The United Arab Emirates (the UAE) is geographically situated in the Middle East on the Persian Gulf, bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. The UAE consists of seven sovereign states called emirates, these are: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al- Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al- Quwain.
The UAE is a unique nation where you can see the best of many seemingly opposite influences and cultures balanced to produce a wonderful modern country with something for all. Modern cities with world-class hotels, facilities and wonderful shopping are balanced against the traditional Bedouin lifestyle, in a nation that supports both conservative Islamic and western liberal views equally.
The UAE has, through recent property booms due to the granting of freehold ownership rights to foreigners, become one of the worlds leading property investment hot spots. Freehold property ownership in the UAE was unavailable to expats prior to 2002; until that time only 99 year leaseholds or rental of property was allowed by law to non GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) or UAE citizens. Dubai lead the introduction of freehold purchases to foreigners, starting in 2002 when a decree was issued by crown prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoom of Dubai which allowed the purchase and ownership of free hold property in designated areas of Dubai. In 2006 Law 7 – Dubai’s property law was passed, this law formally reinforced the ability of non GCC or UAE citizens to purchase freehold land; implemented the property registration office of Dubai Lands and Properties Department, set this departments jurisdiction and outlined the general rules, definitions etc of property ownership.
The opening of Dubai’s property market in 2002 lead to a lot of interest in not only Dubai but the whole of the United Arab Emirates by investors; this interest has not been lost on the other Emirate States with Ras Al Khaimah being the first emirate after Dubai to allow foreign ownership. Ajman the smallest emirate has allowed foreign freehold ownership since 2004.
The remaining emirates allow various degrees of foreign ownership. Sharjah does not allow freehold ownership to expats but does allow 99 year leaseholds. Abu Dhabi has similar laws with 99 year leaseholds and 50 year renewable surface ownership agreements as the only options for foreign property investors. Conversely Umm al- Quwain does allow foreign property ownership although ownership of the land is prohibited.
Fujairah has only announced one development with freehold rights although they are currently drafting property legislation which is believed will allow foreign freehold ownership.
All of the freehold ownership in the UAE is in areas or individual developments that have been specifically designated by the governments of the individual emirates for possible foreign ownership; the emirates have not been opened to blanket foreign ownership as we are used to in the west.
Investors also need to be aware that ownership of a property in the United Arab Emirates does not automatically entitle the property owner to permanent residency visas, nor does it automatically entitle them to be able to work, although it is possible to work under the sponsorship of an employer.
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