UAE Import and Export Procedures

This article provides you with a general guide to the procedures for importing to and exporting from the United Arab Emirates, both directly and through Free Trade Zones. However, before everything else, you will need to register with the UAE government. And so we recommend you read our guide on how to register your import-export business in the UAE beforehand.

Importing to the UAE Mainland

Typically, in order to import directly to the UAE mainland, you will need the following documents:

  • Original bill of lading copies
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin

Three to four days before the arrival of the vessel, the importer should submit the original bill of lading to the shipping agent. The shipping agent then issues a delivery order to the importer. Please note that the delivery order has an expiry date. All procedures, including cargo clearance formalities (as described below), need to be completed before by that date. Otherwise, the shipping agent will need to seek an extension, which will lead to additional fees.

For clearance, the importer needs to submit the Import Declaration application to UAE Customs. This should be done online through Customs duties and other fees can also be paid online using one of three methods: through the CDR account, by credit card or direct debit. Upon payment, the importer may print the Customs Import Declaration.

For restricted or duty-exempted goods, a different procedure is required. The importer will need to secure the required permits from the competent authorities before submitting the Customs Import Declaration. If you’re importing goods from outside the UAE, you will need to following original documents:

  • Commercial invoice with goods description detailing quantities and the total value of each item
  • Certificate of Origin
  • Detailed packing list, detailing weight, method of packing and HS code for each item
  • Import Permit from the competent authorities

The information in these documents is verified by UAE Customs, who may order the cargo to be inspected. Port dues can be settled at any time after the importer receives the delivery order from the shipping agent, and may be paid online on the UAE Trade portal, by credit card, e-dirham card or direct debit.

The importer can use the Vessel Enquiry e-service to check vessel arrival, and the Container Enquiry e-service to check the container discharge status. After the container is discharged, the importer can use the Haulier Nomination Service to nominate a transportation company to handle the cargo. 

The flow of trucks in and out of the port is managed through an e-token system. These e-tokens are generated through the Dubai Trade portal, and consist of a unique ID number associated with a container, day and time slot for pick up or drop off. The e-token number should be provided to the nominated Haulier, who will then present it the slip to gate security. Containers are then delivered by DP World to the Haulier according to the information on the e-token. The Haulier will then issue a receipt for each container taken from the port.

In case an inspection is required, it is up to the Haulier to take the cargo to the competent authority. Upon inspection clearance, an inspection report is issued, a copy of which will need to be presented to gate security staff to exit the port.

Importing to Free Trade Zones

All UAE free trade zones are part of the country’s territory but are outside the customs territory. This means that customs control procedures are different. When importing from a foreign country, free zone license-holders are exempt from paying customs duties. Also, goods may be stored for an unlimited time, depending on the type and validity of the license.

General Requirements

These are the general requirements:

  • The importer will need a valid importer code from Customs
  • The goods need to conform with the activity of the company
  • The goods must arrive at the free zone within 72 hours of the date of customs declaration
  • Goods must not be opened, altered or dispensed before arriving at the free zone and being endorsed by Customs
  • The goods need to be inspected upon entry
  • A deposit of AED 500 needs to be paid if the required documents are not submitted

Documents Required

The following documents are required and need to be presented to Customs centers located at the free zones:

  • Delivery order from the shipping agent to the company licensed to operate in the free zone
  • Delivery note by the free zone confirming acceptance of goods
  • A second copy of Bill of Lading (sea shipment), original Airway Bill (air shipment) and Road Manifest (land shipment)
  • Import permit from competent authorities (in case of restricted goods)
  • A sales invoice, including goods description, quantities and value of each item
  • Original and detailed invoice from the shipper, including HS Codes classification
  • Certificate of origin
  • Detailed packing list, including weight, method of packing and HS code for each item
  • Import Goods Declaration form

Once the documents are submitted, a ‘Free Zone Transit In’ (bill of entry) is issued to clear the goods into the free zone. Goods may be collected after customs clearance upon payment of storage, handling, and other port charges.

Inspection is required for all goods except the ones originating from the local market. Seals must be intact and may only be broken in the presence of a customs inspector.

According to the Abu Dhabi Government, certain types of merchandise cannot enter free zones and duty-free areas due to their nature or origin, by virtue of the provisions of the Unified Customs Law of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries or other relevant laws. To import, store, or transport any prohibited items is punishable by law.

The list of prohibited merchandise includes:

  • Flammable merchandise, excluding fuel necessary for operations as permitted by the Free Zone Authority, under the conditions prescribed
  • Radioactive materials
  • Weapons, ammunition, and explosives, except as allowed by competent authorities.
  • Merchandise that violates the regulations for the protection of commercial, industrial, and intellectual property rights and copyright protection
  • All types of narcotics and their derivatives
  • Merchandise from an economically boycotted country

List of Customs Authorities in the UAE:

Using Free Trade Zones to Trade with the UAE

As mentioned above, while free trade zones are part of the territory of the UAE, they are outside of the country’s customs territory. This has several implications. On the one hand, UAE free trade zones can be used as import and export hubs to other countries, without having to go through the UAE Customs procedures and paying duties. On the other hand, however, you will need to go through those procedures if your goal is to sell within the UAE or to other GCC countries.

First, the exporter must have a commercial license from the competent UAE authorities of the country or from other GCC states. Furthermore, the goods should conform to the free zone of licensee’s activities. You’ll also need to obtain a valid importer code from customs. The goods must be taken from the free zone within 30 days (this period may be extended). Finally, the goods may be subject to inspection before being released.

The documents required for this process are as follows: 

  • Delivery advice from the free zone company (stamped by buyer and seller)
  • The detailed invoice with correct HS code
  • Classifications and free zone BOE reference number
  • Packing list
  • Import Goods Declaration form
  • Trade licenses from seller and buyer (copies)
  • No-Objection Certificate from competent authorities (in case of restricted or prohibited goods)
  • Online duty exemption approval from relevant authorities
  • Request letter and application, if the importer is exempt from customs duties.

These documents need to be supplied to Customs by the free zone licensee, and by the local or GCC importer, or else by their clearing agents. Once this is done, and the appropriate customs duties are paid, a Free Zone Transit Out (formerly a free zone import bill) is issued. Goods may only be delivered after receipt of the Free Zone Transit Out. 

Importing into UAE Free Zones to Export to Other Countries

Free Trade Zones can also be used to buy goods from the local UAE market for exportation purposes. In order to do so, however, you need to observe a variety of provisions and regulations. First, retail sales are forbidden within the free zone. In order to import into a free zone, the consignee needs to officially register with the customs authorities against its valid free zone license, and also obtain a valid importer/exporter license. The rules for importation of prohibited and restricted goods also apply to free zone licensees.

No customs duties are due when importing goods into a free zone. The goods can be kept within the zone free of charge for as long as the license is valid. Ownership of the goods may be transferred between different free zone licensees, depending on their activities, and provided that this is declared and approved by customs. If you import goods into one free zone, you may transfer them into another free zone, subject to documentation and deposit requirements.

transport loading at warehouse

All transactions need to be declared to customs, and you will need to obtain all the required documents before the arrival and departure of the goods. These include:

  • Delivery order from a company licensed by the free zone
  • Copy of Delivery Advice from the competent authorities (in the case of restricted goods)
  • Sales invoice from local vendor including goods description, quantity, currency and the total value of each item;
  • Detailed packing list, including method of packing and HS code for each item.

Specific Point-of-Entry UAE Import Procedures

The import of goods into and the export of goods from the UAE can be done through seaports, airports, and roadways. It is essential to comply with local laws and customs procedures to do so legally.

1. Sea Imports

When importing a full container load (FCL) via the UAE, the exporter of the cargo is required to provide the importer with:

  • Copies of the original bill of lading
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin

These documents are required, no matter the preceding sales deal or payment agreement. 

The importer is then required to submit the original bill of lading to the shipping agent 3-4 days before the vessel is scheduled to arrive. The agent then issues a delivery order.

The importer is required to make all cargo clearances before the delivery order expires; otherwise, the port will not release the cargo.

2. Air Imports

Unlike sea imports, which are finalized through ports and Free Zones, air imports are processed through major airports located in metropolitan areas without coastal access.

There are certainly advantages overseas imports due to higher traffic frequency, shorter transit times, and less physical handling. The latter reduces the risk of damage and cuts the need for extensive packing.

When importing goods into the UAE, the importer is required to provide:

  • Certificate of origin
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Original air waybill

There may be additional requirements depending on the type of shipments, such as food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Air shipments need to clear customs, and the necessary payments need to be made at the arrival airport before delivery to the final destination can proceed.

3. Road Imports

The United Arab Emirates is located at the northeast end of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Oman, and Saudi Arabia. This opens the possibility of importing goods via road. While it would be an additional step in importing goods to the UAE, it is an option.

The importer is required to provide:

  • Certificate of origin
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Original air waybill

Exporting from UAE to a Foreign Country

If you are looking to export merchandise via the sea, you are required to make an export booking with a shipping agent. This means that the process is handled through the shipping agent, who books a free container at the port and requests an empty container be released.

You can nominate a hauler or use your own truck to pick up an empty container and return it back to the port. For the latter option, you must create an electronic token through the Dubai Trade portal, which sets the slot for container pick-up. Truck details and time of arrival at the port have to be provided. Once the container is loaded up at the exporter’s warehouse, a new electronic token must be generated for an export container.

As an exporter, you are then required to fill out an online Export Declaration, which includes cargo information as well as the invoice details. Permits and certificates apply depending on the type of cargo and have to be obtained through the Chamber of Commerce.

When exporting by air, you have to pay attention to the size of the package. Pay attention to the suitable packaging and correct labeling.

You can work with a freight forwarder and consult with them on the required documentation and export process. These include preparing the Air Waybill.

Tariffs on Imports into the UAE

Customs duties are usually calculated based on the cost, insurance, and freight (CIF) value at a rate of 5 percent.

While some products are exempt from customs duties, you will be charged 50 percent for alcoholic products and 100 percent for tobacco products. 

If you are looking to export goods from the United States to the UAE, you must consult U.S. export control agencies in order to acquire an export license. 

Related links

Customs Authorities in the UAE

Importing into the UAE

Exporting from the UAE

Customs’ Procedures


Cargo and Freight Services

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