Shipping & Mail Forwarding to the UAE

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Clearance Process
FedEx is the Gateway Hub in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a pre-clearance facility in Dubai.  FedEx will contact the consignee and obtain prior approval regarding duty and tax charges for shipments with a value greater than 1400 (DHS).  FedEx-UAE has a value threshold agreement with Dubai Customs for dutiable shipments at 270 (USD) and above.  UAE Customs has the right to reassess the value of any shipment and levy duty and tax on the newly assessed amount.  FedEx will not be held liable for confiscated shipments due to mis-declaration, commodity prohibition, etc.  Claims due to losses incurred due to these circumstances will be denied.  Shipments not cleared within thirty days will be abandoned.  Full and partial destroy facility is available for this purpose.  Clearance must take place at the port of entry (this means Dubai as this is the only city that FedEx currently flies into).  Inbond transfers are available ONLY to Free Trade Zones.  Hold-at-Location (HAL) service is available at the Dubai Station (Metroplex) and the Abu Dhabi station.  There is a limit of five business days for this service.

Document Requirements

Air Waybill
: an international air waybill is required for every shipment to the UAE. 

Commercial Invoice: is required for every shipment except documents.  It should include all of the following essential data elements: complete shipper's and consignee information including telephone and/or fax numbers, quantity of the goods, complete description of the goods (spare parts, part numbers, samples, etc are not adequate descriptions). Individual values for each of the commodities must be shown as well as  the country of manufacture for each regardless of where the shipment originates. Please specify the currency type along with signature of shipper with date and title.  Clearance will be delayed and/or subject to customs fines if shipper incorrectly declares the country of manufacture.

Import Licenses: All beef and poultry products require a Halal health certificate from the country of origin and a halal slaughter certificate issued by an approved Islamic center in the country of origin.  Health certificates must accompany shipments of blood derivatives and other biological substances certifying that that country of origin is free from any infectious or epidemic diseases.  

Commercial Shipments: the UAE government requires that the importer/exporter be licensed by their local municipality and possess a trade license from their local Chamber of Commerce to in the commodities that they are importing and/or exporting.   

Personal Shipments: the UAE government may require the recipient's personal identification number in order to clear a shipment into the UAE.  

Customs Valuation
The customs valuation is based on the CIF value.  This means that the cost of the item plus the amount paid for insurance plus the transportation cost to move the freight to the UAE is taken in total and then assessed duty at the applicable rate for the commodity classification.  The UAE has relatively low duty rates, usually five percent (5%), for most goods.  Most items that are considered essential, such as staple foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals, are allowed duty free status but a bill of entry is required.  However, imports of liquor/alcohol are subject to fifty percent (50%) and cigarettes one hundred percent (100%) on their CIF value.  The CIF value that is stated on the commercial invoice is generally accepted, however UAE Customs are not bound to accept the figures listed and can reset the estimated value of the goods.

Import Duties
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) a plan which calls for the economic integration of the six Arabian member states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE).  Under the terms of this agreement, eligible products will be exempt from duties and other charges when traded among member states.  In order to qualify for benefit status, the value of the goods cannot be less than 40 percent of the final value and must be produced in a factory that is at least 53 percent local ownership that is duly licensed by a members respective Ministry of Finance and Industry.  Intra-GCC shipments claiming this exemption must be accompanied by a duly authenticated certificate of origin.

Under the auspices of the 2003 Gulf Council Unification (GCU) Customs Union Agreement, the GCC members adopted an across-the-board common external tariff rate of five percent (5%) for most products.  The GCC also agreed to develop a list of products to which higher tariff rates will apply.  Likewise, certain staple items such as food and pharmaceutical products are exempt from tariff.  

The Customs duty for most items is calculated on the CIF value at the rate of five percent (5%).  Imports of liquor/alcohol are subject to a fifty percent (50%) customs duty on their CIF value while imports of tobacco products face a one hundred percent (100%) duty on their CIF value.  Many essential items such as staple foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals are allowed duty-fee status.

Duty exemptions are available for Government (such as Police and Ministry of Defense), Semi-Government organizations and industrial license holders (such as raw materials).  The organizations must provide a duty exemption letter and other necessary documentation as per customs regulations.  


Excise Duties
Imports of alcohol/liquor are subject to fifty percent (50%) while tobacco is subject to one hundred percent (100%) luxury tax.

Additional Duties

Import Taxes

Customs Fees
Apart from the usual five percent (5%) duty rate.  There is a customs fee of DH 30 (approximately $8.20 USD) for each Bill of Entry presented to customs.  Federal Express charges either DH 20 or two percent (2%), whichever is greater, on any duty and tax prepays that it makes on behalf of the customer.  If you wish to avoid this charge, you will need to set up an account with Dubai Customs at their website.

Exchange Controls

Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT's)
The UAE maintains a relatively liberal trade policy.  However, there are some non-tariff barriers to trade and investment in the form of agency sponsorship requirements and shelf-life requirements for food products.  Foreign entities wanting to do business in the UAE must have a UAE national sponsor, agent or distributor.  The UAE's Commercial Agencies Law requires that foreign principals distribute their products in the UAE only through exclusive commercial agents that are either UAE nationals or companies wholly owned by UAE nationals.  The foreign principal can appoint one agent for the entire UAE or for a particular emirate or group of emirates.  All UAE commercial agents must be registered with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.  Once chosen, agents/distributors have exclusive rights and have lawful protection against terminating agency contracts only by mutual agreement of the foreign principal and the local agent, not withstanding the expiration of the term of the contract.  Except for companies located in one of the Free Zones, at least fifty-one percent of a business must be owned by a UAE national.  A business engaged in importing and distributing a product must either be a one hundred percent UAE owned agency/distributorship or a fifty-one percent UAE / forty-nine percent foreign limited liability company (LLC).     

Government Tenders

The UAE requires that a company must be registered in order to receive government tender contracts.  In order to be registered, a company must enjoy at least fifty-one percent ownership.  However, these rules are routinely waived whenever local industry cannot provide the goods or services required.  The UAE does not require that a portion of any government tender be subcontracted to local firms but it does grant a ten percent price preference for local firms.  The UAE is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement.  

Agriculture Barriers

Food products do face some regulations which are considered to be minor trade barriers.  There are GCC-mandated shelf life requirements for processed products stating that both the production and expiration dates must be listed on the original manufacturer applied label.  Furthermore, all imported food products must have one-half or more of their shelf life remaining at the time of import or clearance will be denied.

Consular Fees
Legalization of shipping documents is generally not required as a condition of entry of goods into the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  However, if you are ever required to provide such documents there are charges for this service. 

Importers are only allowed to import commercial shipments which adhere to the terms of their trade license as issued by the local government authority.  Only firms with the appropriate trade license can engage in commercial importations.  The UAE's Commercial Agencies Law requires that foreign principals distribute their products in the UAE only through exclusive commercial agents that are either UAE nationals or companies that are wholly owned by UAE nationals.  The foreign principal can appoint a single agent for the entire UAE or on a particular emirate or group of emirates.  All UAE commercial agents must be registered with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.  It is important to note that once a commercial agent is chosen, agent/distributors have exclusive rights to distribute for the foreign principal and the agent can only be terminated either by mutual consent with that agent or fulfillment of the contract.  Since 1996, the UAE has not recognized new agency agreements in the food sector.  Personal shipments are generally exempt from this requirement.

The Drug Control Department of the UAE Ministry of Health has strict guidelines regarding the importation of blood derivatives and other biological substances.  A certificate indicating that the pharmaceutical formula has been registered with the UAE Ministry of Health is required.  A list of the shipment's contents outlining each kind of drug, it's components and the size of the packages, numbers and expiration dates should be listed.  Blood derivatives that are not registered with the Ministry should provide a registration certificate from the factory or the formula as well as a valid health certificate attesting that the country of origin is free from any infectious or epidemic diseases.  If a company does not want to get it's product tested by the drug control laboratory in the UAE, a health certificate issued by a GCC approved lab will suffice.  The UAE maintains the right to collect and test random samples to ensure the safety of the blood supply.  Any medicines found to be unfit, expired or not in compliance with UAE Ministry of Health regulations is subject to confiscation. 

The UAE has made increases in the area of intellectual property protections.  New laws passed in 2002 offer increased levels of protection.  The UAE is a party to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO).  The UAE has a agreement with U.S. pharmaceutical companies that provides a de facto patent protection for a number of U.S. patent-protected medicines.  According to 2002 industry estimates, the rate of software piracy in the UAE is the lowest in the Middle East.  The UAE has been recognized as the regional leader in fighting computer software piracy.

The UAE's new Trademark Law states that the UAE will follow the International Classification System and that one trademark can be registered in a number of classes.  The new law provides that the trademark holder will enjoy exclusive rights to the use of the trademark as registered and prevent others from using an identical or similar enough mark if it will cause confusion among consumers.

The UAE published its Patent Law in November 2002.  The law provides for national treatment for property owners from other WTO members, complete patent protection and intellectual property rights with both civil and criminal policies and procedures.  In October 2003, the Ministry of Health issued a circular providing protection for pharmaceutical products equal to the patent term of the pharmaceutical product in the country of origin.

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