It is important to understand all the rules and regulations governing importing and exporting to any country. The United Arab Emirates has its own unique factors, especially in customs, which make it essential to be informed. This guide will help you if your business ships, or plans to ship, commercial goods to UAE cities and their surrounding areas.
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UAE Customs Regulations and Standards: How to Import
The UAE import processes and relevant requirements in many ways are similar to those in most industrialized nations. The UAE does also operate in more than 30 free trade zones, and in these the import requirements differ as compared to those applied to mainland imports.
If you are shipping products into a free trade zone, you will not be charged for any duties or VAT. Taxes and duties only become payable for goods shipped out of a free trade zone into the mainland areas of the UAE and the wider GCC region.
If you import goods to non-free-zone destinations, it is imperative to comply with the requirements of the GCC Common Customs Law. As a GCC member state, the UAE follows this law in exercising control over imports and exports.
Basic Procedural Requirements for UAE imports
Before shipping any commercial goods to the UAE, it is necessary to obtain an import code from the registration department of the UAE Federal Customs Authority.
When shipping to the UAE, you or your customs broker can usually file import declarations online, via the customs authority’s automated clearance system. You will have to, in certain instances, provide an original declaration document before or after customs clear your shipment for importation.
The automated clearance service allows for prepayment of customs duties and taxes, and in some cases clearance of your shipment before its arrival in the UAE.
You may need to provide conformity certificates and additional documentation, depending on the nature of the goods along with HS code details you’re importing from the country of origin, or perhaps reports from an approved laboratory.
When importing meat products, obtaining a health certificate from the country of origin is vital, along with a certificate proving that the animals’ slaughter took place according to Halal principles.
For most goods, you must pay customs duties of 5% of the shipment’s CIF (cost, insurance, and freight) value. There are higher tariffs, however, for items such as alcohol and tobacco, and the government exempts some products from duty payments completely.
You won’t pay duty on products that you import to a free trade zone. However, you may have to pay a deposit equivalent to the amount of duty, along with a tax, if you intend to export them later to a non-GCC country.
Requirements for UAE Import Documents
Shipments into the UAE must typically be accompanied by the following documents, prepared by your supplier, your business, your freight forwarding service partner, and your carrier, as appropriate:
- A triplicate version of the original commercial invoice from the exporter to the importer
- Copies of the buyer’s and licenses
- A delivery order for sea or air transportation
- A packing list
- A bill of lading or air waybill
- Certificate of Origin is required only if the Country of Origin isn’t mentioned against each line item in the invoice. In some duty exemption shipment the Certificate of Origin is also required
- The import customs declaration will be filed locally
You may need to supply other documents, depending on the type of goods you’re importing. This contains the full list of documentation requirements for different importation scenarios on the website of the relevant customs authority.
Top Airports in UAE
|Airport Code||Airport Name||Passenger Traffic|
|DXB||Dubai International Airport||86,396,757|
|AUH||Abu Dhabi International Airport||24,482,119|
|SHJ||Sharjah International Airport||11,993,887|
|DWC||Al Maktoum International Airport||13,537,770|
Top Cargo ports in UAE
- Port of Mina Khalifa (Abu Dhabi)
- Port of Jebel Ali (Dubai)
- Port of Mina Zayed (Abu Dhabi)
- Mina Rashid Port (Dubai)
- Mina Khalid Port (Sharjah)
Top Commodities Exported from UAE (2018)
- Crude Petroleum 24%
- Refined Petroleum 13.4%
- Gold 6.36%
- Broadcasting Equipment 4.13%
- Cars 3.26%
Top Commodities Imported from UAE (2018)
- Gold 11.8%
- Broadcasting Equipment 6.67%
- Refined Petroleum 5.54%
- Cars 4.87%
- Crude Petroleum 1.5%
Source: OEC UAE Profile
Top Tradelanes from the UAE (UAE is the origin point)
- India 9.85%
- Japan 8.96%
- China 7.2%
- Saudi Arabia 7.11%
- Switzerland 4.4%
Top Tradelanes to UAE (UAE is the destination)
- China 13.9%
- India 11.7%
- United States 7.47%
- United Kingdom 4.18%
- Germany 4.17%
Source: OEC UAE Profile
Manufacturing Map of UAE
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Top Trends in Manufacturing
The Oil and Gas industry makes up 40% of the UAE’s GDP, but is faced with shrinking prospects for investment since alternative energies have become more prevalent. In response, the government has recently launched a massive initiative to shift the focus to engineering.
Dubai has developed one of the largest industrial hubs in the region in an effort to attract manufacturers looking to set up new plants.
The manufacturing sector already accounts for 80 percent of Dubai’s non-oil trade, according to the UAE’s Department of Economic Development (DED), making it the second largest contributor to the UAE’s economy.
This is a promising new direction for the UAE, especially as a location UAE’s manufacturing sector accounts for 53 percent of the country’s total non-oil exports, with the DED saying it will contribute one quarter of the country’s GDP by 2025. Major manufacturing sub-sectors include:
- Processed food and beverages
- Chemicals and chemical products
- Minerals and mineral products
- Plastics and rubber
- Electrical machinery and equipment
- Base metals
- Publishing and printing
- Pearls, precious stones and metals
Abu Dhabi, the national capital, has highlighted heavy industry because of the availability of low-cost energy, while the Emirates of Dubai and Sharjah focus on services and light industries.
As of 2016, there were approximately 5,200 industrial establishments in the UAE with a total employment of nearly 400,000 workers.
UAE Imports: Restricted and Prohibited Items
The government of UAE places restrictions and prohibitions on the importation of specific categories of goods. Here are some of the products that are restricted, along with the names of the controlling authorities:
- Printed materials (controlled by the National Media Council)
- Pharmaceutical products (controlled by the Ministry of Health and Prevention)
- Alcoholic beverages (controlled by the police in the destination state)
- New tires (regulated by the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology)
- Radio equipment (under control of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority)
- Fireworks, arms, explosives, and ammunition (controlled by the Ministries of the Interior and Defense)
Materials and products not allowed to be imported into the UAE include:
- E-cigarettes and electronic hookah pipes
- Used tires
- Gambling devices and tools
- Nylon fishing nets
- Items contradictory to Islamic principles
It is the UAE government that implements the above prohibitions, but it is important to also check that your planned imports are permitted under the GCC Common Customs Law. These important might be prohibited under this legislation, even if they do not appear in the UAE’s prohibition listings.
Ocean Freight to the UAE – What to Know
Ninety percent of freight inbound to the Emirates arrives as ocean freight, and much of it is carried in shipping containers. Dubai’s Jebel Ali is the most prominent ocean freight port in the UAE, and is the world’s largest man-made harbor. However, you may also ship LCL and FCL ocean freight to the UAE via ports in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Both of these ports, like Jebel Ali, connect the UAE with trading partners in many overseas countries.
Top Ocean Freight Shipping Lanes to the UAE
The UAE is situated at the nexus between East and West, making it one of the busiest regions globally for ocean shipping. The densest flow of trade is from East to West, so most inbound FCL and LCL freight arrives in the Emirates from ports in China and Southeast Asia.
Compared with its sister ports in the UAE, Jebel Ali receives by far the highest volume of freight. All of the top five routes in UAE terminate at Dubai’s famous container entryway. Those routes, identified in no particular order, are as follows:
- Shanghai (China) to Jebel Ali
- Singapore to Jebel Ali
- Hong Kong to Jebel Ali
- Ningbo (China) to Jebel Ali
- Busan (South Korea) to Jebel Ali
Container Shipping to the UAE: Longest and Shortest Ocean Routes
Due to its central location for global transportation, the UAE is served by many lengthy ocean routes. On the other hand, shipping from Asia and Australia tends to take less time to arrive than from the furthest-flung ports in Europe and the Americas.
One of the longest ocean freight routes brings cargo in from San Antonio in Chile, and it can take up to 65 days for a container vessel to transit between the two ports. However, you can benefit from one of the shortest routes if you ship from Singapore (located east of the Emirates). Containers shipping to Dubai from Singapore can reach Jebel Ali in just eight or nine days.
Air Freight Shipping to the Emirates
In addition to a thriving trade via ocean freight trade lanes from around the world, the seven states of the UAE receive imports via international airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. Therefore, if you wish to bring high-value, urgent, or perishable goods into the UAE, you might prefer to send it as air freight, rather than at the sedate pace of ocean shipping.
In this section of our freight guide, you can find out about the many routes through which you can ship air freight to the UAE. Again, the information relates to shipping from airport to airport. However, on the MARGO platform, in Abu Dhabi, you can get quotes and book your cargo door-to-door from your chosen point of origin, regardless of its location.
Air Freight to the UAE: Busiest Inbound Routes
Of the three primary international air cargo terminals in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is by far the busiest in terms of volume, and receives more passenger and cargo flights than either Sharjah or Abu Dhabi. The top routes for air freight into the UAE all connect Dubai with cities in Asia and Europe, and include the following five:
- London (United Kingdom) to Dubai
- Bangkok (Thailand) to Dubai
- Hong Kong to Dubai
- Singapore to Dubai
- Frankfurt (Germany) to Dubai
Longest and Shortest Routes for Emirates-Bound Air Freight
Some of the furthest air-freight distances into the Emirates are those from North, Central, and South America. However, services from these geographies are few and far between. American businesses wishing to import to the UAE must often send their air freight via multi-leg routes, typically with transshipments in Europe or East Asia.
That said, there are a few direct flights from major airports in the United States, most of which involve transit times of around 14 hours. The longest route of all though, is between New Zealand’s city of Auckland, and Dubai, with a total transit time of 17 hours.
Meanwhile, some of the shortest routes bring cargo in by air from Southern Europe, with one example being Athens, in Greece, to Dubai, which only takes around four hours.
Ship For Success – UAE
The emerging market is poised for greater success as SMEs in UAE are hungry for global growth. From technology to prioritizing international markets over their home market, shippers responded to questions about why they do business in Indonesia and the supply chain landscape in the country. The following graphic offers cogent data to explain the situation in Indonesia.
Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index – UAE
The UAE’s business environment remained the pillar of strength in 2020 as the country moved even further ahead at the top of the business fundamentals sub-Index ranking. The Emirates added to its open financial sector, transparent regulatory system and corruption protection frameworks in 2020 with progress towards a comprehensive national SME development strategy.
SMEs have been drivers of wider growth in the UAE for the last several years, helping to offset lower hydrocarbon revenues and employing some 86% of the non-oil private sector workforce. However, with SMEs’ contribution to economic growth and job creation declining, UAE authorities have announced plans to boost cash flows to SMEs via quicker payments of government invoices, cost reductions and increased capital project allocation. Combined, these initiatives could provide an injection of more than $800 million to the sector, while further reforms to promote SME prospects, including increased access to financing as well as a new insolvency framework are planned.
With an extra $1.2 billion invested into its pharmaceutical sector to drive export growth to high demand areas like Africa and Asia Pacific, as well as higher imports to support construction for Expo2020, the UAE remains the GCC region’s dominant sea freight hub. The port and its surrounding free trade zone at Jebel Ali are the region’s key gateway for regional and east-west trade
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