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The Best Countries to Start a Business in The Middle East

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  • In August 2020, the UAE signed an agreement to normalise relations with Israel, that is bringing a never seen before extensive amounts of Israeli customers, tourists, and investors to all industries
  • Qatar is ranked second for pay taxes, first for registering properties and second for getting construction in the region by the World Bank
  • Saudi Arabia is prioritising construction to increase homeownership from 47% in 2016 to 70% by 2030
  • There are free zones in mainland Oman where since January 2020, foreigners can own 100% of companies

Starting a business is hard. As an entrepreneur, you have to make informed decisions about your business, and deciding where to locate or sell your products and services is one of the most important ones. If you are contemplating starting up a business in the Middle-east, especially as a foreigner, keep in mind that the political climate is different from that of European and American countries. We’ve put together this list of the best countries to start a business in the Middle-east, to help you make this decision. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Dubai and Abu Dhabi, its capital, in the UAE have an excellent business climate and rightly ranked first in the Middle East and Africa region for Ease of doing business and starting a business by the World Bank. It’s also relatively easy to get credit, and the UAE only levies taxes on oil companies and foreign banks, so it’s great for keeping costs down and earning significant profits. Despite these tax, the UAE has one of the best oil and gas, finance, construction, and tourism industries in the world.

The government maintains good trade relations with Western nations and is taking steps to strengthen relations with more countries. In August 2020, it signed an agreement to normalise relations with Israel, that is bringing a never seen before extensive amounts of Israeli customers, tourists, and investors to all industries. It’s a great time and an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs to start a business in any UAE industry. 

Qatar

Qatar is a good destination for starting a business in the Middle East. It’s ranked second for pay taxes, first for registering properties and second for getting construction in the region by the World Bank as it’s relatively easy for companies to set up shop. Although 70% of its government revenue is from oil and gas, Qatar is taking big steps to diversify its industry into construction, real estate, finance, steel, agriculture, renewable energy, and most notably tourism. Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup of 2022, which will likely bring the largest amount of tourists the country has ever had. Starting a business in the tourism or diversifying industries could be profitable.

Saudi Arabia

The fact that Saudi Arabia is an oil-rich country is known to everyone. More than 50% of the country’s revenues come from the oil industry. Apart from this, Saudi Arabia has been witnessing a construction boom in recent years. The government is prioritising transport networks, hospitals, schools, entertainment and energy facilities construction to increase homeownership from 47% in 2016 to 70% by 2030 as part of The Housing Vision Realisation Programme. 

The World Bank ranks it fourth in the Middle East and North Africa region for starting a business, fifth for getting credit and first for protecting minority investors. It’s becoming a good place for startups and investors to get grants and loans for starting businesses, especially in the construction industry. 

Oman

Oman, and especially its capital Muscat, is a great place to start a business and is ranked as one of the best in the region by the World Bank. A word of warning for foreigners, the country does not permit foreigners to own a stake of over 49% in 40 types of activities. There are free zones in mainland Oman where since January 2020, foreigners can own 100% of companies. You have to apply for and get special permission to start a business in Muscat. So keep this in mind before deciding to launch your company. 

In addition to the above countries, there is very good business potential in a few other Middle Eastern like Kuwait and Bahrain which also rank highly by the World Bank and are making developments to strengthen their economies for startups.

Amin Bilal is a business consultant, founder of CompanyHand.com, and content creator. He specialises in advising SMEs and large multinational corporations solve finance, operational, and technological problems.

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