Economic Substance Regulation Declaration – Not to be missed in UAE to avoid heavy penalties!


The Regulations require UAE onshore and free zone companies and certain other business forms that carry out any of the defined “Relevant Activities” listed below to maintain and demonstrate an adequate “economic presence” in the UAE relative to the activities they undertake (“Economic Substance Test”).

Relevant Activities:

  • Banking Business
  • Insurance Business
  • Investment Fund management Business
  • Lease – Finance Business
  • Headquarters Business
  • Shipping Business
  • Holding Company Business
  • Intellectual property Business (“IP”)
  • Distribution and Service Centre Business

The Regulations apply to financial years commencing on or from 1 January 2019. Entities that are within the scope of the Regulations are required to submit an annual Notification form to the Regulatory Authority (Ministry of Finance), and submit to the same Regulatory Authority an Economic Substance Report within 12 months from the end of the financial year.

An entity is not required to meet the Economic Substance Test and file an Economic Substance Report for any financial period in which it has not earned income from a Relevant Activity or if it meets the conditions for being exempt. A Notification form will need to be submitted regardless. Failure to comply with the Regulations can result in penalties, spontaneous exchange of information with the Foreign Competent Authority (as defined in Article 1 of the Regulations), as well as other administrative sanctions such as the suspension, revocation or non-renewal of the entity’s trade license or permit.

The Regulations impose economic substance requirements on any UAE entity which carries on a Relevant Activity, regardless of whether the UAE entity belongs to a foreign multinational group.

The UAE acknowledges that businesses vary in size and nature, and what is adequate and appropriate will depend on the nature and level of activities carried out, and the level of income earned by the Licensee. The Regulations therefore do not provide a “minimum” standard for what is considered “adequate” or “appropriate”.

A Licensee is a juridical person or an unincorporated partnership that is registered in the UAE and that undertakes a Relevant Activity.

A Licensee that undertakes a Relevant Activity but that does not earn income from this activity in a financial period, is not required to meet the Economic Substance Test or file an Economic Substance Report for that period. However, the Licensee would still need to submit a Notification on the Ministry of Finance filing portal.

The following Exempted Licensees are exempt from filing an Economic Substance Report and the requirement to demonstrate substance in the UAE:

  • A Licensee that is tax resident outside the UAE;
  • An Investment fund and its underlying SPVs / investment holding entities;
  • A wholly UAE resident-owned business that is not part of a multinational group and that only carries on business in the UAE;
  • A branch of a foreign entity that is subject to tax on all of its Relevant Income in a foreign jurisdiction.

Sufficient evidence must be submitted along with the Notification form to claim any of the above exemptions.

The following is meant as a non-exhaustive list of matters a Licensee should consider (and action, where relevant) before the end of a financial period:

  • Assess what (if any) Relevant Activities it has performed during the financial period (applying a “substance over form” approach);
  • Assess the amount and type of income earned (if any) from the Relevant Activity during the financial period;
  • Hold board meetings with a quorum of directors physically present in the UAE;
  • Ensure board meeting minutes are signed and maintained in the UAE;
  • Identify the amount and type of expenses and UAE based assets (incl. premises) in respect of the Relevant Activity, and ensure access to assets (incl. premises) can be demonstrated (through agreements and financial records)
  • Identify the number of UAE based full-time employees or other personnel (and their qualifications) responsible for carrying on the Licensee’s Relevant Activity; and
  • Ensure control and supervision over any outsourcing arrangements can be demonstrated, e.g. through contractual agreements.

Additional actions may be required to ensure a Licensee can demonstrate sufficient economic substance in the UAE for a relevant financial period, and the considerations above may differ where a Licensee has either a Holding Company or a High Risk IP Business.

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