The UAE has recently, for the first time, started awarding passports to expatriates. Among those first in line to be awarded UAE passports are a former Real Madrid soccer player and a number of tech and aviation executives.

This is a significant development for the UAE. Not only will it attract larger numbers of wealthy individuals, but it will likely lead to greater numbers of Single Family Offices and businesses being established in the UAE. The promise of permanence will encourage many individuals to lay down deeper roots in the UAE.

A potential consequence of establishing deeper roots is that UK expatriates in the UAE will now have the ability to claim to have acquired a UAE domicile. In a piece I wrote back in September 2020 (viewable here), I speculated whether the introduction of a Retirement Visa in the UAE opened up the door to UAE domicile. However, any lingering doubt over whether expats can acquire a UAE domicile of choice (as it is understood under English law) appears to have evaporated with the government's decision to award passports. Expats can now remain in the UAE for the rest of their days.

The establishment of a UAE domicile may have succession planning and divorce implications for expats from around the world. In addition, UK expats in the UAE will have a particular interest in the acquisition of a UAE domicile, as that could open up wide ranging tax planning opportunities, especially in the context of UK inheritance tax.

That said, the acquisition of a non-UK domicile of choice can be very difficult, as a domicile of origin (that acquired at birth, usually from one's father) is notoriously tenacious. Acquiring a UAE passport will not of itself mean an individual has acquired a UAE domicile of choice. Rather, it may be one of a number of factors that provide evidence that an individual has formed the intention to reside in the UAE permanently or indefinitely, which is the threshold that must be satisfied to establish a non-UK domicile. Thus there is unlikely to be a flood of new UAE domiciliaries, but the significance of the passport development is that it opens the door to the possibility of acquiring a UAE domicile, which was previously not a realistic option.

Of course, before taking any action, British expats applying for passports should take legal advice to ascertain their domicile position.