Setting up a consultancy? Top tips from the experts.

Setting up a consultancy? Top tips from the experts.

Setting up a consultancy in Abu Dhabi? Read our Step by Step Guide

During 2016 the recruitment firm Morgan McKinley noticed a boost in short term consultants as UAE businesses reduced their staff costs. If you are looking to break into the Abu Dhabi consultancy market, read these tips from James Swallow of PRO Partner Group. James shares the business set up options when setting up a consultancy in Abu Dhabi.

Step by Step Guide to Business Set Up

What are the main steps to setting up a consultancy?

The establishment of any business in Abu Dhabi follows the same important and well documented steps:

Step 1: Determine a legal form and activity Step 2: Register a trade name Step 3: Get approvals Step 4: Licensing Step 5: Get a business bank account Step 6: Get offices Step 7: Get staff visas

Determine a legal form and activity

Step one is where you identify the legal form your business will take. This will inform the type of license you apply for.

What legal structure can I use?

There are various legal structures for foreign businesses in the UAE:

  • an Establishment (owned by one person)
  • a Limited Liability Company or LLC (owned by two or more people, or corporates)
  • a Branch of a foreign company (100% owned by a foreign company
  • a Freezone (the above structures will also apply in the Freezone)

A popular legal structure for a consultancy is an Establishment as it is owned by just one person. Worth bearing in mind that the owner bears all financial liability and obligations.  Normally this option is lower cost and faster to set up as this just needs the ID documents and qualifications of the individual.

An occupational licence covers:

 “Individuals who practice a profession or craft relying on their mental and intellectual abilities and talents”. Business types that fall under this licence are described as “…consultancies, law firms (and) audit officers”. This business set up could also cover marketing and advertising firms, writers, various forms of e-commerce and myriad other services.  (Source: Department of Economic Development, Abu Dhabi).

Alternatively the freezones offer licence types which suit independent consultants.

Meanwhile a Branch of a foreign company, can be linked to its parent company in another country.

Companies and individuals that are aiming to deliver consultancy services within the UAE and those that wish to get ‘access all areas’ (i.e. Government, Large Corporations, Oil and Gas etc) have opted for the Limited Liability Company.  With a full onshore LLC maximum legal ownership by the foreign party is 49%. It is compulsory to have a local UAE national as a partner in the LLC company owning 51% - note that this 51% shareholder can be a 100% owned UAE Company – Corporate Partner.

An expert at PRO Partner Group can guide you on the right fit for your business.

Do I need a local sponsor?

If you choose to register your consultancy as an Establishment then a foreign individual can own 100% of the business, but must have a UAE national (or a UAE company) acting as a service agent (National Service Agent NSA / Local Service Agent LSA). If you select an LLC then you will need a local partner that owns 51% (either an individual or a 100% UAE owned company) – note there is significant benefits to choosing a corporate partner versus and individual partner.


If you set up your consultancy in a Free Zone then you are able to own 100% of the company and all profits are yours with limited income tax. There is no need to use a service agent (NSA) unless you wish to trade on-shore (the Freezone itself act as you NSA). You will however be limited to consulting within the Free Zone which in some cases will not be viable. Note that many companies in the Freezone do provide services outside the zone however strictly speaking this is not permitted. Local advisers such as PRO Partner Group can help you in assessing this option.

Register a trade name

Once you have chosen how you will set up your company, you can work with a business set up company, the Department of Economic Development (DED) or Freezone to see if your trade name is available.

Need help setting up a consultancy in the UAE?

Talking to local expert who understands what is required to start a constancy business in Abu Dhabi could save time, money and a great deal of stress.

The experts at PRO Partner Group specialise in providing foreign investors with advice on the most efficient and profitable way to set up your business in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the wider UAE and Oman.

James Swallow - PRO Partner GroupTo discuss your consultancy business, contact James directly on or call a member of the team on:

T: +971 (0)4 456 1761 (Dubai) T: +971 (0)2 448 5120 (Abu Dhabi)

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