The UAE real estate market is an incredible opportunity for investment and capital gains. With a spate of changes in property ownership rules, especially for expats and overseas investors, this industry has opened up further. However, the property ownership rules for foreigners are different from native owners. We present a synopsis of the relevant rules for expats interested in investing in real estate in the UAE and various Emirate-specific rules.
Expats were not permitted to buy property in the UAE till 2001-2002. In 2001, for the first time, Dubai opened its door to let foreigners own 99-year leasehold properties and, in 2002, invest in freehold properties. Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, and Ras Al Khaimah followed soon. Expatriates in the UAE are permitted to own freehold properties in certain specific areas and leasehold properties. Leasehold properties come with a possession deal for fixed years. The expat owner owns the property but not the land as per the leasehold contract. Freehold properties imply that the expat owns both the property and the land it is built.
Leaseholder ownership means that the expatriate owns for the period mentioned in the contract – only the unit and not the land. The contract can be renewed when the term ends, and the foreigner is responsible for limited liability for repairs. All major improvements can be done only with the freehold owner’s approval. Also, the expatriate can sub-lease the property or keep pets but with restrictions.
In contrast, freehold gives the owner complete control of his property and the land. Owners can undertake major improvements like renovation and remodeling as per their wish, provided such a project meets the specified guidelines of the developer and the laws of the land. Once the owner dies, the property is transferred to the heir. The owner can sell or lease the property and take advantage of the high ROI.
Specific rules for buying properties in different Emirates
Interestingly the rules of property ownership differ from Emirate to Emirate. Here is a brief about the specific rules of the different Emirates:
Buying property in Dubai
Freehold in designated freehold areas and leasehold property ownership is allowed in Dubai for expats. The rules are the same for resident foreigners as well as non-resident investors without any bar on age to own real estate in Dubai. The Land Department issues the title deeds.
For freehold properties, the governing law is Article 3 of Regulation No. 3 of 2006 Determining Areas for Ownership by Non-Nationals of Real Property in the Emirate of Dubai.
Buying property in Abu Dhabi
Expatriates in Abu Dhabi can buy and invest in apartments and villas in nine designated investment areas. These are Al Raha Beach, Al Reef, Lulu, Masdar City, Mariya, Reem, Saadiyat, Sayh Al Sedairah, and Yas Islands. However, expats cannot buy or own land in Abu Dhabi.
There are four systems of owning property in this Emirate:
- Ownership – The expat has full ownership of the apartment or floor for 99 years and can sell the same. However, the land on which the property is built is not included in the deed.
- Musalaha – It is a system in which foreigners gain ownership of residential units as per the Masataha contract. The term is 50 years and can be renewed after the term is over. During the term, owners can stay in the property, make improvements or alternations, constructions, renovations, etc.
- Usufruct – The expatriates can own and use the unit for a period of 99 years but cannot make any alternations whatsoever to the property.
- Long-term lease – Foreigners can lease properties in Abu Dhabi for a period of 25 years or more.
The regulation governing property ownership by foreigners in Abu Dhabi is Law No. 19 of 2005 Concerning the Regulation of the Real Estate Sector. In April 2019, certain amendments were made to the Abu Dhabi Real Estate Law. Articles 3 and 4 were amended. As per Article 3(i), expatriates can own property with limitations to three categories –
- Citizens of the Emirates, legal or natural persons.
- Non-national ownership in public holding companies that is not greater than 49%.
- If the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince of the Executive Council President passes a decision for any person.
As per Article 3 (ii), real estate original and in-kind legal rights are allowed to non-UAE citizens in owning real estate properties in the given designated areas. Article 4 provisions that Musataha and Usufruct owners owning properties for over ten years can dispose or mortgage the property without landlord consent. In contrast, the landlord cannot mortgage the unit without the agreement of the Musataha or Usufruct holder.
Buying property in Sharjah
In Sharjah, foreign nationals cannot own property in the Emirate but have Usufruct right for 100 years. The property must be registered with the Sharjah Real Estate Registration Department (SRERD). There are certain limitations, though. Firstly, the expat needs to get the Ruler of Sharjah’s approval, and secondly, the Usufruct right can be exercised only at specified areas identified by the Government of Sharjah.
Owning property by foreigners is governed by the Executive Council Resolution No. 26 of 2104 Regarding the Usufruct of Real Estate Properties in the Emirates of Sharjah.
UAE is fabulous for expatriates to own and invest in real estate properties. The taxation system is expat-friendly. There are, of course, legal liabilities in their home country, though, and buyers and investors need to take the same into account. It could get a bit complicated considering there could be liabilities on rental income, interests, etc. Understanding the limitations and specific rules to buy a property in UAE is crucial. Plus, investing in properties in the UAE can make them eligible for UAE long-term residency visas, with certain restrictions, though. For example, the property must be owned for a minimum of three years, and the investment should be of at least AED 5M (gross). There are many other aspects too.
It is, therefore, best to first consult with a reputed law firm to make well-informed decisions. It could be about investing in a property or protecting your investment in the UAE. If you are keen to invest in real estate in Dubai, Sharjah, or Abu Dhabi, contact us for correct and holistic advice.