United Arab Emirates - Country Commercial Guide
Market Overview

Do you want to export to The United Arab Emirates? Start by using the Country Commercial Guide, a trusted resource for companies at every level of exporting experience. Our guides are produced by trade experts at U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 140 countries. They provide insights into economic conditions, leading sectors, selling techniques, customs, regulations, standards, business travel, and more. Read the overview below, and continue using the left navigation tool.

Last published date: 2020-09-12


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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the top U.S. export market in the Middle East Africa region for the last 11 years and is a regional hub for over 1,500 American companies doing business throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. The UAE has a population of approximately 9.8 million, out of which about 85% are expatriates. The UAE’s dynamic economy, openness to international business, and strategic location as a gateway to the region create business opportunities and make the UAE an attractive market for U.S. exporters.

The UAE was on a positive growth trajectory before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The pandemic dealt a twin blow to the UEA’s economy, driving down oil prices and reducing the country’s oil revenues, and significantly impacting the non-oil economy dependent on aviation, tourism, and trade.  As a result, real GDP is expected to fall by approximately 4.5% in 2020, before picking up to a growth rate of 1.4% in 2021, according to the World Bank. The recovery to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity is expected to be slow and gradual.

National and Emirate-level governments invest heavily in economic diversification and growth. With its oil reserves and sovereign wealth funds valued at approximately $1.3 trillion, the UAE has resources to help it navigate the volatility of the oil market and other challenges. The UAE aims to expand its role as a regional trade, logistics, and tourism hub.

The World Expo (Expo 2020 Dubai) was postponed due to COVID-19 and will be held in Dubai from October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. The U.S. Embassy is partnering with U.S. business chambers and companies to support activities at the U.S. Pavilion, and the U.S. Commercial Service is organizing a Discover America campaign to give U.S. companies an opportunity to leverage this mega event to increase U.S. exports to the region. Twenty million visitors are expected at the Expo, and there will be over 190 participating countries.

The UAE is home to world-class trade events and visiting or exhibiting at a trade event can be a great way to learn about and expand in the UAE and the region. However, some trade events may be postponed or be virtual due to the COVID-19 situation. Some of the top trade events include:

  • ADIPEC (Energy), November 9-12, 2020.
  • GITEX (ICT), December 6-10, 2020.
  • IDEX International Defense Exhibition (Defense), February 21-25, 2021.
  • Arab Health (Healthcare), June 21-24, 2021 (TBC).
  • Dubai Air Show (Aerospace), November 14-18, 2021.

While the UAE has a bright future and presents many opportunities for U.S. companies in the long term, the pandemic has dimmed prospects for growth in the short term, and the UAE market’s structural and regulatory challenges require preparation and foresight. These are covered in the sections discussing challenges and intellectual property rights as well as other chapters. Due diligence is highly recommended, as it is when doing business in any international market. And be wary of scams and frauds - we do receive frequent inquiries from U.S. companies solicited by alleged UAE investors that turn out to be scams.

To summarize, the UAE offers an attractive long-term market while presenting significant near-term challenges primarily associated with fallout from the pandemic. Our team of experienced commercial specialists in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are ready to assist U.S. companies to enter and expand in this market and encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities in the region.