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Going Postal in Dubai

Old Emirates mailbox Dubai has no zip codes, no door-to-door postal service, and Dubai residents do not use street names or numbered addresses when giving directions. Not surprisingly, UAE addresses cannot be automatically geocoded.

Historically, Dubai has used descriptive addresses which include directions based on points of reference. Parcel deliveries, from neighborhood shops, local courier services, and even FedEx, all rely on an included description. (This, along with the lack of a zip code, often proves confusing to someone mailing from the U.S. for the first time.)

With no door-to-door mail delivery available, residents have long relied on P.O. boxes. People pay for a box at the post office and make the trip to pick up their mail on their own schedule.

Recently the Postal Service started delivering mail to clusters of P.O. Boxes at villas or apartment buildings. Residents pay for the service and select how often they want mail delivered to the box.

Change is coming in the form of a new integrated addressing system to be rolled out over the next five years. Dubai is being divided into sectors, streets are being renamed, and buildings are being assigned numbers. In addition to simplifying deliveries, the integrated system will benefit emergency services which are often delayed due to many duplicate addresses.

Meanwhile there are numerous courier services that handle B-to-B express delivery and other door-to-door services. And Emirates Post Group is vying for a higher share of international parcel handling in 2014. Having formed a strategic partnership with Emirates Airline, they now offer lower rates and quicker deliveries to better satisfy ex-pat demand.

The Land of "est"

But Dubai is the land of “est” – biggest, tallest, fastest. So an announcement in February of 2014 was more in keeping with Dubai’s well-known love of flamboyance and high-tech gadgetry. The UAE revealed plans to use drones to deliver the mail. Well, SOME of the mail – the initial focus would be on time-sensitive, official government documents.

The quadcopters, equipped with GPS, fly by means of four rotors and can carry over 3 lbs in weight. The drones use fingerprint and retinal-scanning technology to identify the recipient and release the mail upon positive ID.

If the notion sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Amazon’s delivery drones. Amazon however, must wait for the FAA to develop guidelines for commercials drones, and the FAA is already behind schedule. With no such regulations to wrangle, Dubai may have their program in place by the end of 2014 – beating Amazon to the skies, and becoming the firstest country with such a service.