DIFC Artificial Intelligence & Web 3.0 Licenses - 10 Leaves

DIFC Artificial Intelligence & Web 3.0 Licenses

DIFC is building the world-class Campus spanning over 100,000 sq. ft. within the DIFC jurisdiction.

Dubai AI & Web 3.0 Campus’ will attract over US$ 300 million in collective funds, 500+ global AI and Web 3.0 start-ups, and create 3000+ jobs by 2028.

The Dubai AI & Web 3.0 Campus will provide world-class physical and digital infrastructure including R&D facilities, accelerator programs and collaborative workspaces, to attract, build and scale AI companies.

The DIFC AI and Web 3.0 License is one of the cornerstones of the push towards making the DIFC, and the UAE, a hub of technological innovation and advancement.


The DIFC Innovation license offers heavily discounted initial and ongoing fees, world-class co-working spaces at low costs, and an ecosystem of fellow technology firms, seed and angel investors, and access to the leading venture capital firms in the region. The recently announced DIFC Venture Studio Regulations add another aspect to this growing ecosystem.

The Middle East has seen a flurry of tech-related activity in the recent years. Tech companies are characterized by rapid ideation followed by implementation at an equally rapid pace. Another commonality is that most tech companies start small, and then ramp up quickly upon securing funding. However, managing costs at the onset is critical, especially in the first year, so as to ensure that the tech startup does not fold before it manages to attract its first round of seed/angel investments.

A fledgling tech ecosystem needs good support from all quarters, and here is where the Dubai International Financial Centre has come to play an important part. Recognising the difficulties faced by early stage technology companies, the DIFC made a lot of changes to create and accommodate a startup ecosystem in its award-winning onshore financial centre.

What is the DIFC?

The Dubai International Financial Centre, or DIFC, is a leading financial hub in the region for business, fintech, and lifestyle. Setup in 2004, the DIFC has grown to be one of the top 10 onshore financial centres in the world. It brought in a paradigm change in the region, by adopting a Common Law framework, with an independent regulator (DFSA) and an independent English language Common Law judiciary – DIFC Courts.

Since then, the DIFC District has matured into more than just a place to work – it is now a lifestyle destination, with retail outlets, cafes and restaurants, art galleries, residential apartments, public green areas and hotels dotting the landscape.

DIFC AI and Web 3.0 License

The DIFC started by attracting financial technology, or Fintech players into its DIFC Fintech Hive, which is an accelerator that has completed multiple cohorts, with over 100 fintech companies. It quickly extended the benefits of a startup license to all kinds of tech startups – fintech, edutech, regtech, and all technology-based startups that wish to cater to the region. 

The DIFC now has over 850 innovation licenses operating from the center.

The focus is on firms that have innovative products and services, deploying cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, Web3 and the like. Technologies that fall under the purview of regulation (money services, robo-advisories, crowdfunding platforms and the like) opt for the Innovation Testing License instead.

The Innovation Testing License is a regulatory sandbox offered by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (or DFSA), which is the independent regulator of all financial services companies that seek authorisation or are currently authorised in the DIFC.

The objective of the DFSA ITL is to provide a controlled environment where startups can test innovative products and services. The ITL does not eliminate regulation, rather, it provides a gateway to innovative firms, especially startups, to test their products with live clients. You can read more on DIFC ITL here.



What are the activities that can be applied for, with the DIFC AI and Web3 License?

The following activities are permitted:

1. Distributed Ledger Technology Services - Includes firms that provide database management solutions and ancillary services based on distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, such firms are not permitted to trade in, or setup an exchange for currencies or crypto currencies or commodities or provide any financial services, whether brokerage or payment processing.

2. Innovation & Artificial Intelligence Research & Consultancies - Includes firms specialized in providing studies and consultancies on innovation to technical and administrative personnel in the public and private sector to stimulate extraordinary thinking procedures and innovative solutions to the challenges comforting them, also, providing the same on artificial intelligence which is based on computers that capable of imitating the intelligent human behaviour to understand future developments.

3. Cyber Security Consultancy - Includes firms specialised in offering comprehensive professional cybersecurity consultancy to other organisations on how to prepare for, avoid and protect themselves against cyber-attacks and threats, such threats might involve networks, computers, programs and data damage, unauthorised access, evaluating cybersecurity or cyber readiness to comply with regulations and reactive services, including responding to cyber breaches and recovery activities following a cyber incident.

4. Information Technology Consultants - Includes providing technical services and consultancies with respect to information technology and applications like internet, internet and data warehousing to enhance the administrative and technical performance in different corporations. In addition to offering consultancies, to involve proposing the adequate software and handling the surveys and studies to determine the appropriate technology consistent with the nature of the firm, these firms are not entitled to market or produce any of the software or products related to said technology, the minimal degree required is BSc. in Computer sciences or Information Technology, along with three years hands-on experience".

5. Internet Consultancy - Includes firms specialised in drawing up the strategies of using internet technology in the commercial entities, as well as impose laying out the techniques of the practical application.

6. IT Infrastructure - Includes firms specialized in laying the technical foundations of the information technology, which comprises the network, the systems and the databases. It also involves firms engaged in preparing the consultative studies along with the installations of the network and the systems, manpower training is also included.

7. Portal - Online services equipped with databases and programmes that are fitted as a service with basic functions of the technology platform. It also could be a junction between a content provider and a user for a broad array of resources and services.

8. Computer Consultancies - Includes firms which provide consultancy to enterprises and companies, prepare studies related to the analysis of users' needs as regards computer hardware and software and provide the best solutions. This also includes the choice of software that corresponds to the company's activities, the choice of operation specifications, the equipment and preparation of computer rooms, the preparation of purchase tender documents and offers, as well as other related services and consultancies

9. Internet Content Provider - Includes firms specialized in providing internet sites with contents and make them available for users.

10. Data Classification & Analysis Services - Includes firms specialised in evaluating and analyzing data provided by public and private entities, and arranging these data sets into a single repository to performs structured reviews and various analyses, as well as classifying according to their common characteristics, in order to discover useful information, informing conclusions, and supporting decision-making by said entities, with the goal of improving the investment returns and optimally utilise the resources, as well as enhancing the capabilities of such entities as regarding solving present problems and future challenges.

11. Electronic Chips programming - Includes programming electronic chips used in computers or in other automatic electronic devices, which are used in industry, vehicles, household electronic appliances and electronic games.

What is the DIFC Innovation Hub?

The DIFC Innovation Hub is a complete business ecosystem for tech startups within the DIFC Jurisdiction. It offers:

  • Attractive licensing and regulations for FinTech companies.
  • Affordable Real Estate Options.
  • Accelerator Programs provided by the Fintech Hive to mentor and help startups.
  • get access to markets.
  • Access to Funding from the largest cluster of VCs, Family offices and institutional.
  • capital.
  • Digital Labs by corporates for partnerships and collaborations.
  • A buzzing and vibrant community of like-minded people.

What are the qualifying requirements for a DIFC AI and Web 3.0 License?

There are a few qualifying conditions for startups who wish to set up a DIFC Artificial Intelligence or Web 3.0 License.

  1. The entity cannot conduct any financial services.
  2. The entity must provide a type of technology, e.g. software solution, AI, technology R&D, block chain etc.
  3. The entity is not allowed to conduct any crypto-related activities, e.g. crypto exchanges. The entity is only allowed to create NFTs but not to sell them.
  4. The entity must have physical presence within DIFC. The minimum requirement is to obtain a flexible desk at the Co-Working Spaces.
  5. The entity or business activities must be tech-related or innovation- related as this license is sector agnostic.
  6. The entity cannot generate any trading/selling of products.

What are the benefits offered to Innovation Licenses in the DIFC?

  1. Well-subsidised license fee of US$ 1,500 per year, for upto 4 years*
  2. Zero incorporation and registration fees.
  3. Waiver of the minimum share capital requirement of US$ 50,000.
  4. Minimum co-working desk space at US$ 500 per month, payable quarterly, bi-annually or annually.
  5. Upto 4 visas approved on the minimum co-working desk space.
  6. Reduced Visa Costs of upto 50%.

*The reduced license fee may be valid for two years only in some cases (regulated fintech licenses for example). 

Why setup a technology startup in the DIFC?

The DIFC is a leading financial hub in the region for business, fintech, and lifestyle. While the primary focus of the DIFC has been to authorise financial service companies, the advent of fintech led to an increased interest in both non-regulated and regulated technology startups. The DIFC Innovation License offers licenses to both, with regulated fintechs having to secure additional DFSA authorisations. Here are a few advantages of setting up a technology company in the DIFC:

Codified English Common Law:

The DIFC offers a modified version of the English Common Law, which gives foreign investors an additional sense of security and stability. In partnership with the common law framework, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) functions as the DIFC’s regulatory body and plays a crucial role in providing as well as enforcing the international regulatory standards that make the financial hub a popular destination for international businesses. While a DIFC non-financial tech startup company is not regulated by the DFSA, the robust regulatory structure of the Authority gives comfort to investors.

Premium Jurisdiction:

The DIFC is well regarded in the international community, being voted among the top 8 onshore financial centers worldwide. It’s emphasis on regulation, and visibility in the investor community also helps to attract further investments down the road.

DIFC Courts:

The DIFC Courts initiative was the first of its kind in the region, and the laws establishing the DIFC Courts were designed to ensure the highest international standards.

The DIFC Wills & Probate Registry allows eligible individuals the ability to register their wills under Common Law, and hence providing the ability for legacy planning within the center.

Visa Services:

Innovation Licenses in the DIFC can apply for visas for their staff and their families.

The Government Services Office in the DIFC is dedicated to providing a wide range of administrative services, and one of these is the issue and renewal of employment visas. For tech startups, the DIFC offers upto 4 visas on the minimum co-working space that they have earmarked at the DIFC Innovation Hub.


The DIFC has implemented a path-breaking Employee Workplace Savings Plan, called DEWS, to restructure the previously defined employee benefit plan into a funded and professionally-managed, defined contribution plan. The DEWS initiative also offers a voluntary savings plan, allowing employees working in the DIFC to secure their financial future in an easy-to-manage fashion. DEWS has found significant traction within the centre, and together with the DIFC Employment Law, provides employees and employers with a world-class Human Resources framework.

DIFC 2.0:

The DIFC is set to undergo significant expansion and plans to use the additional space to construct more office and creative spaces, residences, retail spaces, and entertainment. That’s 13 million square feet of space dedicated to the pursuit of fintech and innovation and designed to accommodate the needs of professionals from around the world.

Such an environment helps attract good talent from the world over. Over 25,000 professionals already live and work in the DIFC. Technology companies in the DIFC are able to source better talent and access a pool of premium service providers within the center, thus making it a self-containing ecosystem.

DIFC VC Fund Manager ecosystem:

The DIFC has implemented a new Venture Capital Fund Manager regime, that made it easier for startup and existing VC fund managers to set up in and operate from the centre. It is anticipated that the new regime will atrract over 100 VC fund managers in the coming two years, thus creating an ecosystem where technology companies and VC Funds co-exist, and access to funding is made much easier for techonology firms that set up in the DIFC. 

Such an environment helps attract good talent from the world over. Over 25,000 professionals already live and work in the DIFC. Technology companies in the DIFC are able to source better talent and access a pool of premium service providers within the center, thus making it a self-containing ecosystem.

DIFC Venture Studio regulations:

Last year, the DIFC announced the launch of the first global “Venture Studio Launchpad” to assist with the growth of the UAE’s financial ecosystem, and to be a growth partner and business enabler to venture studios, allowing them to set up and scale from the DIFC. The Proposed Venture Studio Regulations provide the legal and regulatory framework under which venture studios, and similar arrangements, and any “spin-off” entities formed by venture studios, can establish and operate in the DIFC. This initiative complements the existing DIFC Venture Fund Manager Framework, and the DIFC Innovation license initiatives, which together will serve to make the DIFC the leading destination for both innovators and their funding partners.

The proposed venture studio model enables venture studios to establish a company in the DIFC that acts as both a holding and operating vehicle (“Venture Studio”), licensed to incubate new business ideas (each a “Venture”) and, if they reach a minimum viable product (“MVP”) stage, to convert the Ventures to newly incorporated Venture Studio entities (each a “Venture Studio Company”). You can read more about the DIFC Venture Studio Regulations here.

Specific Advantages:

Here are some specific advantages of establishing in the Dubai International Financial Centre:.


1. The legal framework supports cross-border activities.

2. 100% foreign ownership permitted.

3. No restriction on foreign talent or employees.

4. No restrictions on capital repatriation.


1. Zero tax for 50 years on profits, capital or assets from 2004. 

2. Zero tax on employee income.


1. Highly regarded, independent regulator.

2. Independent, English-speaking, common law judicial system.

3. Distinct from the UAE legal system.

4. sk-based regulatory approach.


1. Central to regional deal making.

2. High concentration of international firms, investment funds, wealth management firms, banks, and financial institutions.

3. World-class regional and international law and auditing firms, and other professional services.

4. The largest fund domicile in the region.


1. Management offices, holding companies and family offices are located closer to the assets they own or manage.

2. The Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) is increasingly the center of gravity for the global economy.

3. Dubai plays a central role in the growing South-South trade, principally between Asia and Africa.

4. Well-positioned to harness the potential of emerging markets.

What is the process for registering an AI or Web3 License in the DIFC?

DIFC Innovation License


The process comprises the following steps:

  1. Submission of application, including a detailed business plan and KYC.
  2. Pre-screening and issuance of approvals.
  3. Completion of the registration of the legal structure at the Registrar of Companies.
  4. Issuance of license.
  5. Establishment card issuance for visa processing.

The whole process takes 12-15 working days, following which visas and permits can be applied under the new company. 

What is the information required in the business plan?

The following details will be required:

(i.) Background of the entity - A summary overview of the entity being established in the DIFC, a clear description of the ownership structure (%), Biographies of each shareholder/UBO(s) of the company, highlighting their accomplishments and career milestones. In the case of a parent entity, a brief history of the entity is sufficient.

(ii.) Business Activities - Define the entity’s business activities to be conducted from the DIFC, elaborate further on your technology and innovation, who is your target market, what is your revenue model, and how far you are with your product(s) (i.e. provide a value proposition).

(iii.) Source of Income - Who is funding the DIFC entity (shareholders/parent entity). provide a brief description of the financial background of the shareholders (if they are funding the entity to be established) and if funds have been raised. Explain how your source of income/wealth was accumulated. Explain what supporting documents you are providing to support the above.

(iv.) Documents required - Passport copies of each shareholder/director/UBO. If individual shareholder(s) are funding the entity, bank statements for the last 6 months are required. If a parent entity is funding the DIFC entity, 2 years audited financial statements is required. Certificate of Incorporation (if the entity to be established will be funded by a parent entity). A deck or presentation describing your entity and its business activity. A work-flow chart illustrating clearly how the technology works and its process

How much does it cost to register an Innovation License in the DIFC?

The costs involved are as follows:

  1. Registration fee - US$ 100 (one-time).
  2. License fee - US$ 1,500 (annual).
  3. Data Protection fee - US$ 250 (year 1, US$ 200 subsequently).
  4. Minimum co-working desk space at US$ 3,000 per year (US$ 5,500 from the second year onwards).

How much does it cost to apply for visas?

The DIFC offers subsidized visa costs for Innovation Licenses. An Establishment Card costs AED 1,900, and visa costs start at AED 2,630 for a two-year visa.

What is an Establishment Card?

The establishment card is a card issued by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai to allow an entity to submit employment visa applications. It is for the entity who requires visas under DIFC and will not be required for those who are not in need of any visa. You can apply for visas under DIFC once the entity is incorporated.  

What is a Personal Sponsorship Deposit (PSA)?

The Personnel Sponsorship Agreement (PSA) is an agreement that must be signed with DIFC Authority if the entity wishes to sponsor employees.

Do I need to be physically present to apply for the License?

No, the DIFC client on-boarding system is fully digital and the process is done online. 10 Leaves will assist you throughout this process.

How Can 10 Leaves help you?

1. We provide turnkey services for DIFC AI and Web3 licenses. In fact, we are one of the two approved service providers to assist with the formation of such licenses in the centre.

2. Our digital processes help you complete the formalities in a systematic and timely manner, with zero in-person interaction requirements.

3. We also assist with bank account opening, in most major local banks in the UAE.

4. Startups require a lot of legal assistance, but sometimes find lawyer costs to be prohibitive. Many then resort to short-cut methods of downloading template agreements from the internet, ones that can lead to many problems in the future.

5. Through 10 Leaves Legability, we offer customized legal solutions for startups, from the shareholder or investor agreements, to share-vesting plans and employment agreements. We also assist in designing holding structures to protect Intellectual Property, which is key to technology companies.

6. All this, at startup-friendly prices!!

7. Our market-entry solutions help you explore expansion into Saudi Arabia, Europe and India. We assist you in these jurisdictions as well.

8. Coming to technology, our in-house tech solution - tenL technologies, helps you partner with recognized and professional vendors so as to build your platforms and integrate them with financial service partners such as banks and other fintechs.

9. Finally, our access to Venture Capital Fund Managers, who are our own clients. helps put you in front of VC funds that seek to invest in startups such as yours.

Are you looking to set up an Artificial License or a Web3 License at the DIFC? Contact us today!


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