United Arab Emirates Import Regulations
Produced by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service
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Favourable terms of trade and a well-developed logistics network position the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a key hub to facilitate international trade. The UAE not only grants access to its domestic market but also presents Canadian businesses with access to markets in the Middle East and North Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe and increasingly Sub-Saharan Africa.
Following is an introduction to the fundamentals of the UAE's import regulations and customs duties for Canadian exports destined for both the UAE and its re-export markets.
Canadian businesses engaging in international trade are not only encouraged to acquaint themselves with the foreign market import regulations, but are also encouraged to develop an appreciation of Canadian export regulations and procedures. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) through multiple acts, regulations and international agreements administers the flow of goods in to and out of Canada.
In addition to administering Canada's borders, the CBSA offers industry multiple pre-approval programmes that allow for smoother border clearance. The CBSA also provides importers and exporters with clarity on the Customs Act enabling them to better meet reporting requirements.
CBSA also runs the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Centre, a resource for small to medium enterprises assisting them to better comply with CBSA requirements. Please follow the link for more information on the CBSA and its services: www.cbsa.gc.ca/menu-eng.html
Exporters are also encouraged to familiarise themselves with Canada's tax conventions and treaties. Canada and the UAE have signed a taxation convention which is still to be ratified: for full text of the convention, please visit the Department of Finance website.
The UAE is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the GCC's Common Customs Law sets the principle framework for the UAE's import regulations. The UAE is also a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and has signed multiple trade agreements, both bilateral and with major trading blocks; these commitments as members as well as being party to trade agreements add to the UAE's import regulations.
The UAE is a federal state comprising seven Emirates with each Emirate independently administering its import regulations through a customs authority. In 2003, the Federal Customs Authority was established, in part to harmonize and improve the UAE's customs procedures. Remarkable progress has since been made and still continues. However, due to the ever evolving nature of the customs procedures, we highly recommend contacting the relevant emirate customs authority or importer in question for context and current information.
Exporting to the UAE: Customs Zones and Free Trade Zones
The UAE market may be classified as Customs Zones or Free Trade Zones with the distinguishing factors outlined below:
- Duty: In general, goods destined for the UAE's Customs Zones are subject to duty under the GCC's Common Customs Law while goods destined for Free Trade Zones are exempt from duty.
The UAE operates at least thirty-six specialised Free Trade Zones. For a detailed list, please visit www.uaefreezones.com. In addition to imports into Free Trade Zones being exempt from duty, re-exports from UAE Free Trade Zones bound for third market destinations beyond the GCC Customs Zones are also exempted from duty.
- Market Access: Exporters with products destined directly for Customs Zones are generally required to appoint a distributor with some local content, at least 51% local ownership. Companies whose products enter the Customs Zone via the Free Trade Zone must appoint a local distributor, a 100% local agent. The Trade Agencies Law sets the legal frame work for this relationship. For more information on the Trade Agencies law, please see our guide to doing business in the UAE Guide to Doing Business.
- Equity ownership: Free Trade Zones allow foreign companies to own up 100% on equity of the firm while Customs Zones generally allow foreign entities up to a maximum of 49% on equity.
It is essential for exporters to familiarise themselves with the import regulations for each zone and the fundamentals of doing business in each of the markets. For more information on doing business in the UAE, please consult our Doing Business in the Arab Emirates page.
Import tariffs, duties and regulation
As the GCC's Common Customs Law sets the framework for the UAE's Import Regulations, the GCC's Common Customs Law single port of entry principle would apply. Applying the single port of entry principle, the GCC member states are considered a single market. Imports into the UAE or any other GCC state and destined for another GCC country are subject to customs duty only at the first port of entry into the GCC market.
This clause in effect exempts and suspends the application of multiple customs duties and taxes when imports are re-exported within the GCC market; please refer to the GCC Common Customs Law and the UAE Federal Customs Authority for more information.
In general an external tariff of 5%, the GCC's Common External Tariff (CET), is levied ad volarem2 on all imports to the GCC market. No tariff quotas, nuisance rates or additional duties and taxes on imports are applied. This rate is levied on goods entering the GCC's customs zones including the UAE's customs zones and excludes the free trade zones. The CET of 5% is also the most-favoured-nation rate (MFN rate) and the UAE will grant, with some exception, MFN treatment to its trading partners.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the principle ports of entry into the UAE; they both employ the Harmonised Systems (HS) when classifying exports, and offer customs services electronically. Generally speaking, exporters would be required to provide the following documentation to clear customs3:
- Import Goods Declaration
- Delivery Order
- Original Bill of Landing
- Original/authenticated invoice*
- Certificate of Origin, original or authentic copy
- Packaging list with HS code.
By law4, all commercial or non-commercial enterprises, Customs Zone or Free Trade Zone entities require a license issued by a duly authorized authority to do business in the UAE: only entities with Trading Licenses may distribute products in the imports markets considered customs zones. Exporters may appoint an exclusive agent licensed to operate within the specified custom zone market to distribute their products.
Prohibited, Restricted and Exempted products
Imports are classified as Banned/Prohibited, Restricted and Exempted. The UAE, in accordance with international conventions, environmental protection and health and safety considerations amongst other aspects, does prohibit and restrict the importation of specified products. For a non-exhaustive list of UAE prohibited/banned and restricted products please follow the links.
While the GCC's Common Customs Law sets the framework for the GCC's import regulations, each member state administers its own list of prohibited, restricted and exempted products. Exporters considering re-exporting within the other GCC market are advised to take note of the individual member states lists as the lists are not harmonised but independently administered.
Prohibited and restricted products
The UAE's customs authorities rigorously enforce the regulations and will not permit prohibited products to enter the country; exporters and visitors alike are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the lists.
Provided prior approval has been sought and granted, restricted products may be imported into the UAE. Authorization or approval is granted by a ministry or entity with oversight of the import:exporters are urged to consult the relevant ministry or entity prior to exporting.
Ministries and agencies overseeing key sectors within the Canada UAE bilateral trade relationship:
Abu Dhabi Food Import: Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority
Dubai Food Imports: Dubai Municipality
Medical Devices and Medicines Regulation: Ministry of Health
Telecommunications: Telecommunications and Regulations Authority
Exempted products - Duty and Tax Concessions
Under federal industry assistance legislation, industrial inputs considered necessary for industrial production are exempted from duty. The list includes but is not limited to equipment, spare parts, raw and semi-manufactured materials and packaging materials necessary for industrial production.
Under import for re-export, temporary admission or transit regimes, duty and tax concessions are granted. In accordance with the ATA Carnet system, goods may be temporarily imported into the UAE without duty being applied. Participants of trade shows and exhibitions may avail themselves of the carnet; however, they must abide by the regulations. Please refer to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce User Guide for more detail.
Rules of Origin
A Certificate of Origin is required for all exports to clear customs. Certificates of Origin must be provided by the original exporter and recognised by a duly authorised representative in Canada. The UAE applies preferential and non-preferential rules of origin with products originating from the Greater Arab Free Trade Area, qualifying for preferential treatment.
In determining the origin of an import, the UAE generally uses value add content criterion. An import would be said to originate from a particular country should it be wholly produced or contain at least 40% in value added transformation from that country.
Other non-tariff import regulations
The UAE currently does not apply subsidies or import quotas, however, it does run an offset program specifically for defense and specialised manufacturing industries. An objective of the program is to develop domestic production capacity; the offset program is administered by the Tawazun Economic Council.
Please see the Government Procurement section for greater detail on the Offsets Program.
Government expenditure at both federal and emirate levels constitutes a significant portion of the UAE's gross domestic product5. Exporters considering selling to the UAE's federal and local government departments are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the Financial Procedures Guidelines and Decision 20 of 2000. Each ministry and emirate independently administers its procurement process applying the Financial Procedures Guidelines and Decision 20 of 2000.
Exporters should also note that only GCC nationals or UAE registered companies with at most 49% foreign equity (i.e. at least 51% in equity held by a UAE national person or legal entity) may participate in the government procurement process. Exceptions to this rule will be applied in instances where the number of potential suppliers is severely limited. In such instances, a foreign supplier will be invited to establish a local presence and employ a local agent who will then sell to the UAE government.
UAE Government tendering options:
- General/Open Tender: Bids advertised publicly
- Limited Tender: Bids requested from a list of pre-approved suppliers
- Practical Participation: A committee requests tenders from selected contractors without applying the tendering process
- Direct Order: Sole sourcing, limited to extenuating circumstances
Defense and aerospace spending constitutes a significant portion of the federal budget6. The Ministry of Defense is the central body administering the UAE's defense purchases. Government purchases over USD10 million are subject to the UAE's Offsets program.
Packaging and Labeling Requirements
The Gulf Standards Organization (GSO); aligned with international norms for standards and other technical requirements, sets the framework for the UAE's packaging and labeling requirements. GSO's technical requirements for food exports stipulate that all UAE food imports provide information in Arabic either as part of the packaging or as an affixed label, detailing the:
- products and brand name
- lot identification
- production and expiry dates
- country of origin
- manufacturers name
- net content weight in metric units
- list of ingredients and additives in descending order of proportion
While no other technical requirements are in place to regulate the UAE's packaging industry, exporters are encouraged to consider cultural norms and values when designing and developing product packaging. A best practice would include consulting local contacts for context and current information when developing labels and packages.
Exchange rate and Foreign Currency Controls
Apart from a fixed exchange rate between the USD and the AED, the UAE has not implemented any foreign exchange controls. The AED dirham is pegged to the US dollar at USD1.00 ≈ AED3.68 and floats against other major currencies.
Tariffs and Market Access Information
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, through the Multilateral Market Access Division (TMA), offers market access information on tariffs, taxes, rules of origin and some entry procedures to Canadian exporters. Additional information can be obtained by contacting TMA directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Government Regulatory Entities
- Abu Dhabi Food control Authority
- Dubai Municipality
- Telecommunications and Regulations Authority
- UAE Ministry of Health
Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. Publications: Abu Dhabi Food Importers Guide. n.d. (accessed 10 24, 2012)
Abu Dhabi Government. Home: Departments: Abu Dhabi Customs Administration. 2012. (accessed 10 21, 2012)
Dubai Customs. About us: Dubai Customs. 2009 - 2010 (accessed 10 21, 2012)
O'Connell, Nick. Publications: Al Tamimi & Co . 11 2011 (accessed 10 24, 2012)
Tawazun Holding. About us: Tawazun Holding. 2011 (accessed 10 21, 2012)
The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. Home: The GCC Customs Union and The GCC Common Market. 2012. (accessed 10 21, 2012)
UAE Federal Customs Authority. About us: Federal Customs Authority. 2010 (accessed 10 21, 2012)
United Arab Emirates, Ministry of Foreign Trade. Trade Policy Reveiw. Update on the WTO TPR Report, Abu Dhabi: Depratment of Foreign Trade Policies, 2010
World Trade Organization. United Arab Emirates and the WTO. 2012 (accessed 10 21, 2012)
1 The Government of Canada has prepared this report based on primary and secondary sources of information. Readers should take note that the Government of Canada does not guarantee the accuracy of any of the information contained in this report, nor does it necessarily endorse the organizations listed herein. Readers should independently verify the accuracy and reliability of the information.
* All monetary amounts are expressed in foreign currency, unless otherwise indicated.
2 Ad volarem tariff, tobacco and tobacco products will be the exception.
3 Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and it is subject to change. Please consult the relevant customs authority for current information:
Dubai : Free zones
4 Commercial Companies Law
5 Consolidated government expenditure as a percentage of GDP: 2010 32.2% and 2011 32.3%. EIU,UAE Country Report, December 2012