United Arab Emirates

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KEY COUNTRY FACTS
Flag of the United Arab Emirates
System of government: federation of seven autonomous emirates
Population: 5.63 million
Currency: UAE dirham (AED or Dh)
FX regime: pegged to the US dollar (AED 3.6725 per USD 1)
GDP: US$402bn (2013 est)
IGTA member: no
FATF member: yes, via the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
Treasury association: ACT Middle East

Financial regulatory framework

Bank supervision

The UAE Central Bank is responsible for bank supervision.

Exchange controls

The official currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Emirati dirham (AED). Exchange controls are not applied in the UAE. There are restrictions on non-resident investment in Emirati businesses. In general, non-residents may hold up to 49% of shares in an Emirati business. Non-resident investors may hold up to 100% of shares of Emirati businesses established in free zones. The UAE’s foreign investment laws are currently being reviewed, with new legislation expected to allow for larger amounts of foreign investment in UAE firms.

Taxation framework

Corporate taxation

Currently no corporate income tax is imposed on the income of companies in the UAE except for oil and gas companies and branches of foreign banks. The tax or royalty paid by branches of foreign banks is generally determined by reference to the tax decree for the particular emirate, the rules specially made by the individual emirate and any specific agreements that a particular bank may have made. In Dubai (one of the UAE’s seven emirates), tax is paid by most branches of foreign banks at a flat rate of 20%. The tax year is the calendar year; however taxpayers may use a different accounting period.

Withholding tax

There are no withholding taxes in the UAE.

Value-added tax

There is currently no value-added tax/sales tax in the UAE. There has been growing speculation that a sales tax may be introduced in the future, however this remains uncertain.

Advanced tax ruling availability

There is no advance tax ruling practice in the UAE.

Wealth tax

Religious wealth tax (zakat) is not levied in the UAE.

Transfer pricing

There is no specific transfer pricing legislation.

Thin capitalisation

There are no thin capitalisation rules.

Capital gains tax

There is no capital gains tax.

Other business taxes

The customs duty levied on most goods entering the UAE is 5% (excluding restricted products which are charged at higher rates). In accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) customs’ law, the UAE also adopts a shared list of exempted goods (more than 630 items). (The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.)

Payroll taxes

There are no payroll taxes payable by employers. There is currently no personal income tax in the UAE imposed on the income of individuals working in the UAE, and no tax returns need be filed. Employer and employee pension contributions are payable in respect of UAE-national employees only, at rates of 12.5% and 5% on salaries for employers and employees respectively. The UAE does not impose social security taxes on foreign workers.

Tax information provided by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and Deloitte Highlight 2015 (www.deloitte.com).

Clearing and payment systems

Payment instruments

Electronic credit transfers have replaced cheques as the most common form of non-cash payment instrument by value in the UAE. However, cheques remain important, increasing in terms of value and volume 2014. A direct debit scheme was launched in 2013. The UAE has a limited electronic money system used for government payments.

  • Credit transfers − domestic, credit transfers are used for large-value transactions and salary payments. Interbank credit transfers regardless of value are settled via the UAEFTS RTGS system. Low-value payments are settled in batches.
  • Direct debits − direct debits have only recently been introduced and their availability is increasing, with most international banks and some domestic banks offering the service.
  • Card payments − card payments are popular with retail customers in the UAE and their usage continues to rise, with over 10.9 million credit and debit cards in circulation at the end of 2013.
  • Electronic money − there is a card-based electronic money (e-money) system principally used for government payments in the UAE. The e-Dirham card is issued by several banks plus the Ministry of Finance and Industry to both companies and individuals and payments can be made either online (e-Dirham payment gateway) or at EFTPOS terminals. In 2012 a new generation of e-Dirham cards incorporating enhanced chip functionality were issued, replacing the first generation of cards. There are plans to integrate e-Dirham card facilities into national identity cards, which Emiratis have been required to present for all government and private transactions since 1 April 2009.
  • Cross-border − cross-border transactions are usually settled via SWIFT-based links to correspondent banks and are consequently subject to individual arrangements in terms of charges and value dates. All the major banks have direct SWIFT connections.
  • Cheques − cheques are the dominant payment instrument in the UAE by volume and value. The total value of cheques cleared in the UAE in 2014 reached AED 1,1608.4 billion compared to AED 1,219.0 billion in 2011, and the volume of cheques cleared increased to 32 million in 2014, compared to 28.4 million in 2011.
  • Drafts – demand drafts are cleared by the clearing house.
  • Giros – paper-based credit transfers are also available in the UAE.

Clearing systems

The UAE operates two national payment systems: the UAE Funds Transfer System (UAEFTS), the country’s RTGS system; and the Image Cheque Clearing System (ICCS) for processing cheques and demand drafts. The Central Bank provides settlement account facilities. The Central Bank also has overall responsibility for the regulation and supervision of both systems.

Electronic clearing systems

UAE Funds Transfer System (UAEFTS) – the Central Bank of the UAE provides an automated national interbank real-time gross settlement (RTGS) system. At present, the UAEFTS operates between 08:00 and 14:00 Gulf Standard Time (GST), Saturday to Thursday. All the country’s commercial banks are direct participants in the UAEFTS and hold settlement accounts at the Central Bank. UAEFTS was upgraded during 2012 and all participants now transmit payment messages using International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN). The UAEFTS processes all AED interbank funds transfers regardless of the amount and settles the net balances of participants in the Clearing House and UAE SWITCH (the national ATM network). Transactions are settled irrevocably in real time and with immediate finality across participant banks’ Central Bank accounts.

Paper-based systems

Image cheque clearing system (ICCS) – the Central Bank implemented the ICCS in July 2008. All cheques are scanned on submission and the image is sent by the presenting bank to the Central Bank for the payment to be processed. The ICCS enables fully electronic clearing of cheques regardless of where they are presented. Cheques are cleared for same-day settlement (T+0).

Cash and bank account management

Account availability

Residents are permitted to open and maintain domestic currency (AED) accounts in the UAE and in domestic banks’ offshore affiliates. Foreign currency accounts can be held by residents both domestically and abroad. Accounts in domestic currency are convertible into foreign currency. Non-residents are permitted to hold domestic currency accounts in the UAE. Non-resident banks and financial, industrial and trade companies are also permitted to open and maintain foreign currency accounts in the UAE. Non-resident accounts in domestic currency are convertible into foreign currency.

Money laundering

The UAE has implemented anti-money laundering legislation (Federal Law No 4 of 2002 Regarding Criminalisation of Money Laundering, Federal Laws No 1 on Combating Terrorism and 8 of 2004 Regarding the Free Financial Zones, Law No 2 of 2006 Regarding Cyber Crime and Law No 7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism and Terrorist Activities. The Central Bank has also issued a series of related regulations, most recently No 17 of 2010). The UAE is a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). It is also a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). The UAE has established a financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit (AMLSCU) within the Central Bank, which is a member of the Egmont Group.

Data supplied by BCL Burton Copeland (www.bcl.com). Data as at January 2015.

Cash concentration/ZBA sweeping

Cash concentration is a liquidity management technique whereby account balances are physically transferred to/from a single account (known as a master, header or concentration account) for liquidity management purposes. Cash concentration can take these forms:

  • Zero balancing (ZBA), sometimes referred to as sweeping, is a cash concentration technique whereby the total of all account balances is physically transferred into a nominated account.
  • Target balancing, also known as sweeping, is a cash concentration technique similar to ZBA, whereby all account balances are physically transferred into a nominated account leaving a predetermined amount in the sub-accounts.
  • Threshold balancing is a cash concentration technique similar to ZBA, whereby the balances of the sub-accounts are physically transferred in their totality into a nominated account each time the sub-account balances reach a predetermined threshold.
  • For residents, cash concentration techniques are permitted, including those involving separate legal entities. Non-resident bank accounts may participate in a cash concentration structure. Resident and non-resident accounts are treated the same by banks in terms of fee structure.

Cross-border sweeping

Cross-border cash concentration and notional pooling facilities are both permitted, although only cross-border cash concentration is offered by the majority of international banks.

Notional pooling

  • Single entity - for residents, notional pooling is permitted and offered by banks in the UAE. Notional pooling is permitted between resident and non-resident companies. However, cross-border notional pooling is not offered by most banks in the UAE.
  • Multiple entities – for residents and non-residents, notional pooling is permitted between different legal entities.

Corporate structures for cash management products

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) was established in 2004 as a business and offshore financial centre. Since September 2005, it has included a stock exchange, Nasdaq Dubai (formerly the Dubai International Financial Exchange – DIFX). The DIFC enhances the UAE as a location for corporate regional pooling and treasury activities. There are currently 1,113 companies operating out of the DIFC, including 350 financial services companies.

Electronic and internet banking

Electronic banking products are widely available from both domestic and international banks in the UAE, which is a regional leader in banking services and technology. There is, however, as yet no national bank-independent electronic banking standard. Most commercial banks offer electronic banking services to corporate clients that include some form of balance and transaction reporting and transaction initiation. Most banks offer some form of internet banking. Browser-based banking products and services are becoming increasingly popular among retail users and small companies. Most internet banking remains retail-oriented.

Liquidity management

Investment instruments

  • Bank (current) accounts – interest payable on surplus balances. Depending on the jurisdiction, banks may pay interest on surplus balances in designated current accounts. Banks can offer interest on savings accounts and deposits held by residents and non-residents and, subject to approval, current accounts.
  • Bank demand deposits – demand deposits can be held in domestic currency (AED) or major foreign currencies.
  • Bank time deposits – time deposits are available in domestic currency (AED) or a major foreign currency, usually with maturities of one, two, three, six and 12 months. Interest rates vary in accordance with the maturity and amount of the deposit and are determined by interbank money market rates.
  • Certificates of deposit (CD) – CDs with maturities of one week to one year are auctioned by the Central Bank to the country’s banks on a daily basis. CDs with maturities of between two and five years are auctioned on a monthly basis. CDs are issued in AED, EUR or USD and have a minimum value of AED1m, EUR1m and US$1m respectively. CDs are auctioned on all days except Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and official holidays. The central bank began issuing Sharia-compliant CDs in November 2010.
  • Central bank bills/bonds – the Central Bank does not issue bills or bonds.
  • Mutual investment funds/money market funds – money market funds are available.
  • Repurchase agreements – CDs are used as a type of repurchase agreement.
  • Corporate and municipal bonds – large companies, banks and the government all issue bonds, including sukuk (Islamic bonds), which are listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Market (ADSM), Dubai Financial Market (DFM) and Nasdaq Dubai.

Websites

Federal e-government

Dubai e-government

Federation of UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry

UAE Ministry of Economy

UAE Central Bank

Mubadala

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority

Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce Online Services

Dubai International Financial Centre

Nasdaq Dubai