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United Arab Emirates > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings


Legal 500 Doing Business in the United Arab Emirates

Contributed by Fichte & Co.

Doing Business in the United Arab Emirates graphic

1. What are the key facts on doing business in the UAE?

When considering doing business in a foreign jurisdiction, an investor must consider a wide range of commercial, political and capital security issues that will impact the final decision of investing in a particular country.


Legal market overview

In part due to its political stability and ease of doing business, Dubai is the key hub for the Middle East as a whole, with many regional transactions and even purely in-third-country deals. Outside Dubai, many firms maintain presences in Abu Dhabi, roughly an hour and a half’s drive away, which is home to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and the federal government; many observers compare the dynamic between the two cities as not dissimilar to the dynamic between New York and Washington DC. Consolidation has been the name of the game in Abu Dhabi, with two leading sovereign wealth funds (Mubadala Development Company and IPIC) and two banks (First Gulf Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi) amalgamating; the combined entities are now known as Mubadala Investment Company and First Abu Dhabi Bank, respectively

Free zones, including the successful Dubai International Financial Centre (which is spawning copycats in the region and beyond) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market operate under common law systems, as distinct from the Egyptian-style civil code system used in the rest of the country. Clients have a choice between many leading British and American law firms, with a number of indigenous national and regional players having particular strengths in local law issues and litigation; while international firms are prohibited from appearing before local courts, many can and do work as co-counsel with local firms.

Key trends in the market include a coat-tail effect from Saudi Arabia’s opening to the world (with many firms servicing directly Saudi work in the UAE), although strained relations with Qatar have imposed challenges in servicing that jurisdiction. Key changes on the horizon include a pan-GCC system of VAT to follow the imposition of modest excise duties on tobacco and somewhat higher ones on carbonated drinks; rare examples of consumer-facing tax changes in a jurisdiction with effectively no personal taxes. Like many of its GCC neighbours’ currencies, the UAE dirham (AED) is pegged to the US dollar.

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