How to Start Import and Export Business in Dubai?

Name a country that is self-sufficient enough to neither export nor import a single item. Duh! Obviously, you can’t. Even China and the United States import what they lack and export what they have in abundance. Then how can the UAE be an exception! This is the business that bonds one country with the other, making the world one family.

Why Dubai for Import Export Business in the UAE

Boasting the easiest visa policies, dreamy beaches & swoon-worthy skyscrapers, a liberal tax regime, high-tech amenities, world-class roads infrastructure and the whole nine yards, Dubai is one of the most expat-friendly places in the world housing citizens from almost every nook and cranny of the world which makes the city a perfect place to do import and export business.

The import-export business is considered one of the most profitable businesses in Dubai. Thanks to the scarcity of agriculture-worthy resources such as fertile land, climate and water and abundance of oil and natural gases, ultimate logistics facilities, ample tax-liberal free trade zones in Dubai and of course their strategic location connecting businesses with the global markets. Sitting at the heart of Asia, the UAE acts as the perfect bridge linking the European nations and the East Asian nations. And Dubai, decked up with everything modern, is one of the most sought-after cities to visit, live and work across the globe. No wonder, people from all walks of life are lured by the emirate to do import and export business. The UAE government has launched eServices to facilitate the import and export companies in Dubai. In collaboration with DP World and JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone), Dubai Customs has designed an online portal for Dubai trade to provide a one-stop-solution to all the import-export and trading needs and queries. And the bonus? The free trade agreement of Dubai with a number of countries resulting in slashed tariff charges that are levied on goods imported and exported from those nations.

The Most Imported & Exported Products in Dubai

The UAE is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and all its emirates are significant trading partners for around 32 nations the world over, including the United States, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, India, and Iran. Let’s look at the table below to learn about the major commodities exported from Dubai and imported to Dubai.

Major ExportsMajor Imports
Oil and natural gas (40% of total exports)Machinery
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, not crudeFood & beverage items (80-90% of the food it consumes)
Pearls and other precious metals and stones (28 %)Dairy & poultry products & meat
Machinery sound recorders and parts (9 %)Inorganic chemicals and related products (6%)
Transport vehicles (6%)Transport equipment
Gold (including gold-plated with platinum) unwrought or in semi-manufactured formsTextiles
Preparations National Electrical Code (NEC)Leather
Transmission apparatus for radio-broadcasting or television, whether or not incorporating reception apparatusMetals
Diamonds, whether or not worked, but not mountedVarious primary products such as cotton, fabrics, machinery, and instruments or plastic products
Salt, sulphur, stone, cementPearls and other precious metals and stones (31%)
Plastics, plastic articlesElectronic equipment, sound recorders, reproducers and parts (18%)
CopperTransport vehicles (12%)
AluminiumBase metals and articles thereof (9%)
ComputersFurniture and fixtures
Ceramic items
Alcoholic beverages
Optical, technical, medical apparatus
Aircraft, spacecraft

Things to Know Before Starting the Import-Export Business in Dubai

All goods imported to and exported from Dubai are thoroughly inspected by Customs Office to ensure they don’t belong to the prohibited items list of the Customs office. Therefore, if you are looking to start an import and export business in Dubai, you have to register your company with Dubai Customs, which can easily be done online now via Mirsal 2, the online declaration and clearing system of Dubai Customs. The user guides on registration and how to get started with the import-export business in Dubai are available on the website to help you in the process. Once registered, you are required to submit all the relevant documents to the Customs officer in person. Furthermore, you can’t start trading in Dubai until you have an Import Export Licence. To obtain one, you are supposed to submit all the relevant documents in proper order to the licencing authority, i.e., the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Now coming to the money part. The overall cost of the Dubai import-export licence can vary depending on the type of business activity chosen. However, the typical cost of import export business licence can go beyond AED 25,000 on a mainland region including the licence fee which is around AED 2,000 and is subject to renewal every year for a fee of AED 1,000. Although the Free Trade Zone is regarded as an essential part of the UAE province but doesn’t come under the UAE Customs territory. This simply means, if the goods are exported from any of the free zones in the UAE, they are not subject to any customs duty. In addition, the following requirements must be fulfilled by importers and exporters in Dubai, whether they are operating from Dubai mainland or Dubai free zone:

  • Submit the importer/exporter code when shipping goods
  • The imported/exported commodities must not be different from those outlined in the import/export licence
  • The goods must reach their destination within 72 hours once shipped or received

Import/Export Clearance Procedure in Dubai

Foreign trading companies in Dubai should know the import and export procedures in the UAE to stay compliant and away from any troubles. When importing commodities to Dubai, an importer must furnish the below-listed documents to the Dubai Customs:

  • Certificate of origin
  • Declaration form for the import of goods
  • Permit in the case of importing restricted merchandise
  • Delivery order
  • Invoices accompanying the merchandise
  • Packing list
  • Trade licence
  • DFSA declaration (the document is granted by the Dubai Customs Services)

Almost similar documents are required when exporting goods from Dubai. Federal Customs Authority (FCA) lays out the customs policies in the UAE for each emirate in compliance with the common custom law. For the clearance of UAE export shipments, whether via seaport or airport, the exporter has to be ready with the following documents:

  • Export Invoice
  • Packing List (detailed)
  • Bill of Entry (BOE is generated by customs while receiving goods)
  • Original Waybill
  • Original Commercial Invoice
  • Original or copy of the Certificate of Origin approved by Chamber of Commerce at the country of origin
  • Form of exemption from customs duties in case exemption requirements are fulfilled

Prohibited & Restricted Items in the UAE

Like other countries, the UAE also has categorised the items that cannot be imported or exported with a company registered in any of its emirates.

Prohibited or Banned ItemsRestricted items
Any sort of narcotic drugLive pets/domestic animals, plants, fertilizers and insecticides
Nylon fishing netsArms, ammunition, explosives, and fireworks
Gambling tools, machinery, and devicesRough diamonds
Paan and betel leavesAlcoholic beverages
Live swinePharmaceutical products & Surgical Instruments
Used, reconditioned, and inlaid tiresPrint materials, publications, and media products
Radiation and nuclear fallout contaminated substancesNuclear energy-related products
Items that contradict Islamic faith and public morals, such as pornographic and obscene material.E-cigarettes and electronic hookah
Counterfeit and pirated goods and goods infringing any of the legally enforceable intellectual property rightsTransmitters and radio equipment
AntiquitiesFoodstuffs, personal care and cosmetic products
E-cigarettes and electronic hookahNew tires
Drinking Water

Click here for a detailed list of restricted items that require an import permit for their importation into the UAE, and here to enlighten yourself on procedures on prohibited and restricted items in the UAE.

The Process to Apply for an Import-Export Licence in Dubai

The applicant interested in starting an import-export trade in Dubai must obtain a trade licence from the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED). Plus, a trading company in Dubai, UAE is allowed to carry out import-export activities only after receiving the Import-Export Code. The Port and Customs Approval is mandatory for the business to conduct any overseas trade functions. Therefore, the newly incorporated company must be registered with the Chamber of Commerce and the respective Customs Department to obtain the Import-Export Code. The exporter is required to present the documents needed by the Customs Office and pay them the export declaration registration fees to collect the Customs declaration certificate. There are a series of steps involved in obtaining the required approvals to perform import-export operations from the UAE, such as:

  • Choose the desired business activity
  • Decide the legal form of the import-export company to be established in Dubai, matching the intended activity
  • Provide the appropriate trade name options and get a trade name approval certificate from DED
  • File application for initial approval from DED to proceed with the next steps of import-export business formation in Dubai
  • Prepare, notarise & attest the MoA or LSA agreement. The documents must be duly signed in the presence of partners and local UAE national sponsor (for businesses fully owned by non-GCC residents)
  • Lease or buy office space for the physical address of your import/export company and receive the commercial lease documents including EJARI
  • Collect the special approvals from external authorities if the chosen business activity demands
  • Pay the fees after receiving the payment voucher from the authority within the specified time limits
  • Wait for DED’s approval and duly collect the trade licence either from their service center or online through the website
  • Apply for visas – for yourself, your employees, your family, domestic help and other dependents
  • Open a corporate account with an international bank
  • Purchase business insurance that checks all the boxes
  • Perform other post-business formation tasks such as hiring the quality staff, apply for their visas, promoting the business, etc. To become a full-fledged import export company in Dubai

Meet Us for Import-Export Business Setup in Dubai

The team of expert Dubai Business Advisors at Adam Global is happy to assist you throughout the process of setting up your mainland or free zone import-export business in Dubai, right from completing the formalities required for obtaining the import-export licence to registering the business with the Customs Department. So that you can start your international trade as soon as possible, effortlessly and efficiently. Click here to schedule a meeting with our business setup consultants in Dubai for free consultancy on your import export business.

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