The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is known for its prosperity and ambitious and transformational construction projects. It’s home to one of the world’s premier shopping and tourism destinations – Dubai – and to the Burj Al-Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
The UAE’s 10 million people enjoy relatively high wages and a low cost of living. The economic outlook is positive, and consumers are spending online, especially on goods from overseas. So doing business in UAE looks like a good option and this guide provides you with insights, customer buying habits, and export and customs tips to help your business succeed within this key market.
This is below the global average of 11.34%, but still strong – the UAE is a mature e-commerce market.(1)
This means there’s a huge opportunity for importing well-known goods from home nations.(3)
There is very high internet penetration in the UAE and mobile shopping is becoming more popular all the time. Most people are on social media, particularly Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Amazon is localized while the Noon local online marketplace is also widely used. All this makes it a positive environment for e-commerce.
Among the highest in the world.(4)
In addition, international brands are popular for luxury and vintage items and supplements/health.
Import duty is straightforward in most cases. Goods imported from countries outside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) or the Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement are charged at 5% of invoice value – except for alcohol imports which are charged at 50%. There are also some free trade zones where imports are exempt.
Some goods are also subject to excise tax of 50% or 100% – mainly smoking products, carbonated and energy drinks, and products with sugar or sweeteners.
This list is not exhaustive:
For more detail, visit the Dubai government’s Prohibited and Restricted goods page.
Buy Now, Pay Later options are also starting to be used more widely, such as Tabby and Tamara Pay.
Delivery to the doorstep is the most popular way of receiving e-commerce purchases in the UAE. Free returns are also important – and have become the norm – as shipping is expensive for consumers. Fortunately for e-businesses exporting to the UAE, the rate of returns is relatively low across all product categories.
Cross-border e-commerce businesses can maximize exports to UAE by marketing around these events and managing their supply chains for the increased demand.
We asked DHL's local UAE experts to help you overcome the most common UAE e-commerce challenges:
In the UAE, brands need to build trust by giving precise product details, as online shoppers rely heavily on this information. Local consumer law provides very strong protection, so inaccuracies can even lead to legal action.
For consumers in the UAE, fast delivery is essential. When exporting to the UAE, your e-commerce business should partner with a reliable international logistics provider – such as DHL.
Service is a particular focus in the UAE. If your e-commerce business can provide a seamless customer journey, you have a much better chance of fostering customer loyalty and repeat business.
A key way of improving your service – and growing sales faster – is to offer your webstore in the local language. You should also provide local payment options if possible. And because shopping by smartphone is growing so quickly, make sure your webstore is mobile-optimized.
Online and mobile has very high penetration in the UAE, so use digital marketing channels to attract and convert potential customers. TikTok, Meta, LinkedIn and YouTube are all popular platforms in the UAE.
When exporting to UAE, it’s important to partner with a provider who understands the local market and culture. While many aspects are straightforward, the UAE still has some unique challenges and sensitivities. DHL can help you deliver seamlessly and satisfy the demanding UAE consumer.
We can help you start exporting to the UAE. To make it easier for you to get your shipments through customs, we offer a free Global Trade Services Toolkit.
You can also figure out total shipping costs, including duties, taxes and other import fees, using our Landed Cost Calculator.