United Arab Emirates travel guide
The United Arab Emirates on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is a bit of an anathema in the Middle East. This union of seven sovereign sheikhdoms was formed when the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1971, and today it is a modern, trend-setting conglomeration of high-rise cities with state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, magnificent beaches and a paradise of duty free shopping. Unlike other Arab states the UAE actually courts and encourages tourists, constantly adding and upgrading events and attractions to complement its renown as the shopping capital of the world.
The sun always shines on the UAE and its gleaming cities, the most popular of which is cosmopolitan, wealthy Dubai, which is characterised by a ten-mile long (16km) deep creek that forms a natural harbour. In Dubai resides the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, which makes the city a must for shop-a-holics. A major attraction is the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and one of the most modern cities in the world. Visitors revel in large gardens and parks, green boulevards, sophisticated high-rise buildings, modern communication services and transport, international luxury hotels, rich shopping malls and cultural centres. The city's airport ranks as one of the finest in the world.
Just in case travellers forget they are actually in Arabia, the UAE also offers a host of experiences and attractions that utilise its historic Bedouin heritage, including camel treks, henna tattoos, desert stargazing, 4x4 trips through sand dunes and cruises aboard a dhow. Hundreds of tour companies offer a variety of excursions and adventure packages to suit all tastes and persuasions.
The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. There are no currency regulations in the UAE and all major currencies are readily exchanged at banks and large hotels. The Dirham is fixed against the US Dollar. The best exchange rates are found at private moneychangers who operate throughout the territory, particularly in the more popular souks (markets) and shopping centres. Most major credit cards are accepted. ATMs are common throughout the UAE. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 3pm, but some are also open until 8.30pm, after a midday break.
Language : Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.
Electricity : Electrical current is 220/240 volts, 50Hz. The most frequently used plugs are the round two-pin type.
Entry Requirements :
United States citizens require a visa, which can be obtained on arrival for a stay of up to 30 days. A further 30-day extension is possible at a fee of AED 600.
Passports endorsed British Citizen, British Overseas Territories Citizen or British Subject (which also contain a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom) will be granted a 30-day visit visa on arrival in the UAE. All other British passports must hold a visa. 30-day visa extensions are available at a cost of AED 600.
Canadians require a visa to enter the United Arab Emirates; visas can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days, and visa extensions for a further 30 days can be arranged for AED 600.
Australian nationals may stay in the UAE for up to 30 days with a visit visa, which can be obtained on arrival. An extension of a further 30 days is possible at a fee of AED 600.
South Africans need a pre-arranged visa to enter the Arab Emirates. Visas can be issued on arrival if you carry proof of pre-arrangement.
Irish nationals can obtain the required visa on arrival for a stay of up to 30 days. An extension of another 30 days is possible for a fee of AED 600.
New Zealand nationals require a visa, which can be obtained on arrival for a stay of up to 30 days. A further 30-day extension is possible at a cost of AED 600.
Passport/Visa Note :
All visitors to the United Arab Emirates must hold a passport that is valid for six months. Visitors must hold documents and confirmed tickets for their next destination and have a sponsor in the UAE to cover their stay. Holders of passports containing an Israeli visa or stamps need to obtain a clearance issued by the C.I.D. (Crime Investigation Department) before arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
No vaccinations are required for entry to the UAE, however a certificate is required for cholera and yellow fever if arriving from an affected area. Tap water in the major cities is safe to drink, but elsewhere only bottled water should be drunk. Medical care is excellent in the main cities, but extremely expensive, while medicines and medical care are not always available in the outlying areas. Health insurance is essential; in Abu Dhabi particularly a health insurance law has been implemented that makes it mandatory for all travellers to Abu Dhabi to have health insurance. In general, travellers who require medical treatment will have to cover the cost of any medical fees incurred.
Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10% is adequate and many hotels and restaurants add a service charge, so it is best to check the bill.
Safety Information :
Most visits to the UAE are trouble free. Crime is not a problem, but there is deemed to be a threat of terrorism against Western interests and gathering points, particularly entertainment venues. It is therefore wise to be vigilant when frequenting these. It is also wise to avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. Al Qaeda continues to issue statements threateni
ng to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including references to attack Western interests, such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests.
Local Customs :
The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Some prescribed and over the counter medicines from outside the country may be considered to be a controlled substance within the UAE and will not be allowed into the UAE without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health Drug Control Department (DCD). A passenger arriving with such medication without permission may be subject to prosecution. Dress and behaviour should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women's clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs. Cohabiting, adultery and homosexual behaviour are illegal in the UAE, and it is an offence to swear or make rude gestures, or show a public display of affection. In general, the country has a tolerant approach to Western visitors, but local laws and sensitivities should be respected.
The United Arab Emirates, although a very warm country, requires formal business attire from both men and women. Women should dress conservatively, being careful to cover up as much as possible; it is unlikely that visitors will come into contact with local women in business, as it is an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. Punctuality is not always observed and it is not uncommon to be kept waiting on occasion, and with interruptions in meetings quite prevalent, patience is expected.
The Arabic greeting of 'Salaam Aleikum' is advisable instead of 'Hello' and politeness helps to build strong relationships. Shaking hands is common, but men should only shake the hand of a woman after she offers it, otherwise a simple bow of the head will suffice. Often agreements are verbal and will be acted upon. Dates in documents should be detailed in both Gregorian dates and the Hijrah date. Gifts are appreciated but not necessary, however be sure to avoid anything involving alcohol or pig-related products, as the UAE is a Muslim country. Friday is the day of rest and most likely very little business will occur on this day. General business hours are 9am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday. During the holy month of Ramadan businesses may halt in the middle of the day and only continue after the fast has been broken in the evening.
The International code for the United Arab Emirates is +971. Local mobile phone networks provide wide GSM coverage throughout the country. Guest starter packs, including a SIM card and credit, can be bought on arrival at the airport, providing three months of cellular access. Internet cafes are widely available, and most hotels have high speed internet access. The internet is censored to filter out any material and websites deemed undesirable by the authorities.
Duty Free :
Visitors to the UAE do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes, cigars to a maximum value of 3,000 dirhams and 2kg tobacco; and perfume for personal use to the value of 3,000 dirhams. Alcohol allowances vary. Dubai: 24 cans of beer or 4 litres of any other alcohol; Abu Dhabi and Fujairah: 4 litres of alcohol provided traveller is not Muslim; Sharjah: 2 litres of alcohol and 1 case beer. Fruit and vegetables from cholera infected areas are strictly prohibited.
Dubai International Airport
Location: The airport is three miles (5km) from Dubai city centre and 105 miles (170km) from Abu Dhabi.
Time: GMT +4.
Contacts: Tel: +971 4 216 2525 or 224 5555.
Transfer between terminals: There is a 24-hour airport shuttle service available between Terminal 1, 2 and 3.
Getting to the city: Dubai Metro runs two air-conditioned train lines roughly every 10 minutes from Terminals 1 and 3 to many major stops in the city. The service runs daily from 5.30am to midnight, excluding Friday mornings when service starts at 1pm. Dubai International Airport Buses and public buses leave regularly for the city centre; the bus stations are located opposite the terminals. The bus routes are extensive and may be confusing for new travellers. Tickets must be bought in advance as bus drivers do sell tickets.
Car rental: There are car rental firms available in the Arrivals Hall, such as Hertz, Europcar, Avis and Thrifty, among others.
Airport Taxis: Dubai Transport Taxis are available 24-hours a day at the Arrivals Terminal. A taxi from Dubai International Airport to the centre of Dubai will start at around AED 20 and cost up to AED 100 to the farthest parts of the city. You can spot Dubai Transport Corporation cabs by their cream colour. Those with a pink trim have female drivers.
Facilities: Facilities at the airport include the renowned Dubai Duty Free, a food court, banking, bureaux de change, free internet services, entertainment for children, business facilities, medical care, special needs assistance, an airport hotel, post office and lounges. Passengers can also use the swimming pool, Jacuzzi and gymnasium, charged on an hourly basis.
Parking: There are short and long-term parking options near all the terminals. Short-term parking is near the terminals and allows up to five hours' parking, while long-term parking is farther away.
Departure tax: None.
Abu Dhabi International Airport
Location: The airport is 20 miles (32km) east of Abu Dhabi.
Time: GMT +4.
Contacts: (0)2 575 7500 (Main switchboard).
Transfer between terminals: Abu Dhabi Airport has a city terminal where passengers can check in up to 12 hours before a flight, and then be shuttled to the actual airport. The three terminals at the airport are within walking distance of each other.
Getting to the city: The green and white A1 bus goes to the city and stops outside Arrivals at Terminals 1 and 2. It departs every 40 minutes, 24-hours a day, and a single ticket costs AED 4. Travel time to the city is approximately 40 minutes according to traffic. Alternatively, CityHoppa runs shuttle vans and private cars from the airport to Abu Dhabi city centre.
Car rental: Car rental companies represented at the airport include Thrifty, Avis, Budget and Europcar.
Airport Taxis: Metered airport taxis are readily available outside the arrivals hall and trips to the city centre cost around AED 75. The journey to Abu Dhabi takes approximately 30-35 minutes.
Facilities: The City Terminal offers a business centre with internet access, showers, ATMs, a duty-free shop, restaurants, and a VIP lounge. Facilities at the airport itself include duty-free shops, a meet and assist service, a VIP lounge, pharmacy, medical service, ATMs, bureaux de change, restaurants and cafés, a business centre and post office.
Parking: There are many parking options at Abu Dhabi International Airport: short-term parking is conveniently located near the terminal and costs AED 20 per hour; daily parking is available for rates ranging from AED 800 for four days to AED 1,200 for a week; and long-term parking is charged at AED 120 per day (the long-term lot, which is further away, is serviced by free shuttles to the terminals).
Departure tax: AED 30.
Al Ain International Airport
Location: 8 miles (18km) northwest of Al Ain
Parking: There is free parking located across the road from the terminal.
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, the UAE has a sub-tropical arid climate and is warm and sunny in winter, but hot and humid during the summer months. The humidity is particularly high in the coastal areas. Rainfall is virtually non-existent, with occasional short showers occurring mainly in winter (December to March). Localised thunderstorms sometimes occur in summer.
Dubai Department of Tourism: +971 4 223 0000 or
United States Embassy, Dubai: +971 (0)4 311 6000.
British Embassy, Dubai: +971 4 309 4444.
Canadian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 694 0300.
Australian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 4017 500.
South African Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 447 3446.
Irish Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 495 8200.
New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for the United Arab Emirates): +966 1 488 7988.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Washington DC, United
States: +1 202 243 2400.
Foreign Embassies in United_Arab_Emirates
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7581 1281.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 565 7272.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 8802.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 7736.
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