The How-To: Starting Up A Business In Qatar
Starting and launching your business in Qatar can often be seen as a long, confusing, expensive and arduous process. The information available out there can sometimes be ambiguous and perplexing, and to make things worse, one often gets conflicting pieces of advice from different people. I recently got my company registered in Qatar, and so, as someone who went through this entire process, I figured sharing my experience could perhaps shed some light for the rest of you on how to go about the same for your own business enterprise.
This piece is focused on registering a Limited Liability Company LLC or WLL in Qatar. It’s the most common and de-facto form of company in Qatar. In an LLC, the majority of the company has to be owned by Qatari nationals, with their share coming around to 51%. It doesn’t matter if it’s one Qatari shareholder owning 51%, or multiple Qataris- the majority needs to be Qatari-owned. Before we move ahead though, a disclaimer: this article is not set up to be seen as legal advice, but instead, as merely someone’s first-hand experience of starting up a business in Qatar. So if you’re planning on getting your business incorporated yourself, this will be good guide. Otherwise, there are quite a few companies that offer incorporation services, and they would take care of everything for you.
To start things off, you need to get the following three pieces of documents, in the following order, to be fully incorporated and perform all the necessary activities to run and grow your business in Qatar.
I. Commercial Residence, more commonly known as the CR.
II. Trade License, which refers to a legal office space under your CR.
III. Computer Card (also known as Signature Card or Khaid Munshiah), which is to issue Residence Permits (RP) for your employees.
I. Commercial Residence (CR)
The CR is the first piece of document you need to acquire. It’s issued by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC), and it’s usually the quickest one to get. A CR is nothing but a piece of document that states that here is “a legal entity with name x that is owned by these shareholders.” You need to do the following steps in order to get a CR:
Step 1- Trade Name
You need to first get a trade name for your enterprise. Hopefully, the one you want has not already been taken. Note that if your desired name doesn’t have a meaning in Arabic, you will have to pay an extra QAR1,000.
Step 2- Articles of Incorporation
Once you have a trade name, you need to get your articles of incorporation typed, listing all the shareholders and their ownership stakes. Articles of incorporation is a standard document that lists all the shareholders, their ownership, rights etc. A bit of advice here: use the standard articles of incorporation template and fill it with your name and ownership details. The template is very rudimentary, and ideally, you would like to add/change a lot in it. But if you bring you articles of incorporation drafted by your lawyers, it can take longer for MEC to approve it, and thus will slow down your process. Instead, use their templates to get your CR and stuff sorted out, and then get your lawyer to have it amended as per your needs by going to the Ministry of Justice.
Step 3- Issue the CR
Once you have your trade name and articles of incorporation, you can then submit them for your enterprise to be issued a CR. At this point, you will be asked about your business activities, as each business activity has its own specific charges. The price can range from QAR1,500/year to QAR 7,000/year. Basically, you have to tell them what is it that your business intends to do- for instance, it can be website development, trading contracting, clothing retail, etc. Now it is likely that you won’t find the business activity that describes exactly what you do- if so, then choose the one that describes what you do the closest. Note that you can also have more than one business activity associated with your company. But, also keep in mind that some business activities may require pre-approval. For instance, if you’re opening a pharmacy or a medical clinic, you need approval from the Ministry of Health. If you’re opening a school, you need approval from the Supreme Council of Education, and so forth. However, if you’re opening a standard e-commerce business, a trading company, or a marketing agency, then you don’t need approvals for those kind of enterprises. However, do keep in mind that these requirements are subject to change, so you are better off checking with the MEC directly.
So you add your business activities, pay the respective fees for each of them, pay the processing fees, and have all your shareholders there in person to verify their identity. And lo and behold, you will then be issued your CR. Congratulations if you have got this far! Note that the CR is usually valid for only one year, and so you have to renew them every year- having said that, the renewal process is easy to do as it is online. With your CR, here’s what you can and cannot do:
- You can open a corporate bank account.
- You can invoice and accept payments from your customers (this means that you are pretty much in business, at this stage).
- You can buy and own assets under your company’s name.
- You cannot yet get an office space for your business.
- You cannot yet hire someone, and issue him or her an Residence Permit (RP) under your newly minted company.
II. Trade License
After receiving your CR, you need to get a Trade License, in order to have an office space that’s approved by the MEC for conducting your business activities. Getting a Trade License is usually the hardest part of this process- it can take some time to get this done, so plan your time accordingly. The first step here is to fill out the requisite application form from the MEC website, and submit it to the MEC, along with the following documents:
- A copy of the ID of each of the authorized persons in your business.
- A copy of your CR.
- A copy of your Articles of Incorporation.
- A photo of your office building from the outside, which shows the blue plate that has the address information.
- A photo of your office inside the above building, showing a signage with the name of your business on the door to your office. (Note that the MEC will send a person to inspect your place, so make sure you have proper signage.)
- The building completion certificate and a copy of the ID of the building owner.
- Rental acknowledgement, ownership instrument and Civil Defense approval.
- Authorization letter in real estate rents (in case of subcontracts).
After successfully submitting the documents, you should get an SMS confirming that your application has been received, and that a representative from the MEC will come and inspect your office. Now, this inspector could take anywhere from 1–4 weeks to visit your office; they will call you before they come.
Once the inspection has been done and is deemed successful, you should then get another SMS from the MEC within 24 hours, saying that the trade license is ready to be collected. You then go to the MEC, pay the fees for the trade license (which is usually QAR510 with an additional QAR10 as inspection fees), and they will then print out your Trade License and give it to you. At this point, you should be celebrating, because this is usually the hardest thing to get!
III. Computer Card
By now, you must be making a killing at your business and chilling at your badass office with an ocean view- or so we hope. But your office must be empty, since you cannot yet hire anyone full-time under your company, as you can’t issue them a Residence Permit. For that, you need to get a Computer Card. Note here that while CR and Trade License are issued by the MEC, Computer Card is issued by Immigration.
A Computer Card is basically a document that says who is the signing authority on behalf of your company. While the Qatari partner in your enterprise needs to be listed on the Computer Card, the non-Qatari member is not required to do so, but can be included all the same. Before you apply for your Computer Card, you will need to get an official company stamp that will be used on all your official paperwork. For this, you can go to any major printing press and order a official company stamp. They will ask a copy of your CR, Trade License and ID copies of the shareholders. This usually takes a day to get done, and it should cost you less than QAR200.
Next, you will have to go to Immigration and Passport control office to apply for the Computer Card. You will need the following:
- The requisite application form, which has been duly filled. It will ask for the names of the individuals who want to be on the Computer Card as the signing authority. Also, there will be a place on the form for you to imprint your company’s stamp.
- A copy of your CR.
- A copy of Trade License.
- ID copies of all the shareholders in the company
- ID copies of individuals who needs be on the computer card.
Note here that at this point, you don’t have any employees, so only the shareholders can be on the Computer Card. But once you have employees under your company’s RP, you can have them listed on the Computer Card as well. They don’t need to be shareholders to be on the computer card. Once you have all of the above, you then pay the fees, and you will be issued your Computer Card. Some of the major things you can do with your Computer Card:
- Hire employees and issue them RPs.
- Issue exit permits for your employees.
Tips for a seamless set-up process
- The charges for set-up processes are often subject to change, so be flexible about your budget in this regard.
- When you go to submit your various applications, always keep a folder with you with several ID copies of all the shareholders. You never know when you will need it. For non-Qatari shareholders, keep copies of their passports as well. And yes, keep copies of your CR on hand as well.
- While credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, you might have to use cash in certain places, like when you need to get your forms typed. So carry both your card and cash when you are out and about for these activities.
- Getting the Trade License usually takes a while, because there is a lot of paperwork associated with it. Most of the documents required for this will be acquired from your office building owners, so ask them for these well in advance to get them ready for you.
- The set-up process can take anywhere between a month to four months, depending on how quick you were able to assemble all of the paperwork and how busy the MEC is. So be aware that this will take time, and be patient.