In the vibrant culinary scene of the United Arab Emirates, a diverse range of global flavors graces the tables. Both Emiratis and expatriates contribute to the growing demand for unique food products, allowing businesses to cater to this eating enthusiasm. If you’re considering to import food products in Dubai and tap into this massive market, it’s crucial to enrich yourself with key details.
But before importing a large amount of food, it is good to get some samples and showcase them in the market to see if they will work out for you or not. You may test the products by showcasing them in exhibitions that take place in Dubai.
Our comprehensive guide below offers a complete overview of the process, providing you with a clear roadmap for successfully importing sample food products in Dubai and the UAE.
Table of Contents
Prerequisites for Importing Sample Food Products in Dubai
In order to import food samples in Dubai, you need to register them with FIRS. And before registering with FIRS, you need to register the company with Dubai Municipality. You can do so by following these steps:
- Register with E-government
- Provide the company’s Post Office Box, telephone, official stamp, and fax numbers
- Give details of the company’s warehouse in Dubai
- Submit the company’s trade license
- Provide the name and contact number of the company’s representative
You can also register your company online by logging on to the website, submitting an online application, and following the instructions given.
Brief Overview of FIRS Food Import and Re-export System
FIRS, which stands for Food Importer Registration System, was created by the Dubai Municipality to regulate food importation into Dubai for selling or re-exporting. It’s a mandatory system for food importers, making sure all imported food meets Dubai’s health and safety standards.
FIRS helps prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses and ensures food safety by making sure products follow safety regulations. It provides detailed information about food products, like where they come from, where they’re going, and their quantity and quality.
FIRS also helps countries manage shipments, generate reports, and issue certificates of compliance for imported and exported food.
The key services provided by FIRS include:
- Food sampling
- Re-exporting food items
- Electronic payment of fees from any corner of the world
- Issuing various certificates
- Managing food labels and circulars for food clients and traders
- Registering various food products and product information
- Online application submission from anywhere in the world
- Conducting food inspections
- Importing food products
Before moving on to the FIRS registration process, have a look at the required documents:
Required Documents for FIRS Registration
Here are the documents that you need for the FIRS registration process. Failure to submit the certificate can lead to adverse consequences.
- Company trade license
- Certificate of origin approved by the Chamber of Commerce in the country of origin. This certificate states the country of origin.
- A phytosanitary certificate certifies that the sample food products are free from diseases and pests. It is issued by the competent authority in the source country.
- Passport copies of the company partners or owners
- Delivery order (only for containers)
- Emirates ID of the company partners or owners
- An import Permit for importing food products with an exempted duty
- Food Safety Management System certificate
- The packing list of the products of shipment is required. It must prepared cautiously and contain all the details from its weight to the HS Code for each item.
- HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certificate
- Health certificate from the country of origin’s local authority or government and approved by the country’s Chamber of Commerce
- Original Halal slaughter certificate or Halal certificate for poultry and meat issued by an Islamic organization that is recognized by the United Arab Emirates government
- Invoice or bill of lading of the last shipment.
- Commercial invoice from the exporting company addressed to the importer with details about the total value, quantity, and goods description of every imported food item.
- Certificate of analysis of the last shipment
- Other certificates are required including the Avian Flu free certificate, GMO-free certificate, Dioxin Free Certificate, and more.
- Airway bill or bill of entry
FIRS Registration Process to Import Sample Food Products in Dubai
The FIRS registration process involves the following steps and requires 1 business day to process and either accept or reject the request:
Step 1. Submission of Documents
Food importers need to submit some required documents to the Dubai Municipality to start the FIRS registration process.
Step 2. Inspection
After the submission of documents, the Dubai Municipality conducts a physical inspection of the importer company’s storage facility or warehouse to check whether it meets the required health and safety standards or not.
Step 3. FIRS Card Issuance
Once the inspection is completed and the requirements are met, the Dubai Municipality issues the FIRS card to the food importer. This card is valid for one year and needs to be renewed every year.
Step 4. Food Classification and Barcode
To import food into Dubai, it’s crucial to register and classify all food products using a barcode through the Registration and Classification System. This system ensures that imported food is safe for consumption and complies with the country’s standards. Each food product must undergo classification and be assigned a barcode, which should be labeled on the product.
Here’s how you can go about it:
- Begin by submitting an electronic application.
- Provide all necessary information accurately during the application process.
- If the product lacks a label, you can submit a food sample to the concerned officer for further processing.
Step 5. Approval of Food Label Assessment
After successfully registering with FIRS, the next step involves obtaining approval for food labels to ensure that imported food adheres to defined standards. This process takes 5 working days to be completed.
To import food into the United Arab Emirates, strict standards must be followed. All food products need to be registered with the Ministry of Environment and Water before their importation into the country. Additionally, adherence to the UAE’s food safety standards for food products is mandatory, aligning with the international standards established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
This can be done by logging into your account on the Dubai Municipality website and applying through FIRS, where the option for “Item Registration and Food Label Assessment” service is available under the options of “My Services” in the main menu.
When applying for food label assessment via the DM portal, you need to upload a clear image of the product.
The following requirements must be met to get the food label for packaged items approved:
- Clearly mention the brand name.
- Provide a list of ingredients in descending order based on their volume and weightage.
- Specify the expiry or best-before dates using the format day-month-year.
- Mention the method of preparation for consumption
- Include the name and a concise description of the product.
- Mention allergy warning on the label
- Include the names and addresses of the manufacturer, packer, and distributor.
- Mention the total net volume or weight of the packaged food.
- Mention the country in which the food product is made.
- Ensure the product has a barcode.
- Include the lot number of every product.
- Any discrepancies in the listed items may result in product rejection.
- The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) registration number
- The label should be in Arabic (mandatory) and English (optional) if the product is launched in Dubai.
- Clearly state the conditions in which the product should be stored.
- Indicate if the product has undergone laboratory testing in Dubai Municipality. Testing is a must for products to be registered with Dubai Municipality.
There are specific government-defined standards for importing food products before shipment comes, and the required documentation includes:
Submit an electronic importation document through FIRS Online before the shipment arrives, with two types available for importing to re-export and for importing food.
The label on the product should be stuck on well, so it’s hard to remove or change. It needs to be clear and easy to read, showing where rennet, fats, gelatine, enzymes, and animal products come from. The label shouldn’t lie or trick people, and you shouldn’t cover up or change the information on it. Keep it easy to comprehend and straightforward.
The following food products do not require label assessment:
- Food additives
- Bulk food such as seeds, honey, grains, oils, nuts, and pulses
- Pork and pork products
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Nonretail (for manufacturing purposes)
- Unprocessed meats
Expiration and Production Dates
Every food product must have a clear label showing when it was made and when it expires. Use terms like the following on the label:
- “Good for use until”
- “Date of expiry”
- “Use before”
- “Sold up to”
- “Valid for starting from the date of production”
Avoid using handwritten dates, and make sure printed dates are hard to change or remove.
Write dates as DD/MM/YY for food items with a shelf life of less than six months and MM/YY for those with a shelf life of more than six months. You should use Arabic, or English, or both. Once the products arrive at the airport, you can’t add or alter dates.
Make sure to mention the production and expiry dates on all packages, following these guidelines:
- Avoid using double dates
- Don’t use stickers for dates
- The products can be exempted from the format if they have a shelf life longer than three months date i.e. only the month and year should be written
- Print the dates clearly and make them hard to erase
- The date should be valid for at least three months
If your registration and label assessment is successful, you’ll get a message on the DM portal.
Ensure the following and the chances of acceptance of your application can be increased:
- The food items must meet microbiological, biological, and chemical standards to ensure safety and quality.
- The food product’s shelf life should not have expired by more than 50%.
- The food product should not contain any preservatives or additives that are prohibited.
- The food product labeling must adhere to local regulations.
Afterward, samples of each food product along with their labels are submitted to the Food Studies & Planning Section office. Here, the labels undergo a thorough examination, and any required modifications are duly noted. Once this process is concluded, an e-payment must be made to the Food Studies and Planning Office to obtain approval.
When to Apply Again for Food Product Registration and Label Assessment?
The following are the cases when you need to register food products and apply for label assessment again:
- If you change net weight, country of origin, trade name, bar code, or brand of the food product
- Food product will registered again without the need for label assessment if a new color, flavor, or ingredient is added to it
- Food product label will be assessed again without the need for registration if its product design or food label design is changed. The change includes any non-basic information such as font type, color, etc.
How to Import Food Products in Dubai?
To import food products in Dubai, follow these steps:
- Register your company with Dubai free zone or Mainland.
- Register the food products with the FIRS
- Find a Reputable shipping company for receiving shipments
- Clear the shipment from the Dubai Customs Department
- Prepare shipment for testing. Once the shipment clears the test, it is ready to be delivered to your warehouse.
Criteria to Choose a Reputable and Experienced Shipping Company
When selecting a reliable and experienced shipping company for importing foods to Dubai, consider the following factors:
- The company should be able to provide a competitive and transparent quotation for their services.
- Ensure that the company is officially registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
- Ensure that the company can guarantee the safe and secure shipment of the food items, providing confidence in the integrity of the shipping process.
- Confirm that the shipping company holds a valid license from the Dubai Municipality.
- Verify the company’s track record, ensuring there are no complaints from previous clients. Look for positive reviews and a solid reputation.
Reasons for Rejection of Imported Food Products at the Port of Entry
Food consignments may face rejection at the port of entry for various reasons, including
- Presence of prohibited substances such as poppy seeds and alcohol
- Requirement for approval from other authorities, especially for vitamins, medications, and food supplements
- Lack of clarity in the information presented on the label
- Not listing all the ingredients of the product
- Listing ingredients in a language other than English or Arabic
- Presence of religious signs or inappropriate pictures that violate legal regulations
- Failure to provide the original health certificate
- Presence of duplicate barcodes in the Food Import and Re-Export System (FIRS)
- Stickers that can be easily removed
You can find more reasons for rejection in the FIRS guide on the Dubai Municipality website.
Practical Tips for Successful Food Importation in the UAE
Follow these practical tips to help you efficiently complete the process of importing sample food products to the UAE:
Partner with Local Distributors
Collaborate with local distributors who are well-versed in the UAE market and its regulations. They can make the importation process simple, assisting with compliance, paperwork, and efficient distribution within the UAE. Leverage their expertise and established networks to ensure your food items easily reach buyers.
Conduct Thorough Market Research
Conduct comprehensive market research before starting the importation process. Understand the consumer preferences, demand, and existing competition in the UAE market. This research will enable you to customize your range of food products effectively. Identify market gaps, analyze market trends, and conduct surveys to effectively position your products in the Emirati market.
Plan Your Supply Chain
Setting up a solid supply chain is vital for efficient and timely product delivery. Consider factors such as warehousing, transportation methods, and logistics partners to ensure a smooth flow of products from source to market. Timely delivery is crucial to avoid costly delays and capitalize on market opportunities.
Stay Updated on Regulations
Food safety regulations in the UAE can change, so staying informed about amendments and updates is essential. Regularly check for updates from the relevant authorities such as UAE FSA to ensure your products remain compliant with current requirements. Non-compliance can cause serious disruptions in the importation process.
Make Strong Relationships
Make strong relationships with business partners, local authorities, and suppliers. Building effective communication and trust channels will help you resolve issues and address challenges in no time. Additionally, it shows your commitment to operating within the regulatory framework of the UAE.
Look for Professional Assistance
If you’re just starting with importing food or finding the rules and regulations a bit tricky, think about getting help from professionals. Consultants or experts who focus on importing sample food products to the UAE, such as Riz & Mona Consultancy, can give you useful advice and support. They know a lot and have experience, which can make the whole process smoother and help you avoid any problems.
Which foods are mostly imported in Dubai?
Here are the food products that are imported the most in Dubai and the UAE:
- Dairy Products
- Food preparations
- Fresh fruits
- Poultry meats and products
- Tree nuts
- Beef and beef products
- Chocolate and cocoa products
- Fresh vegetables
- Wine and beer
- Meat products
Import and Export Licensing Requirements in the UAE
Here are some import and export licensing requirements for the UAE:
Trade License for Food Establishments
All food establishments in Dubai need to get a valid trade license from relevant licensing authorities before commencing business operations.
Restrictions on Activities
Food establishments are restricted to conducting only the activities listed in the trade license. They cannot engage in any unapproved food activities, and conducting activities outside the licensed site requires a permit from the Food Safety Department.
Selection of Business Activity
When applying for the license, the company owner must choose the appropriate business activity related to food from the provided list.
Approval for Training and Consulting Services
Services related to applied nutrition or food safety, such as consulting and training, must be approved by the Food Safety Department.
Clarity in Business Activity
The specific food-related activity of the establishment must be mentioned on the trade license.
Layout Assessment Approval
Before commencing any activities, establishments must obtain layout assessment approval from the Food Safety Department.
Permit for Activities Outside Licensed Site
If a food establishment intends to conduct activities outside its licensed site, a permit from the Food Safety Department is required.
Food Control Service Authorities in the UAE
Here is a list of some noteworthy food control service authorities in Dubai and the UAE:
Food Control Trade Section (DM Main Office)
Special cases from ports, public counters, and offices are handled at this location.
Jebel Ali Airport (Office Gate 2&3)
Here inspection of all food consignments in Jebel Ali port and free zone is done. Along with that, handling reported cases from ports and taking necessary actions is also done at this point. Importers can register products in FIRS from here, obtain Export Health Certificates, and accept transferred food consignments from UAE authorities.
Services that are available here include acceptance of food consignments from other UAE authorities, inspection of deferred consignments, labeling approvals, consignment follow-up, repacking procedures, item registration in FIRS, and issuance of health certificates.
Flower Center Office – Dubai Airport
This point handles the inspection of food consignments. Importers can register their food items in FIRS here.
Emirates Airlines Office – Dubai Airport
Services for inspection of food consignments and registration of food items are available at this office.
Chamber Of Commerce
Issuance of Export Health Certificates takes place at the Chamber of Commerce.
Inspection of food consignments can be conducted here.
Alauddin Containers Yard Hatta Border Office
You can get services for the inspection of food consignments and registration of food items in FIRS from this office.
Inspection of food consignments is carried out at Hamriya Port.
Import Sample Food Products in Dubai with RIZ & MONA CONSULTANCY
While there are many opportunities for businesses looking to import food into the UAE, it’s one area of import industry where there’s very little room for error when it comes to the regulatory requirements defined by the government. Importing food products to the UAE is a growing and profitable venture, but adherence to regulatory requirements is paramount to ensure a successful and compliant business operation.
If you want to import sample food products or food items in bulk amounts in the UAE, get in touch with RIZ & MONA CONSULTANCY. Here at RIZ & MONA CONSULTANCY, we have a team of professionals who have expertise in dealing with authorities and fulfilling requirements for importing food items. To register your food company and start your business right now, give us a call at +97145586339, WhatsApp us at +971545821012, or email us at email@example.com.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
Can you import food into the UAE?
Yes, you can import food into the UAE. You need to fulfill the requirements to do so.
How do I import goods to the UAE?
There is a defined process to import goods related to food to the UAE.
Can I ship food to the UAE?
Yes, you can ship food to the UAE given that you have fulfilled the requirements set by the Emirati government.
How can I get an import license in Dubai?
In order to get an import-export license in Dubai, follow these steps:
- Choose your business activity from the list of activities provided by the Dubai Economic Department (DED)
- Choose the legal form of business structure
- Choose the official trade name and get approval for it from the DED
- Submit an application for initial approval from the DED
- Prepare and sign the LSA Agreement or MOA
- Establish a business location for your company
What food is imported in the UAE?
The top food product groups that are imported the most from the world are:
- Oil seeds