, you should be good to go.

The largest banks in Dubai include:

While some banks cater specifically to online businesses, other banks are less accommodating, so make sure to do your research so that you get the best service possible.

Top 3 Online Business Ideas To Start In Dubai

If you’re reading this article because you’re just thinking about starting an online business in Dubai, then we have a few business ideas for you to consider:

  • Online Store: E-commerce has been booming in the UAE for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated its already rapid growth. If you have a product that people will want to purchase, then there’s nothing easier than setting up an online store and making it available to the entire world.
  • Online Teaching: Traditional learning, which can be defined as teacher-centered delivery of instruction to classes of students, doesn’t reflect our rapidly changing world. If you have any skill that’s in demand, you should consider starting an online teaching business or publishing video courses on the internet.
  • App Development: The number of smartphone users worldwide is expected to reach 3 billion by 2023, so there’s a huge opportunity to start an app development online business and publish mobile apps on major app marketplaces, such as the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

Regardless of which business opportunity you decide to pursue, we hope the information provided in this article will help you achieve your business goals and grab your share of the e-commerce market.

Bonus: If you do happen to make it to Dubai, consider getting yourself a Nol card. This card gives you simple access to all public transportation options available in the city.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Brittany Borrego

    June 10, 2021 at 4:28 PM

    This is a really helpful article! Thank you! Is there a fee associated with the license?

  2. Richard Devano

    June 10, 2021 at 6:01 PM

    This guide was just what I needed! Any thoughts on how long the whole process will take? Thanks!

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How-To

How To Create A Website (A Beginners Guide)

From choosing the right domain name, to picking a reliable web hosting provider, this beginners guide shows you how to create the perfect website for your personal brand, business, or side hustle.

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Whether you’re a small business owner advertising your product or service online, or a student looking to make some cash from a side hustle or two, knowing how to create your own website from scratch is an essential skill that you need to master.

Sure, the idea of building your own site can sound a little daunting, but trust us, it’s a lot easier than you think, and the skills you’ll learn along the way will give you a huge advantage over the competition. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • Web design costs money. If you’re trying to grow a business, you’ll save a ton of cash that can be channeled into things like advertising and branding, especially when you consider the ongoing costs of modifying your site over time.
  • You’ll be able to react quickly to market trends and stay ahead of the competition, because you’ll be able to update your site without needing to wait for a designer to help you.
  • You’ll learn a valuable skillset that you might even be able to use to turn a decent profit.

If we’ve piqued your interest and you’re keen to get started, carry on reading this handy guide that will walk you through the process of creating a website from beginning to end:

Get Yourself A Domain Name

Before you do anything else, you’ll need a domain name for your site. There are literally hundreds of domain vendors out there, and they’re all pretty similar in terms of pricing and features.

Some companies offer free email accounts with domains, whereas others are more spartan in terms of added extras, but extremely cheap to use.

We’d recommend one of the big-name vendors like GoDaddy, Namecheap, Bluehost or HostGator for ease of use and competitive pricing.

Registering your domain is as simple as adding it to the cart and paying at the checkout. Once the order is processed, you’ll see your shiny new domain sitting in the admin area of your account.

Are Some Domains Better Than Others?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about domain choice. SEO gurus used to be adamant that you had to get a .com domain, which ideally used your exact brand or site description in Its title. These days, most of that advice is out of date, and the domain you choose (and its ending) make very little difference to how your site will rank in Google. With that being said, if you can get a region specific domain, all the better.

Purchase Some Web Hosting

Once you have a domain name registered, you’ll need to get yourself some web hosting. When you buy web hosting, you’re essentially renting a space on a computer server. That computer server is online 24 hours a day, and when your visitors type your domain name into their address bar, or click on a link to your site, they’re directed to the server where all of the files are stored that make up your website.

When it comes to selecting web hosting, you have a couple of options: It’s entirely possible to buy a domain from one company and web hosting from another. However, for ease of use, beginners might want to purchase their domain and web hosting at the same time.

All of the companies mentioned above (GoDaddy, Namecheap, Bluehost and HostGator) offer good quality, cheap hosting as well as domain names, so purchasing both at the same time makes a great deal of sense.

Some Advice On Hosting Costs

Many hosting companies offer extremely cheap deals for the first year’s hosting, as the industry itself is extremely competitive in nature. Just make sure you read the small print and check the renewal price, or you may get a nasty surprise when you get auto-billed at year two.

Setting Up Your Domain & Hosting

These days, setting up your domain and hosting is a mostly automated process, and every major company has in-depth beginner guides to get you up and running. With that being said, there are a few things to remember:

  • Make sure your domain works with and without the WWW. prefix. This is easy enough to manage in your control panel, and is often already in place.
  • Check that your domain is “pointing” to your hosting package, so that when visitors use your domain, they’re directed to the right place. To do this, most companies’ control panels will have a setting listed under something like “name servers”. Here you’ll have an option to point the domain to your hosting.
  • Make sure your domain and hosting are set to “auto renew”, if you intend to keep the site running after the first year.
  • Check the privacy settings if you want to hide your domain’s registrant details from the public records.

Log In To The cPanel

cPanel is the administrative area of your web server, and although it sounds scary, it’s really just a simple interface where most tasks can be completed in a few mouse clicks. Usually, when you buy web hosting, you’ll get notified when your server space is ready with an email, a link to the cPanel area, and the log in details. This usually happens within 5 minutes after purchase.

Once you’re logged in to the cPanel, you’re ready to build your website!

Setup WordPress

WordPress is an open-source, completely free piece of software that allows you to quickly build a beautiful looking company website or blog. It’s by far the easiest way for beginners to setup a website and you can install it in just a few clicks.

To get started, you’ll need to be in the admin area of the cPanel. From there, find an icon named something like “Softaculous” or “Software” and you should find an option to install WordPress.

Select a domain, name your site, make a note of the login details and then click “install”. After a few moments, your website will be ready to go!

When your site is installed, navigate to YourDomainName.com/wp-admin.php. Enter your login details and you’ll be directed to the dashboard area of your new WordPress install. At that point, you’re ready to add content to your new site.

It really is that simple!

Customize Your Theme & Pages

Now, although your WordPress website should display correctly when you visit your domain name, you’ll probably be pretty disappointed with what you first see when you arrive at the site.

By default, WordPress is installed with a couple of demo pages and a very basic, vanilla looking theme. You’ll need to customize your site with a theme of your choice and of course, all of your own content and branding.

What Is A WordPress Theme?

WordPress itself is the background “engine” that runs your website, but the overall layout, design and branding is controlled by swappable templates called “Themes”. There are hundreds of themes to choose from, enabling you to customize your site to suit any type of blog, product or business imaginable.

Adding A Theme

To add a new theme to WordPress, all you need to do is look for the “appearance” tab on the left-hand side of the admin area, and navigate to “themes”.

From there, you’ll see the themes that you currently have installed, as well as an option in the top left corner to “add new”. Clicking this button will take you to the WordPress theme directory, where you have access to huge selection of great looking themes.

To install a theme, simply click “install”. Once a theme is installed, you’ll see a button appear inviting you to “activate” the theme. Click this, and you’re all set and ready to go.

Adding Pages

To get your site up and running, you’ll need to create pages for your content. At the bare minimum, you’ll need an “about” page, a “contact” page and a “home” page. To add these pages to your site, simply click on the “pages” tab on the left menu of the WordPress dashboard. This will reveal further options to add more pages to your site, or view and edit the pages that already exist.

Customizing Your Website

Once you have your theme, pages and content in place, it’s time to customize your site to your taste. To modify the look and feel of a WordPress site, head over to the “appearance” tab to the left of the dashboard, and click “customize” on the next menu. Doing so will reveal a wealth of different options and settings for altering your theme to your requirements.

WordPress itself can be as simple or as complicated as you wish, and there’s a virtually infinite range of plugins and add-ons that can turn your site into a fully featured online store, a hotel booking site and everything in-between.

Other Options For Building A Website

We’d always recommend taking the time to learn how to set up a WordPress website, just because it’s such a flexible and versatile option. We’re rapidly approaching the point where the majority of personal and business websites on the internet are running on the WordPress platform, so there’s a huge amount of knowledge and information out there to help you along the way, and a massive variety of themes and plugins to choose from.

With all of that being the case, there are a couple of obvious alternatives to WordPress, especially if you have more specific needs in mind:

WIX

create a website wix homepage

WIX is very much a beginner option, and can’t compete with WordPress for customization options or versatility. Where WIX does score points is in its ease of use: When you sign up for WIX, you essentially don’t have to worry about domains, hosting, setting up the cPanel or any website software. Everything on WIX is done for you, and the drag and drop page builder is much easier to use than the WordPress dashboard.

Shopify

create a website shopify homepage

Shopify, as the name suggests, is aimed squarely at businesses looking to setup an online store. For a monthly fee, Shopify allows you to run a fully featured retail website, complete with custom themes, a shopping cart and much more besides.

If you plan on selling physical products online, then Shopify is probably a better choice than WordPress, as although plugins exist to turn WordPress into an online storefront, it can get complicated very quickly, especially if you’re a raw beginner.

Squarespace

create a website squarespace homepage

Squarespace is much like WIX, in that it’s a fully featured website creation tool, doing away with software and hosting, and using a bespoke page builder and templating system instead. Squarespace is just as easy to use as WIX, but is aimed more towards personal and portfolio sites for creative types, priding itself more on aesthetics and visual beauty rather than outright versatility.

Weebly

weebly homepage

Weebly blends elements of all of the above services to create a product that has the ease of use of WIX, the aesthetic appeal of Squarespace, and the online store elements of Shopify. There’s a range of great looking templates to choose from and the site builder is very easy to use.

Summing Up

This guide only scratches the surfaces of what’s possible with WordPress, but we hope it goes some way to demonstrating just how easy it is to get a site up and running quickly.

With a little time and perseverance, it’s possible to customize a WordPress install to fulfill any role or function imaginable, and for those of you that don’t feel confident tackling the entire installation process, it’s perfectly possible to use one of the other options like WIX or Squarespace to quickly and easily create a website and start your online business in less than a day.

Have you been wanting to create a website for your personal brand, business, or side hustle, but just didn’t know where to start? We hope this guide helped give you some insight on the entire process.

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