What is the Difference Between Free Zone and Mainland

Difference Between Mainland and Free Zone | Business Setup
Is it better to establish a company in Dubai’s Mainland, granting you the liberty to conduct business throughout the UAE? Or would it be more advantageous to choose a Free Zone setup, known for its affordability, simplicity, and speed?For aspiring entrepreneurs, Dubai is a beacon of opportunity. Its unique blend of indigenous population, strategic location, vibrant trading communities, booming infrastructure, attractive investment incentives, and world-class lifestyle significantly impact the city. All combined it is also a place that encourages entrepreneurial spirit and fosters a multitude of company formations. Due to this, the business setup in Dubai is divided into special economic zones and jurisdictions.

Let’s Start by Understanding Why Exactly Dubai Has Special Economic Zones And Segregated Jurisdictions?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

  1. Economic Growth: Mainland as well as Free zones are designed to promote economic diversification and drive sustainable growth. They are pivotal in transforming Dubai into a global and regional investment hub.
  2. Foreign Investment: These zones aim to attract domestic and foreign investments by offering unique incentives, regulations, and infrastructure tailored to specific industries.
  3. Competitive Business Environment: Mainland regions as well as Free Zones provide a competitive business environment with streamlined procedures, reduced costs, and tax exemptions, making them attractive for business operations.
  4. Industry Activation: They stimulate the growth of industry within the zone, providing the local market with quality products and goods, and developing international trade and foreign economic relations.
  5. Investment Incentives: Companies in SEZs enjoy benefits such as 100% foreign ownership, no currency regulations, and financial transactions ease, which are crucial for international investors in Dubai and across the UAE.
  6. Labor and Asset Movement: Dubai does not have strict restrictions on the movement, withdrawal, and distribution of investment assets and income, which is beneficial for businesses looking to operate internationally. 

In essence, SEZs and segregated jurisdictions in Dubai are established to catalyze industry-specific development, enhance the city’s economic profile, and create an environment conducive to business and investment from around the world. They are a foundation of Dubai’s vision to maintain its status as a leading economic powerhouse. 

Why Is Deciding Between a Dubai Free Zone And A Mainland Business Setup So Critical?

  1. The Regulatory Environment: Free Zones boast a more relaxed environment with simplified procedures and tax breaks, ideal for certain businesses. Mainland companies, however, adhere to stricter federal and local regulations, offering wider market access in exchange.
  2. Ownership and Control: Free Zones grant foreign investors complete ownership, eliminating the need for a local sponsor. This is perfect for those seeking full control. While the Dubai Mainland Company Setup now allows 100% foreign ownership in many sectors, some activities may still require a local partner, impacting control and profitability.
  3. Market Access: Mainland companies enjoy the freedom to operate across the UAE, including direct access to the local market. Free Zone companies typically operate within their designated zone and internationally, unless they acquire additional licenses or partner with local distributors.
  4. Visa and Office Requirements: The Mainland imposes no restrictions on the number of visas a company can apply for, but requires a physical office space. Free Zones often have limitations on visas but offer more flexibility with office solutions, including virtual options, which can be more cost-effective for startups.
  5. Tax Implications: We are in 2024 and there are several levels of taxation involved across Mainland businesses as well as the Free zones. Although the taxation percentile is much lower compared to the other business locations of the world, you as an entrepreneur can be impacted. There are also taxation reliefs provided to small businesses and certain activities in Free Zones – which can significantly reduce overall costs.
These factors significantly influence a company’s operational flexibility, financial health, and growth potential. Therefore, it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to carefully analyze their business needs, long-term goals, and the unique advantages offered by each setup before making a decision. Consulting with business setup specialists or legal advisors in Dubai is highly recommended to ensure an informed choice.

The Real Deal: So, What Is the Difference Between Mainland and Free Zone?

Choosing between Dubai’s Mainland and Freezone setups can be a challenge for new investors. There are several factors to consider, and the best option depends on your specific business activity and goals. So, if you are having doubts and wondering if it is ideal to have a business setup in Dubai Free Zone or Mainland – here is a comparative analysis.
This Table Can Help You Decide Which Best Suits Your Business the Best:




Ownership & Control

Up to 100% foreign ownership (may require a local sponsor for some activities)

100% foreign ownership

Nature of Business Activities

Limited to specific groups of related activities

Allows for a wide variety of business activities under one license, even if unrelated. Ideal for innovative projects or international trade

Licensing Process

  • The process of getting a Dubai Free Zone license is easily done through a single window system. 
  • Although, you may require certifications from diverse judicial bodies. However, the process is integrated by an independent free zone authority. The free zone authority may be a private or a governmental entity, depending on which free zone you decide to register with.
  • A company registration in Dubai Mainland is completely regulated by the Department of Economic Development in Dubai (DED) – which is a government authority. 
  • Mainland company registration in Dubai requires you to obtain a DED license.
  • Registering a company in Dubai mainland requires certifications and permissions, depending on the business activity and legal structure of the company. 

Office Space

Physical office required (registered with Ejari)

Option to choose between physical or virtual business location

Visa Requirements

No restrictions on the number of visas

Some restrictions, typically allowing 6-7 visas

Legal & Regulatory Considerations

Subject to federal and local laws

Self-regulated and often provide tax exemptions and streamlined setup processes

Market Access

Broader market access, ability to operate across the UAE

Industry-specific support but limited to the free zone’s geographical area unless additional provisions are made

Corporate Tax Impact

  • The AED 375,000 threshold applies to the total taxable income of the mainland business for the entire financial year. This means if your business earns less than AED 375,000 in taxable income, you will pay 0% corporate tax.
  • This applies to each Taxable Person. If you own multiple Mainland businesses registered under your name, they are considered as one Taxable Person. You will only benefit from a single AED 375,000 threshold for all your combined Mainland businesses.
  • The situation for free zone businesses is a bit different. QFZPs (Qualifying Free Zone Persons) have a separate tax framework with potential tax exemptions depending on the specific free zone and the nature of their business activity.
  • The standard AED 375,000 threshold might not directly apply to QFZPs. Some free zones may offer different thresholds or exemptions based on their regulations.
  • De Minimis Rule: Some free zones might utilize the “De Minimis Rule” which allows QFZPs with minimal non-qualifying income (income not eligible for tax exemption) to enjoy the 0% tax rate. This rule typically sets a limit, for example, less than 5% of total revenue or less than AED 5 million (whichever is lower) on non-qualifying income for the 0% tax benefit to apply.
Cost Comparison: Free Zone vs Mainland Company Setup in Dubai


Free Zone


Setup Fee Range (AED)

10,000 – 30,000+

20,000 – 40,000+

Minimum Share Capital

Not Required

May Be Required

Office Space

Virtual Option Often Available

Physical Office Required

License Fees

Generally Lower

Generally Higher

Renewal Fees

Annual Fees Apply

Annual Fees Apply

Visa Costs



As of the first quarter of 2024, the number of new companies formed in Dubai Mainland and Free Zones is as follows:

As of the first quarter of 2024, the number of new companies formed in Dubai Mainland and Free Zones is as follows:

1. Business Setup in Dubai Mainland

Free Zone VS Mainland | New Company Registration In Dubai
More than 19,000 new companies joined the Dubai Chamber of Commerce during Q1 2024, which represents a year-over-year growth of 17.6%.
Dubai Chamber Of Commerce | Acheivements

2. Business Setup in Dubai Free Zones

While there isn’t an exact number of new companies formed in Dubai Free Zones for 2024, it’s known that Free Zones in Dubai are home to thousands of companies from over 140 countries. The DMCC Free Zone alone welcomed 2,692 new companies in the previous year.These figures highlight the dynamic business environment in Dubai and the continued growth in both Mainland and Free Zone areas.So, which one should you go for? Still not sure between having a business setup in Dubai mainland or a Free Zone – just book a free consultation and our experts at CorpCreators can help you understand better.CorpCreators is a leading business setup service provider assisting establishments, entrepreneurs, and SMEs in company formation across various jurisdictions. We recommend the right type of business setup for you and offer exclusive rates on company setup in Dubai. For more details send us an inquiry today! 
Picture of Corpcreators
Share this post
Business Setup Blogs | News & Updates Dubai

Do you have a question or crave more insights about our services? We’re all ears! Send us a message, and we will act to assist you. Expect a friendly response, pronto!

Need Help?
Scroll to Top


Get Your Free Estimate Today

Thank You!

Your submission was successful. Our expert will contact you soon.