Everything you need to know about business tax in the UAE

6 minutes to read

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a well-earned reputation as a tax haven for individuals and businesses alike. The UAE offers a unique blend of tax policies that cater to global business owners, entrepreneurs, and investors. 

This article delves into the UAE’s tax landscape, highlighting types of business taxes, tax incentives. Of course compliance requirements, recent law changes, and the implications of non-compliance. 

Types of business taxes in the UAE

The UAE is known for its business-friendly tax regime. But like any modern economy, there are multiple taxes that businesses are beholden to. 

Here are the key types of taxes you should be aware of as a business owner in the UAE:

  • Corporate Tax: In a significant policy shift, the UAE introduced a corporate tax on business profits in June 2023. The tax rate is set at 9% for taxable income exceeding AED 375,000, aiming to align with global efforts against tax evasion and ensure fiscal sustainability. Profits below this threshold remain tax-exempt to support small businesses and startups.
  • Value-Added Tax (VAT): Implemented in January 2018, VAT is charged at a standard rate of 5% on most goods and services. Certain essential goods and services are either zero-rated or exempt, supporting consumer essentials and specific sectors like healthcare and education.
  • Excise Tax: This indirect tax is imposed on specific goods deemed harmful to human health or the environment. As of my last update, products such as tobacco (100%), energy drinks (100%), and carbonated drinks (50%) are subject to excise tax intended to reduce consumption of unhealthy products.
  • Free Zone Taxes: Businesses operating within the UAE’s Free Zones may be exempt from corporate tax for a certain activities, depending on the Free Zone’s specific regulations. However, they must comply with VAT and other applicable taxes outside these zones.

Tax incentives

The UAE’s recent stance change on levying corporate tax. There are still significant tax benefits to operating a business within the Emarites:

    • Zero corporate tax for Free Zones: Foreign-owned businesses operating in the UAE’s Free Zones can benefit from a 0% corporate tax rate for a specified activities. This incentive is aimed at encouraging investment in sectors deemed strategic for the UAE’s economic development. Businesses in Free Zones are also exempt from import and export taxes as well. Examples include Dubai Internet City (DIC) and Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA).
    • 100% foreign ownership: In specific sectors, foreign investors can own 100% of their business in the UAE mainland, a shift from previous restrictions. This incentive is coupled with protections against arbitrary taxation increases, offering a stable fiscal environment.
    • No personal income tax: The UAE does not levy personal income tax, an incentive that extends to investors and employees of foreign-owned businesses. This policy enhances the UAE’s attractiveness as a place to live and work for global talent.
    • R&D incentives: Grants and subsidies are typically available to businesses in high-tech and innovative sectors. These include programs like the Innovation Incentive Program, Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), and Dubai Future Foundation (DFF).
    • Double taxation treaties: The UAE has signed double tax treaties with over 130 countries to prevent double taxation of income earned in one country by a resident of another country. Amongst others, they have agreements with countries like the UK, India, China, and Germany.

Compliance, reporting, and tax planning

Like any country, fully understanding taxes in the UAE can be challenging. However, here’s an overview of the key information you need to know:

  • VAT compliance. Businesses with taxable supplies and imports exceeding AED 375,000 per annum must register for VAT. VAT returns are typically filed quarterly. VAT payments are also typically due on the 28th day of the month following the end of the tax period.
  • Corporate Tax. With the introduction of corporate tax on business profits exceeding AED 375,000 from June 2023, businesses must prepare by maintaining accurate financial records and understanding applicable deductions and exemptions. The first tax period starts from 1 June 2023 till 31 May 2024 and depend on Financial year of the company. The return filing period will be from 1 June 2024 to 28 February 2025.


  • Excise tax compliance. Companies dealing in goods subject to excise tax, such as tobacco, energy drinks, and carbonated drinks, must register for excise tax. File returns monthly, and maintain precise records of production, stock levels, and sales.
  • Free Zone reporting requirements. While Free Zones offer tax incentives, businesses must comply with the specific reporting requirements of their Free Zone authority, including annual financial statements and audits, where applicable. Compliance with VAT and excise tax regulations also applies within Free Zones.
  • Double taxation treaties. Even with a formal taxation treaty, you will still be subject to reporting mandates within the other country. The UAE might not have formal double taxation agreements with countries like the US. Those who pay tax in both countries may still benefit from tax exemption credits based on taxes paid in the primary country.

Tax planning

  • Tax planning. Effective tax planning is crucial for maximizing the benefits of the UAE’s tax regime. This includes structuring businesses to take advantage of Free Zone benefits. Then optimizing for VAT and excise tax, and international tax planning to leverage double taxation agreements.

Recent changes in tax laws

In 2024, the UAE introduced significant changes to its tax policies. Most notably the implementation of a corporate income tax (CIT) system. 

Here’s a breakdown of the key changes:

  • Introduction of corporate income tax. A major shift from its previously tax-free business environment, the UAE has implemented a corporate income tax effective for fiscal years starting on or after June 1, 2023.
  • Tiered taxation policy. The CIT structure is tiered, with different rates applying based on the level of profits.
  • Tier 1. A 0% tax rate for companies with annual net profits up to AED 375,000, aimed at supporting small businesses and startups.
  • Tier 2. A 9% tax rate for companies with profits exceeding AED 375,000, which aligns the UAE more closely with global corporate tax norms.
  • Tier 3. A different tax rate for large multinational companies that are subject to the OECD Pillar Two guidelines, which ensures that they pay a minimum tax rate of 15% globally.
  • Tax residency law. Ministerial Decision No. 247/2023 outlines procedures for obtaining a Tax Residency Certificate, effective from March 1, 2023, for international agreements and tax domicile determination in line with international standards.

The UAE’s new corporate tax regime is aligned with the OECD’s global minimum tax rate of 15% for multinational enterprises, applicable to large groups with revenues exceeding EUR 750 million. This is part of the UAE’s commitment to international tax standards and efforts to prevent tax base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS).

Penalties and consequences for tax non-compliance

In the UAE, tax non-compliance carries significant penalties and consequences to enforce adherence to tax regulations. For VAT, penalties include fines for late registration, incorrect tax filings, and late payments, with amounts varying based on the violation’s nature and severity. 

Similarly, for excise tax, non-compliance can result in hefty fines and legal actions. With the introduction of corporate tax, businesses must be diligent in their compliance efforts to avoid penalties for late submissions or inaccurate reporting of income. 

Non-compliance can also lead to reputational damage, impacting business operations and investor confidence. 

From a global perspective, the UAE continues to be somewhat of a haven for business-friendly tax policies. While some view the introduction of a corporate tax as a betrayal of that policy, it’s still one of the lowest in the world and less than half of the global average. Businesses also have numerous other opportunities to maximize their tax savings and boost their margins.

Book a call with YouReg right now and get a free consultation about opening a business in UAE, Cyprus or Hong Kong today!


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