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United Arab Emirates
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The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven Emirates, with autonomous federal and local governments. The UAE has historically been a low-tax jurisdiction. The federal government and local governments are entitled to levy taxes on citizens and companies. The federal government currently levies a value added tax, corporate income tax, and excise taxes. Some emirates levy property, transfer, excise and tourism taxes. Some emirates also charge corporate taxes oil companies and foreign banks.
The UAE federal tax system is administered by the Federal Tax Authority (FTA), which was founded ahead of the 2018 implementation of a federal value added tax (VAT). The current standard VAT rate in the country is 5%. In January 2022, the UAE Ministry of Finance announced the implementation of a federal corporate tax starting June 2023. The standard rate of corporate tax is 9%, some exempt businesses and those with net annual profits under AED375,000 (US$102,100) qualify for a rate of 0%, and that fall under the criteria of the global minimum corporate tax rate agreement are charged a corporate tax rate of 15%. Free zone businesses can get exempt from corporate tax as long as they do not do business with the UAE mainland and follow other UAE guidelines. The federal government also levies excise taxes on alcohol, energy drinks, vaping liquids and devices, and cigarettes.
Since the discovery of oil in the UAE in the mid-1960s, the UAE federal and local governments had no incentive to levy direct taxes. Local governments received royalties from their emirate-owned oil companies, which local governments used to fund the federal government. Since then, the UAE is working to diversify it's economy and government-revenue away from oil and other hydrocarbons; with taxes being a major source for diversifying government-revenue sources.
Value added tax (VAT)
Since 1 January 2018, the UAE has a federal value added tax. The standard VAT rate is 5%, some items qualify for a rate 0%, while certain items and services are exempt from VAT. VAT registration is mandatory for businesses with annual taxable supplies above the mandatory registration threshold (currently AED375,000), and voluntary for businesses with annual taxable supplies above the voluntary registration threshold (currently AED187,500). The Federal Tax Authority (FTA) is responsible for collecting VAT from businesses and conducting audits.
A business must register for VAT if their taxable supplies and imports exceed the mandatory registration threshold of AED375,000 (US$102,100). Furthermore, a business may choose to register for VAT voluntarily if their supplies and imports or expenses are less than the mandatory registration threshold, but exceed the voluntary registration threshold of AED187,500 (US$51,050). This latter opportunity to register voluntarily is designed to enable start-up businesses with no turnover to register for VAT.
If the annual turnover in 12 consecutive months is less than the voluntary registration threshold, the company or person may apply for de-registration in 20 days. Failing to submit de-registration application lead to a fine of up to AED10,000 (US$2720).
VAT will be charged at 0% in respect of the following main categories of supplies:
- Exports of goods and services to outside the GCC;
- International transportation, and related supplies;
- Supplies of certain sea, air and land means of transportation (such as aircraft and ships);
- Certain investment grade precious metals (e.g. gold, silver, of 99% purity);
- Newly constructed residential properties, that are supplied for the first time within 3 years of their construction;
- Supply of certain education services, and supply of relevant goods and services;
- Supply of certain Healthcare services, and supply of relevant goods and services
The following categories of supplies will be exempt from VAT:
- The supply of some financial services (clarified in VAT legislation);
- Residential properties;
- Bare land; and
- Local passenger transport
According to the federal law, it's necessary for the FTA to conduct regular VAT audits to ascertain the compliance of various businesses to the tax laws. These audits are often conducted at the workplace or at the other place of business of the involved party, as per the selection of the FTA; the person/business should be given a minimum of 5 days notice.
The involved party/business/person can file their tax returns on the FTA portal as per the schedule.
The FTA authorities can check the returns and alternative details. There should not be a selected reason for the FTA to conduct an audit of a business/taxpayer. They will conduct it for any reason or whenever they are required.
A notice is going to be issued to the involved party, a minimum of 5 days before the regular audit date. It will contain details, like the audit schedule, place, concerned parties, reason (if something particular), etc.
The auditor/s and also the taxpayer can meet at the scheduled place at the scheduled time and the process can begin. The auditor might ask for business records, in original and/or copies, and take samples of products and alternative assets as obtainable at the place at the time.
Note: The audited party has the right to ask for the credentials, like professional identification cards, from the tax auditors so as to see their authority.
The tax audit is to be conducted during the official FTA operating hours, unless the Director-General decides to conduct the audit of a business outside regular hours, in an exceptional case.
The taxpayer or the other person subject to a tax audit, in conjunction with his legal representatives and tax agents, are advised to participate and help the auditors performing their task.
If something suspicious is found within the results of the audit which may impact the tax return, the authority might order a re-audit for more analysis.
The audited person has the right to ask for the notification copy and connected documents and be present throughout the auditing procedures that are conducted outside of the official places.
In March 2021, FTA said that influencers on social media in the UAE or any users using online promotional activities should register for VAT and pay taxes if the value of the services they provide is more than AED375,000 in a 12-month period.
VAT refunds for tourists
Foreign tourists visiting the UAE are entitled to VAT refunds for purchases of items being exported with the traveller on their departure. The refund only applied to items that have not been used in the UAE. The minimum receipt requirement for VAT refunds is AED250 (US$68), and the purchase needs to be made within 90 days of departure.
Since June 2023, the UAE has a federal corporate tax. The standard rate for corporate tax is 9%. Some businesses qualify for a rate of 0% while companies that fall under the criteria of the global minimum corporate tax rate agreement are charged a corporate tax rate of 15%. Free zone businesses can get exempt from federal corporate tax as long as they do not do business with the UAE mainland. The Federal Tax Authority is responsible for collecting federal corporate taxes and conducting audits. All businesses in the UAE, including exempt, free zone and zero-rate businesses are required to register for federal corporate taxes. Some emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi charge a 20% flat corporate tax on the income of foreign banks based within their emirates.
As per the Ministry of Finance, Corporate Tax Rates are:
- 0 per cent for taxable income up to AED 375,000
- 9 per cent for taxable income above AED 375,000 and
- a different tax rate (not yet specified) for large multinationals that meet specific criteria set with reference to 'Pillar two' of the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project”.
The following institutions are exempt from federal corporate income taxes:
- Government entities;
- Government controlled entities;
- Persons engaged in an extractive businesses;
- Persons engaged in a non-extractive natural resource businesses;
- Qualifying public benefit entities;
- Qualifying investment funds;
- Public pension or social security funds, or a private pension or social security funds that is subject to regulatory oversight of the competent authority in the state;
- Juridical persons incorporated in the state that are wholly owned and controlled by certain exempt persons; and
- Any other persons as may be determined in a decision issued by the cabinet at the suggestion of the minister.
Free zone-based businesses are exempt from federal corporate taxes if they conduct no business with the UAE mainland, if not, the free zone business is required to pay federal corporate taxes on the income derived from the UAE mainland.
The UAE levies excise taxes on certain products, the excise tax rates are:
- 50% on carbonated drinks
- 50% on any product with added sugar or other sweeteners
- 100% on tobacco products
- 100% on energy drinks
- 100% on electronic smoking devices and vaping liquids
The UAE charges a flat 5% customs duty on the value of goods, freight, and insurance (CIF) for most goods. The customs duty rate is 50% on CIF of alcohol, and 100% on CIF of cigarettes. VAT is also charged at the standard rate for the imported items.
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