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  • Financial free zones

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  • Introduction

This guide explains how financial free zones work within the UAE, including:

  • their current financial and support activities
  • compliance with UAE law
  • the restrictions imposed on financial free zone authorities, financial institutions and individuals within a financial free zone.​
  • Financial free zones

Free zones are specific geographic areas within the UAE.
 
Each free zone complies with special laws aimed at encouraging new business and attracting foreign investment.
 
Currently, there are about 30 free zones distributed among the different Emirates.
 
Financial free zones (FFZs) are free zones engaged in financial activities.
 
In the UAE, there are currently two FFZs:

  • the Global Marketplace Abu Dhabi (under construction)
  • the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)​
  • Activities within financial free zones

Financial activities within FFZs include:

  • banking and finance
  • insurance and reinsurance
  • financial markets
 
Support activities within FFZs include:

  • fiscal and monetary intermediation services
  • providing services and consultations
  • providing services to individuals or companies
  • providing goods for companies, institutions and individuals within the financial free zones
  • Complying with UAE laws

Established companies operating within a FFZ must comply with all UAE laws that apply outside the FFZ, except for civil and commercial laws, which are subject to the laws of the FFZ authority in question.
 
Branches of companies registered in an FFZ that also operate in the UAE outside the FFZ are subject to all UAE laws that apply outside the free zone, including civil and commercial laws.
  • Restrictions on organizations and individuals working in free zones

There are certain restrictions that FFZ authorities, companies and individuals working within them must follow.
 
In relation to banking activities, licensing is limited to companies and institutions that have:

  • a strong financial status
  • an integrated organizational and management structure
  • management with experience and knowledge of banking activities
 
Companies inside a FFZ cannot deal in UAE currency and cannot take deposits from UAE markets.
 
Financial intermediaries authorized to trade in UAE financial markets are only allowed to operate in a FFZ market after obtaining approval from the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA).
 
Companies listed on UAE trade markets are only allowed to be listed in any FFZ market after obtaining permission from the SCA.
 
Companies operating within a FFZ should not break any international treaty signed by the UAE.
 
Companies operating within a FFZ can:

  • operate outside the geographical boundaries of an FFZ, after obtaining a license from the FFZ authority, for a period of up to four years from the date the FFZ was established
  • work outside the UAE after obtaining a license from the FFZ authority
  • Further information

This guide is for reference only. For legal advice you should contact a UAE lawyer.​

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