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.

Bahamas based digital asset investment firm GEM Digital, which invests in tokens, has added $50 million to its $10 million investment in UAE Everdome Everdome a hyper-realistic metaverse that will bring brands and people together.Everdome had also received investment from BNBChain, OKx, and Unreal engine.

Everdome will use the proceeds of the investment to boost infrastructure and allow heavy traffic loads in a high-fidelity environment. As per Everdome announcement the first $10 million received from GEM Digital has already been drawn down by Everdome for the development of the metaverse project.

GEM’s increased investment commitment follows Everdome’s recent change of management in appointing Jeremy Lopez as CEO, and clearly demonstrates their strongest support of the new management’s previous track record and commitment to the vision of our project moving forward.

Jeremy developed the relationship with GEM during his previous role as COO, while also assisting in the partnership with Alfa Romeo F1 Team and securing OKX as a key strategic partner.

Investment will be completely focused on the fundamentals necessary to take Everdome to the next level of success, including product development, scalability and growth. These fundamentals include core product delivery, to ensure Everdome opens to the public as soon as possible, infrastructure boosting to allow heavy traffic loads in a high-fidelity environment, tools for users to create and build inside Everdome as well as growth in users and partners.

GEM‘s investment comes in the form of a further structured token subscription agreement. Everdome will control the timing and the number of drawdowns under this facility, and has no minimum drawdown obligation.

At its discretion, Everdome has the ability to sell up to 200% of their average daily volume, in tokens across multiple exchanges to GEM Digital.

Everdome CEO, Jeremy Lopez stated, ‘’The expansion of the investment commitment from GEM Digital is a huge show of faith in Everdome’s concept, our growth to date, and the capacity of the management team to quickly scale the company across multiple fronts, in marketing, infrastructure, product releases and partnership acquisitions, taking Everdome from concept to a business with real ROI and a vibrantly active metaverse community on a global scale. GEM has been much more than a financial partner; they have been supportive throughout our partnership discussions and have helped open doors with new partners and exchanges.’’

Global Crypto exchanges, Huobi, Bybit, Equiti, and OKx have all made it to the MVP ( Minimum Viable Product) provisional phase of VARA’s regulatory journey, while crypto.com  and Binance have moved one step forward to the preparatory license phase. 

As per VARA the MVP License is a 3-stage process starting with a (1) Provisional Permit; graduating to a (2) Preparatory License and concluding with an (3) Operating License. Applicants that are already in the MVP process will be advised by VARA to either continue within the MVP licensing process and/or be transitioned to the FMP Licensing process, ensuring a seamless transition with a focus on efficiency.

So far as per VARA the only crypto exchanges in the second phase under preparatory license are Binance and crypto.com. Binance is also in preparatory phase for its payments offering. 

VARA recently announced that Crypto.com move to the preparatory phase of the license after graduating from the provisional phase. 

As per the release, Crypto.com  received this MVP preparatory license after a detailed review of its key personnel, governance procedures, Anti Money Laundering / Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML / CFT) capabilities, Know Your Customer (KYC) and Ultimate Beneficial Owner (UBO) policies and procedures, cross-border safety and security measures, and best-in-class compliance practices. 

“We are pleased to welcome Crypto.com to the MVP Programme preparatory phase,” said Henson Orser, Chief Executive Officer of VARA. “VARA’s regulatory framework will be instrumental in creating and managing a unique, resilient and securely future-proofed ecosystem that delivers a sustainable and thriving global best-in-class VA market with secure cross-border interoperability. As such, participation from credible players like Crypto.com will further our mission of delivering a progressive and future-focused regulatory framework”.

“This achievement is the next significant step for Crypto.com in an incredibly important market for our business and industry,” said Kris Marszalek, CEO of Crypto.com. “With the MVP preparatory license, we look forward to continuing to work with regulators in providing customers the most comprehensive and secure crypto experience.”

Only VASPs that receive a final approval post review from VARA – and receive the FMP License, are in a position to undertake any regulated VA activities, or offer such services to and/or from the Emirate of Dubai.

The only entity in VARA that has reached one stage before a fully operational license is HexTrust which provides crypto custody and staking services.

During a recent interview by LaraontheBlock with the CEO of VARA, Orser explains how VARA will be offering more licenses in areas such as DAOs, DeFi, Crypto mining, and more. He also explains what is of most importance to VARA as a regulator.

VARA has made public all the entities that are currently licensed under its authority. The entities fall under various categories including crypto exchanges, DeFi custodians, DeFi asset managers, DeFi service providers, and DLT platforms.

 As per VARA website in terms of native crypto exchanges, 13 crypto asset exchanges hold licenses. They include both international and regional players such as Binance, BitOasis, ByBit, CoinMENA, CoinMetro, Crypto.com, FTX (fully regulated with MVP license), GCEX Huobi, Midchains, Rain and OKx.

In terms of DeFi custodians, VARA has registered Hex Trust, Komainu, Monstera and ZampFi Labs . Hex Trust as one example is a fully-licensed and insured provider of bank-grade custody for digital assets. Through their proprietary platform Hex Safe™, they deliver custody, DeFi, brokerage, and financing solutions for financial institutions, digital asset organizations, corporate and private clients.

While ZampFi, is founded by: Amit Jain who was previously the Managing Director at Sequoia Capital. ZampFi is a digital banking entity.

VARA is also offering regulated licenses for DeFi asset managers. Names on the roster include Brevan Howard, Fintonia, Galaxy Digital, Nine Blocks and Noia Capital.

Bravan Howard asset management firm on Dubai VARA’s list has recently pulled off the largest crypto hedge fund launch as per the Block media. The firm’s flagship digital assets focused vehicle raised more than $1 billion from institutional investors, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.

Brevan Howard Digital Asset Multi-Strategy Fund lost a scant 4% to 5% from inception through the end of June 2022, according to the source, even as the one-two punch of the implosion of Terra stablecoin UST and the insolvency of crypto lenders, such as Celsius and Voyager, locked price action and liquidity into respective death spirals.  “Their returns, relative to the market, are unbelievable,” another source adds.

Their strategies, including quantitative trades and relative-value plays, are implemented by teams of portfolio managers structured in so-called “pods” that feature supporting analysts and engineers. The division, additionally, now has more than 20 external blockchain engineers working under full-time retainers.

The global-macro-focused Brevan runs about $23 billion overall across a wide range of asset classes.

Brevan Howard Digital Asset Multi-Strategy Fund remains open to external capital, pursuant to a minimum check of $5 million. Its limited partners include a number of the world’s largest and most sophisticated hedge fund investors, including entities that have historically exclusively backed traditional financiers.

As for Fintonia, its Group founder Adrian Chng stated, “Dubai is making significant strides towards establishing itself as a virtual assets hub and creating a conducive environment for the industry’s growth. The virtual asset licence marks an important milestone in our aspiration to have a presence in every region where there are inn

As for Fintonia, its Group founder Adrian Chng stated, “Dubai is making significant strides towards establishing itself as a virtual assets hub and creating a conducive environment for the industry’s growth. The virtual asset licence marks an important milestone in our aspiration to have a presence in every region where there are innovative Web3 and crypto companies, enabling us to connect and collaborate with members of the crypto native ecosystem and the traditional financial services industry.”

Recently added is Nine Blocks Capital Management which was launched by PwC’s former global crypto head Henri Arslanian. Nine Capital has launched a $75m crypto hedge fund focused on institutional investors with the aim of becoming the world’s leading institutional grade crypto asset management firm as per a statement from the fund on launch.

The new fund is backed by $75m from Hong Kong-based hedge fund Nine Masts Capital Management, with additional investments from other partners.

Noia Capital has also joined the roster and is a Luxembourg based actively managed alternative asset manager pursuing excellence in digital assets and blockchain technology investments. As per the website the company is registered with CSSF and FSMA.

In terms of DeFi service providers the list includes Amber Group, Equiti, ScallopX, and TPS Capital.

VARA has also offered licenses to DLT platforms that include names such as Calvin Cheng Web3.0 Holdings, Mcontent, Polygon, and Woonkly Labs.

Finally in terms of DeFi services VARA has the following registered entities, BRE Holdings, Eros Investments, Hike, and Prypto.

VARA has yet to license NFT marketplace entities, crypto mining entities, and security token platforms.