Plan to take your UAE business global? These tax strategies will help
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Plan to take your UAE-based business global? These tax strategies will help

Plan to take your UAE-based business global? These tax strategies will help

When it comes to expanding globally from a UAE base, the complexity of tax regulations across different jurisdictions can pose significant hurdles

Gulf Business
Tax strategies to help expand your business globally GettyImages-918061226

In today’s interconnected world, businesses have unprecedented access to international markets. Companies of all sizes can now venture beyond their domestic borders, opening up new avenues for revenue generation and growth opportunities.

However, when it comes to expanding globally from a UAE base, the complexity of tax regulations across different jurisdictions can pose significant hurdles.

Navigating varying corporate tax rates, understanding and complying with local tax laws, and managing the risk of double taxation are all essential to avoid legal pitfalls and unnecessary tax burdens.

So, how can UAE-based businesses manage these tax challenges to unlock the full potential of international markets?

Setting the foundation with corporate domicile

A fundamental step in this process is understanding the concept of corporate domicile, which plays a pivotal role in determining a company’s tax obligations. For UAE-based companies, this is particularly significant.

The UAE offers a favourable tax environment with minimal corporate taxes and strategic tax grouping provisions, making it an attractive hub for businesses aiming to expand globally.

Corporate domicile essentially determines where a company is considered to reside for tax purposes. For businesses in the UAE, achieving the status of a resident entity involves being effectively managed and controlled within the country. This distinction opens the door to substantial tax advantages.

Notably, foreign companies that have significant shareholdings in UAE entities and meet specific residency criteria outlined in the UAE’s corporate tax law can benefit immensely. Such criteria include having UAE residents as directors and key decision-makers and allowing these foreign companies to form a tax group with their UAE subsidiaries. This not only simplifies the tax reporting process but also maximises the benefits stemming from the UAE’s tax-efficient framework.

By laying this groundwork, you can navigate the initial stages of international expansion more effectively, setting the stage for a deeper exploration of tax planning and leveraging international agreements.

Leveraging double tax agreements

The UAE stands out for its tax-friendly regime. Unlike many other countries, it imposes minimal corporate taxes and offers a relatively straightforward tax framework, making it a good choice as an operational base or headquarters. However, ensuring that these benefits extend to your business operations abroad requires an understanding of how the country’s double taxation policies work and how they can be used to your advantage.

The UAE has established double taxation treaties (DTTs) with over a hundred countries worldwide, designed to prevent the same income from being taxed by two different jurisdictions. However, each DTA is unique, with specific provisions regarding the types of income covered and the methods for avoiding double taxation so it’s essential to understand the details of the agreements with countries where you plan to do business.

By structuring investments through jurisdictions that have favourable DTAs with both the UAE and the destination country, or establishing subsidiaries in a manner that leverages benefits offered by DTAs, you can reduce or even eliminate your tax liability on foreign income.

Many multinational corporations operating in the UAE have used this strategy to good effect. Several tech giants and pharmaceutical companies allocate profits to subsidiaries in countries with favourable tax rates. This legal strategy, known as profit shifting, involves setting up operations or intellectual property holdings in these jurisdictions to minimise overall tax liability.

Restructuring supply chains is another way to take advantage of favourable DTAs.

For instance, a company might establish a logistics base in the UAE to serve markets where the UAE has beneficial DTAs, reducing withholding taxes on dividends and interest income from foreign subsidiaries. This can significantly lower the overall tax burden on repatriated profits.

Transfer pricing

Effective transfer pricing strategies are another powerful tool for tax optimisation, enabling businesses to allocate income and expenses in a manner that reflects economic reality while minimising tax liabilities across jurisdictions.

However, this requires a nuanced understanding of the rules and regulations in each country of operation and the ability to document and justify transfer pricing practices to tax authorities.

Given its potential impact on taxable income, transfer pricing is under intense scrutiny from tax authorities worldwide, so adhering to international guidelines, such as those set by the OECD, is essential for you to ensure that your policies are defensible and align with the “arm’s length” principle.

Practically implementing these strategies involves conducting comprehensive transfer pricing studies and maintaining detailed documentation to support your pricing policies. For instance, a UAE-based electronics manufacturer with components sourced from its subsidiary in Malaysia might use a transfer pricing study to set the purchase price of components at market value, ensuring compliance with the arm’s length principle while simultaneously optimising its tax position across both jurisdictions.

Leveraging IP holding structures

Being smart about where you “store” your business’ intellectual property (IP) is also crucial. Considering that IP is not just a legal asset but a significant contributor to a company’s value, managing it wisely is key to optimising tax benefits and protecting against competitive threats.

By establishing a holding company in the UAE and transferring ownership of your intellectual assets to this entity, you can not only leverage the UAE’s tax and legal benefits, potentially reducing taxes on income generated from these assets, but also maximise their value globally.

It’s about considering the rules of different places and using them to benefit your business the most.

In practice, for a tech company, for example, this could mean significant savings on taxes from software licencing fees collected from global customers, or for a manufacturing company, it could protect and efficiently tax the use of patented technologies.


As a UAE-based business reaching across borders, understanding and adhering to the varied legal and tax landscapes of the different jurisdictions you operate in should be a crucial part of your expansion strategy. Compliance is key not only to ensure the smooth operation of international activities but also to avoid potential pitfalls that could lead to financial penalties or legal challenges.

Each country has its unique set of tax laws and regulations, which can change frequently and misunderstanding these laws can result in non-compliance, leading to fines or legal issues. For instance, what qualifies as a deductible expense in one country may not be in another. It’s therefore essential that before entering a new market, you conduct comprehensive research into its tax laws and regulations to understand the tax implications of your particular business structure and operations.

 Different jurisdictions may also have varied reporting requirements, deadlines, and formats so it’s important to stay updated on any changes in the jurisdictions where you operate, regularly review your tax strategies and engage local tax advisors or legal experts who understand the intricacies of tax systems in different countries.

Practical considerations and next steps

Ultimately, while expanding your UAE-based business internationally can open up new markets and significant growth opportunities, it also comes with its share of tax complexities that require careful navigation and strategic planning, from deciding between centralising or decentralising operations to navigating the intricacies of transfer pricing and effectively managing intellectual property. These aren’t just isolated tasks; they’re integral pieces of a larger puzzle that fits together to shape your business’s global tax strategy.

It’s important to look at the big picture. How does setting up a subsidiary influence your transfer pricing strategies? Can the way you manage your IP assets in the UAE enhance your global competitiveness? These considerations should work in tandem, informing each decision you make as you venture into new markets.

Since the landscape of international tax is ever-evolving, with regulations that can vary wildly from one jurisdiction to the next, engaging with tax professionals is essential.

The right advisors can offer insights and strategies tailored to your business’s unique situation, ensuring that your international expansion maximises your business’ value and sustainability in the long term.

The writer is the director of Legal and Compliance at the Knightsbridge Group.

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