Video: Inside Emirates Post sorting facility in Dubai

Photos by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times
Photos by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times

Dubai - Every year, Emirates Post processes more than 40 million items received at two sorting centers in the UAE.

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Nilanjana Gupta

Published: Tue 10 Sep 2019, 10:46 AM

Last updated: Fri 16 Dec 2022, 9:54 AM

Signed, sealed and delivered - sending a mail to the UAE isn't as direct as it sounds. If you have ever sent an item to the country, there's an elaborate process that you probably didn't think about.

Emirates Post is the official postal operator for the UAE that was established 110 years ago. Every year, it processes more than 40 million items received at two sorting centers in the UAE - one in Dubai and the other in Abu Dhabi. On an average that's about 2.5 to 3 million mails per month and 135,000 mails per day. During peak seasons such as the holy month of Ramadan, and the end of the year festive season, the volume of mails can go up by 20%. A total of 1,100 employees work in the mail and courier teams.

Stephen Stanton, Senior Executive Director, Mail Operations at Emirates Post takes us behind-the-scenes to explore their sorting facility in Dubai's Garhoud area.

Vehicle arrival

The initial point for receiving inbound international mail is at the airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where the mails are received from the airlines and processed by the security. Following that, the mails arrive early morning to the sorting centre in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in sealed trucks. Then they are offloaded into a secure customs area and handled by Dubai Customs.

Customs inspection

Every item of inbound international mail is X-rayed by Customs for security and contraband purposes. Following the X-ray inspection, there's a valuation inspection where Customs declare the value of any item that enters into the UAE. A lot of items aren't allowed to enter - including narcotics and articles of offensive nature. Dubai Customs website has a clear list of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable in the UAE.

Customs clearance

Following the customs inspection, if the declared value exceeds the UAE's de minimis, those items are transferred to the customs clearance team. The items that are below the customs de minimis are transferred to their respective sections depending on the product type and service type.

Emirates Post commenced customs clearance operations in 2018 which allows them to complete the customs clearance transaction on behalf of the customer. Any fee, customs duty or associated cost incurred at the time of customs clearance are collected at the time of handing over the item to the end receiver.


When mails are received, they come in bags or bundles and they are usually positioned in a way that's not processable. The staff has to manually place every mail in a configuration that can support the manual sorting process or the machine-readable process. On an average shift, they have between six to eight people manually sorting regular mails everyday.

Machine sorting

There are two machines for sorting regular mails in the Dubai facility and each is capable of sorting upto 29,000 items per hour. After the mail enters the machine, it goes through an X-ray process to check if there's any damaging or contraband item. Subsequent to that, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology is used to read the PO Box number, the name, the emirate and other details on the envelope. If that's successful, a barcode is printed onto the item and the item flows through the sorting process wherein they are machine-read by multiple barcode readers. The mails are then segregated into groups based on their PO Box numbers. In addition to the two sorting machines for regular mails, they have a third machine to handle items that are large in size such as bulk documents and magazines. That machine can handle upto 10,000 items in an hour.

Manual sorting

While most of the mails are sorted by three machines, approximately 15% of the items received each year need to be manually sorted. It's a labour-intensive process as every item has to be read, understood and placed in the appropriate PO Box slot. All the items received at this facility are usually processed within 24 to 48 hours. The mail sorting team works in three shifts from 6am until 3am the following morning, six days a week.

Small packets

Globally, the business of sending letters and postcards has declined with the rise of emails, social media and technology, but for Emirates Post and many other postal services, the future lies in e-commerce. Emirates Post has seen a steady growth in items considered "small packets" in postal terminology. Not only do they have to manually sort these items, they have to also enter their details into the system clearly mentioning the value to declare the value-added tax (VAT).

Large parcels

The final component of processing relates to parcels which need to be handled differently than normal mails. At present, it's a manual sorting process but Emirates Post Group is constantly transforming and looking at ways to automate the sorting of parcels.


Following sortation and processing, all the items are prepared for dispatch. Next destination is post office, home delivery or a business delivery depending on the service offered. There are 11 courier delivery centres supporting the business or residential delivery of mail items. Emirates Post successfully delivers 930 of all correctly addressed items.

Post office

The company operates 103 post offices across the UAE. Incorrect addressing is one of the biggest challenges for Emirates Post. Generally, items with incorrect addressing will be returned to the country of origin. PO Box number is the primary piece of information required for sorting the mail. This should be supported with the street name, the district (if available) and the town or the emirate and the telephone number. Every item that's considered a non-document or merchandise must also have a valuation. Not owning a PO Box or using another person's PO Box can cause a lot of challenges because when Emirates Post receives items they generally contact the PO Box owner to inform them that their items are available. A PO Box can be opened at any of their branches or through their website.

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