Purchasing Residential Real Estate in the UAE: What Are Freehold Properties?

Purchasing Residential Real Estate in the UAE: What Are Freehold Properties?

The real estate market in the United Arab Emirates opened for international buyers just 20 years ago, with the authorities of the emirate of Dubai taking the lead. They initially allowed citizens of other countries to acquire properties with full ownership, but only in specific designated areas. As time passed, the list of such zones expanded, and today, in Dubai alone, there are over 70 districts included on that list. 

The History of Freehold Property in Dubai

In May 2002, a decree issued by His Highness Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the then Crown Prince of the emirate and the Minister of Defense, marked a significant milestone in the real estate market. This decree enabled foreigners to purchase real estate in specific territories. Consequently, properties situated in these designated areas acquired the Freehold property status, granting buyers the right to hold them under full ownership, a privilege that was previously unavailable to non-citizens.

The results were evident in no time: a significant influx of foreign funds began pouring into the country. The decision to permit foreign citizens to purchase real estate and secure their assets in a tax-friendly environment triggered a construction boom, with numerous ambitious projects taking shape across the UAE. The unwavering confidence in the Dubai market was exemplified in 2006 when the first set of legal documents arrived, formalizing the status of foreign property owners and their properties. By that time, approximately 20,000 units of residential realty had already been purchased at various stages of construction, further highlighting the remarkable growth and appeal of the real estate market in the UAE.

The emirate's Law №7, titled "Concerning Land Registration in the Emirate of Dubai," which officially sanctioned the 2002 decree, was published on March 13, 2006. This pivotal legislation sparked a surge in real estate prices and attracted a wave of new buyers to the market. According to this document, citizens of the UAE and the Persian Gulf countries have the privilege to purchase real estate under full ownership (freehold properties) or obtain a lease for 99 years (leasehold) in any location within the Emirate of Dubai. For non-citizens of the UAE or the Persian Gulf countries, the law grants the right to buy both freehold and leasehold properties but only in specific designated territories.

Freehold is the most transparent form of real estate ownership, applicable to land plots, houses, or apartments. Properties with this status offer various advantages, including the ability to sell, gift, use as collateral for a loan, or bequeath to heirs. This type of ownership entails certain obligations: you are responsible for ensuring proper maintenance of the plot and any structures built on it, as well as paying the utility bills and other related expenses.

For reference, in the case of apartments, the closest equivalent to freehold ownership would be commonhold. This type of ownership grants the same rights to the owner, but with the distinction that the maintenance of the building and the management of common areas are typically handled by the local homeowner association.

From Dubai to Abu Dhabi

Following the pattern set forth by Dubai, Abu Dhabi also granted foreigners the opportunity to buy properties. However, this significant step took approximately 15 years to be implemented.

Abu Dhabi also has Freehold areas, albeit to a lesser extent than Dubai. Non-residents were granted access to this market in 2005, but for a considerable period, foreign investors could only obtain leasehold contracts with a duration of up to 99 years. However, on April 17, 2019, the government of Abu Dhabi introduced changes to their real estate legislation, enabling citizens of other countries to own properties in specific areas with the aim of boosting direct investments. At the moment, there are 17 freehold zones in Abu Dhabi.

Six Senses Residences (Housearch)

The number of freehold areas in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi continues to grow steadily. While there is considerable demand from UAE and Persian Gulf citizens, it is not sufficient to cover the entire supply. On the other hand, international buyers have the capacity to fulfill this demand, but their preferences are largely focused on properties that offer full ownership rights. Due to the strong interest from international investors in properties with complete ownership, the list of areas where foreign buyers can acquire real estate with full ownership rights continues to expand each year.

Where to Buy Freehold Property in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

Given that the local real estate market in Abu Dhabi is relatively young, there are not many Freehold territories available at present. Therefore, we will focus on discussing the largest and most popular Freehold areas in the emirate, which include: 

Yas Island stands as one of the most popular Freehold zones in Abu Dhabi. Renowned as the city's entertainment hub, it boasts prominent landmarks like Yas Marina, Yas Bay, the Yas Mall, Ferrari World, and the Warner Bros Studio. The area is surrounded by well-designed golf courses, offering a plethora of dining options and luxury hotels. Residential property on Yas Island comprises a mix of relatively affordable apartment complexes and upscale villas, catering to diverse housing preferences. Beyond its entertainment and leisure offerings, Yas Island's strategic location in close proximity to the Abu Dhabi – Dubai highway enhances its attractiveness as an investment opportunity.

The pricing in this area spans from 630 thousand AED ($171 thousand) for a studio apartment to 2 million AED ($544,000) for a 3-bedroom apartment. For villas, the cost ranges from 4.4 million AED ($1.2 million) for a 3-bedroom villa up to 9.2 million AED ($2.5 million) for a 6-bedroom villa.

Saadiyat Island is an upscale and rapidly developing district, featuring a host of world-class attractions, including museums, golf courses, stunning beaches, and an array of fine dining restaurants. Access to Abu Dhabi's city center is conveniently facilitated via the Abu Dhabi – Al Falah road, making it easy for residents and visitors to commute to and from this prestigious island location.

Prices in this area range from 633 thousand AED ($172 thousand) for a studio apartment to 4.4 million AED ($1.2 million) for a 3-bedroom apartment. Villas are available at costs ranging from 6.1 million AED ($1.6 million) to 23 million AED ($6.2 million).

Al Reef, a development by Manazel Real Estate, enjoys a strategic location in close proximity to the Abu Dhabi International Airport, as well as the renowned areas of Al Raha and Yas Island. Additionally, it benefits from easy access to the Abu Dhabi – Ghuwaifat road, enhancing its connectivity to key destinations. One of the appealing features of Al Reef is its relatively affordable pricing compared to other Freehold areas. The range of prices for properties in this complex is as follows: apartments are available from 490 thousand AED ($133.4 thousand) to 1 million AED ($272.2 thousand), while villas are priced from 1.5 million AED ($408.3 thousand) to 2.5 million AED ($680.6 thousand).

Al Reem stands as one of the most sought-after districts in Abu Dhabi, renowned for its luxurious high-rise buildings and apartments along the coast. The pricing for apartments in this esteemed area ranges from 563 thousand AED ($153.2 thousand) to 1.9 million AED ($517.3 thousand).

Al Raha Beach is a highly sought-after district for young professionals looking to invest in beach access apartments. The area boasts proximity to educational institutions and shopping centers, enhancing its appeal to residents seeking convenience and amenities. The pricing for apartments in this vibrant neighborhood ranges from 945 thousand AED ($257.2 thousand) to 2.5 million AED ($680.6 thousand).

Masdar City, a development by Masdar, a subsidiary company of Mubadala Investment Group, has recently obtained the Freehold status, making it an enticing prospect for property buyers. It is situated near the Abu Dhabi International Airport and sought-after residential areas like Khalifa City and Al Raha Beach. The pricing for apartments in this development ranges from 527 thousand AED ($143.4 thousand) to 2.2 million AED ($598.9 thousand).

Masdar City. Photo: Claudio Napoli (Flickr)

Al Maryah is a renowned and prestigious waterfront area known for its luxurious high-rise apartment complexes. Positioned near Al Reem Island, it benefits from a well-developed transportation infrastructure that enables its residents to commute quickly and conveniently to Abu Dhabi and surrounding areas. The pricing for apartments in this upscale neighborhood ranges from 498 thousand AED ($135.5 thousand) to 1.5 million AED ($408.3 thousand).

Nurai Island is undeniably the most luxurious and high-end Freehold area in Abu Dhabi. This exclusive island enclave offers residents complete privacy and captivating views of the mesmerizing lagoon. Access to the island is available by boat or ferry from Saadiyat Island, with a short and scenic journey of approximately 10 minutes. As expected, such opulence comes with a price, and the average cost of a 4-bedroom villa on Nurai Island is approximately 21 million AED ($5.7 million). For those seeking an even grander residence, a 6-bedroom villa will fetch up to 46 million AED ($12.5 million).

Al Shamkha, another highly sought-after district in Abu Dhabi, is positioned on the city's outskirts, offering its residents a tranquil and idyllic suburban lifestyle. The area boasts easy access to essential amenities, with supermarkets, schools, and clinics conveniently located in the vicinity. The average price for a 6-bedroom villa in Al Shamkha is approximately 4.8 million AED ($1.3 million).

Al Raha Gardens’ villas are quite popular among family buyers due to the area's abundance of parks, recreational centers, shopping malls, and excellent schools. On average, 3-bedroom villas in this neighborhood are priced at approximately 2.6 million AED ($707.8 thousand), while 4-bedroom and 5-bedroom villas command higher prices at around 3.1 million AED ($844 thousand) and 3.9 million AED ($1.1 million) respectively.

Residential complex Bvlgari Resort & Residences (Houserach)


Dubai offers a diverse and extensive selection of freehold areas, making the choice much richer for property buyers. These freehold areas are officially listed in the decree of the Emir of Dubai and encompass a wide range of prestigious locations, including iconic districts like Palm Jumeirah, the bustling city center, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Emirates Hills, and other world-famous areas. Currently, there are over 70 freehold areas in Dubai, and the list continues to expand, presenting numerous investment opportunities and residential choices for buyers.

A Complete List of Dubai’s Freehold Zones 

  • Business Bay
  • Discovery Gardens
  • Down Town
  • Dubai Festival City - Badia Phase 1 & 2
  • Dubai Festival City - Hillside
  • Dubai Festival City - Marsa
  • Dubai Investment Park
  • Dubai Marina
  • Dubai Silicon Oasis
  • Dubai Sport City
  • Green Community DIP
  • Greens
  • IMPZ (Int. Media Produc. Zone)
  • International City
  • International City CBD
  • JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence)
  • JLT (Jumeirah Lake Towers)
  • Jumeirah Village
  • Jumeirah Village (Triangle)
  • Layan Community
  • Old Town
  • Palm Jumeirah
  • Barsha Heights (Tecom)
  • The Lakes
  • Ibn Battuta Gate
  • Jumeirah Village (Circle)
  • Sky Court Tower – Dubai land 
  • The Views
  • Burj Khalifa Tower
  • Remraam
  • Jumeirah Heights
  • Green Community Motor City
  • Arjaan
  • Masakin Al Furjan
  • Dubai Outsource Zone
  • Up Town Motor City
  • Warsan Fourth
  • DIFC-Sky Gardens
  • DIFC-Park Tower
  • Ritaj Project - DIP
  • Queue Point (Dubai Land)
  • Ewan Project - DIP
  • Wadi Al Safa 3 
  • Project (Golden Mile Palm Jumeirah)
  • Dubai Residence Complex - Dubai Land
  • Dubai Festival City - Badia Phase 3
  • City Walk
  • Dubai Culture Village
  • Badrah Project 
  • Al Waha Project 
  • Damac Hills
  • The Polo Residence (Meydan)
  • Palazzo Versace
  • D1 Tower
  • Dubai Studio City 
  • Legends
  • Town Square
  • Al Barari
  • Arabian Ranches 1
  • Falcon City
  • Jumeirah Islands
  • Meadows
  • Springs
  • The Villa (Dubai Land)
  • Emirates Hills
  • Jumeirah Park
  • Al Furjan
  • Jebel Ali Village
  • Jumeirah Golf Estate
  • Mudon Projec
  • Arabian Ranches 2
  • Project (Dubai Sustainable City)
  • Project (Mira)
  • Warsan Village
  • Veneto Project
  • Al Thanyah First

The most interesting Freehold properties in Dubai are located in the following districts:

Arjan is one of the most recent Freehold areas in Dubai. This territory includes several apartment complexes some of which are still under construction. Studio apartment prices start at 305 thousand AED ($83 thousand) and those for 2-bedroom apartments start at 699 thousand AED ($190 thousand).

Barsha Heights. The real estate prices in this district start at 400 thousand AED ($108.9 thousand).

Bluewater Island is another popular new district located near the Dubai Ferris wheel. The properties here are on the more expensive side with prices starting at 1.4 million AED ($381.1 thousand).

Bluewaters Island. Photo: Singh Walia (Pexels)

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