United Arab Emirates
Limitations on Selling US Products and Services

Provides information on any manufacturing sectors or services where only citizens or a sub-set of the population in that country are allowed to own or sell.

Last published date: 2019-10-13
  • Finding a Distributor:  In the UAE, companies can enter the market solely or through a local distributor who will act as an agent for the American company.  It is advisable to enter the UAE through a local distributor that knows the market and is well established among customers.  The process of finding the right distributor can take time, money and effort but finding the right distributor to work with is essential to your success.
  • Ownership Restrictions:  As a general rule, a foreign company intending to conduct business in the UAE must do it by: participation with a local company or other commercial entity; establishment of a branch office; appointment of a commercial agent or distributor; or establishment of a branch or subsidiary in one of the free zones of the UAE Outside of the free zones, foreign ownership is generally limited to 49 percent, with the remaining 51 percent to be held by UAE nationals. 
In May 2018, the UAE Cabinet issued a resolution impacting a substantial change to the ownership restriction, which currently prevents foreign nationals or companies from owning more than 49 percent of an onshore business operating in the UAE.  The proposed change will potentially allow foreign nationals or companies to own up to 100 percent of a business operating in the UAE with a 10-year residency visa without the need for a local Emirati co-investor, limited to specific industries.
  • Federal Laws and Individual Emirate Rules:  Each emirate retains certain local regulatory powers.  This includes commercial activities such as the issuance of trade licenses and the incorporation of corporate entities (where the activity is not already regulated under federal legislation).  The interaction of federal laws, individual emirate laws, and free zone laws can be complex and confusing.  Companies are advised to seek out qualified and experienced professional advice before embarking on any significant business venture.
  • Customs Import Tariffs:  Companies located in the numerous free zones across the UAE are exempt from the tariff on imports and re-exports that do not leave the zones.  The exceptions to the five percent tariff in the UAE are a 50 percent tariff for fizzy drinks and a 100 percent tariff for energy drinks and tobacco.  There are significant restrictions on importation of firearms and pork.