Facts & Figures

With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over 507 billion US dollars in 2022, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among the wealthiest countries in the world. The UAE is situated on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and shares its borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, it has maritime boundaries in the Persian Gulf with Qatar and Iran. Abu Dhabi serves as the nation’s capital, while Dubai, the most populous city, is a bustling international metropolis.

The United Arab Emirates is a constitutional monarchy established through a federation of seven constituent monarchies, which are referred to as emirates. These include Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain. Each emirate is governed by a respective ruler, and collectively, these rulers constitute the Federal Supreme Council. Members of the Federal Supreme Council select a president and vice presidents.

The country is home to an estimated 10 million people, of which an astounding 88.1% are immigrants. The population is highly urbanized, with a significant concentration in coastal cities. The three largest emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah – are home to nearly 85% of the population.

The local currency is the dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. The dirham has maintained a stable worth of approximately 0.25 Euros, give or take a few cents. This means that one euro is roughly equal to four dirhams. Because the UAE does not observe daylight savings time, it is two hours ahead of Central Europe during the summer, and three hours ahead during the fall and winter.

Language and Localization

The official language in the UAE is Arabic, but English is likely the most-commonly spoken language overall. It is taught in schools as a second language and is used as a lingua franca by the many immigrants who do not speak Arabic as their first language. Other less-common languages used in the UAE include Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Tagalog, Persian, Chinese, Malayalam, and others. The West Coast is considerably more multilingual than the East Coast, where more traditional Arab-speaking communities still hold fast.

This language mix means that an e-commerce website that is localized into Arabic only will miss out on the many English-speaking residents of the UAE. However, an English-only website might make native Arabic speakers feel slighted. Therefore, it would be advisable to offer your e-commerce website in both English and Arabic in order to attract a larger pool of customers.

It is essential to localize your marketing to incorporate local holidays and traditions, as Islamic holidays differ significantly from those celebrated in Europe. The e-commerce “holiday” Black Friday is also handled differently in the Middle East. Because Friday is considered a holy day, and the color black is associated with mourning, many consumers would find a “Black Friday” sale offensive. For this reason, it has been renamed “White Friday” in the region.

Economy, Import and Export

The UAE’s robust economy has historically been driven primarily by its oil and gas industry, as it is a major exporter of crude oil and petroleum products. However, in recent years, the country has made a strategic shift to diversify its economy by focusing on sectors such as tourism, logistics and supply chain, and manufacturing. Dubai, in particular, has emerged as a global business and logistics hub, attracting multinational corporations and investors from around the world.

This diversification effort has made the UAE’s economy more resilient to fluctuations in oil prices and has positioned it as a dynamic player in the global marketplace. The UAE’s GDP shows a consistent growth trend, with positive growth in every recent year except 2009 and 2021. The GDP grew by 7% in 2022.

In terms of import and export statistics, the UAE is a major trading nation. It imports a wide range of goods, including machinery, vehicles, electronics, and food products, to meet the demands of its rapidly growing population and expanding industries. The value of imported goods has risen dramatically over the past two years: In 2020, the country imported goods valued at just under  247 billion US dollars. In 2022, that value rose to 424.5 billion dollars.

UAE residents are fond of cross-border e-commerce shopping, as well. 46% of consumers indicate that they shop on foreign websites. Most users made purchases from American websites, followed by Indian and Chinese websites.

The United Arab Emirates also exports various products, primarily petroleum and petrochemicals, to international markets. In 2022, the UAE exported 311.3 billion US dollars worth of products. The most significant export products were: mineral fuels including oil (68.6% of total exports), gems and precious metals (14.3%), and aluminum (3.3%). The UAE’s strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, along with its state-of-the-art infrastructure and free trade zones, has made it a crucial re-export hub.

Internet Usage Trends

Consumers in the United Arab Emirates are among the most connected in the world, with some of the highest rates of internet usage, smartphone ownership, and social media penetration globally (91%, 98%, and 99% respectively). Emirati internet users represent 5.8% of the total internet user population in the Middle East, making it the fourth-highest figure in the region.

People under the age of 34 make up 51.9% of the population and are responsible for 73% of all online transactions. Sixty percent of them reside in Dubai, making the city the hub for most online purchases.

Shopping Behavior Trends

Amazon.eg (formerly Souq.com), Cobone.com and noon.com are some of the largest local e-commerce portals. In addition, the Emirati branch of the French supermarket Carrefour, carrefouruae.com, and Namshi, an Emirati fashion conglomerate, are heavyweights in the United Arab Emirates’ e-commerce scene.

Smartphones are gaining popularity, while PCs and tablets are less commonly used for e-commerce purchases. In the world of search engines, Google dominates the market with a share of 96.08%, followed by Bing with 2.83% and Yahoo with 0.44%. Whether shopping online or in-store, Emirati consumers are strongly influenced by their online activities. From research to making the actual purchase, the internet plays a crucial role. This means that e-commerce businesses can expect to see a lot of ROPO (research online, purchase offline) behavior, and may benefit from a headless commerce approach.

Credit cards are the preferred payment method for online purchases, accounting for approximately 48% of transactions in the UAE. Following that, various wallet apps are used for nearly 23% of sales, with transfers and cash payments making up around 10% each.

In the UAE, the fashion sector holds the largest market share at 34%, followed by electronics at nearly 19%, and toys and hobbies at 17%.

The average order total per person is extremely high compared to global averages: a shopper in the UAE spends an average of 332 US dollars per e-commerce order, whereas the average total in the US is $86 and the average in Europe is only $73. This makes the UAE an extremely attractive target market for e-commerce businesses.

Import and Customs Regulations

The UAE is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is an important trade partner for the EU. In fact, the GCC is the EU’s 6th largest export market worldwide.

The EU and GCC initiated discussions for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) back in 1990. The goal was to gradually, mutually open up trade in goods and services. However, these negotiations encountered multiple difficulties and were ultimately suspended in 2008. There is no trade agreement in place between the EU and the GCC.

However, the United Arab Emirates does have a unique system of free-trade zones. These are specific areas within each emirate that have modified tax, customs and import regimes, and are governed by their own regulatory framework. Each trade zone is set up for a strictly defined industry category such as publishing, renewable energy, trade and logistics, etc.

Within the free trade zones, foreign businesses enjoy a multitude of benefits such as:

  • Foreign business owners can own 100% of the enterprise
  • 0% import and export tax, 0% personal income taxes
  • 100% capital and profits can be sent back to the owner’s home country
  • Corporate tax exemptions for up to 50 years

So although there is no free trade agreement between the EU and the Emirates, the UAE can still be an extremely attractive place to establish a business.


From a financial perspective, the United Arab Emirates is an extremely attractive target market for e-commerce businesses. There are significant cultural differences that you will need to take into account in your marketing and communications, and your website will need to be localized for the local audience. That will likely mean translating it into both Arabic and English. However, the free trade zones make the process of establishing a business in the UAE quite appealing. And given the high level of both income and e-commerce spending in the country, the potential rewards more than outweigh the effort.



autor_eurotext_100Author: Eurotext Editorial Team

We explain how internationalization works, provide tips for your translation projects and outline some of the technology and processes used. We also report on current e-commerce developments and cover a range of language-related topics.