Economic Substance Regulations Issued - UAE

Who is Subject to the Regulations?

The Regulations apply to all UAE onshore and free zone companies that carry on a "Relevant Activity". It is yet to be confirmed whether the Regulations will also apply to sole proprietorships and branches, but we expect entities incorporated under offshore (free zone) companies regulations that carry on a “Relevant Activity” to be within the scope of the Regulations.

Entities that are directly or indirectly owned by the UAE government (both federal and local) are specifically excluded from the Regulations. On this basis, UAE sovereign investment funds and other UAE government related entities would not need to meet the UAE economic substance requirements.

The following are considered as “Relevant Activities” under the Regulations:



§Fund management




§Holding company

§Intellectual property (IP)

§Distribution and service centre

What are the economic substance requirements?

To satisfy the economic substance requirements in relation to a Relevant Activity, a Relevant Entity must:

Conduct the relevant “core income generating activities” in the UAE;

Be “directed and managed” in the UAE; and

With reference to the level of activities performed in the UAE:

Have adequate number of qualified full-time employees in the UAE

Incur an adequate amount of operating expenditure in the UAE

Have adequate physical assets in the UAE.

A Relevant Entity that only undertakes a Holding Company Business will be subject to less stringent economic substance requirements. Additional requirements apply if a Relevant Entity carries out “high risk IP related activities”.

If a Relevant Entity carries out more than one Relevant Activity, the economic substance requirements must be met for each of the Relevant Activities.

What are the economic substance requirements?

Outsourcing to third-party service providers

The Regulations allow a company to outsource some or all of its activity to third-party service providers; however, these service providers must in their own right have adequate presence in the UAE and the company must be able to demonstrate that it has adequate supervision of the outsourced activities.

Support from service providers cannot be ‘double counted’ if the services are provided to more than one Relevant Entity.

What are the reporting requirements?

A Relevant Entity will be required to report certain information on its Relevant Activities on an annual basis to the relevant regulatory authority (being the authority that issued the trade licence to the Relevant Entity).

Existing Entities: Must comply with the Regulations from 30 April 2019, with the first return due in 2020

New Entities: Must comply with the Regulations upon receiving its trade license with the first return due in 2020 (or later)

Failure to comply would result in administrative penalties (not less than AED 10,000 but not exceeding AED 50,000 in the first year, increased to an amount not less than AED 50,000 but not exceeding AED 300,000 in the subsequent year), subject to a six-year limitation period.

Additional penalties such as suspending, revoking or not renewing the UAE Relevant Entity’s trade licence could also apply.

Refers to an entity with an existing trade licence in the UAE on the effective date of the Regulations, being 30 April 2019.

Refers to an entity that receives a trade licence on or after the effective date of the Regulations, being 30 April 2019.

The takeaway

The introduction of the Regulations in the UAE brings the UAE in line with other jurisdictions that have recently issued economic substance legislation (e.g. Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Mauritius), and affirms the UAE’s commitment to addressing concerns around the shifting of profits derived from certain mobile business activities to “no or nominal tax jurisdictions” without corresponding local economic activities. This should also be seen as the UAE making positive progress towards meeting the EU’s requirements to be removed from the EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes (the EU blacklist).

The Regulations should have limited impact on UAE-headquartered businesses and foreign multinationals that have genuine commercial operations and management in the UAE (aside from complying with additional disclosure requirements going forward).

For multinationals that undertake Relevant Activities in the UAE but are managed remotely, the governance structure and operating model should be reassessed in light of the UAE economic substance requirements, and any necessary adjustments should be made to ensure compliance with the Regulations.

For a deeper discussion of how this development might affect your business, please contact:

RTD Accounting and Consultancy


Economic Substance Regulations Issued
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