Project licensing

What licensing requirements and procedures apply to construction projects in your jurisdiction (eg, planning consents)?

Construction projects require a construction permit from the municipality and ‘no objection’ certificates (NOC) and approvals from relevant authorities, including the relevant electricity and water authority and the roads and transport authorities. In specific circumstances, projects require additional approvals (eg, in major developments the NOC of the master developer is required).

The relevant departments will review and approve the drawings, designs and certificate of compliance with safety requirements, among other things. The departments routinely conduct inspections to ensure that the contractor continues to adhere to their rules and regulations. 

Professional licensing and qualification

What licensing requirements and procedures apply to construction professionals, including any required qualifications?

In the United Arab Emirates, construction falls within the category of commercial activities, for which one must obtain a commercial licence. In order to operate in the country, all businesses must hold a licence issued by the Department of Economic Development (DED) or a specific free zone authority.

At the time of obtaining a licence from the DED, the contractor will apply for approval in a certain category from the relevant municipality, which will review the application and give its permission to the DED (categories can range from a simple contractor licence to complex and high-rise tower and infrastructure approvals). The contractor may apply for more categories at a later stage. The contractor will also need to register with other relevant departments (eg, the water and electricity authorities) if it wishes to perform certain works.

As for consultant practices, the rules require that any owner of a consultancy be an engineer and a UAE national. Claims assessors and experts not involved with the courts need not be UAE nationals, although experts that are registered with the courts must be both UAE nationals and engineers. 

Do any special rules and restrictions apply to foreign construction professionals?

No specific rules or regulations apply to foreign construction professionals in the United Arab Emirates. A foreign company which intends to set up a branch in the mainland United Arab Emirates must obtain approval from the DED. Similarly, if a free zone permits incorporation of a construction company as a branch of a foreign company, the approval of the specific free zone entity is required.

Foreigners intending to work in the construction industry must obtain the approval of the Ministry of Labour and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigner Affairs.