Setting Up in Sharjah, UAE: A Foreign Investment Guide


The UAE emirate of Sharjah is not reliant on oil and gas reserves, and has well-developed manufacturing, construction, and real estate sectors. Supported by various free zones and industrial areas connected by efficient motorways and ports, these sectors have thrived. As the global travel industry recovers post-pandemic, tourism presents a promising avenue for expansion. Furthermore, Sharjah aims to enhance its education and medical services to further diversify its economy.

By Melissa Cyrill

Introducing the emirate of Sharjah

Situated just north of Dubai, Sharjah ranks as the UAE’s third largest emirate, boasting a diverse economy that contributes approximately 17 percent to the nation’s GDP. After retail, its industrial sector is a vital pillar, hosting over a third of the UAE’s factories across 33 industrial zones.

With a population exceeding 1.8 million, primarily concentrated in the city of Sharjah, the emirate forms an integral part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan area, merely 10 km north of Dubai International Airport.

Compared to its neighboring emirates Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah offers a notably lower cost of living, comparable to major cities in China, further enhancing its appeal as a thriving economic and residential hub. The commute between Sharjah and Dubai witnesses heavy traffic during peak hours, fueled by residents who reside in Sharjah but work in Dubai.

Renowned for its business-friendly governance and cost-effective operational landscape, Sharjah serves as an enticing destination for a wide array of industrial ventures. It offers a rich quality of life, abundant with cultural immersion, outdoor activities, and expansive parks. However, it maintains a “dry” status, prohibiting the sale of alcohol in hotels, restaurants, and other establishments.

Sharjah boasts robust infrastructure – with industrial zones, logistics, and cutting-edge telecommunication networks. Serving as the headquarters for Air Arabia, the Middle East’s pioneering low-cost airline, Sharjah stands as the sole GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) hub with direct access to both the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Its strategic significance is underscored by its ports, strategically positioned outside the narrowest section of the Strait of Hormuz, a region often marked by geopolitical tensions.

Choosing Sharjah as your UAE investment location

Sharjah, positioned as the gateway to the Middle East, offers a compelling environment for businesses to thrive. Here’s why:

  • Vibrant workforce: With a diverse and highly skilled population, Sharjah attracts talent from around the world, supported by significant investments in education.
  • Business-friendly environment: Setting up a business is seamless with industry-specific free zones and support from Sharjah Investors Services Centre (SAEED).
  • Gateway to UAE and GCC: Strategically located, Sharjah provides easy access to key hubs in the UAE, GCC, and beyond, making it an ideal export hub with its well-connected transportation infrastructure.
  • Innovation hub: Sharjah fosters innovation through its world-class innovation cluster, housing universities, research facilities, and initiatives like Digital Sharjah, attracting technology giants like Nokia, IBM, and Dell.
  • Attractive for entrepreneurs and SMEs: With over 60,000 SMEs and start-ups, Sharjah offers a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs, including incubators, accelerators, and annual events like the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival. Start-ups in Sharjah raised US$161 million and generated revenue of US$247 million in 2022, according to a 2023 Oxford Business Group report.
  • Investor handholding: The investment promotion agency will facilitate seamless investment through strong public-private collaboration, connecting stakeholders with opportunities for growth and business, providing expert market insights, tailored guidance, and aftercare support.

Setting up in Sharjah

Sharjah Mainland and Sharjah Free Zones are overseen by the Sharjah Department of Economic Development (SEDD), responsible for corporate entity licensing and registration. The SEDD ensures a streamlined process for registration, tailored to different business activities. Governed by the UAE Commercial Companies Law (CCL), recently amended to permit 100 percent foreign ownership, mainland businesses can operate across the UAE, engaging with both federal and local government entities.

Initiatives and incentives to facilitate business in the industrial sector:

  • Introduction of a unified electronic platform, the Sharjah Industrial Guide, streamlining industrial licensing procedures and services.
  • Implementation of the “Renew your license with us” service, enabling electronic license renewal.
  • Provision of the “Ask Industrial Expert” service to address investors’ inquiries promptly.

Initiatives and incentives to reduce business costs in the industrial sector:

  • Introduction of the option to license an industrial office prior to establishing the factory.
  • Government initiatives to allocate industrial lands with small spaces for SMEs, termed as industrial incubators.

Economic stimulus package for the industrial sector:

  • Continuation of economic incentives for the industrial sector, offering a 50 percent discount upon license issuance.

Source: Economic Development Department, Government of Sharjah

Sharjah is positioning itself in the regional and global economy through two key strategies. Firstly, we are intensifying our efforts to promote the emirate as an investment destination. This involves targeted approaches in specific markets of high importance, such as China, India and select European countries, where we have identified strong investor interest. Second, our legislative framework is continuously evolving to meet the needs of a dynamic global economy.

The emirate’s infrastructure is internationally competitive, with transport systems including roads and airports offering extensive connectivity. This infrastructure extends to our ports and logistics, enabling smooth and easy market access across the region. Legislative reforms have played a key role in enhancing Sharjah’s appeal. These include more flexible business ownership laws and reviewing government fees to create a more investor-friendly environment. – Ahmed Al Qaseer, CEO, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq)

Where to locate your business in Sharjah, UAE

Free zones

Sharjah hosts six free zones, strategically located in or near major transportation hubs to meet investors’ logistical requirements. The emirate emphasizes minimizing bureaucratic hurdles. These free zones offer a business-friendly environment with zero corporate and personal income taxes, along with no import, export, re-export fees, or customs duties.

Sharjah has pursued balanced geographical economic development, making Kalba pivotal to agricultural and food industries, and establishing Hamriyah as a centre for the petrochemicals, petroleum and natural gas industries. These initiatives provide opportunities for industrial expansion as well as foreign direct investment. – Hamad Ali Abdullah Al Mahmoud, Chairman, Sharjah Economic Development Department (SEDD)

Hamriyah Free Zone

Setting up a business at the Hamriyah Free Zone Authority (HFZA) is remarkably efficient, often completed in less than an hour. As the UAE’s second largest industrial free zone, HFZA hosts over 6,500 businesses from 163 countries. Its advantageous coastal location provides seamless access by air, sea, and land to both domestic and regional markets.

Hamriyah is a center for the petrochemical, petroleum, and natural gas industries.

Sharjah Airport Free Zone

The Sharjah Airport Free Zone (SAIF) provides pre-built warehouses tailored for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with ample space available for larger multinationals to construct their own facilities if desired. SAIF boasts on-site customs for swift goods clearance, hosts over 8,000 companies from 160 nations, and offers exceptional market connectivity being directly linked to Sharjah International Airport.

Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park

Since its inception in 2016, the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) has emerged as a world-class ecosystem dedicated to promoting research and development (R&D). It facilitates collaboration among industry, government, and academia, complementing the initiatives of University City. SRTIP has achieved significant success in attracting leading innovation-focused SMEs, multinationals, and startups, supporting them in piloting, commercializing, and implementing R&D projects.

Sharjah Healthcare City

Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC) serves as a dedicated hub for healthcare and wellness, accommodating a variety of hospitals and clinics. It actively encourages the establishment of R&D centers, laboratories, and rehabilitation facilities. Positioned near Sharjah International Airport, this free zone offers investors opportunities to acquire land for building hospitals, clinics, and offices, with additional healthcare premises available for long-term leasing options.

Sharjah Publishing City

Sharjah Publishing City (SPC) is a free zone exclusively dedicated to serving the global publishing and printing sector. SPC provides essential infrastructure and services within a business-friendly environment. Businesses can undertake every aspect of publishing, from writing and designing to publishing, printing, storing, and distributing, both locally and worldwide, all within a single, purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility.

Sharjah Media City

Sharjah Media City (SHAMS) was established in February 2017 with the aim of fostering the growth and prosperity of creative and media enterprises. SHAMS offers state-of-the-art facilities and services tailored to meet the unique needs of businesses in the media industry.

Industrial areas

There are several designated industrial areas and three advanced industrial cities in Sharjah, per a SEDD investor guide.

  • Sharjah City: It has 17 industrial areas, including the Al Saja’a Industrial Oasis. It has Khalid Port and is 16km away from the Sharjah International Airport.
  • Central Region: It has five industrial areas and is 40 km away from the Sharjah International Airport.
  • Dibba Al Hisn: It hosts the Al Raq Industrial Area and is 112 km away from the Sharjah International Airport.
  • Khor Fakkan: It has the Zubarah and Al Haray Industrial Areas. It is 133 km away from the Sharjah International Airport. Khor Fakkan has the port of Khor Fakkan, which overlooks the Gulf of Oman and reportedly ranks among the 10 most productive ports worldwide.
  • Kalba: It hosts two industrial areas and is 110 km away from Sharjah International Airport.

Sharjah city is a major center hosting private and free zones as well as re-export zones. The areas of Al Dhaid, Al Batayeh, Mleiha, and Dibba Al Hisn form a hub for agricultural and food industries. Khor Fakkan and Kalba provide a base for the re-export of aggregate industries.

Key sectors in Sharjah

Over 95 percent of Sharjah’s GDP is derived from non-oil activity, with top contributors being wholesale and retail followed by manufacturing. Key sector contributors to Sharjah’s economy in 2023 were retail, tourism, ICT, industry, construction, financial services, transport, real estate, education, health, and energy.

Sharjah’s Targeted Industries

Emerging industries Leading industries
Aerospace Machinery, equipment, and metal
Advanced technology Chemical
Medical and pharmaceutical Rubber and plastic products
Industries related to clean energy like Hydrogen production Electrical and electronics
Heavy industry Food and beverage
Renewable energy

Foreign investment opportunities in Sharjah

Advanced manufacturing: Sharjah’s manufacturing sector ranks as the second-largest contributor to its GDP and constitutes a significant portion of the UAE’s manufacturing output. With six free zones and 33 industrial zones strategically positioned near major air and seaports, Sharjah serves as the nation’s industrial hub. Initially renowned for light manufacturing, the emirate has transitioned to advanced manufacturing, embracing technologies like robotics, AI, and 3D printing to produce innovative products such as drones, mega yachts, and construction equipment.

Agri-food technology: Sharjah plays a key role in the UAE’s food security strategy. With a strong focus on research and innovation, along with dedicated facilities like the Food Park and Research Technology and Innovation Park, Sharjah hosts several agritech companies, start-ups, and pilot projects. Its strategic geographic location, coupled with lower operating costs compared to neighboring emirates, further enhances its position as an industrial hub for food security initiatives.

Culture and tourism: Sharjah’s rich cultural attractions, museums, vibrant art scene, and UNESCO Heritage sites have been drawing visitors worldwide for years. Recent substantial investments in infrastructure and the development of large-scale tourism destinations across the emirate’s diverse landscapes—from open deserts and mountains to beaches and natural reserves—have transformed Sharjah into a sought-after destination for adventure and eco-tourism. Recognized as the UAE’s cultural capital, the emirate now offers ample opportunities for growth in hospitality, leisure, entertainment, food and beverage, retail, and other travel-related industries.

Mobility and logistics: Situated amidst the flourishing northern emirates and prominent financial centers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah holds a strategic position at the center of global commerce. With three seaports, an international airport, and six free zones, it serves as the industrial nucleus of the UAE and a gateway to rapidly expanding markets in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Being the sole emirate with ports on both the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean, Sharjah provides the shortest maritime route between the GCC and Asia.

Health and well-being: Sharjah is positioned to become a leading healthcare capital in the Middle East, boasting top-notch infrastructure and a robust network of university hospitals, R&D centers, and private clinics. Initiatives like Sharjah Healthcare City offer growth opportunities with low entry barriers for healthcare providers. With a growing and youthful demographic, there’s increasing demand for medical and wellness services across the healthcare value chain.

Green technology: Leading projects like Sharjah Sustainable City, the emirate’s first net-zero energy community, alongside cutting-edge waste-to-energy initiatives, underscore its commitment to sustainability and waste management. Sharjah’s innovation-driven policies create a favorable environment for sustainability and clean-tech startups, offering ample opportunities for research, development, commercialization, and public-private collaboration.

Sharjah offers investors strong incentives, and initiatives like NextGen FDI demonstrate our desire to attract digital businesses, and help them establish and expand their companies locally. This multi-sector strategy has laid the foundation for sustained growth in foreign investment within the innovation and human capital segments, a trend that we anticipate will continue. – Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority,

Human capital and innovation: Sharjah is a regional hub for higher education. Its vast University City has more than 22 colleges and universities. Bolstered by government support for innovation and entrepreneurship, Sharjah has cultivated a world-class innovation ecosystem. Leveraging its talent pool and technology-focused infrastructure, including free zones and research facilities, the emirate fosters a thriving start-up community and hosts pilot projects with global technology leaders.

The main entities supporting Sharjah’s entrepreneurial landscape are SRTIP and the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa). In 2023, SRTIP merged with Sharjah Oasis for Technology and Innovation to create an independent free zone authority. The merged organization’s board now features representation from various prominent Emirati and Sharjah-based entities and companies, in addition to SRTIP and Sheraa.

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