The paper presents the different types of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), defining their specificities and their role in encouraging and favouring the localization of foreign companies. The goal is twofold. Firstly, to understand the characteristics and purposes of the SEZs, as they emerge from the international literature. Secondly, to verify with a field study the real attractiveness and convenience of some specific areas for foreign companies, especially Italian ones. The study focuses on the Emirate of Dubai and analyses how to operate in that country. The benefits that push companies to establish a presence in Dubai territory are introduced, comparing the advantages and limitations of the local SEZs (called "free zones") with those of the rest of the national territory (“mainland”). To this end, together with the scientific literature, extensive governmental documentation was explored; the information was also integrated with the outcomes of some interviews with Italian managers and professionals (accountants, consultants, and lawyers), carried out in Dubai at the end of 2021. The many SEZs in Dubai are confirmed to offer significant advantages and important simplifications in business start-up and company incorporation procedures; however, they also present significant problems and pitfalls that should be considered by companies when evaluating the possibility to start a business in these areas. Hence the need to carry out an ex-ante assessment of the opportunities offered by the SEZs with the help, where possible, of local professionals that can support leveraging the experiences of other businesses already established in those areas. Finally, some insights are also provided about the evolving trends that SEZs are experiencing worldwide.
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