MARKET FOCUS: United Arab Emirates

MARKET FOCUS: United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is the UK’s largest export market in the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is made up of 7 Emirates and is the UK’s largest export market in the Middle East and the 13th biggest globally. The UK exported £9.8 billion of goods and services in 2016. This was a 37% increase since 2009. The UAE is the UK’s fourth largest export market outside the EU.

There are over 5,000 British companies operating in the UAE, which include 779 commercial agencies and 4,762 British brands, who have invested in the UAE.

The majority of the UAE population is made up of expatriates, with around 120,000 UK residents. In 2016, 14.9 million people visited the UAE, of which 1.25 million were from the UK.

The UAE is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hub for the creative industries. Many of the world’s leading creative design, architecture, media and advertising firms having a presence here.

The UAE is investing heavily in leisure and entertainment to cement its position as a leading tourism destination. A series of projects, ranging from cultural and artistic, to theme parks and retail are being delivered which continue to transform the UAE. This ambition is underpinned by Dubai Tourism vision 2020 and Abu Dhabi vision 2030 and backed by support infrastructure such as integrated transport links and hotels.

The strategy aims to lengthen the stay of visitors and entice them to shop, dine and experience UAE. While government linked developers are the largest players, there are also a significant number of private developers engaged in delivering similar projects.

Why UK companies consider exporting to the United Arab Emirates

There are many incentives for UK businesses exporting to UAE, and these include:

  • a diverse economy which is continually growing and expanding
  • it’s an entry route into other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries
  • it’s an important market for re-export into other countries
  • no taxation on personal income and capital gains
  • it’s ranked 21st in the World Bank’s ease of doing business overall ranking, but first in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region
  • the strong cultural and historical ties as many Emiratis have studied in the UK, have UK homes and visit regularly
  • English is widely spoken and accepted as the language of business

Strengths of the UAE market include:

  • its strategic geographical location; Dubai is regarded as a regional hub and commercial capital for the Middle East, north Africa and beyond
  • large expatriate population
  • a liberal trade regime which attracts capital from across the region

Doing business in the United Arab Emirates markets

If you intend to trade or invest in the UAE, you need the correct authorisations and licences. Each emirate may also have additional requirements. The Department for International Trade can provide a list of English speaking lawyers who can help you with commercial disputes and tax and legal advisers.

There is no direct personal taxation in the UAE. Most emirates levy various municipal taxes. Indirect taxation through official fees is commonplace. There is no taxation on capital gains. VAT was implemented in the UAE on the 1 January 2018 at 5%.

Goods can only be imported into the UAE by a company that is registered in the UAE and the goods must be relevant to the licensed business activity of the business. There are no duties or tariffs on exports. Goods manufactured in Israel cannot be imported into the UAE.

If you intend to visit the UAE on a business trip, and have a UK passport, you do not need to apply for a visa prior to your arrival. You will be granted a 30 day tourism visa upon arrival in the UAE.

The United Arab Emirates are a hive of activity

The UAE is full of experience led projects, and what is internationally known, is the UAE aims for world records. The UAE holds an outstanding 186 world records with some examples including the world’s tallest building, world’s largest mall, world’s largest standing lantern, world’s largest flower arrangement, world’s tallest hotel, world’s largest water screen projection, and this is just to name a few. Therefore, the opportunity to be involved in the world’s firsts are immense in the UAE.

A couple of recent projects that aren’t world firsts, but exceptionally executed are Dubai Parks & Resorts, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Bluewaters Island (although, Bluewaters does hold the world’s largest observation wheel). Merlin Entertainments, Paragon Creative and Deluxe Group worked on Dubai Parks & Resorts. Some of the UK experise that delivered the Louvre Abu Dhabi are Tata Steel, Brunswick Arts, Barker Langham and Gillespies, British companies that worked on Bluewaters included WSP, ISG, Atkins  and KCA International.

Madagascar: Mad Pursuit, an indoor rollercoaster, worked on by Paragon Creative at Motiongate, Dubai Parks & Resorts.

Presenting a a wealth of opportunities for UK companies

Expo 2020, Dubai

Many of our UK experience firms have won, or are in the running for various opportunities within Expo 2020. Although a lot of the design is complete, there are still opportunities for companies.

Dubai Creek Harbour, Dubai

A 6 sq. km. masterplan development by Emaar, and home to the new world’s tallest tower.

Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

Saadiyat Island is home to Louvre Abu Dhabi and soon to be home to Zayed National Museum, a Performing Arts Centre and the Guggenheim Museum, expected to be completed in 2020. Saadiyat Island is expected to become Abu Dhabi's cultural centre, homing eight Museums.

Zayed National Museum, designed by Foster + Partners​

Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Yas Bay, is a public waterfront and entertainment development which will feature a pier, leisure attractions, a cinema and an FEC. Yas Island will also home SeaWorld Abu Dhabi and a 5D CineSplash attraction in Yas Waterworld, making it the first mega-park.

Aljada, Sharjah

The Central Hub, Aljada’s entertainment and leisure precinct, will feature an urban piazza replete, a musical fountain display, skate parks, an extreme sports centre, cinemas, galleries and the largest children’s adventure and discovery complex.

As you can see, there are a lot of megaprojects occurring across the UAE, with more to come, and with most or all, having a significant experience angle.

 United Arab Emirates is a great place for UK companies to network

The Department for International Trade run several trade missions and networking events throughout the year. The next event the Department for International Trade is exhibiting at is the Future Entertainment Festival, 25th & 26th February 2019, in partnership with Experience UK.

For networking opportunities, speaker opportunities and exhibitor opportunities, there are various companies that run independent events throughout the year.

For more information on doing business in the UAE, or for more information on events and to be added onto the DIT UAE events distribution lists please contact:


Lauren Jones, Trade & Investment Adviser – Creative Industries & Experience Economy

Department for International Trade, British Embassy Dubai

Tel: +971 (0)4 309 4229 Mob: +971 (0)56 644 9283

E-mail: Lauren.Jones@fco.gov.uk