flag United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates: Selling

In this page: Market Access Procedures | Distributing a Product

 

Market Access Procedures

 
 

Customs Procedures

Import Procedures
The importer submits the Import Declaration application for UAE Customs clearance online through dubaitrade.ae. In case of restricted goods or duty-exempted cargo, the importer arranges for the necessary permits from the designated permit issuing authority before filling out the Customs Import Declaration.
For import of goods from outside the country into UAE the following original documents are required:

  • Commercial invoice from the exporter addressed to a licensed importer in the country detailing total quantity, goods description and total value for each item (in triplicate);
  • Certificate of origin approved by the Chamber of Commerce in the country of origin detailing the origin of goods; 
  • Detailed packing list as per weight, method of packing and HS code for each individual article contained in the shipment;
  • Import permit from the competent agencies in the event of importing restricted goods or duty- exempted goods;
  • Original bill of loading;
  • A form or letter of exemption from customs duties in cases where exemption requirements are fulfilled, including a Local Purchase Order (LPO).

For more information on the UAE Customs, please visit the website of the Federal Customs Authority.

Specific Import Procedures
Certain goods such as animals, medicines and weapons can be imported/exported only after receiving necessary permits from the competent authorities.
All imported meats - beef and poultry products - require a health certificate issued by the country of export and a "halal" slaughter certificate issued by an approved Islamic centre in that country. Some products require a sanitary or phytosanitary certificate or, for processed products, an export certificate confirming fitness for human consumption; and others a non-irradiation certificate for certain products (optional for European products).
Importing Samples
The United Arab Emirates joined the ATA Carnet system on 1 April 2011, accepting goods for fairs and exhibitions. The United Arab Emirates typically limit the duration of carnets to six months, with the possibility of extension.  UAE customs may charge a regularisation fee* (up to 5,000 AED) under specific conditions.
For more information, click here.
 

To go further, check out our service Import Controls and Export Controls.

 
 

Customs Duties and Taxes on Imports

Customs threshold (from which tariffs are required)
Shipments valued under AED 1000 enter free from duty and tax. Gifts carried by passengers travelling to UAE and whose value do not exceed AED 3000 are also exempt from customs duties.
Average Customs Duty (Excluding Agricultural Products)
With the adoption of a common tariff for the GCC countries, customs duties have been fixed to 5% of the CIF value of most products. However, alcoholic products are subject to 50% duty and tobacco products are assessed a 100% customs duty.
For more information, please click here.
Products Having a Higher Customs Tariff
- 50% of the CIF value of the product for alcohol imports
- 100% of the CIF value of the product for tobacco imports.
Preferential Rates
Effective January 1, 2003, the UAE acceded to the GCC Customs Union, which equalizes the duties paid upon entry of an item to any member state, regardless of the country of destination within the GCC and establish a free trade area between member states.
Customs Classification
The system has been harmonised since the setting-up of the free trade area between the GCC countries in 2003.
Method of Calculation of Duties
Customs duties are calculated based on the CIF value of the product.
Method of Payment of Customs Duties
Duties can be settled in different ways. Once paid, duties cannot be returned (except in case of an error on behalf of UAE authorities).
Import Taxes (Excluding Consumer Taxes)
There are none.
 

List of tariffs and local taxes that apply to your product on our service Customs Duties and Local Taxes.

 

Labeling and Packaging Rules

Packaging
There are no special rules. The labels should be difficult to remove or to falsify and the information which they contain should be clear and easy to read.
Languages Permitted on Packaging and Labeling
An Arabic translation should appear on the packing in addition to other languages used. An Arabic sticker is admissible if it does not hide the mandatory wordings.
Unit of Measurement
Metric system is used.
Mark of Origin "Made In"
Origin marking is obligatory. The country of origin of the product and the name and address of the manufacturer or packer must be indicated.
Labeling Requirements
The label should include:

- a complete list of ingredients in decreasing order of their proportion with the mention "ingredients after preparation" for dehydrated products
- name and brand of the product
- all the food additives used
- water content should appear on the label unless water enters the composition of one of the ingredients.
- the transport and storage conditions should appear on appear on frozen products
- name and address of the manufacturer and packer
- country of origin
- method of preparation for consumption if required
- if the product contains animal fat or gelatine, it should be specified as to which animal they originate from
- manufacturing and expiry dates: day/month/year for a preservation period more than 3 months, month and year for a preservation period less than 3 months.
Specific Regulations
The specification 'halal' (slaughtered according to the Muslim ritual) should be mentioned  for meat products. Alcohol and pork may not enter in the composition of food products. Municipalities have established a list of food additives or colourings authorised in the Emirates.

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Distributing a Product

 

Distribution Network

Types of Outlet

Traditional boutiques, souk stalls
Popular with lower-income customers. Low to medium-range products are sold here.
Shopping centers
Have witnessed fast growth with the growing wealth of the country and the development of tourism. A number of franchise stores are to be found.
Abu Dhabi Mall

Mall of the Emirates

Specialised shops
Offer luxury products in the area of gastronomy, alcohol, garments, fashion accessories, watches, etc.
Multi-product and multi-brand stores
Department stores which bring together diverse and multi-brand products.
Salam studios
Shop in shop
These are large department stores which bring together several luxury product brands in the same area, with a dedicated location for each brand. This is a new concept very much in vogue in Dubai.
Paris Gallery
Hotel boutiques
Specialised in luxury products and monopolised by some agent-importers who have signed exclusive contracts with hotels.
Supermarkets
More and more popular. The sector is dominated by Carrefour and Casino. You can also find Spinney.
Carrefour Group

Spinney Group

 

Evolution of the Retail Sector

Growth and Regulation
The UAE remains one of the most attractive market in the region for retailers, behind Saudi Arabia. UAE retail market was valued at USD 22 billion in 2020 (+14.4% compared to 2019), with grocery sales making up 44.2% of retail sales, at USD 9.7 billion (USDA). The sector is growing due to various factors such as rising per capita income, growing tourism industry, increasing expatriate population. According to Majid Al Futtaim, consumer spending increased by 14% in Q1 2022 compared to the same period in 2019, as the economy continued to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country remains very attractive to retailers as 87.5% of the population lives in urban centres (Data Reportal, 2022). UAE has a high penetration of supermarkets and hypermarkets due to high rate of urbanization. When it comes to modern grocer retailing, omnichannel (online and offline purchase) is becoming a growing trend. The UAE is the most advanced eCommerce market in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the sector is booming. Over 95% of purchases are predicted to be made online by 2040. Retail e-commerce is projected to grow 60% to more than USD 8 billion by 2025 from 2021 (EZDubai and Euromonitor). Online retail spending tripled in the Q1 2022 compared with the first three months of 2019, led by the food and beverage
and hypermarket/supermarket sectors (Majid Al Futtaim).


A number of selling methods are possible in the Emirates; direct sales are not very widespread. The most common way is to market products through local commercial agents. Many firms will choose a different distributor or commercial agent in each emirate. Imports and exports of food products have typically been entrusted to companies specialising in this field. However, the Government has recently abolished the monopoly of agents, and has proceeded to open up this sector. Finally, companies tend to make use of the geographic position of Dubai as a regional hub for stocking their goods before re-exporting them to other markets, e.g. India or Iran. Moreover, the use of franchising is rapidly expanding.
Market share
Supermarkets have the largest market share of sales in UAE. These are followed by wholesale sales, shopping malls, trade fairs and exhibitions and, lastly, specialist shops. Major retail groups in the UAE include: Carrefour, Lulu Group, Union Co-operative Society, Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society and Sharjah Cooperative Society (USDA).
Retail Sector Organisations
Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry
 

E-commerce

Internet access
United Arab Emirates, with its 9.5 million inhabitants, has the 7th largest population size among 14 countries of the Middle East. The country occupies nevertheless the second position in the region in terms of the internet penetration rate,  one of the highest in the world, estimated at around 90% (Internet World Stats). Emirati internet users, both local and expatriate, (8.5 million people) account for 5.8% of total internet user population in the Middle East (4th highest). Internet penetration has reached near maturity and now grows at an average rate of 4% (Hootsuite). UAE has the highest smartphone penetration in the world (81% in 2017) and 82% of the total population are active mobile internet users. Internet use is also extremely frequent with 89% of users reported to access the internet every day (Google Consumer Barometer). The share of mobile in web traffic is the highest (57%) and continues to increase rapidly at the expense of personal computer and tablets (-16% and -13% y-o-y respectively). As far as search engines are concerned, Google dominates the market with a 96.72% share, followed by Bing at 1.48% and Yahoo at 1.42% (Statcounter - 2017).
E-commerce market
Emirati e-commerce has one of the highest growths in recent years, and is the most dynamic market across the MENA region, as well as the e-commerce leader among GCC states. Between 2013 and 2017, online retail sales are believed to have grown from US$ 490 million to US$ 1.6 billion. The total value of the e-commerce market is expected to rise exponentially in 2018, ranging between US$ 8.98 billion and US$ 10 billion according to forecasts. Overall, the market is expected to grow at an average rate of 25% per year by 2020. Growth in the e-commerce market is forecast to be fuelled to a large extent by mobile, as the UAE have the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world (81% in 2017 according to a Newzoo survey). Smartphone usage is reported to be even higher among millennials (over 90% according to a Google survey). The share of mobile use in regular online purchases is already higher than laptops and desk computers (47% as opposed to 39% - Hootsuite). Cross-border shopping is extremely popular in the UAE, with 46% of consumers saying they have purchased from foreign websites in 2017 (PayPal 2018). American websites were by far the most visited e-commerce platforms, followed by Indian and Chinese websites. Souq.com, Cobone.com and Sukar.com are the largest locally-based e-commerce websites. The acquisition of Souq.com by Amazon, and the launch of Noon.com by Emaar Group in 2017 are believed to further invigorate the Emirati e-commerce market.
E-commerce sales and customers
The Emirati population, both local and expatriate, is among the most digitally connected and the most active online buyers in the world. According to Eshop World, the UAE has a total of 6.8 million online buyers, or nearly 80% of Internet users, which is higher than the European average (66% of Internet users). Online buyers under the age of 31, that make up 64% of the population, represent 73% of all online transactions. Sales are heavily based in Dubai, as the city hosts 60% of all online buyers. As a reflection of the high population diversity, only less than 30% of the online buyers are local Emiratis. As the re-export hub of its region, the UAE has a well-established delivery network and ranked 13th on the World Bank's Logistics Performance Index. On the other hand, secure online payment methods are far from reaching maturity, as 58% of all online transactions are still made in cash, according to A.T. Kearney. A new online consumer protection initiative, known as 'Digital Protection', has been launched by Dubai Economy to shore up consumer confidence in electronic payments. Despite a relative lack of secure online payment methods, the amount spent per person per online purchase is the highest in the world, at US$ 332 (KPMG - 2017), compared to US$ 86 per purchase in the US and US$ 73 in Europe. While online sales have been traditionally dominated by electronics retail, the share of fashion is rising and jumped from US$ 85 million in 2013 to US$ 272 million in 2017, according to Euromonitor. However, fashion sales only make up 3% of total online retail shopping, whereas in the UK, a mature market in this field, fashion comprises 40% of total online sales. Consumers respond well to local adaptations of major international online shopping promotions, such as White Friday (based on Black Friday), which became the biggest online shopping event of the year in 2017.
Social media
United Arab Emirates has the highest social media penetration rate in the world (99% - Hootsuite 2017). Emirati users are also among the most active on social media and spend on average 3 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media platforms, and 7 hours and 55 minutes online. Facebook and YouTube are the most popular social media networks in the UAE, with about 8.7 million users each. These two are followed by WhatsApp (7.2 million users) and Instagram (5.7 million). According to the UAE Social Media Survey and MidEast Media Survey, the ranking is different when considering only local Emiratis. In that case, WhatsApp is the most popular network, used by 96% of Emiratis (1.7 million people), followed by Instagram (78% or 1.4 million), Facebook (70% or 1.2 million) and Snapchat (62% or 1.1 million). Social media is mainly used for entertainment purposes (nearly 70% of users), while only half of users access social media to get and share news. Twitter is the top social media platform for news, while YouTube is the main platform for entertainment, according to MidEast Media Survey.
 

Direct Selling

Evolution of the Sector
According to the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, 2016 direct retail sales in the UAE reached USD 11 million, a 15% increase compared to 2015. The country also has 552,321 independent representatives in the industry. Euromonitor International claims direct selling continues to grow but is a marginal part of overall retail sales. This said, increased cost of living derived from a new VAT implementation is expected to attract stay-at-home mothers and part-time representatives into direct sales.

Opportunities exist for direct selling companies to introduce organic health and beauty products focused on weight loss and skin care. Oasis Water was the largest direct selling company in 2017. Forever Living has also left a dent in the industry with its natural products and detox programmes. Direct selling competition is still low, creating an ideal scenario for companies for new entrants to succeed.

The Direct Selling Association (DSA) collaborates with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industries to strengthen and regulate the industry; a secondary objective is attracting new companies to the country. In this sense, the Middle East Direct Selling Forum in 2017 promoted direct selling in the Middle East and North Africa. Companies currently enrolled the DSA include DXN, Forever Living, Edmark, PMI, Unicity, Jeunesse, LEO, Juice Plus, Thermomix, Phygicart, and Evergreen.
 
 

Commercial Intermediaries

Trading Companies
 
  • Type of Organization
This solution is more widespread than direct selling. There is no legal distinction between a commercial agent and a distributor. It is important to have a local intermediary because according to local culture, face to face contact is important for trade. Long distance trading is uncommon.
  • Main Actors
Al Ghurair Retail, Al Jaber International, Al Khaja Group, Al Tayer Group.
Wholesalers
 
  • Type of Organization
This type of company is increasingly important, especially in Dubai. In the past, bulk trade was limited to the food sector. Today, it is developing also in the new technologies sector (mobile telephones, computers, etc.). Wholesalers also often function as importers and distributors.
  • Main Actors
The Lifco and LuLu groups dominate the food distribution sector. Al Futtaim electronics dominates the wholesale of electronic equipment. Aptec online, Axiom Telecom - which is part of the Bannai group - and CADD dominate the bulk sale of computers and mobile phones.
Useful Resources
Directory of UAE companies
 

Using a Commercial Agent

The Advantages
Hiring a commercial agent is ideal when creating a business in the UAE. 
Where to Be Vigilant
It is difficult to terminate a commercial contract. In fact, it is generally impossible for the principal to terminate a commercial contract unilaterally once it has been registered with the Ministry of Economy, even if the contract has a limited duration. Further, only UAE nationals or companies fully owned by UAE nationals can register as local commercial agents with the Ministry of Economy.
Elements of Motivation
Commercial agents are interested in receiving an attractive commission on transactions. 
The Average Amount of Commission
The commercial agent is entitled to receiving a commission on all the transactions executed in the country, including the ones where the agent may not have played an active role. Some companies like the Gulf Commercial Agency are well-known in this field, but most of the market is shared between small enterprises.
Breach of Contract
Commercial agents are legally speaking independent traders and can thus delegate a part or all of their activities to a sub-agent. One must consequently be very careful while drawing up a contract to avoid being represented by someone who has not been chosen. Regarding the contract, it is recommended to specify a sufficiently long probation period, and to cooperate with a well-established local lawyer in preparing the contract. The contract should be registered with the Ministry of Economy by the agent in order to avoid that any other unauthorised agent sells the company's products. The UAE legal system distinguishes two forms of commercial agents - the registered and the unregistered commercial agent. In some instances, agents have been appointed on a project basis, with the relationship restricted to the specified project, terminating automatically upon reward or completion.
Finding a Commercial Agent
Ministry of Economy, List of registered commercial agents
 

Setting Up a Commercial Unit

The Advantages
The creation of a commercial unit in the country is attractive as it enables to be in direct contact with consumers and develop a better understanding for their taste. This brings companies closer to the market and allows them to adapt their products better.
Where to Be Vigilant
The fees for establishment and working are very high.
Different Possible Forms of Settlement
 
  • A Representative Office
The representative office serves as a link between the foreign company and its local partners. It also facilitates the promotion of the company's products and services. It is not authorised to receive receipts and carry out commercial activities. This is a clerical organisation. The creation of a representative office necessitates the nomination of an Emirati service agent (called sponsor in the past). The agent can be remunerated in two ways, either through receiving a percentage share on the sales turnover, or through a fixed sum, which averages between AED 25,000 and 150,000. It is recommended to opt for the fixed-sum remuneration, and the service agent himself is not directly involved in the commercial activity and should hence not have his remuneration tied to it. Since 2005, foreign companies have to provide a bank guarantee of AED 50,000 in order to obtain or renew the office license.
  • A Branch Office
The creation of a branch requires a local service agent. Service agents are usually registered as commercial agents. It should be specified clearly in the contract that the service agent is not designated as the commercial agent of the company. Branch offices do not require UAE national ownership, but do necessitate the involvement of a UAE national as sponsor. Some sectors are excluded from this type of establishment: these are banking activitites, insurance, commercial agencies, and passenger road transport. The creation of a branch also requires the arrangement of a bank guarantee of AED 50,000. Nevertheless, foreign companies are allowed to open a branch in free zones with the possibility of full ownership and repatriation of capital and profits.
  • A Company
The establishment of a subsidiary requires a partnership with Emirati nationals (individual persons or legal entities) who will necessarily have a majority stake in capital (at least 51% of the shares). Any attempt to by-pass this obligation will lead automatic invalidation by local courts of justice. Nevertheless, foreign companies are allowed to open a subsidiary in free zones with the possibility of full ownership and repatriation of capital and profits.
 

Franchising

Evolution of the Sector
Local and international franchise brands continue to grow exponentially in the U.A.E. across a variety of sectors including food and beverage, fashion retail, and convenience stores.  A combination of factors has spurred this growth, including: an attractive tax-free environment, world-class infrastructure,  improved intellectual property legislation, U.A.E. government efforts to diversify the economy, a growing population with a sizeable proportion of expatriates, changing consumption patterns, increasing penetration of international retail players, increasing income with higher propensity for leisure and consumer spending , an increasing number of business and leisure visitors,  the country's emergence as a popular shopping destination, and Dubai's designation as the host of the Expo 2020 (postponed due Covid-19).
 
Aside from the key provisions that are normally incorporated into franchising agreements, companies should pay particular attention to the period, area specification, third-party transfer rule, dispute resolution mechanisms, and termination mechanisms.  Companies must be aware of relevant trade barriers, such as the Arab League Boycott of Israel which bans any goods originating from Israel.  In this way, a partner could potentially also request the company to sign a declaration that it has not/will not trade with Israel. However Section 999 of the " Internal Revenue Code " makes it unlawful for foreign companies to comply with such agreements.
 
In order for a contract to qualify for registration with the Ministry there are a number of criteria which must be met, the main ones being: the franchisee must be a UAE national or an entity that is wholly owned by UAE nationals; the franchise agreement must grant exclusivity over all or a part of the UAE; and the franchise agreement must be notarized. It is recommended to register trademarks with the Ministry of Economy in advance of entering into the UAE market.

For many years the franchise market in the United Arab Emirates has been well represented by the main western retail and fast food brands. In fashion retailing, these include Zara, Mango, Bershka, H&M, Promod, Nike, Calvin Klein, Claire's, MAC, Pandora and Monsoon and in fast food, iconic brands such as McDonald's, Starbucks and Yum! brands dominate. Given the long-term presence and relative saturation of these brands in the UAE market, UAE franchisors are looking for development opportunities in a number of new foreign concepts such as online commerce, product customisation, provision of healthy and environmentally friendly services and home delivery and consulting.

Some Big Franchises
Pizza Hut, pizzeria
H&M, clothing
Starbucks, coffee
Zara, clothing
For Further Information
Ministry of Economy
 

Finding Assistance

Export Trading Companies
Altaf and Khammas Group, specialized in re-export of fresh products in the Middle East.
Al Nabeel Perfume Trading
Al blossom trading est
Directory of Arab companies
The Halal Trade & Marketing Center (HTMC)
Recommended Resource
Dubaï Trade Portal
 
 
 
 

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Latest Update: September 2022