How to convert a Foreign Branch to an LLC in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

How to convert a Foreign Branch to an LLC in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

- James Elliot-Square

The business requirements for a company in the UAE may change and evolve as the UAE base of the organisation grows, and if those organisations wish to undertake different activities in the UAE, it may require the company to restructure or move jurisdiction within the UAE. Companies may wish to or need to change the legal form of their UAE entity from a Foreign Branch to a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

A mainland LLC structure in the UAE is a true local company and allows access to a much wider range of activities. Particularly, in the UAE an LLC can undertake trading activities and a mainland LLC company in Abu Dhabi or Dubai can import and export goods to and from the UAE. A Foreign Branch is restricted and is not able to undertake trading or import activities for example.

In addition, the LLC is a true limited liability structure and offers legal protection not offered by a Foreign Branch structure. Within an LLC, business and personal liabilities are separated, so assets are protected, and owners are not liable for business debts. The shareholders of the LLC are liable up to the maximum of the share capital only. With a Foreign Branch, the parent company is fully liable for the activities of its branch, and revenue from the Foreign Branch is normally accounted for by the parent company so income is taxed in the country of the parent company.

Before initiating any legal change to your business structure it is important to consider the following:

  1. Plan the change and involve key employees, shareholders and managers
  2. Communicate the planning progress to the entire organisation
  3. Seek the assistance of business set up and restructuring experts to plan the documentation and process

In the following sections, we will outline the required steps needed to convert your business from a Foreign Branch to an LLC.

Convert a Foreign Branch to an LLC

Foreign Branches are a useful structure in the UAE, in that they are 100% owned by the parent company, they do not require a local shareholder, only a local ‘sponsor’ or National Service Agent (NSA) / Local Service Agent (LSA). The NSA does not have any management involvement in the business but normally acts as the government liaison point for PRO services – Ministry of Labour and Immigration for staff and family visas assistance and licencing matters such as licence renewal and to obtain and maintain the various licences for the Foreign Branch – Department of Economic Development (DED) and Ministry of Economy (MOE).

The Foreign Branch structure is also useful where a company needs to show history and experience in a particular sector, it can do this by using the parent company connection and experience. The Foreign Branch is simply an extension of the parent company.

An LLC structure becomes a more viable option when the owners / parent company wish to expand and formalise their business, take on local investment, limit risk and expand their location and activities within the UAE. There a number of changes needed when converting to an LLC. Here’s what you need to consider:

Check your business name, this will need to change

The business name for a Foreign Branch will exactly match the parent company name, but with ‘Abu Dhabi Branch’ or ‘Dubai Branch’ at the end, for example. However, a limited liability company will need to take on a new name, which will need to contain the chosen activity(s) within the name. The company will also need to check if that name is not already being used. In addition, the Limited Liability Company will need to add the suffix “LLC” onto the name.

See links here on some advice for deciding on a Trade Name for an LLC in the UAE:

Updating corporate documents

The transformation from a Foreign Branch to an LLC is not an established concept under a specific regulation in the UAE, but rather a procedure introduced for practical purposes by the concerned licensing authorities in the various Emirates. The main purpose is to keep the same trade licence number for the business entity, and to be able to novate all contracts, bank accounts are other licences. The licence number constitutes the principal means by which businesses are identified as it ensures the practical continuity of the business in its relationships with third parties, and in particular with governmental authorities. Amended documents will include; amended memorandum (MOA), share certificate and business trade licence.

Opening a new bank account

Opening a new bank account under the name of the LLC helps to separate business and personal funds. A separate business bank account ensures the protection of personal assets, record keeping, and tax reports.

The time-frame for changing the legal structure will depend on the Emirate and the relevant registration authority. The government and licencing fees will vary from AED 5,550 to AED 10,000 depending on the jurisdiction and activities and any other government departments other than the DED that may be involved.

All shareholders will need to appear in front a notary public to notarise the Memorandum of Association (MOA) and conversion documentation. The changes will then need to be propagated with the relevant registration authority – e.g. the DED. Once all the documents are amended, all clients will be notified and owners will be ready to resume their business.

Reconstruction of new legal documents

To change the organisation's legal structure the business owners are required to submit several documents to the Department of Economic Development (DED). One of the most important documents is the Memorandum of Association (MOA). MOA plays a role in the regulation of external activities of a company. It contains the following information:

  1. Company name
  2. Company’s office location
  3. Organisation objectives / activities
  4. Liability of the shareholders
  5. Company’s share capital
  6. First subscribers to the company
  7. Detailed powers of the Managers of the Company
  8. Duration of the company

Engagement with a local UAE partner

UAE mainland companies, under the current UAE Commercial Companies Law, requires a UAE national sponsor holding not less than 51% of the company’s shares. Therefore the Foreign Branch will have to take on a local partner as part of the conversion to an LLC.

The company can select a UAE Corporate Nominee shareholder to hold the 51% shares in the LLC. Using a Corporate Nominee provider like PRO Partner Group will allow the foreign party to retain greater management control and effective ownership of the LLC.

Advantages of an LLC over a Foreign Branch

Foreign branches are mandated by the Ministry of Economy to deposit AED 50,000 as a bank guarantee. This guarantee needs to remain with the Ministry of Economy during the whole lifetime of the branch and is returned only upon deregistration. This sets foreign branch fees marginally higher than LLC fees.

The Foreign Branch has restricted access to some activities, particularly the Foreign Branch cannot import or trade in goods within the UAE.

Full liability of the Foreign Branch rests with the parent company, and liability is not limited. In addition income from the Foreign Branch will normally be taxed through the parent company, therefore no benefitting from the zero tax rates within the UAE.

How can PRO Partner Group help to convert your Foreign Branch to an LLC?

Changing the legal structure of your business entity requires significant knowledge of the regulatory environment and the various steps and government processes within the UAE. PRO Partner Group provides the needed assistance and consultancy to business owners intending to convert the legal structure of their organisation from a foreign branch to an LLC. Our team of company formation and legal experts will guide you through all aspects of the legal transformation, including the licence elements and any regulatory approvals for the company. Please get in touch with us on +971 (0)4 456 1761 for Dubai or +971 (0)2 448 5120 for Abu Dhabi, email us at or complete the contact form below and we will be delighted to assist you.

Get in touch with James Elliot-Square

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