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In the UAE, the legal and financial landscape is divided between two types of zones:

- The “onshore” zone

It covers most of the UAE’s territory and is subject to the federal laws and regulations of the UAE government. Within this zone, businesses and individuals are governed by the UAE Civil Code, the UAE Commercial Companies Law, and other federal laws applicable to various aspects of business, trade, and activities conducted in these areas.

- The “offshore” zones, known as “free zones”

They are established as independent jurisdictions with their own legal and regulatory frameworks. They operate under separate laws, often based on common law principles, and have specialized courts to adjudicate matters within their jurisdictions. The DIFC, founded in 2004, operates as a financial free zone with its legal foundation established by Federal Law 35/2004 and Dubai Law 9/2004. The ADGM, established in 2015 in Abu Dhabi, functions as an autonomous financial free zone with its own set of laws, including a Court of First Instance and a Court of Appeal, based on common law principles.

These institutions are not limited to handling disputes arising within specific free zones. In other words, parties involved in an onshore or offshore arbitration dispute can use any of these institutions to administer their dispute, as long as they have been specified in an arbitration agreement.

The validity of arbitration agreements in the UAE is subject to specific requirements, including:
Written form, Arbitrability of the dispute, Legal capacity of individuals, Legal capacity of companies, Precision of the arbitration agreement

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