Starting a business in Qatar

  • Business structure

    Which business structure can I use?
    There are a few business structures for you to choose from when doing business in Qatar. Here are some options, with the most common being a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

    • Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)

      As a foreign shareholder in an LLC, you are legally restricted to 49% shareholding, unless otherwise specifically approved, with the remaining 51% to be held by one or more Qatari nationals.

      An LLC is a popular option as the profit share attributable to the foreign shareholder is permitted to exceed the legal shareholding. It is common for profit allocation of between 90-95% to be afforded to the foreign shareholder by the ministry.

      As a foreign shareholder, you are also permitted to effectively retain day-to-day control of the LLC, including the right to appoint the general manager of the LLC.

    • Temporary foreign branch

      If you have a contract for public benefit, which refers to having a contract with a government or quasi-government authority, then you may set up a temporary branch in Qatar. Similarly, this branch requires ministerial approval.

    • Representative Trade Office (RTO)

      If you only wish to market products and services in Qatar, you may incorporate as an RTO. An RTO is not allowed to undertake profit generating commercial activities in Qatar, for instance, providing goods or services in Qatar.

      That said, as an RTO, you may employ foreign nationals to run your marketing activities.

    Are there any options that allow for 100% foreign ownership?

    If you are in engineering, financial or technology-related business, here are some business structures which you can wholly own¹.

    • International Engineering Consultancy Office (IECO)
      If you run an engineering consultancy business, you may consider setting up an IECO. Engineering Consultancy is defined in Qatari law as “works involving preparation of architectural, construction, survey and planning drawings, plans and designs, supervision of execution, rendering of advice, conducting of feasibility studies, cost estimation, cost accounting and management of projects in various engineering professions.”

      An IECO is effectively a 100% foreign owned branch that is permitted to work on multiple contracts in the engineering sector, with no specified lifespan.

      However, this is a less popular option as the requirements to apply for an IECO is onerous.

    • Qatar Financial Centre (QFC)
      The QFC is an onshore regime that operates within its own legal, tax and regulatory framework, which is independent of, but runs parallel to the existing framework in the State of Qatar. You may establish within the QFC if your business activity falls within either of the two buckets:
      • Regulated activities: Financial, banking and investment business; insurance and reinsurance business; funds administration, fund advisory, fiduciary business and other financial related business.
      • Permitted non-regulated activities: Professional services in support of financial firms (e.g. accounting, audit and legal firms).

      The main advantage of registering a branch or an LLC in the QFC is that it allows 100% foreign ownership and unlimited repatriation of profits. Additionally, since the QFC is not a physically restricted zone, all entities in the QFC operate on a fully onshore basis with the ability to access the local market.

    • Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP)
      The QSTP was established to encourage international corporations and research institutes from around the globe to develop and commercialise technology in Qatar and launch entrepreneurial technology businesses.

      QSTP entities must be physically located within the QSTP and are only able to engage in activities specified in their licence. The three licence tiers are:
      • Standard licence: Entitles you to all free zone benefits.
      • Restricted licence: Limited free zone benefits are provided at the discretion of the QSTP management.
      • Service licence: Issued to entities providing services to QSTP tenants. No free zone benefits are granted².

    • Qatar Free Zone Authority (QFZA): The QFZA is an independent authority created in 2018 to oversee and regulate world-class free zones in Qatar, offering opportunities and benefits for businesses seeking to expand globally through Qatar.

      Benefits for investors include 100% foreign ownership, tax holiday for 20 years, no income tax, no restrictions on capital repatriation, and access to Qatar’s double tax agreement with 65 countries. Investors may establish either LLC or branch company.

      QFZA has two free zones currently:
      • Ras Bufontas: Airport free zone located near Hamad International Airport with recommended industries of logistics, consumer products, light manufacturing, services, technology and applications, and pharmaceuticals.
      • Umm Alhoul: Port free zone near Hama Port with recommended industries including maritime industries, polymers and plastics, advanced manufacturing, and logistics.

    How long does it take to register my business in Qatar?
    The process of incorporating an LLC typically takes 4-8 weeks from submission of the application to the review and approval of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

    Click here for more information.

  • Directors and shareholders

    How many directors do I need to set up a company? Do I need a minimum number of resident directors?
    There is no fixed number of directors needed to set up a company.

    Are there any restrictions on who I can appoint as a director? Can I appoint foreigners as directors of my board?
    Yes, you can appoint foreigners as directors of your board. Directors are not required to be Qatari nationals or residents in Qatar.

    What is the profit share attributed to a foreign shareholder like myself?
    These terms will be determined between you and your Qatari partner(s), detailed in your Article of Incorporation, subject to approval by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

    It is common for profit allocation to a minority foreign shareholder to be between 90-95%.

    Can a company in Qatar be wholly-owned by foreigners? Do I need a minimum percentage of local shareholders?
    For an LLC, 100% foreign ownership is possible for certain sectors of business that are deemed strategic to Qatar.

    These sectors include agriculture, industry, health, education, tourism, development, exploitation of natural resources, energy, mining, business consultancy, technical consultancy, information technology, cultural, sports and entertainment.

    If you operate in one of these sectors, you may apply for the registration of an LLC with 100% foreign shareholding.

    How many shareholders do I need to set up a company?
    An LLC (including a single person company) must have at least one and not more than 50 shareholders.

  • Business activities

    Do I need approval from the local authorities before my company operates?
    Once the commercial registration license has been obtained, the company is incorporated. You then have to obtain the following additional approvals for the company to operate:

    • The Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry membership certificate which can be obtained at the same time as your commercial registration license.
    • Civil Defence approval of the company's premises for fire safety compliance.
    • A trade license confirming that the business has premises with the proper signage.
    • Immigration card which enable you to sponsor its employees to obtain residence permits.
    • Any other approvals specific to the activities of your business3.

    Are there business activities which foreign companies cannot do?

    As a foreign-owned LLC, you cannot engage in banking, insurance or financial investment activity on behalf of others. You also cannot run a commercial agency or own real estate.

  • Licences

    What are some of the activities that require a commercial licence before I can start operating?
    You will require a licence for certain activities, such as industrial processes, engineering or telecommunications.

    Typically, do I apply for licences before or after setting up my company?
    You may apply for licences after setting up your company.

    Do I renew my licences each year?
    Yes, your commercial registration has to be renewed every year, renewable thirty days before the expiration date noted on the commercial registration.

    Should I display the business licence prominently at my business location?
    Yes, you should display the business licence prominently in Arabic.

  • Share capital and capital contribution

    What is the minimum share capital or investment capital I need to set up an LLC?
    Following a revision to the Commercial Companies’ Law, there is no longer a prescribed minimum share capital threshold. You are free to determine the share capital of your LLC ⁴.

    Do I need approval from the local authorities to increase my share capital or investment capital?
    You simply need a majority of the shareholders representing at least 75% of the issued share capital to increase your share capital or investment capital.

    Only a share transfer must be executed in the presence of a notary, and shares cannot be transferred if it results in a Qatari holding of less than 51% of the share capital.

    What is the typical share capital requirement for an LLC?
    There is no typical share capital requirement. However, this is subject to changes by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry before it gives its initial approval.

    What is the common unit issue price per share?
    There is no common unit issue price per share. The capital of the company should be enough to realise its objectives.

    Are there any restrictions on bringing capital out of Qatar?
    No, full repatriation of profits and capital is permitted.

  • Banking

    Do I need a separate bank account to receive capital?
    No, a single bank account can both receive capital and cater to all your business’ daily banking needs.

    Do I need to keep a minimum amount as capital in the bank account at all times? Or can my company use the entire amount for business activities?
    It depends on the bank. There is no minimum statutory requirement.

  • Taxes

    What is the current corporate tax rate?
    10%, with a 35% rate applying to oil and gas operations.

    Are there any tax incentives for my company in Qatar?
    Entities under the Qatar Financial Center (QFC) and Qatar Free Zone Authority (QFZA) regime are not required to withhold taxes on payments for dividends, interest, royalties, etc.

    Within the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) free zone, QSTP firms with a standard license are not taxed and may import goods and services free from Qatari tax or custom duties⁵.

    Are there any special grants for foreign companies or for specific industries which the local government encourages?
    There are no special grants for foreign-owned companies.

    When do I pay corporate tax? Is this paid annually or monthly?
    Although the tax year is the calendar year, you may apply to prepare your financial statements for a 12-month period ending on a date other than 31st December. The first accounting period may be more or less than 12 months, but it should not be less than six months or more than 18 months⁶.

    What are the withholding tax rates on interest, dividends and royalties?
    For Singaporean firms, the withholding tax on dividends is 0%; interest is 5%; and royalties is 10%.

    Do I need to pay tax when I send dividends back to Singapore?
    There is no Qatar withholding tax on dividends and you can freely repatriate profits back to your head office in Singapore.

    Are there any tax treaties between Qatar and Singapore?
    Yes, the Singapore-Qatar double tax avoidance agreement (DTA) provides relief from double taxation in the situation where income is subject to tax for both countries. Refer here for more details.

    Any value-added tax or goods & services tax in Qatar? If so, what is the current rate?
    There are currently no value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax applied in Qatar⁷.

  • Human resource

    What basic employment benefits must I give to my employees⁸?

    Working hours
    • Working hours should not exceed eight hours per day or 48 hours per week. During the month of Ramadan, employees must not work more than 36 hours per week.
    • Employees who work overtime are entitled to additional wages, at least 25% of the standard rate.

    Leave entitlements
    • Employees are entitled to a minimum of one day off per week, which is usually a Friday.
    • Employees who have been employed for 12 months are provided with a minimum of three weeks of annual leave per year. For those that have been employed for more than five years, the holiday entitlement increases to four weeks.
    • Employees are entitled to sick leave after three months of service. Employers must pay full salary for up to two weeks of sick leave and half the salary for subsequent third and fourth week.
    • Female employees are entitled to 50 days paid maternity leave after a year of service. Working mothers are granted nursing period as part of the work hour with hour-long daytime breaks and does not translate to wage deductions.
    • Muslim employees are entitled to Haj Pilgrimage holidays which usually lasts no more than two weeks and without remuneration. This can be availed only once during their entire duration of employment.

    Public holidays
    • Holidays in the calendar year include Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha, Independence Day, National Sports Day and employer-specified leave days.

    Salary payment
    • As per the Wage Protection System (WPS), employers are required to transfer salaries to their employees’ bank accounts in Qatar to ensure proper and timely payment.

    Health insurance
    • The Qatar Labour Law does not have a provision for health insurance, and you need not provide this benefit to employees, whether foreign or local.

    Do I need to pay taxes or social security contributions for employees?
    No. However, apart from any sums which the employee is due to receive of expiry of service, you will also have to pay the end of service gratuity to the employee, if he/she has completed employment of one year or more.

    This amount is equivalent to three weeks’ worth of wages calculated on the basis of last drawn salary for every year of service and should be released to the employee within a week after his/her final working day.

    If I send a Singaporean employee to work in Qatar for less than a year, does my employee need a work pass?
    Yes, all expatriate employees must be sponsored by you during the term of their employment relationship.

    Must I have a physical office in Qatar? Can I use another business’ address or a virtual office address?

    If you do not wish to establish a physical presence in Qatar, you may choose to enter the market through one of the following options:

    • Commercial agency relationship: You can choose to enter into commercial agency relationship with a full Qatari-owned entity or a Qatari individual (known as an Agent) if you want to sell your goods in Qatar without a physical store. The Commercial Agencies Law mandates certain outcomes favourable to the Agent with respect to the expiration or termination of an agency contract. These provisions should be reviewed carefully when entering into an agency agreement.

    • Franchise agreements: Doing business through franchise agreements is another popular alternative. This is a contractual relationship whereby the franchisor grants the franchisee the right to use one or more rights of the franchisor.