By: Andries Haystek & Cisca Weavill
The notion of expanding your business into the Middle East can be daunting for those who haven’t worked there or feel they don’t know the area well enough to be successful. Uncertainty is understandable, but the opportunities that await in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and other countries in the region are reason enough to justify some preliminary exploration. With government-funded programs to encourage startups, a vibrant expat community, and huge investments in infrastructure, more and more companies are seeing expansion into the Middle East as not just attainable, but smart business.
It’s a new and fertile market for many types of industries. For those who aren’t ready to commit to setting up an entity, you can make inroads and test out the market incrementally. In fact, the path to expansion can be made easier by enlisting business support services from a partner with in-country connections and experience. The right partner can see you through the nuances of getting established and navigating tax, visa, and other practical matters. Sometimes a relatively small matter, like concerns about getting visa approval based on a current local trade license, can make a company second-guess its expansion plans. That’s where the help of an EOR/AOR partner can make all the difference.
Which industries are growing in the Middle East?
Fintech, traditional banks, aviation, IT, defense suppliers, and others are bringing billions to the region, and governments in these countries are paving the way for startups and innovation in industries well beyond oil and gas.
Government leaders in several Middle East countries are hoping to attract foreign investment as a way to diversify their country’s economies. Beyond the sizable oil and gas industry activity in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), government leaders hope to strengthen the economy by nurturing tourism, agriculture and AgTech, finance, healthcare, and biopharma. These industries offer ample growth opportunities for companies interested in expanding into the region.
Investment in the UAE was further encouraged as a result of a 2021 amendment. Foreign companies desiring to open a company in the UAE no longer need a majority share of the company to be owned by a UAE national. The Abu Dhabi government, in a statement about the change, said it showed the government’s “keenness to attract more foreign direct investments by promoting an open and flexible business environment.”
Saudi Arabia is aggressively planning to position itself as a leader in aviation and is hoping the aviation industry will drive growth in that country. Tourism is another future focus for Saudi Arabia, where very ambitious plans are in motion and aviation is integral as an enabler. Saudi Arabia is also working on the foundations to make the country an attractive and prosperous global business hub. It’s one of a number of changes spurred by Saudi Vision 2030, a plan announced in 2016 to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and chart a path toward “a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation.”
What’s driving new foreign interest in Middle East expansion?
Rapidly expanding markets, zero income tax, and government grants to drive innovation are big motivators for Middle East expansion. Infrastructure improvements also encourage growth. The region’s return to (economic) normal after the pandemic was quicker than in other parts of the world because of significant government investment in infrastructure. The region’s airports are renowned for their modernity and upgraded amenities, and to say that the region’s building industry is booming would be an understatement.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) was launched with the objective of helping investors and companies of all sizes establish, grow and develop their businesses in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Dubai is also aggressively seeking new ideas and funding startups with government funds. Reports show 50% of registered businesses in Dubai are startups, signaling that incentives are having an impact.
In short, companies can expand because the hurdles to entry aren’t what they used to be. And if you’re in an industry with the potential to feed a pent-up demand, the investment can be lucrative.
Making the transition to the Middle East smoother
Engaging with a local provider with a global perspective, like People2.0, can help your company stay on top of the ever-changing complexity of visa requirements and procedures for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. People2.0’s local knowledge, relationships, and expertise make entering the market a more seamless process.
An in-country partner is more than a tour guide. They take a consultative approach to the relationship, staying with clients to navigate their needs as they evolve.
In the end, establishing a business presence in the Middle East is not without complexities. However, an EOR/AOR provider and long-term partner like People2.0 can offer services that eliminate the need for you to start from scratch regarding procedures and regulations, reducing many of the bureaucratic burdens that would typically serve as barriers to entry.