25 Online Business Ideas in Dubai | Should You Choose Mainland Or Free Zone Setup?

November 9, 2023

Online business ideas in Dubai are:

  • Local lead generation
  • Freelancing
  • Translation business
  • Social media marketing agency
  • SEO agency

The city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is quickly becoming one of the hottest destinations for business on the planet, with literally tens of thousands of new businesses popping up each year. In fact, over 45,000 new business licenses were reported in the first half of 2022 alone, according to Dubai Media Office. Furthermore, the UAE ranks #1 globally as the best place to start a business, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2022. The country, which boasts some of the wealthiest and innovative cities in the Middle East and the entire world, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has primed itself as an incredible business opportunity for many in recent years.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the most profitable business ideas you can start online with a Dubai UAE business. We also cover the steps required for online business setup and company formation in Dubai, as well as the advantages of setting up a business in Dubai, like the potential for 0% corporate tax. 

1. Local lead generation

Local lead generation is an online business idea that entails ranking websites on Google to attract customers for local service businesses. Considering that Dubai has over 557,000 small and medium-sized businesses, a local lead generation agency in Dubai has many potential clients to serve, according to the UAE government website. Starting a local lead generation agency costs less than AED1,000 because your major costs in the beginning are for website setup, like setting up hosting and choosing a relevant domain name. It typically takes between 6 weeks and 6 months to get a business website to rank well on Google using local SEO, after which you can partner with a relevant local business to receive the leads and charge them anywhere from AED1,800 to AED11,000/month. Once you partner with a local business to receive the leads, they’ll usually stick with you for the long run because you’re providing them a dependable source of business through an efficient and stable marketing channel in SEO. 

2. Freelancing

Freelancing is offering your skills to businesses on a temporary, contractual basis instead of as a full time employee. Freelancing is a profitable business idea because you usually just trade your skills and time directly for money, so you don’t have many overhead costs like a typical business does. According to a 2022 survey of 1,764 MENA (Middle East and North Africa) respondents, 70% of employers in the region plan to outsource more work to freelancers. To accommodate this trend, Dubai has even established a special freelancing visa, which allows freelancers to work in the city for between 2 and 10 years and receive tax benefits like 0% corporate and personal tax, according to Dubai Lawyer. The freelance industries that qualify for the Dubai freelance visa include:

  • Education
  • Marketing
  • IT
  • Consultancy
  • Event Management
  • Editing
  • Copywriting
  • Design

Dubai freelancers typically earn between AED40 and AED150/hour, according to Karuna Agarwal, the director of Future Tense HR.  

3. Translation business

A translation business translates documents and communication materials into a target language for internal business and external customer use. Dubai is an international city that has established itself as a global business center. As such, the city attracts a diverse population, with over 88% of the country’s population consisting of expats and immigrants, according to Global Media Insight. Although Arabic is the official language of Dubai, English is the most commonly spoken language because of the huge expat community. Other common languages used by Dubai’s population include Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tagalog, Persian, and Mandarin Chinese, according to Sprachcaffe. Therefore, there is a definite need for businesses to offer support in multiple languages to take full advantage of Dubai’s local population. For those who are fluent in multiple languages, offering translation services to Dubai companies is an excellent business idea to capitalize on the needs of the country’s diverse population and language profile. Translation services in Dubai typically charge between AED0.15 and AED0.45/word, according to Sim-Trans Translation Services. 

4. Social media marketing agency

A social media marketing agency is a business that provides social media marketing services, including content creation, community management, and running paid social campaigns, to attract an audience and spread brand awareness on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Social media usage is huge in Dubai and the broader UAE. In fact, the UAE is considered the social media capital of the world, according to a recent study by Proxyrack, with UAE residents using an average of 8.2 social media platforms and boasting the highest percent of Facebook users worldwide. According to Pakistan-based social media marketing agency SEOLHR, social media marketing services in Dubai can generate between AED5,000 to AED20,000+/month per client. The average startup cost for a social media marketing agency is around AED22,000, according to Starter Story. However, costs can vary depending on how much support you hire and which social media marketing tools you employ to carry out your services.

5. SEO agency

An SEO agency is a type of digital marketing business that helps businesses improve their online visibility in Search Engines like Google and Bing. Search Engine Optimization services can be extremely valuable to local businesses across the globe, and Dubai is no exception. According to a survey report conducted between Google and research and strategy consultancy Public First, 71% of UAE respondents said they use Google Maps to find local businesses. Therefore, an SEO agency specializing in local search can be especially valuable to a local Dubai business by helping more customers to find the business. Local SEO is also easier to implement because there’s less competition. As such, local SEO services in Dubai range between AED1,500 and AED5,000/month, while international SEO campaigns targeting customers outside of Dubai demand between AED10,000 and AED50,000/month, according to Global Media Insight.

6. Video marketing agency

A video marketing agency is a business that creates video for businesses, typically to use for branding and marketing purposes. For example, a video marketing agency can create animated explainer videos, whiteboard animations, product videos, campaign videos, documentaries, and profile videos. Humans are naturally equipped to receive visual media better than text, as the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. As such, it’s no surprise that according to a 2023 survey by Wyzowl, people are spending an average of 2.5 hours each day consuming video content. Although startup costs can definitely exceed AED40,000 to obtain the necessary video equipment, editing software, and video editing talent, you can earn anywhere from AED1,200 to AED50,000/project, according to UAE-based design company, eTCS. 

7. Affiliate marketing business

Affiliate marketing is a small business idea that entails promoting brands to earn commissions. Compared to other digital marketing business models, affiliate marketing allows for much greater flexibility because you promote brands as a third-party instead of charging brands to assist with marketing initiatives directly. Affiliate marketing is a pay-for-performance digital marketing service where you only earn money when your marketing efforts result in concrete, trackable results for a brand, such as sales, trial sign-ups, or app downloads.

Affiliate marketers in Dubai must abide by various laws and regulations, such as Consumer Protection law, Printing and Publication law, National Media Council regulations, and Cybercrime law. A Dubai-based affiliate marketer also needs to secure the proper trade license to operate. For example, if you want to promote affiliate links through social media, you must obtain a licence from the National Media Council (NMC), which costs AED15,000, according to Gulf News. You can obtain affiliate links to start affiliate marketing through an affiliate network. ArabClicks is a solid affiliate network that hosts affiliate programs for a range of companies operating in the Arab world, including Dubai. 

8. Sell Ecommerce

Selling Ecommerce is selling products online. Ecommerce leverages digital channels like Amazon or a Shopify store to attract internet users and sell products. Electronics, fashion and beauty, home appliances, food, baby products, car accessories, furniture, health items, footwear, and perfumes sell more in Dubai, according to the trending products of 2023 in the UAE by GoDaddy. The Ecommerce market in Dubai is growing at a healthy pace, expected to increase by 7.65% between 2023 and 2027, according to data from Statista.

To sell Ecommerce in Dubai, you must first obtain an Ecommerce license, also known as eTrade license, according to the UAE Government. The cost of an Ecommerce license in Dubai ranges from AED12,900 to AED50,000, depending on factors like location of business registration, according to UAE-based business setup consultancy Shuraa. All eTrade licenses must be approved through the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority, which is the agency responsible for regulating Ecommerce frameworks and transactions within the UAE. You’ll also need at least AED40,000 for Ecommerce expenses like sourcing products in bulk, paying for shipping to the customer, and running marketing campaigns. However, an Ecommerce business has the potential to grow and generate over AED40,000/month, after reinvesting profits and establishing strong supplier relationships over the course of a few years of operation. 

9. Trading company

A trading company buys and sells financial instruments like stocks, bonds, currencies, and cryptocurrencies in order to profit from price fluctuations. Dubai has two financial markets where you can trade securities directly, which include the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) for UAE-based businesses and Nasdaq Dubai to trade international stocks. To start an online trading business in Dubai, you first need to apply for a Dubai Financial Market Investment Number (NIN). This can be obtained through either the official DFM mobile app or through a DFM licensed brokerage, such as Emirates NBD Securities, Mashreq, International Securities, or BHM Capital. A DFM licensed brokerage is also where you’ll carry out your online trading activities, so it’s important to research your brokerage options and choose one that offers the specific financial assets you want to trade. 

Although you can start trading with minimal investment capital, your profit potential is highly dependent on the amount of money you have to risk on trades. Therefore, it’s probably best to have at least AED100,000 or more for investment capital alone to start trading in Dubai. For example, living expenses for a single person in Dubai currently hover around AED10,000/month. If you can average a strong trading profit of 10% per month on an AED100,000 starting capital, you’d earn enough at AED10,000/month to just be breaking even on your living expenses but have little additional income to reinvest profits to grow your trading capital. 

10. Online fitness instructor

An online fitness instructor crafts and delivers exercise training sessions through digital channels like YouTube or Skype. Starting an online fitness instructor business in Dubai is a solid business idea because there is growing demand for fitness services in the UAE, with an expected annual growth rate of 4% through 2027, according to a report by Ken Research. However, generic gym routines aren’t cutting it for many of the UAE’s residents. According to the Khaleej Times, niche fitness programs are what’s driving demand in the UAE’s fitness market. For example, Dubai-based fitness trainer and founder of It’s a PCOS Party, Georgie Ricks, generates online income by offering fitness programs specifically tailored for women combating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Therefore, the best way to make money as an online fitness instructor in Dubai is to find an underserved fitness niche, such as training for a specific sport or health condition. The average salary for a personal trainer in Dubai is around AED40,000/month, according to Glassdoor. 

11. Online course business

An online course business creates and publishes educational materials for broad distribution through digital channels. Dubai’s E-learning spending as of 2023 is estimated at $7.1 billion USD, according to UAE Ministry of Economy. While there’s immense opportunity to serve the UAE market, an online course business based in Dubai can also reach aspiring students at all corners of the globe as well. Starting an online course business requires that you have expertise in a topic or skill set that you can teach to an interested audience. Startup costs for an online course can range from AED700 to AED37,000 or more, according to Online Course Host. To set up an online course business in Dubai, you’ll also need to apply through Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and receive approval. Once you set up your business and publish a course with in-demand content, you can expect to earn anywhere from AED3.500 to AED35,000+/month from a single course, according to online education platform LearnWorlds. 

12. Bookkeeping and accounting

Bookkeeping and accounting is the process of recording and organizing financial data for a business, with tax preparation typically contributing a major portion of the services rendered. It’s no secret that Dubai is establishing itself as a global business hub because of favorable aspects like ease of business setup and low taxation. In fact, the city-state is currently experiencing a high startup business growth rate of 13% year-over-year, according to Dubai’s Department of Economic Development. With this influx of foreign business owners, there’s an excellent opportunity to provide the necessary bookkeeping and accounting services. Furthermore, according to The Global Talent Trends Survey by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, the Middle East is facing a talent shortage of accountants. By filling this need, you can expect to make around AED11,000/month, according to Glassdoor. 

13. Online business consultant

An online business consultancy is an online business idea that entails supporting businesses with expert guidance over a broad range of business aspects, like cybersecurity, accounting, law, human resources, and more. The purpose of a business consultancy is to provide a business with premium advice that they can utilize in support of achieving their business goals. Although a great choice for many, operating a business in Dubai can be extremely complicated, considering the comprehensive regulations and regulatory bodies that the city-state boasts. By serving as a liaison between Dubai and the many aspiring entrepreneurs looking to open businesses in the city-state, you can make between AED8,000 and AED31,000/month, according to GulfTalent.

14. Event planning company

An event planning company organizes and manages events like corporate meetings, weddings, concerts, and Aqiqah newborn baby celebrations. An event planning business is responsible for:

  • Communicating with clients to discover needs
  • Find the right event location to book
  • Managing vendor relationships
  • Soliciting bids to vendors for supplies and services
  • Maintaining the budget of the event owner

The average salary for an event planner is around AED4,500/month, according to approximately 32 salaries on Indeed.

15. Recruitment agency

A recruitment agency is a business that helps other businesses find suitable candidates for their job openings. Recruitment agencies handle nearly the entire hiring process for a business, including finding qualified applicants, conducting interviews, and helping the business to make hiring decisions with the findings. Recruitment agencies typically make money by charging businesses a percentage of the candidate’s starting annual salary. Around 25% is what most recruitment agencies charge, according to executive search and recruitment firm IQ Partners Inc. For example, if you help a candidate land a role with a starting salary of AED200,000/year, you could make AED50,000 for facilitating the recruitment process. To operate this business, you could hire a team of recruiters to support the business’s activities to reach more prospective clients. The average recruiter in Dubai makes AED5,500/month, according to GulfTalent. 

16. Content marketing agency

A content marketing agency specializes in creating content for businesses that attracts the business's target audience through highly informative and engaging content like blog posts, YouTube videos, or social media posts. Content marketers can charge clients based on the amount of hours they work or for each project, or pieces of content they publish for the business. Content marketers typically make around AED4,540/month in Dubai, according to 9 UAE content marketer salaries on Indeed.

17. Email marketing agency

An email marketing agency specializes in leveraging the digital channel of email to promote to businesses' email audiences. Email marketing agencies help businesses create and implement email marketing strategies to drive results, usually increasing sales. Email marketers are responsible for digital marketing tasks like creating captivating copy for email campaigns, managing lists of subscribers, and analyzing email data to improve metrics like open rates and conversions. An email marketing specialist can make around AED210K/year in Dubai when working on an international scale, according to data from Glassdoor. 

18. PPC advertising agency

A PPC advertising agency uses pay-per-click advertising like Google Ads, Facebooks Ads, and Amazon Ads to drive sales for clients through paid ads. PPC advertising agencies are responsible for understanding a brand's target audience, crafting ads to promote through relevant paid advertising channels where those target audiences spend time, and optimizing ad spend by analyzing campaign data and adjusting inputs where necessary. A PPC advertising specialist in Dubai can expect to earn approximately AED4,465/month, according to data from 12 UAE salaries on Indeed. 

19. Property management company

A property management company oversees the management of rental properties on behalf of landlords. Property management companies are responsible for tasks like collecting rent from tenants, coordinating repairs, and managing leases on behalf of property owners. By forming the proper connections with relevant maintenance companies and having the budget to hire some employees to help operate the business and attend to matters in-person when necessary, you can operate your property management company completely online. Considering that according propertyfinder.ae the majority 70% of UAE residents choose to rent rather than buy property, there are many landlords to offer property management services to. You can expect to generate around AED11,000/month in Dubai with a property management company, according to Gulf Talent.

20. Cleaning agency

A cleaning agency offers commercial and domestic cleaning services for properties by staffing cleaners and sending out cleaning crews when cleaning service is requested. A cleaning business makes money by charging clients more for the cleaning service than they pay for the supplies and labor to complete the clean. A cleaning business owner can make upwards of AED400,000/year, according to ZipRecruiter. However, profit potential depends on how efficiently you can market the business and how large you can scale with cleaners and clients who need cleaning services.

21. Travel agency

A travel agency offers advice on destinations, plans vacation itineraries, and organizes travel arrangements for clients. Travel agencies typically make money by taking a percentage fee on top of the trip amount. Considering that Dubai has become a global hub for tourism with one of the top rated airlines in Emirates, as well as acting as a gateway between Europe, Africa, and Asia, there are many opportunities for travel agencies operating in the city. Travel agents in Dubai make around AED4,000/month on average, according to Glassdoor. 

22. Blogging

Blogging is creating written content online for the purpose of attracting an audience. A blogger chooses a niche, like personal finance or food, and publishes consistent content around that niche to generate traffic online. Bloggers make money from the online audience they attract through various methods, like:

  • Affiliate marketing
  • Allowing advertising networks to run ads alongside content, such as Google AdSense
  • Brand sponsorships
  • Selling products or services

The average salary for a blogger in Dubai is approximately AED7,775/month, according to Indeed.

23. eBook publishing

eBook publishing is creating and uploading electronic books for sale online. An eBook publisher can promote their books through online eBook platforms like Amazon KDP and Google Play Books. These platforms pay upwards of 70% royalties on your books that sell through the platform. eBook writers typically earn around AED140/hour on average, according to ZipRecruiter. 

24. Start a YouTube channel

Starting a YouTube channel means choosing a niche and creating video content for an audience on the YouTube platform. Similar to blogging, a YouTube channel makes money through:

  • Affiliate marketing
  • Google AdSense
  • Sponsored videos
  • Promoting products and services

According to YouTube software tool VidIQ, the top YouTuber in Dubai is shfa2, whose account has over 24 billion views and more than 40 million subscribers. Data from YouTube revenue analyzation tool Social Blade shows that this channel makes between AED2.3 million and AED36 million each year in Google AdSense revenue alone. However, most profitable YouTubers make around AED242K/year on average, according to ZipRecruiter. It’s important to keep in mind that although it’s free to start a YouTube channel, it can take 2 years or more of publishing consistent content before the channel will generate any money.

25. Remote tech support business

Remote tech support is providing computer technical support through digital channels, like live chat and video conferencing platforms. A remote tech support company can serve any business that uses a computer to perform work, which is the majority of businesses in the modern world. Technical support specialists in Dubai can earn nearly AED5,000/month, according to Indeed. 

What are some online business ideas in Dubai for ladies?

  • Event planning - Event planning is coordinating events, such as weddings. The event planning industry is 76.9% women, according to a global survey of 2,000 people working within the event management industry conducted by IBTM Events. 
  • Social media marketing - Women are involved in key purchase decisions, including 96% of the time for personal care products, 93% of food and beverage purchases, and 89% of household appliances, according to a study by MENA. Therefore, women can be assumed to have a greater influence on and understanding of typical purchase decisions online. Considering that social media is where many online purchases occur, social media marketing could be an excellent opportunity for a lady to use their shopping expertise to drive online marketing results. 
  • Food blogging - In many cultures, including Middle Eastern cultures, women typically take on the highly essential role of food preparation for the family. Food blogging can be an excellent way to earn an income while preparing food at home for the family. 

Although ladies in Dubai may find these specific online business ideas especially attractive options, Dubai ladies can certainly start and successfully run any online business discussed in this entire article and beyond. 

How to start an online business in Dubai?

  1. Decide between mainland and free zone setup
  2. Choose a company name and get initial approval 
  3. Apply for proper online business license
  4. Secure a valid visa
  5. Open a business bank account

1. Decide between mainland or free zone setup

When starting an online business in Dubai, you should first decide in which jurisdiction you want to set up your business. The two options are mainland or free zone.

Dubai Mainland

A mainland business, also known as onshore, enables you to operate across the entire UAE, as well as internationally, without restriction. However, a mainland business requires that you have a local sponsor. A local sponsor is a UAE national that holds at least 51% of the share of capital of the company.

Dubai Free Zone

A free zone business is restricted to doing business only within the free zone and outside of the UAE. However, this type of business setup allows 100% foreign ownership, meaning the business does not require a local agent to operate. Furthermore, free zone businesses have no customs duties or taxes for trade within free zone boundaries. One of the most exciting aspects of Dubai free zones is that the city congregates relevant talent in a single geographic area based on the business activity. For example, Dubai Internet City is a free zone that serves as a hub for innovation and technology, while Dubai Media City is a free zone that houses the top media brands. 

Should you choose mainland or free zone setup?

You should choose mainland if you want extended flexibility for your business and the ability to do business across the broader UAE. You should choose free zone if you plan to do business outside of the UAE and want 100% ownership of your business. 

2. Choose a company name and get initial approval

Once you know where you will set up your business, choose a suitable company name to operate your business under. Here are some rules to abide by when choosing a suitable Dubai business name:

  • In order to operate your business under your own name, it must be your full name or surname
  • Use of offensive language, reference to Allah, politically charged terms, and political references are prohibited

You must also get initial approval for your business operations in order to be able to acquire the important documents required for a trade license. You can apply for initial approval through:

  • Invest in Dubai
  • Government of Dubai Economy and Tourism website
  • An authorized service center

The cost of obtaining initial approval in Dubai is AED120, according to Dubai Business Advisors. The process typically takes 10 minutes or fewer to receive approval. 

3. Apply for proper online business license

After receiving initial approval for your company setup, you can apply for an online business license through the authorities in Dubai. The specific type of license you need depends on where you're setting up your business, the type of business you're setting up, and the activities your business will partake in. The process of receiving an online business license in Dubai takes approximately 1 week, and the license needs to be renewed on a yearly basis, according to Dubai business setup consultancy Shuraa. 

4. Secure a valid visa

According to UAE rules, you must have a valid legal address in Dubai to operate an online business. In order to have a legal address in Dubai, you must obtain a proper visa that provides the right to live in the country. Obtaining a business license in Dubai allows you to obtain a valid visa. The type of visa you can apply for and its duration depend on the specifics of your business. 

5. Open a business bank account

Once you complete company registration and secure all the necessary documents, you can open a business bank account at your preferred Dubai bank. To open a business bank account in Dubai, you need:

  • Passport copy
  • Emirates ID 
  • Copy of Visa
  • Business license

Is online business allowed in Dubai?

Online business is allowed in Dubai. However, applying for an online business license is required to legally operate an online business in Dubai. You can apply for an online business license for the mainland by applying through the Dubai Department of Economic Development, while an online free zone business requires you to apply through the local authority of the free zone you decide to operate your business through. If you want to learn more, you might want to check my top remote business ideas

Can foreigners do business in Dubai?

Foreigners can do business in Dubai. Both foreign residents and even non-residents can set up and do business in Dubai. The exact process for a foreigner to do business in Dubai depends on the nature of the business and desires of the business owner. For example, an Ecommerce business owner that wishes to do business in Dubai and mainland UAE would need to apply for their online business license through the mainland instead of a free zone. 

What are the advantages of opening an online business in Dubai?

  • Less or potentially no tax
  • 100% repatriation of profits and capital
  • 100% ownership of company
  • No currency restrictions
  • Low operating income requirements
  • Ability to avoid import/export duties

How long does it take to start an online business in Dubai?

It takes between 1 week and 65 days to start an online business in Dubai. The length of time varies depending on factors like which type of visa you apply for. For example, foreigners that want to relocate to the UAE and open their online business from within the country must obtain a business visa, which can take upwards of 60 days, according to Immigrant Invest. Considering that it takes around 5 business days to obtain approval for a Dubai business license and at most 60 days to obtain a business visa for those who need it, the process can take up to 65 days to complete. 

Is it easy to start an online business in Dubai?

It is easy to start an online business in Dubai. Although there are a few decisions to make and a range of regulatory bodies to coordinate your business activities through, the Dubai government provides clear, straightforward information for setting up an online business. The Government of Dubai online portal even has a ChatGPT-powered AI chatbot tool called UAsk that can help answer many questions you have about starting an online business in Dubai. 

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Conclusion: Which online business is most profitable in Dubai?

Local lead generation is the most profitable online business in Dubai. A local lead generation business can achieve profit margins as high as 95%. That’s because a local lead generation website can generate up to AED11,000/month while only costing around AED550/month to maintain successfully. Besides amazing profit margins, local lead generation also provides superior profit potential compared to other Dubai business ideas. For example, freelancing can have high profit margins because it’s just trading time for money while potentially leveraging a few paid software tools to perform your service. Therefore, you can keep most of your revenue as profits as a freelancer. However, because you’re using your skills directly to make money, you’re limited by how much work you can actually take on and the potential profit you can make. 

On the other hand, a local lead generation business is a highly scalable opportunity. This is because a local lead generation business has the potential to make passive income. Once you rank a website on Google and partner with a local business, a local lead generation website generates mostly passive income because the website's operations can be mostly automated. This enables local lead generation business owners to focus more time on setting up more websites to start earning more money. For example, I now consistently earn the equivalent of AED190,000/month from my local lead generation business after continuously scaling my business with more local lead generation sites in the United States. If you want to learn how to do the same, this local lead generation training provides the step-by-step process to get started with this low investment, highly profitable business opportunity. 

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