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United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is urgently pursuing economic diversification and regulatory reforms to promote private sector development; reduce dependence on hydrocarbon revenues; and build a knowledge economy buttressed by advanced technology and clean energy.

The UAE serves as a major trade and investment hub for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as increasingly for South Asia, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Multinational companies cite the UAE’s political and economic stability, excellent infrastructure, developed capital markets, and a perceived absence of systemic corruption as factors contributing to the UAE’s attractiveness to foreign investors. The UAE seeks to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) by i) not charging taxes or making restrictions on the repatriation of capital; ii) allowing relatively free movement into the country of labor and low barriers to entry (effective tariffs are five percent for most goods); and iii) offering FDI incentives.

The UAE in 2021 launched broad economic and social reforms to strengthen pandemic recovery, respond to growing regional economic competition, and commemorate its 50-year founding anniversary with a series of reforms.

The UAE and the country’s seven constituent emirates have passed numerous initiatives, laws, and regulations to attract more foreign investment. Recent measures include visa reforms to attract and retain expatriate professionals, a drive to create new international economic partnerships, major investments in critical industries, and policies to encourage Emirati entrepreneurship and labor force participation. These economic development projects offer both challenges and opportunities for foreign investors in the coming years. In 2022, UAE changed its work week for government bodies from Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Thursday with a half day on Friday in order to more closely align with world markets.

Additionally, the UAE approved a comprehensive reform of the national legal system, which, among other aims, developed the legal frameworks around data privacy, investment, regulation and legal protection of industrial property, copyrights, trademarks, and residency. The first-ever federal data protection law regulates how personal data are processed across the UAE, with separate laws on government, financial, and healthcare data to follow. The new Commercial Companies law removes restrictions to facilitate further mergers and acquisition activity. The federal trademark law further expands the scope of legal protection for companies’ trademarks, products, innovations, and trade names by protecting non-traditional patterns of trademarks. These legal reforms are broadly considered to be positive by U.S. companies, but investors will need to carefully consider how these broad changes affect their operations.

The Ministry of Finance announced in January 2022 that the UAE will introduce a federal corporate tax on business profits starting in 2023 as part of its membership in the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. Companies await further guidance on how the new tax policy will be implemented, but it is expected to have a broad and significant impact on companies operating both inside in the UAE and “offshore” in the country’s many economic free zones.

The UAE announced in October 2021 that it would pursue net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to include an investment of $163 billion in renewable energy.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 24 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 33 out of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $19.5 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $39,410 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are a key component of the UAE economic model. There is no published list of SOEs or GREs at the national or individual emirate level. The influential Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) is strategically important and provides a major source of revenue for the government. Emirates Airlines and Etisalat, the largest local telecommunications firm, are also internationally recognized brands. In some cases, these firms compete against other state-owned firms (Emirates and Etihad airlines, for example, or telecommunications company Etisalat against du). While they are not granted full autonomy, these firms leverage ties between entities they control to foster national economic development. In Dubai, SOEs have been used as drivers of diversification in sectors including construction, hospitality, transport, banking, logistics, and telecommunications. Sectoral regulations in some cases address governance structures and practices of state-owned companies. The UAE is not party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Despite a pandemic-induced economic slowdown in 2020, unemployment among UAE citizens remains low. Although there were significant departures of foreign workers during the pandemic, expatriates represent over 88.5 percent of the country’s 9.6 million residents, accounting for more than 95 percent of private sector workers. As a result, there would be large labor shortages in all sectors of the economy if not for expatriate workers. Most expatriate workers derive their legal residency status from their employment.

Investment Climate Statements
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