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Features of customs clearance in the UAE and Dubai

Особенности прохождения таможни в ОАЭ и Дубае

The customs of the UAE and Dubai operates according to local laws, officially published only in Arabic. In order for tourists to know what can and cannot be transported across the border, the UAE Customs service places a special document in English Passenger Customs Guide, which is constantly updated. 

How the customs service works

According to the Swiss Center for World Competition for International Administrative Development in Lausanne, the UAE occupies the top position in the ranking of world customs services. Thanks to the concept of “smart government”, the latest technologies and robot drones, customs clearance takes place quickly and smoothly.

The main governing body in the field of customs affairs in the UAE is the Federal Customs Administration. It carries out activities aimed at improving, developing and uniform application of customs policy and laws. Its function also includes control over the work of customs departments.

Customs service

In each emirate, there are customs services that coordinate work with the Federal Customs Administration of the United Arab Emirates. Most of the goods (from 80%) cross Dubai customs and about 10% fall on the capital of the UAE – Abu Dhabi.

The structure of Dubai Customs includes five large departments, among which are typical for us: 

  • passenger transportation;
  • internal affairs (controls compliance by participants of foreign economic activity with laws in the customs sphere);
  • corporate communications (works with mass media and monitors customs communications).

An unusual division for Russia in the structure of the UAE customs is the audit department and the development department. Its employees coordinate and audit all structural components of customs, analyze risks and implement anti-crisis management plans. 

Another unusual department is the Department of Strategic Management and Corporate Excellence. Its employees are engaged in strategic planning, introduce quality criteria, and are also responsible for statistical information. The website of the customs in Dubai says that the work of such a department is necessary to improve the quality of customer service.

What can not be imported into the UAE


An impressive list of things cannot be imported into the country. The Passenger Customs Guide contains an incomplete list of items prohibited for import. An exhaustive list can be found on the customs website fca.gov.ae . It is also given below. 

It is prohibited to import into JSC:

  1. Explosive items, fireworks, military supplies and weapons.
  2. Things that go against the Islamic religion and ideology, for example, erotic magazines.
  3. Gambling items (playing cards, dice, etc.).
  4. Drugs, the list of which in the UAE is considered one of the largest in the world.
  5. Counterfeit items, counterfeit banknotes, coins and documents.
  6. Radioactive, toxic and ozone-depleting compounds.
  7. Animals protected by CITES, as well as things from them. A separate ban on the import of rhinoceros horns and ivory into the UAE.
  8. Things that are unlikely to be in a tourist’s luggage:
    • three-layer nylon fishing nets;
    • candy in the form of cigarettes;
    • paan, betel leaves;
    • white poppy seeds;
    • red laser pointers.

Features of transporting things through UAE customs:

  1. All transported items must be for personal and non-commercial use. Otherwise, it is impossible to transport them without paying a fee.
  2. Items that say “made in Israel”, literary publications in Hebrew and any things related to Israel can now be imported, since the UAE is now in normal relations with this country.
  3. To transport animals, fish, birds, seeds, plants, drones, as well as presentation and printing equipment across the border, you need to get an import permit.

Regarding drones: in 2021, the UAE Interior Ministry (MOI UAE) banned their flights. To import these items, a permit is required. There is no law prohibiting drones from being brought to the territory of the UAE, but each such device must be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA UAE). Therefore, it is logical why customs officers do not allow drones to pass.



Many drugs cannot be imported into the UAE, however, since the names of drugs in different languages differ, it is difficult to understand which import is prohibited. 

Of course, aspirin, antiseptics and activated charcoal will not cause problems during transportation. Difficulties may be with the movement of drugs containing painkillers, for example, codeine and tramadol, across the border. 

It is pointless to specify a complete list of drugs prohibited for import, since the list of such drugs in the UAE consists of several hundred names.

In order not to run into trouble at customs, you can try to get approval for the import of medicines through a service that has been operating since 2018. To do this, you need to use the MOHAP UAE website (UAE Ministry of Health) or the MOHAP smartphone app.

It is not easy to do this, especially without knowing English. To simplify the task, you can use the instructions on the website: https://mohap.gov.ae/en/services/issue-of-permit-to-import-medicines-for-personal-use

This is the only way to find out if the drug can be transported through UAE customs.

And in order to make tourists less afraid to take medicines with them, Law No. 30 (2021) concerning the import, storage and consumption of narcotic substances began to take effect in January 2022. He released people transporting drugs, beverages or products containing narcotic compounds from criminal liability, but only under two conditions:

  1. If this offense was committed for the first time.
  2. If the number of prohibited items is suitable for personal use.

To avoid trouble, it is advisable for a tourist to have a prescription from a doctor with him, at least in Russian, in addition to the medicine.

Important: Law No. 30 does not exempt from liability persons carrying smoking compounds and vaping liquids.

Import of cigarettes and other tobacco products

Tobacco products

There are restrictions on the import of tobacco and tobacco products in the UAE. Every person over the age of eighteen has the right to spend with himself (at his choice):

  • up to 400 cigarettes;
  • no more than 500 g of pipe tobacco;
  • up to fifty cigars.

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes and tobacco heating devices (IQOS and others) are allowed in the UAE since 2019. However, there is no law in the country that allows the import of such items for personal purposes and establishes the permitted number of sticks, liquids and devices for smoking.

Previously, such items were allowed to be imported through the green corridor, but only in an amount sufficient for personal use. However, since 2021, the Digital Tax Stamps (DTS) system has been functioning on all similar devices and materials. 

It is now illegal to own a vape device or IQOS without such a brand, although people still move them across the border. UAE customs officers are only asked to declare these items and transport them in reasonable quantities, for example, several packages of liquids.

The declaration is needed to confirm that the device was brought with you, and not bought from an underground seller, and the tourist did not violate the laws. However, customs officers can request electronic cigarettes to be checked to make sure that there are no narcotic substances in them.



Only a tourist over the age of eighteen can carry alcohol.

Import rules depend on the emirate:

  1. No more than four liters or two boxes of beer can be imported to Dubai. At the same time, each box can contain up to twenty-four cans with a volume of up to 355 milliliters each.
  2. In Abu Dhabi, it is allowed to import no more than four liters or one box of beer. Up to twenty-four cans are allowed in each box.
  3. Up to four liters of alcoholic beverages of any strength can be imported to Sharjah.

It is pointless to write rules for the remaining four emirates, since there are no flights from the Russian Federation to their airports.

Important: the UAE has very strict laws regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Other items

Without payment of duty and declaration, you can import:

  1. Gifts totaling up to 3,000 dirhams. The rules say that gifts must be for personal use and in non-commercial quantities. The exact volumes are not specified, so the customs officers determine them themselves.
  2. Cameras, video cameras, film and accessories for these items. 
  3. Household radios, as well as players (DVD and SD).
  4. Telescopes. The UAE Customs Service has allocated them in a separate line.
  5. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, portable TVs.
  6. Baby strollers, as well as wheelchairs, in particular, motorized.
  7. Sports equipment.
  8. Calculators, portable music equipment and typewriters.

Food import


The list of products allowed to be imported for non-commercial purposes in the UAE is established by Order No. 14 of 2016 of the Ministry of Environment and Water. 

At the same time, the volumes are very large. So, a tourist has the right to enter up to twenty kilograms of yogurt or up to fifty liters of vegetable oil in the UAE. In fact, this list allows the import of products in almost any quantities.

Often, the UAE legally restricts or prohibits the import of products from countries that are unfavorable from a veterinary point of view, but there are currently no restrictions and prohibitions in the Russian Federation and CIS countries.

Important: large volumes of transported products may interest customs officers and lead to verification. So, on 11/20/2022, smugglers tried to hide 400 grams of marijuana inside pineapples, but customs officers discovered their deception.

What needs to be declared

The tourist must declare at customs:

  1. Videotapes, books, photographs, CDs and DVDs. Such requirements are aimed at preventing religious extremism, but in practice, customs officers do not always require declarations for these things.
  2. Gifts worth more than 3,000 dirhams.
  3. Any medications. In fact, the customs does not have enough employees to check a large number of declarations, since almost all tourists carry drugs.
  4. Knives, as well as other cutting, piercing objects.
  5. Soil, trees, plants.
  6. Pets.

Money and valuables

Check point

You can import cash, traveler’s checks, jewelry and precious metals for a total amount of no more than 60,000 dirhams without making a declaration. If these items are more expensive, you will have to declare them. To do this, you will need to fill out one document. It is not necessary to prescribe where the money came from, or to confirm the legality of their origin, of course, if the amount is not too large.

Only persons who have reached the age of eighteen can import cash and valuables into JSC. If these items are imported by a family, then in order to determine the need for a declaration, you need to divide the total cost of the items by the number of adults. With a total of up to 60,000 dirhams per person, a declaration is not needed.

You can import or export local currency from the UAE without restrictions, for example, as souvenirs.

Import of pets

The following dog breeds cannot be imported into the UAE:

  • american pit bull terrier;
  • tosa-inu;
  • staffordshire terrier;
  • fila brasileiro;
  • great dane of argentina.

It is forbidden to transport crossbreeds of dogs and wolves, mastiffs, dobermans, Rottweilers, Canary dogs, boxers across the border. It is forbidden to import birds into the country, as well as animals that fall under the action of CITES.

You can bring a pet (cat or dog) to the UAE, if the breed is not prohibited from moving across the border. At the same time, it is important to meet the requirements:

  • the pet must have an ISO 11784 microchip;
  • a tourist needs to provide a permit for the import of an animal obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, no more than 30 days old;
  • the dog must be vaccinated against rabies no earlier than 21 days, but no later than 12 months before entry, confirmed by a certificate;
  • the cat needs to be vaccinated against rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopnia, confirmed by a certificate;
  • the tourist must provide a health certificate proving that the pet has passed a medical examination within a day before arriving in the UAE;
  • it is necessary to provide the customs officer with a document confirming that the pet has passed an internal and external medical examination for infection with parasites (the prescription of the examination should be no more than 14 days before arrival in the country).

Even if the tourist has all the necessary documents, the veterinarian at the airport will examine the pet and either approve entry or ban it. The UAE has very strict requirements for pets to be transported, so it is advisable to leave them at home under the supervision of others.

Customs innovations

Customs innovations

Scientists and engineers work in the interests of customs, and their inventions regularly receive prizes at well-known exhibitions. New technologies play an important role in all documents and concepts regulating the work of customs.

Technical innovations are used primarily to reduce costs and increase the country’s income without negatively affecting the flow of passengers and constant trade. This allows you to additionally bring a lot of money to the UAE budget.

Radioactive scanning

Since 2010, Dubai Customs has been using the IP6500 vehicle radioactive scanning system to conduct inspections, check containers and cargo transport.

The large penetrating power of the system allows you to fully check the machines and detect prohibited attachments without harming food and goods. Scanning takes place at a tremendous speed: in just an hour, the system can check 150 trucks moving at speeds from 8 to 15 km. 

The system operates 24/7, and approximately thirteen people working on a shift schedule are needed to service each gate.

Interactive floors

Interactive floors

In 2016, an innovation called “interactive floor” was presented at the High-tech Week in Dubai. Her task was to reduce the time spent in the queue of people at the airport.

“Interactive Floor” works as follows. The passenger places the luggage on the LED floor, where it is scanned by special sensors. Then special arrows indicate the route – to the red or green corridor. This allows you to quickly check the luggage without the participation of an inspector.

Biometric tunnels and “smart entry”

Since 2017, 2 latest technologies have been used at Dubai Airport:

  1. Biometric control that scans the faces of passengers passing for baggage collection using LIDAR technology. This avoids queues for passport checks. The convenience of biometric control lies in the fact that passenger data is read along the way using digitized biometric passports, which contain information about facial recognition, as well as fingerprints.
  2. “Smart login”. The technology allows you to use smartphones instead of passports, going through the control procedure using the Smart UAE Wallet mobile phone application. This reduces the time for screening each passenger by about 10 seconds, and also ensures the security of information from documents. The application in the phone stores the data of the passport or other identity document, as well as information from the boarding pass.

Virtual assistant “Rammas”

Virtual Assistant Rammas

It is a chatbot with artificial intelligence used in the work of government agencies, in particular customs. The virtual assistant responds to requests in two languages – English and Arabic. It has its own artificial intelligence, which allows you to give accurate information to the user.

Such an innovation should reduce the number of visitors to public institutions by about 80%. It is also used by customs officials via iPad devices: a virtual assistant translates documents from one language to another based on their photos. If the document is unknown to the customs officer, then he can send his photo to the knowledge base to find a similar image.

Drones in the service of customs

Dubai Customs has been using unmanned quadrocopters since 2014 to monitor merchant ships in the port. The devices have remote control and transmit video to the ground station. This helps customs officers to see what is impossible to detect during a simple inspection, for example, if someone tries to hide a certain object or throws it overboard when checking a vessel.

Smart cart


This innovation is intended for the disabled and the elderly. Externally, the “smart cart” looks like a golf cart and helps to pass customs clearance without queues. It has cameras, smart screens, a facial recognition device, as well as a chair for a customs officer. 

The smart trolley simplifies and speeds up customs procedures even for people carrying currency, jewelry and other items requiring declaration.

Customs robot

The developers of the robot explained that the invention will be able to replace the customs inspector during routine actions. The robot looks like a human and is equipped with technology for tracking and inspection. He understands sign language, is equipped with a thermal scanner and a security camera.

The UAE and Dubai customs are equipped with various modern devices that allow you to quickly and accurately carry out customs control procedures. All innovations are aimed at simplifying screening, speeding up procedures and creating comfortable conditions for tourists and passengers.

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Vladimir Sviridov
Vladimir Sviridov
General Manager RLC Consulting
With a Postgraduate Masters in Finance from The, Moscow State University, Russia. Vladimir started his professional career as an auditor of the financial sector of EY. After that, he worked for several years in senior positions in corporate banking. In 2018-2021, he managed the finances of a large agricultural holding, and is currently responsible for strategic planning, corporate partnership and financial management in the role of General Manager of RLC Consulting GROUP in the UAE.

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