Free zones in the UAE account for 33% of non-oil trade in the UAE and large share of small and medium sized businesses. Free zones can be found across the UAE including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khamiah to name a few. They are also categorised as sea port free zones, airport free zones, and mainland free zones with each free zone designed around one or more business industry categories.
Not only do free zones provide business owners with 100% ownership, many also promise zero tax rates for a period of time. However, with the release of Federal law No. 8 of 2017 on VAT, the treatment of VAT for free zones has not been fully clarified, as article 50 of the VAT law defines free zones as “designated zones.” The term designated zone was not fully defined in the VAT law, however in the executive regulations of the Excise law, article 15 describes a designated zone having the following characteristics:
Although Excise tax is different from VAT, it should not be ruled out that the FTA (Federal Tax Authority) would use the same provisions as the excise executive regulations to also be included in the VAT executive regulations.
It should be noted that free zones such as Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA) and Jebal Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) are examples of free zone where access inside and out can be restricted whereas Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) cannot. This definition is important because article 51 of the VAT law states that goods transferred from one free zone to another would not incur VAT. However, article 52 also states that the executive regulations will then determine conditions when trade within a designated zone will be regarded as within the state.
Business operating within free zones must treat such transactions with caution to ensure that they do not fall foul of the law. This is because fines of up to AED 50,000 or 50% of the due tax can be imposed if an entity which fails to comply with the conditions and procedures relating to keeping taxable goods within designated zones or moving them to another designated zone.
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This article has been written in general terms and therefore cannot be relied on to cover specific situations; application of the principles set out will depend upon the particular circumstances involved and we recommend that you obtain professional advice before acting or refraining from acting on any of its contents.