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Establishing and starting a business in Qatar can often be seen as a long, confusing, expensive and difficult process. The information available out there can sometimes be ambiguous and confusing, and to make matters worse, you often get conflicting advice from different people. I recently registered my company in Qatar, so as someone who has gone through the process, I thought perhaps sharing my experience could shed some light on how you can do the same for your own business.
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This article focuses on registering an LLC or WLL with limited liability in Qatar. It is the most common and de facto form of company in Qatar. In an LLC, the majority of the company must be owned by Qatari nationals, with a shareholding of around 51%. It does not matter if it is a Qatari shareholder with 51% or more Qatari nationals: the majority must be owned by Qatar. Before we go any further, a disclaimer: This article is not meant to be legal advice, just someone’s first-hand experience of starting a business in Qatar. So if you are planning to incorporate your own business, this will be a good guide. Otherwise, there are quite a few companies that offer establishment services and they would take care of everything for you.
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To get started, you must obtain the following three documents in the following order in order to be fully incorporated and perform all the necessary tasks to manage and grow your business in Qatar.
III. Computer Card (also known as Signature Card or Khaid Munshiah) which is used to issue Residence Permit (RP) for your employees.
CR is the first document you need to get. It is issued by the Ministry of Economy and Trade (MEC) and is usually the fastest to obtain. The CR is nothing more than a document stating that it is a “legal entity named x that is owned by these shareholders”. To get CR you need to do the following steps:
First, you need to get a business name for your business. Hopefully what you want hasn’t already been taken. Note that if your requested name has no meaning in Arabic, you will have to pay an additional QAR 1,000.
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Once you have a business name, you need to enter your articles of association and list all shareholders and their ownership interests. The articles of association are a standard document that lists all the shareholders, their assets, rights, etc. A little tip here: use the standard memorandum of association template and fill it in with your name and ownership details. The model is very rudimentary and ideally you would like to add/change a lot in it. But if you bring a charter drafted by your lawyers, the MEC may take longer to approve it and therefore slow down your process. Instead, use their templates to correct your CR and everything and then have your attorney adjust it to your needs by going to the DOJ.
Once you have your business name and articles of incorporation, you can submit them to your business to obtain a CR. At this point you will be asked about your business as each business has its own specific fees. The price can range from QAR 1,500/year to QAR 7,000/year. Basically, you need to tell them what your company is going to do, for example it could be website development, business contracts, clothing retail, etc. Now, chances are you won’t find a business that describes exactly what you do – if you do, pick one , which describes what you do most closely. Keep in mind that you may also have more than one business associated with your company. However, also keep in mind that some businesses may require pre-approval. For example, if you are opening a pharmacy or clinic, you need the approval of the Ministry of Health. If you are opening a school, you need approval from the Supreme Council of Education and so on. However, if you are opening a standard e-shop, trading company or marketing agency, you do not need approval for this type of business. However, keep in mind that these requirements are subject to change, so it’s best to check directly with the MEC.
Then add your businesses, pay the appropriate fees for each, pay the processing fees and have all your shareholders present in person to verify their identity. Lo and behold, your CR will be issued to you. Congratulations if you made it this far! Keep in mind that CR is generally only valid for one year so you have to renew it every year, this means the renewal process is easy as it is online. You can and cannot do the following with your default answer:
After receiving your CR, you must obtain a business license to have office space approved by the MEC to run your business activities. Getting a business license is usually the hardest part of the process – it can take a while, so plan your time accordingly. The first step here is to complete the required application form from the MEC website and submit it to the MEC along with the following documents:
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After successfully submitting your documents, you should receive an SMS confirming that your application has been accepted and that a MEC representative will come to inspect your office. Now this inspector may take 1-4 weeks to visit your office; they will call you before they arrive.
Once the check has been carried out and found to be positive, you should receive another text message from the MEC within 24 hours notifying you that the business license is ready for collection. You will then go to the MEC, pay the business license fees (which is usually QAR510 with an additional QAR10 as inspection fees) and then they will print your business license and give it to you. You should be celebrating at this point because that’s usually the hardest thing to get right!
By now you must be making a killing in your business and kicking back to your dingy office on the coast, or so we hope. But your office must be empty, because you can’t employ anyone full-time in the company yet, because you can’t issue them a residence permit. For this you need to get a computer card. Note here that while the CR and the trade license are issued by MEC, the computer card is issued by immigration.
A computer card is basically a document that states who is the signing authority on behalf of your company. While a Qatari partner in your company must be listed on the computer card, a non-Qatari member is not required to, but can be listed anyway. Before applying for your computer card, you will need to obtain an official company stamp that will be used on all your official documents. For this purpose, you can go to any large printer and order an official stamp of the company. They will ask for a copy of your CR, business license and a copy of your shareholder ID. It usually takes one day and should cost you less than QAR 200.
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Next, you will need to go to the Immigration and Passport Office and apply for a computer card. You will need the following:
Note that you don’t have any employees at this point, so only stockholders can be on the computer tab. But once you have employees under your company’s RP, you can also get them on your computer board. They don’t need to be shareholders to be a computer on paper. Once you have all of the above, you will pay the fees and be issued with a computer card. Some of the main things you can do with a computer card:
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