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What (Not) to Bring: Customs Regulations in the UAE
- You don’t have to pay duty on your personal belongings plus certain amounts of other goods when entering the UAE.
- Some items must be declared at the airport, and for others, you must obtain prior approval before they can enter the country.
- Other items are completely prohibited, and if you are caught with them, you could face fines and/or imprisonment.
- Your household goods must be in used condition and arrive in the UAE within six months of when you obtain your residence visa to be imported duty-free.
The luggage that you bring with you when you arrive in the UAE is duty-free. There are several regulations you should keep in mind, however, about the amount of certain items you may bring with you, as well as items that are restricted or even completely prohibited.
Duty-Free Items: Know Your Limits
You won’t be charged duty on the following items:
- your personal luggage and belongings including clothing and toiletries
- gifts with a total value of 3,000 AED or less
- up to 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 500 grams of tobacco*
- up to four liters of alcoholic beverages or 48 cans of beer of no more than 355 ml each*
- video cameras
- a reasonable quantity of electronic devices such as computers or laptops, CD or DVD players, radio systems, projectors, portable TV sets, portable music equipment, etc.
- baby strollers
- sports equipment
- special needs strollers and wheelchairs
If you bring in any of these items in commercial quantities, you will have to pay duty on them.
*Please note that passengers must be at least 21 years of age (18 in Abu Dhabi) to carry alcohol into the country. If you wish to bring cigarettes with you, you must be at least 18 years old.
Alert the Authorities: Items to Declare
Certain items must be declared to the customs authorities upon arrival for inspection, even though not all of them are subject to duty and taxes:
- films, books, photographs, DVDs, CDs
- gifts with a value above 3,000 AED
- medicines of all kinds
- fireworks and explosives
- weapons and ammunition
- plants, trees, soil
- skins of endangered animals
There is no limit on how much cash you can bring with you, but cash, traveler’s checks, jewelry, or precious metals amounting to more than 100,000 AED must be declared to customs at the airport by filling out the appropriate form.
If you will be arriving at Abu Dhabi International Airport, you can check this map to see where the cash disclosure desks are located, or read more about what you must declare on the website of the General Directorate of Customs in Abu Dhabi. If you will be flying into Dubai International Airport, the Dubai Customs website has more information on the procedure for declaring the items listed above at the airport.
Prior Approval Necessary: Restricted Items
Bringing some items with you to the UAE is restricted, including:
- electronic cigarettes
- firearms, weapons, and ammunition
- fireworks and explosives
- live animals
- political and religious literature
Items in this list must be approved by the responsible ministry before they can be brought into the country.
Leave It Behind! Prohibited Items
There is a long list of prohibited items. Trying to import any of these, either on your person or in your cargo shipment, could result in fines and/or imprisonment.
Here is a list of prohibited items:
- all narcotic drugs
- goods from Israel or bearing Israeli trademarks or logos
- items made from endangered animals, such as ivory or rhinoceros horn (You may need a special permit to import a piano with ivory keys.)
- pornography, defined as any printed materials, photos, sculptures, etc. that are considered immoral or contrary to the teachings of Islam
- sex toys
- cultural artifacts such as prints, engravings, or statues
- counterfeit currency
- pirated videos or audiotapes or illegal computer software
- red laser pointers
- gambling paraphernalia
- three-layer nylon fishing nets
- used, reconditioned, and inlaid tires
- toxic and radioactive material
- homemade food
- pork and any pork-related products
The UAE has a very strict, zero-tolerance drug policy. Foreigners have been imprisoned for possessing even very small amounts of drugs. It is especially important that you check that the medications you take are allowed in the UAE. Just because a drug is legal — either over-the-counter or as a prescription drug — in your home country, doesn’t mean it is legal in the UAE. For example, medicines containing codeine or similar narcotic-like ingredients are classified as controlled substances in the UAE and are illegal to have in your possession.
You can bring up to a twelve months’ supply of prescription medicine with you into the country, but make sure that you have a letter from your doctor or the original prescription. Some medications can only be brought into the UAE with special permission from the Drug Control Department of the UAE Ministry of Health, even if they are perfectly legal in your home country. The same regulations apply to medicine you bring with you on your person and medications you have shipped to you through the mail. You can contact the Drug Control Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or check the Ministry of Health’s website for the latest updates. Alternatively, try getting in touch with your nearest UAE embassy or consulate.
For more information on restricted and prohibited items, please visit the website of the UAE Federal Customs Authority.
How to Ship & Import Your Household Goods
Your personal effects and household goods are eligible for duty-free customs clearance if they are in used condition and if the quantity of goods to be imported reasonably corresponds to the size of your household. There is, however, no set limit to the volume of household goods you may bring with you.
You must submit the following items to the Federal Customs Authority in the UAE for your goods to clear customs:
- two copies of your passport
- a copy of your residence visa*
- proof of employment in the UAE
- a complete inventory of all the items in your shipment, written in English, with two additional copies
- two original authorization letters — one addressed to the shipping line and one to the customs authorities
- an insurance certificate
*If you don’t have your residence visa yet, you can submit a letter from the company sponsoring you in the UAE. You will then need to make a deposit of 5% of the assessed value of your goods to the customs office, which will be refunded as soon as you can show them your residence visa. If you don’t submit your residence visa within 59 days of the arrival of your household goods, the money will no longer be refunded.
In addition to the restricted and prohibited items mentioned earlier in this article, you must not include any of the following items in your shipment without prior approval:
- more than two liters of alcohol
- more tobacco than required for personal use
- communication equipment and wireless transmitters
- stuffed taxidermic animals
- live plants
- food items
If any prohibited items are found in your shipment, they may be destroyed without your consent. You may also face a hefty fine and/or imprisonment.
To speed up the inspection process, it’s a good idea to pack all your printed and multimedia items separately, and to clearly label them. These items include books, CDs, movies, software, pictures, etc.
Your household goods must arrive in the UAE within six months of when you receive your residence visa, else you must pay a duty fee of 5% of the estimated value of the goods. If you ship new items to the UAE when you move there, they will also be taxed at a rate of 5% of their estimated value.
When your shipment arrives in the UAE, you must be present for the customs clearance. If you fail to pay any duty that is owed, your items will be impounded for 30 days, with a possible extension of up to 90 days. After this time your goods will be auctioned off.
If you would like to bring your car with you, please see our article on importing your car to the UAE.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.