The Dubai based entity of WadzPay, WPME Technology, which specializes in blockchain based technology for virtual assets has been granted a Virtual Assets Service Provider (VASP) Licence for Virtual Asset Broker-Dealer service activities, better known as crypto broker license, by Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA).

The crypto broker licence remains non-operational until the company fully satisfies all remaining conditions and select localisation requirements defined by VARA, following which it will be able to commence operations, subject to regulatory reverification and approval.

As per the press release, WadzPay is excited to deliver its innovative and industry-leading solutions to customers across Middle East while working closely with regulators in contributing to build a compliant and robust fintech ecosystem.

Mr. Anish Jain, Founder & CEO, WadzPay stated “This licence showcases WadzPay’s dedication in promoting innovation in the field of virtual assets domain and blockchain technology bringing us a step closer to delivering world class solutions to businesses in Middle East.”

WadzPay aims to revolutionise the way people in the Middle East transact and manage virtual assets. WadzPay’s commitment to compliance ensures that financial institutions and their customers can confidently embrace the benefits of blockchain technology while adhering to regulatory standards, ultimately contributing to the growth and sustainability of the fintech ecosystem in the Middle East.

Mr. Ram Chari, Board Member and Group Director, WadzPay quoted “This will further solidify WadzPay’s position as a trusted and reliable blockchain technology based financial service provider in the region. With the broker-dealer services, WadzPay will provide the technology to its clients to enhance the experience of their customers by enabling virtual assets transactions in a seamless and secure manner. “

To which Mr. Khaled Moharem, President – MENA & Europe at WadzPay, emphasised, “This cements our hard work and sets the stage for transformative blockchain solutions, promoting compliance and customer confidence in the Virtual Assets Industry.”

WadzPay received its initial approval for a license back in October 2023.

In 2022, KSA based Geidea, a leading fintech company in Saudi Arabia and Blockchain based payments solutions, WadzPay Middle East Technology forged a new strategic partnership to power the transformation of pilgrimage payments.

WadzPay had been strivign to obtain a Blockchain settlement and payment license from VARA in Dubai, yet this will need further framework and direction from the Central Bank of UAE.

Fastex, a crypto exchange, payments gateway and ecommerce platform, has set up an office in Dubai World Trade Center, as it seeks a license from Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority (VARA). Fastex has already received initial approval from VARA.

As per the press release, Fastex chose the office because of its proximity to VARA. As stated, “This proximity enhances Fastex’s ability to work closely with the authority and expedite the licensing process as a Virtual Asset Service Provider (VASP). In addition to the office opening, Fastex has received initial approval from VARA to conduct Broker-Dealer and Exchange operations, highlighting its commitment to regulatory compliance.”

Vardan Khachatryan, the Chief Legal Officer and Member of the Board of Directors at Fastex, stated, “Opening our new Dubai World Trade Center office is a noteworthy step in Fastex’s growth strategy. This move underscores our commitment to adhering to industry standards and maintaining high-quality service in the digital asset field. Being located in the DWTC, close to VARA and other key industry participants, positions us well to offer reliable and regulated services to our clients.”

Fastex will be participating at the AIBC Summit in Dubai UAE. They announced on X platform that they were nominated for best exchange of the year award.

This comes as DKK Partners FZE, subsidiary of DKK Partners a fintech company also announced that it has been granted an initial approval by the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) for crypto brokerage dealer services.

So far more than 11 crypto exchanges have received licenses in UAE.

In 2023 and earlier this year in January, the UAE licensed in total 13 crypto exchanges and crypto brokers. This came at the backdrop of a more robust virtual asset regulatory ecosystem both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as a heightened awareness and interest in investing in crypto tokens, virtual assets, and digital assets.

The most important question to many who are either already investing and trading in crypto or who are just getting started is which crypto exchange or broker can serve me best. The article will look into each crypto exchange and compare them to offer a more transparent mirror of the licensed and regulated crypto exchanges in the UAE.

OKX:

Starting with OKX is mainly because it is the first global exchange to receive a virtual asset license to operate their crypto exchange in the UAE. OKX received the license in January 2024, yet is still not fully operational as it finalizes certain requirements requested by Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority VARA.

However when it does start, it will offer more than 350 crypto tokens. So other than the basic offering of trading tokens or trade pairs on the spot, margin and derivatives markets, it also offers managing of DeFi portfolios, buying and selling NFTs, earn crypto in our mining pools, and take out crypto collateralized loans.

But wait all these products are not available to UAE retail and institutional clients. So far, OKX’s approved suite of duly regulated virtual assets activities includes spot services and spot-pairs, via the OKX App and OKX.com exchange.

The UAE VASP License also allows OKX to offer AED deposits and withdrawals.

OKX also announced that it has developed its Arabic website to meet the needs of users in the MENA region.

Finally OKX is active on all social media platforms so engaging with the community is available through many channels.

The crypto exchange boasts of over 50 million users in more than 100 countries. It is currently seeking a license in Hong Kong.

CoinMENA

Next in line is homegrown Crypto broker CoinMENA, which is not only now licensed in the UAE but was also one of the first to be licensed in Bahrain. CoinMENA offers the major cryptocurrencies on its platform, 52 in total.

It is fully operational and is authorized to serve Institutional Investors, qualified Investors and retail Investors. It offers spot trading of crypto assets.

CoinMENA already is fully operational and has been serving customers in the GCC and MENA region through its Bahrain licensed entity.

In addition customers can deposit money directly via bank transfer or credit/debit card to a customer’s CoinMENA Wallet, as well as withdraw money from CoinMENA Wallet directly to a client’s bank account.

CoinMENA currently serves over 900,000 users supporting seven countries.

Recently CoinMENA expanded its family office, investor and institutional offering through a partnership with Onramp Bitcoin. Onramp is an international Bitcoin asset management company built on multi institutional custody.

Crypto ExchangeRegulatory StatusPresence in
OKXCrypto ExchangeHongKong UAE
Fassetcrypto brokerUAE
CoinMENAcrypto brokerUAE Bahrain
GCEXInstitutional crypto ExchangeUAE Denmark UK
FUZECrypto brokerUAE
BackPack Exchange crypto exchangeUAE
TokoCrrypto exchange/brokerUAE
Laser DigitalCrypto BrokerUAE
RAINCrypto brokerUAE Bahrain
M2 Crypto exchangeUAE
GlomexInstitutional crypto exchangeUAE
MatrixInstitutional crypto exchangeUAE
MidchainsInstitutional crypto exchangeUAE
VenomexInstitutional crypto ExchangeUAE

M2

M2 is a UAE Abu Dhabi Homegrown crypto exchange. It received its license back in November 2023 from ADGM. It was recognized as a fully regulated Multilateral Trading Facility (MTF) and Custodian and is now able to on-board UAE residents and institutional clients.

M2 offers spot trading and currently has 50 crypto tokens to choose from.

It will also be able to offer AED Fiat On/Off-Ramp: Allow the on/off ramp of AED with ease through its partnership with a local bank in the near future.

One of the strengths of M2 is that it is backed by strong investors, one of which is a Bitcoin mining conglomerate, Phoenix Group that helps M2 to offer its Bitcoin Earn Product. The product was launched in partnership with Phoenix crypto mining group and offers yields that reach up to 10.5%.

M2 has an equity investment of $300 million as well.

RAIN

RAIN crypto broker and exchange was the first crypto broker to receive a license in the MENA region. Its operations started in Bahrain and it is now licensed in the UAE through ADGM in Abu Dhabi.

On the landing page of RAIN the first thing a user sees is the 0% trading fee. RAIN offers 70 crypto tokens to trade with. RAIN also offers crypto swaps.

It also is able to offer AED Fiat On/Off-Ramp: Allow the on/off ramp of AED with ease through its partnership with UAE local banks.

Like most of the major exchanges it has a mobile application, and is present on most social media channels.

Fasset

In November 2023, Fasset received its crypto broker license from Dubai’s regulator VARA. This license follows Fasset’s launch in Indonesia in August, where it partnered with Mastercard Indonesia and telco giant Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison.

Fasset offers five crypto tokens to trade with.

On its website, unlike other crypto exchanges, Fasset states that it offers gold investments using blockchain technology, crypto staking and other products. How much of this they can offer with their license in VARA is not clear. But it would be a surprise if they could offer these with their current license.

Crypto ExchangeMaker FeeTaker FeeCurrenciesMinimum deposit USDTrade Limits
OKX0.08%0.10%32010100,000 USDT
Fasset0.10%1.00%5351000
CoinMENA0.75%0.75%5210No limits
GCEXNoNo5050,000No Limits
FUZENANANANANA
BackPack Exchange0.085%0.095%NANANA
TokoNANANANANA
Laser DigitalNANANANANA
RAIN0.15%0.30%7020No Limits
M20.02%0.04%3050NA
GlomexNANANANANA
Matrix0.10%0.20%750,000No Limits
Midchains0%0.40%17NANo limits
VenomexNANANANANA
NA means not available on their website or other sources of information.

Other crypto exchanges

As for the rest of the crypto exchanges and brokers that serve retail and institutional clients and are licensed in UAE, they are Fuze, BackPack exchange, Toko and Laser Digital. These four were licensed by Dubai’s virtual asset authority, but have yet to populate their websites with clear information on their product offering, fees and other information.

Fuze is preparing to launch and its CEO refrained from sharing information until they do.

As for purely institutional investors they can work with the following crypto exchanges who only deal with institutional customers. These are GCEX where the minimum deposit is $50,000 offering 50 tokens.

According to GCEX Managing Director, Mehtap Onder, the exchange doesn’t charge its clients maker and taker fees but just a trading fee.

Then there is Matrix, who also has a minimum deposit of $50,000 but offers just 7 crypto tokens to trade and invest in.

Interestingly Venomex has no information on its fees and offering, and just states on its website, that it will communicate its fees and charges via a notice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the UAE definitely now has an array of crypto exchanges and crypto brokers that can offer safe and secure means to trade and invest in crypto tokens. It is left up to customers to choose which one they feel more comfortable with, which one offers competitive fees and which ones offer the crypto assets they want to trade.

Users can choose between local, regional and global exchanges to work with. But the future will bring even more. As VARA recently announced, while the regulator awarded 19 regulated VASP licenses in 2023, with 11 already operational, it will be adding 72 more in the coming months.

This could mean that Binance will soon have a license to operate in UAE, as will ByBit, and Crypto.com among others.

As more crypto exchanges enter the UAE as regulated entities, competition will surely increase and this is always a good thing for clients and users, so be prepared.

While over the past months a multitude of crypto exchanges have received licenses both from Abu Dhabi’s regulator ADGM and Dubai’s regulator VARA, OKx is the first top five ranked global crypto exchange to receive a VASP ( non-operational) license in the UAE.

OKX, which now holds the status of the fifth biggest exchange globally according to Coinmarketcap, beat Binance to it.

OKX Middle East Fintech FZE, the Dubai subsidiary of OKX, has received a Virtual Asset Service Provider (VASP) license from the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) for VA Exchange Services. The license remains non-operational until the company fully satisfies all remaining conditions and select localization requirements defined by VARA, following which it will be able to commence operations, subject to regulatory recertification and approval.

Once operational, the VASP license will allow OKX Middle East to extend its approved suite of duly regulated virtual assets activities and to provide spot services and spot-pairs, to institutional and qualified retail customers via the OKX App and OKX.com exchange.

Rifad Mahasneh, OKX General Manager for the MENA Region, stated, “The future of digital assets and capital markets lies in the hands of regulated entities, and Dubai, along with VARA, has succeeded in establishing a distinctive environment that fosters the growth of Virtual Asset Service Providers. The MENA region holds immense potential to become a hub of excellence for Web3 and virtual assets. We eagerly anticipate the chance to further enhance the already flourishing ecosystem throughout the region.”

In a blog post, Mahasneh comments, “This license is a game-changer. Once operational approval has been received, the VASP License will allow OKX Middle East to offer regulated virtual asset exchange services activities including spot and fiat trading services, AED deposits and withdrawals, and spot trading-pairs. These services will be available to retail and institutional users in-market via the OKX App and OKX.com Exchange.”

Tim Byun, OKX Global Head of Government Relations, added, “Dubai and VARA are world leaders in crypto regulation by establishing the most timely, comprehensive and built from-the-ground-up framework for virtual assets and Web3. This license was a crucial step for OKX as we move from a trust-based system to one that is trustless and empowers users to take control of their financial future. Dubai is an important market for us, and we’re excited to build strong relationships with our users and contribute to the development of its crypto and Web3 ecosystem.”

Last week OKX geared up for its license by announcing its Arabic website.

OKX is gearing up towards its official launch out of the UAE as it awaits its license from Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority (VARA) with the launch of its Arabic language website and application for both crypto trading and Web3 services.

As per the press release, this initiative marks a significant step in making digital assets and web3 technologies more accessible to Arabic-speaking audiences.

With the Arabic website and application OKX is catering to the unique needs of different markets, ensuring a smooth and user-friendly experience for Arabic-speaking users.

OKX MENA General Manager Rifad Mahasneh said, “The introduction of the Arabic OKX website and app represents our customer focus and commitment to growth. By offering our exchange and web3 platforms in Arabic, we aim to empower more individuals to participate in the evolving digital economy seamlessly. The addition of Arabic to our global platform brings the total number of languages available to 22, highlighting our global reach and dedication to customer service.”

OKX’s crypto exchange is the second largest globally by trading volume and is trusted by more than 50 million users. OKX’s leading self-custody solutions include the Web3-compatible OKX Wallet, which allows users greater control of their assets while expanding access to DEXs, NFT marketplaces, DeFi, GameFi and thousands of dApps.

OKX announced the establishment of its Hong Kong entity (OKX Hong Kong) in March 2023 for the purpose of applying for the VASP license and operating as a virtual asset trading platform in Hong Kong. In September 2023 OKX announced that it was in its final stretch of its virtual asset service provider (VASP) license in Hong Kong. The exchange is expected to receive approval by March 2024.

In UAE, OKX received its MVP preparatory license from Dubai’s VARA in June 2023 and is still awaiting its final license. In November of 2023, OKX announced the appointment of a general manager for the MENA region based out of Dubai UAE.

In December 2023 the exchange delisted multiple tokens based on user feedback and failure to adhere to its delisting/hiding guidelines, including several privacy-focused tokens. The first batch of delistings will see KSM, FLOW, JST, ANT, FSN, KZS, CAPO, and CVP trading pairs delisted on January 4, 2024. Followed by XMR, DASH, ZEC, and ZEN, delisted on January 5, 2024. This is a requirement by VARA as it does not allow the trading of privacy focused tokens.

Despite the uphill battle that has faced Binance in 2023, in their recent 2023 yearend report, the company stated that they had increased their customer base by 30 percent, with 40 million new users. Binance now has a total of 170 million users.

As per the report, the company is focused on its user base and on strengthening their compliance program. The report states, “We are making important steps toward becoming a truly compliance-led organization. Above all else, we were able to maintain the trust of our growing community, which is fundamental to our mission of advancing the freedom of money globally.”

Binance added, “In 2023, we invested some $213M in our compliance program, up 35% from last year’s $158M\ But money alone does not capture the entirety of our commitment. Binance dedicates significant product and engineering resources to compliance. For example, we have built our own case management system in a matter of months, as well as an internal transaction monitoring engine and built in-house tools to help semi-automate the investigations process.  We have applied improved market surveillance controls, especially around wash or circular trading, to our trading platforms, including NFT marketplace, to ensure that the markets that we offer are fair and equitable for all participants.”

In the USA as per the terms of their settlement, Binance will hire an independent anti money-laundering consultant and will be subject to a multi-year financial monitorship, ensuring we receive strong compliance guidance. Binance’s corporate governance structure will evolve as well. A board of at least three independent directors, accountable to all stakeholders, will be the steward and governing body of the organization.

Binance hold licenses, registrations, and authorizations in 18 jurisdictions around the world.

But the crux of their efforts has been once again towards compliance. It invested in localized KYC vendor and product solutions to enhance the user experience and make the onboarding process seamless. They also embedded 10+ electronic ID (eID) solutions globally. Striving to deliver the best user experience, they added  support for 298 new ID and proof-of-address documents across 64 countries this year.  

The crypto exchange also processed over 58,000 law enforcement requests, serving some 13,000 registered officials worldwide through their Government Law Enforcement Request System. This is an improvement over 50,000+ requests that Binance handled in 2022.

Binance still awaits to receive a license in the UAE, and formally make the UAE one of its regional headquarters as a licensed entity.

The Dubai Virtual asset regulatory authority public register continues to have UAE based BitOasis, crypto exchange on a “non operational” MVP Operational license status after a server glitch which had removed BitOasis from the registry for sometime totally today. This comes after months of BitOasis being on an inactive status, yet within Abu Dhabi’s regulatory body ADGM and FSRA BitOasis has a withdrawn its license application.

BitOasis has been working since July 2023 to fulfill select conditions associated with its Operational MVP License with respect to serving Institutional and Qualified Retail Investors, yet it seems that this is still ongoing with no change in its status to date.

BitOasis license in ADGM Abu Dhabi UAE, under the registered company name BLEX Financial limited has been withdrawn as well. In 2021 BitOasis had announced in a press release that its ADGM registered entity “had been granted a Financial Services Permission (FSP) from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) in the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and is currently working towards the migration of its operations towards launch in ADGM”, this seems to have been put to a halt.

In August, the Dubai based crypto exchange received a capital injection aimed at supporting BitOasis. The capital injection came from Indian crypto exchange CoinDCX. At the time, Ola Doudin, Co-Founder and CEO of BitOasis said: “We are delighted to be working with CoinDCX, India’s leading crypto platform. The investment will allow us to sharpen our focus on perfecting our existing products and expanding across our markets. We are very excited about the opportunities the funding will unlock for us.”

At the time of investment, BitOasis was undertaking mass layoffs.

Yet CoinDCX has not sought for a license in either ADGM or VARA.

Given that BitOasis is not licensed in ADGM and its license status is non active in Dubai’s VARA registry, does that make it an illegal VASP operating in the UAE, this is especially important after the Central Bank issued its recent guidance for combating the use of unlicensed virtual asset service providers.

As per BitOasis blog, in March 2022, BitOasis received a provisional approval from Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority [VARA] to continue its business operations in Dubai whilst it undertakes the [in-depth] process of applying for a license in accordance with the VARA requirements. It is on this basis that the exchange is still operating today notes BitOasis.

This article has been updated as VARA website has reinstated BitOasis on their registery.

As the woes pack up on Binance crypto exchange, first with the guilty plea from CZ, and then Ronaldo being sued because he promoted Binance products, the Dubai Virtual asset regulator VARA has made a statement that it is continuing to asses and monitor Binance activities to strict regulatory requirements, rigorous KYC and due diligence.

As per VARA, Binance FZE crypto exchange currently only holds a Minimum Viable Product [MVP] Operational License with VARA, which allows them access to a restricted client base. As such to date, Binance have on boarded approximately 180 qualified investors and institutional clients.

VARA notes that it  cannot comment on regulatory and enforcement actions taken on business conducted in other jurisdictions, but does assure, “ We have been, and will continue to be, closely monitoring ongoing developments and specifically how they relate to Binance FZE operations in accordance with our commitment to uphold market integrity, consumer protection, and the security of the domestic ecosystem.”

Binance while being one of the first to apply for a license in the UAE, has been late in receiving a license while others such as M2 in Abu Dhabi, RAIN crypto broker, CoinMENA, Fasset,  and many others have been able to become fully licensed.

It seems that Richard Teng, the new CEO of Binance will have a lot on his plate in the coming months.

CoinMENA has just become one of the first crypto broker from the MENA region to receive a full VASP (Virtual asset service provider license from VARA). As per the license CoinMENA can offer crypto broker services to institutional investors, qualified investors and retail clients.

With this CoinMENA becomes the 10th VASP to receive a license from Dubai’s regulator. CoinMENA already has a license in Bahrain and serves clients across the MENA region.

In August 2023 MENA CoinMENA came out with a new marketing campaign announcing that as a licensed exchange it is serving more than 250,000 users across 8 countries including Bahrain, UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Iraq and Egypt, stating its intentions to expand its base.

Still not to receive are Binance, Bybit, and Crypto.com, while BitOasis has been removed totally from VARA’s registered VASP list.

This comes after M2 launched its operations out of Abu Dhabi.

UAE digital assets infrastructure provider Fuze has partnered with Abu Dhabi headquartered Wio Bank to empower its customers with virtual assets trading services.

Customers will be able to buy and sell popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, directly through Wio Bank’s recently launched application, Wio Personal.

Wio Personal is an intelligent everyday banking application redefining the way individuals see, manage, and grow their money. The personal banking application allows all customers to start investing simply and effortlessly. Wio Personal users can access thousands of global stocks, ETFs, fractional shares and even UAE IPOs seamlessly in a single, integrated app.

Speaking about the significance of the partnership, Jayesh Patel, CEO of Wio Bank PJSC, said, “The region is emerging as an important hub for cryptocurrency and there is a demand from customers for convenient, seamless access to crypto trading services integrated within their daily banking apps. As a business that was created to catalyze the digital banking ecosystem, we are excited at the opportunities this collaboration with Fuze provides, to better serve our customers and support the UAE’s forward-thinking transformation of the financial services sector. Fuze mirrors our own robust governance, compliance, and risk capabilities, so our customers can be confident in having secure access to Virtual Assets.”

Mohammed Ali Yusuf (Mo Ali Yusuf), Co-Founder and CEO of Fuze, added, “As a regulated provider, we are proud to partner with Wio Bank, which has already made tremendous strides in redefining banking for the modern era across the region. There is a clear synergy with our mission to build the future of finance and we look forward to supporting Wio Bank in delivering regulated, trusted crypto services to its flourishing customer base.”

In a recent UAE poll suggested 48% of crypto users lacked trust in crypto exchanges. Through such partnerships, neobanks can provide regulated options for their customers and help to increase trust in the crypto ecosystem.