The UAE as a modern offshore trading hub
The United Arab Emirates or the UAE offers a unique combination of a high-quality lifestyle, a fast-growing economy and high standards of comfort and safety. The UAE authorities have established a strong reputation for the country as a global business hub by creating different zones for company formation and commerce. For example, the UAE's free trade zones, or simply free zones, were designed to boost international business and are usually industry-specific or attached to ports or airports.
These free trade zones offer the opportunity to establish an offshore company in a location with highly developed infrastructure for the banking and financial sectors, business, tourism and entertainment. The free trade zones offer high standards of living, security and stability, in addition to facilities for children and young people such as nurseries, schools and international colleges. One important limitation to mention is the prohibition on trading within the UAE market. A free trade zone offshore company can operate in the local business market only through a local distributor.
Another very good reason for choosing the UAE as the right place for your company formation is that offshore companies benefit from attractive legislation protecting investors' interests and special tax regimes with 0% VAT, corporate and income tax. Like many Middle Eastern countries, the UAE earned most of its wealth from the oil industry. While the oil industry is no longer the main source of income in the UAE, the country can still afford to allow tax-free living in order to attract international companies and a workforce that enriches and diversifies the economy further still. The vice president and prime minister of the UAE once stated that his country would never adopt an income tax as a way to tackle the deficit. Furthermore, no tax is levied on capital gains, inheritance or rental income.
Offshore companies established in one of the free trade zones are required to conform to the laws of that zone. Also, the incentives can vary; most of the free zones offer 0% corporate income tax as one of their many incentives, provided that the company does not trade with residents of the jurisdiction.
Following IMF suggestions that applying VAT could help diversify the UAE's economic resources, it has been announced that 5% VAT will be introduced in the UAE from 1 January 2018. Certain food items, education and health items, bicycles and social services will be exempt from VAT.
The UAE's economy is steadily growing and is projected by the IMF to expand at a rate of 1.5% in terms of real GDP in 2017 . It is currently the third-largest re-exporter in the world, and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development is considered to be one of the largest stabilisation funds in the world. What's more, Dubai has undertaken various measures to develop all sectors of its economy, thanks to which oil revenue now accounts for less than 20% of total income, with the rest coming from the business and financial sector, air travel, tourism, transport logistics and education.
The UAE accounted for 62% of all private equity investment in the Middle East and North Africa by value and 34% by volume of deals in 2016. These positive changes were driven mainly by a great increase in investment in technology-related sectors — FinTech, IT and ecommerce in particular. The number of disclosed private equity investments reached 244 (the highest figure since 2008), with the largest deal of 350 million USD raised by Careem, a regional provider of transport services headquartered in the UAE.