Economic Substance Regulations: Best Practices for Businesses in UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has implemented Economic Substance Regulations (ESR) to ensure that companies engaged in certain activities have substantial operations within the country. The ESR requires entities engaged in specific activities to demonstrate substantial economic presence within the UAE. This article explores the key aspects of the UAE Economic Substance Regulations and provides best practices for businesses to navigate them.

Navigating the UAE Economic Substance Regulations

The Economic Substance Regulations were first introduced in the UAE through Cabinet Resolution No. 31 of 2019 and later amended by Cabinet Resolution No. 57 of 2020. Some key points about the regulations:

  • This applies to UAE free zone companies and UAE onshore companies that carry out ‘relevant activities’. Relevant activities include banking, insurance, fund management, finance and leasing, headquarters business, shipping, holding company business, intellectual property business, and distribution and service center business.
  • Companies must satisfy the economic substance test for their relevant activity. This includes being directed and managed in the UAE, having adequate employees, incurring adequate operating expenditures in the UAE, and having adequate physical assets in the UAE.
  • Companies must file an annual notification with the Federal Tax Authority (FTA) declaring their relevant activities and providing information to demonstrate economic substance. Entities that meet the requirements to be treated as “exempt” do not need to demonstrate economic substance. However, such entities are required to file a Notification and provide sufficient evidence to support their exemption.
  • Penalties for non-compliance include financial penalties ranging from AED 20,000 – AED 400,000. Repeated non-compliance can result in deregistration or cancellation of licenses.
  • Economic Substance Regulations are in line with international standards and recommendations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The regulations aim to avoid UAE’s inclusion in EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions.

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Best Practices for Businesses to Navigate the UAE Economic Substance Regulations

To ensure compliance with the Economic Substance Regulations, businesses in the UAE should adopt the following best practices:

  1. Understand the Regulations: The first step for businesses is to understand the ESR and how they apply to their operations. This involves reviewing the relevant legislation, guidance, and other resources, such as the Ministry of Finance’s website, to ensure a clear understanding of the requirements. Businesses should identify the relevant activities they engage in and determine if they fall within the scope of the ESR. Understanding the regulations will help businesses avoid non-compliance and potential penalties.
  2. Conduct a Self-Assessment: Businesses should conduct a self-assessment to determine if they are subject to the ESR and what actions they need to take to comply. The self-assessment should cover all relevant activities and consider the requirements for each activity. This will help businesses identify any gaps in their compliance and develop a plan to address them. The self-assessment should be conducted regularly to ensure ongoing compliance.
  3. Develop a Compliance Plan: Once businesses have identified the requirements, they should develop a compliance plan that outlines the steps they need to take to meet the ESR requirements. The plan should include timelines, responsibilities, and resources required to implement the plan. It should also include procedures for monitoring and reviewing compliance on an ongoing basis. Developing a compliance plan will help businesses ensure that they are meeting the requirements and avoiding potential penalties.
  4. Maintain Adequate Records: Businesses should maintain adequate records to demonstrate compliance with the ESR requirements. The records should include information on the relevant activities, employees, assets, and other relevant information. This will help businesses provide evidence of compliance if requested by the relevant authorities. Maintaining adequate records will also help businesses identify any areas where they may need to improve their compliance.
  5. Seek Professional Advice: Businesses should seek professional advice from experts in the field to ensure they are complying with the regulations. Professional advisors, such as tax and legal experts, can provide guidance on the requirements, assist with compliance planning, and help businesses maintain adequate records. Seeking professional advice will help businesses ensure that they are meeting the requirements and avoiding potential penalties.
  6. Stay Up-to-Date: Businesses should stay up-to-date with any changes to the regulations and ensure they are complying with the latest requirements. They should monitor any guidance or other resources provided by the relevant authorities, such as the Ministry of Finance and the Federal Tax Authority. Staying up-to-date with the regulations will help businesses ensure ongoing compliance and avoid potential penalties.


Navigating the UAE Economic Substance Regulations can be challenging for businesses, but with the right approach, it is possible to comply with the regulations and avoid penalties. Businesses should take the time to understand the regulations, conduct a self-assessment, develop a compliance plan, maintain adequate records, seek professional advice, and stay up-to-date with any changes to the regulations. By following these best practices, businesses can ensure they are complying with the regulations and contributing to the overall integrity of the UAE’s business environment.

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