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United Arab Emirates

While the United Arab Emirates these days appears to be little more than a stage for Dubai to strut its increasingly crazy stuff, there's far more to this fabulous little federation than Disney-esque dioramas.

The UAE is a contradictory destination, an Islamic state where the DJs' turntables stop spinning just before the muezzins' morning call to prayer can be heard, and where traditional Bedouin lifestyles and customs continue alongside a very Western version of rampant consumerism.

Soak up the atmosphere of the heritage areas or the magnificent mountain scenery of Hatta, haggle over souvenirs in the souqs of Sharjah, head out to Abu Dhabi's desert sands for a camel ride under a star-filled sky, or dive the coral-filled waters of the Gulf (the beaches near Ras Al-Khaimah are as unspoilt as you'll anywhere in the region). Or simply mix up a blend of everything; after all, that's what makes the UAE unique.

  • Carrying Visa is safer than carrying cash - if a Visa card is lost or stolen it can be blocked and replaced, while cash is gone forever.
  • Using your Visa Debit card to withdraw cash while abroad is similar to getting cash at home - you access your own money and don't have to pay interest charges.
  • You can tip using your Visa card - just clearly distinguish the tip amount you want the restaurateur to bill to your card on your sales invoice.
  • Premium cards such as Visa Platinum and Visa Infinite cards have extensive benefits, such as purchase protection insurance. Check with your bank on what cover you're eligible for.
  • In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement within 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
  • When you purchase something while abroad, you'll usually get a better exchange rate if you're billed in the local currency, rather than your home currency.
  • Car rental companies often prefer credit cards over debit cards because they need to pre-authorise the amount for the rental.
  • Visa money tips

    • 1: Before you leave, note down the number of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS), a global support network for cardholders that's available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Cardholders can call GCAS free from anywhere in the world. In the UAE, you can call 8000-121-866-654-0112. If you experience difficulties using these numbers, please call collect at +1-303-967-1096.
    • 2: Before leaving check the expiry date on your Visa card and let your bank know you'll be using your card abroad.
    • 3: Withdrawing cash from an ATM in another country is exactly the same as it is at home - you use the same card and PIN - but the machine will dispense local currency. To find your nearest ATM while abroad, use the ATM locator at www.visa.com.
    • 4: Visa cards are a global currency, so it doesn't matter if you have a chip-based or a magnetic stripe card - you can use it anywhere. If you are using your chip card while abroad, you may be asked to provide a signature instead of a PIN.
    • 5: Visa is committed to providing cardholders with a safe, convenient and cost-effective way to pay when travelling internationally. To see the competitive rate you may receive when using your Visa card abroad, use the Visa exchange rate converter.
    • 6: While travelling, it's a good idea to have a mix of cash and cards available - that way you'll have something to fall back on in the case of an emergency. For safety, don't keep them all in the same place.
    • 7: Credit cards are a great way to pay for larger expense items like your hotel accommodation or car hire. Just remember that in many hotels the amount will be taken off your daily spending limit, which may impact how much of your limit is left for other purchases.
    • 8: Before you leave, check whether your Visa cards are subject to any daily spending or withdrawal restrictions while you are abroad. Also make sure you have enough funds in your account and that your card payments are up to date.
  • Articles

    A local's guide to Abu Dhabi

    Cruise in a Ferrari at the world's largest indoor theme park, visit a six-star hotel or eat your own weight in gold covered chocolate - do it all on this two-day tour of Abu Dhabi.

    Read more

    Shop till you drop in the UAE

    Authentic wooden latticed souqs, world-famous gold bazaars and record-breaking malls housing every brand you can point a credit card at. Discover the spender's paradise that is the UAE.

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    Eat your way around the world in Dubai

    Dubai has become a food lover's paradise with restaurants from Michelin-starred chefs and cuisines from all over the world. Arm yourself with an empty stomach and take this top 10 tour of Dubai's finest foodie spots.

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  • Itineraries

    Once around the UAE

    2 weeks

    Discover the Bedouin head behind the modern fa├žade in this 1500km, two-week circuit through the Emirates. This is one country where you can enjoy the sublime to the ridiculous (top dollar chic and shared loo camp sites - or vice versa) within 24 hours.

    Read more

    The tower tour: Oman & UAE

    3 weeks

    Travel through time on this 3000km, three-week route around the eastern rim of the Arabian Peninsula. Towers are the theme, from UAE's glass-and-steel tower blocks, to Oman's crenulated watchtowers. If time and security allows, add in a trip to Shibam, Yemen's 'Manhattan of the Desert'.

    Read more

    Pan-peninsula: six countries, six weeks

    6 weeks

    Trace the social history of the Peninsula from Yemen to Kuwait on an epic 5000km, six-week journey, focusing on the region's highlights. If you're lucky enough to get a Saudi visa, continue overland from Kuwait to Riyadh for a 'seven countries in seven weeks' experience.

    Read more

Ask an expert

Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to United Arab Emirates and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at questions-visa-anywhere@lonelyplanet.com.

Q: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in the UAE?

A: [Visa expert] Yes. The UAE is well and truly a card-carrying society. Visa and other globally recognised cards are widely accepted, for everything from hostel beds and restaurant meals to adventure tours, and a credit card is pretty much essential (in lieu of a large deposit) if you want to hire a car. They can also be used to get cash advances over the counter at banks and from many ATMs, depending on the card, but be aware that these incur immediate interest.

Q: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?

A: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.

Q: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?

A: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide - just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.

Q: What is acceptable for visitors to wear?

A: [Lonely Planet expert] Both male and female visitors should dress modestly whenever possible. As a rule of thumb, try to cover legs, arms and shoulders. Women do not need to wear a headscarf but it is advised that they wear loose, baggy clothing, especially when visiting religious sites. Topless bathing at the beach is strictly forbidden.

Q: What languages are spoken in the UAE?

A: [Lonely Planet expert] While Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, English is widely-spoken everywhere.

Q: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm traveling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?

A: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre - the number is usually on the back of your card.

Q: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?

A: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the Visa exchange rate calculator. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers' cheques. Visa cards are no exception.

Q: Is the UAE a dangerous country to visit?

A: [Lonely Planet expert] No. It is very safe and petty crime is virtually unheard of. The biggest danger to visitors is the heat. With temperatures reaching as high as the late 40s, sunburn and dehydration are common problems and it is advisable to cover up between 11am and 3pm during the summer months.

Q: What do I do if I lose my card?

A: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).

Q: Is public affection frowned upon?

A: [Lonely Planet expert] Yes - public affection is strictly scrutinised so should be avoided at all costs. Holding hands or kissing in public is a very, very bad idea.

Q: Is it possible to buy alcohol?

A: [Lonely Planet expert] Yes, but only in four and five-star hotels and in certain specially located restaurants. There are numerous bars and clubs in the UAE but alcohol is expensive - compared to Europe - and can only be consumed and bought in premises where it is sold. Though there are a number of low-key off-licenses, these are for residents only and identification is required.

Q: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?

A: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant - not Visa or your issuing bank - is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to this do this if you think you are getting a good deal.

Show more questions

Calendar

  1. Jan Dubai Marathon

    Equipped with a prize fund of a million dollars, the Dubai Marathon attracts the biggest names in long-distance running. For the opportunity to compete with them over 26 miles, you have to register by the end of the previous year. Less energetic types can enter a 10km run or a 4km 'fun run'. http://www.dubaimarathon.org/

  2. Jan Dubai Shopping Festival

    December to early February

    The annual instalment of DSF, with significant discounts (up to 50%) offered in shops throughout the city and events galore, including a multicultural 'Global Village' featuring national pavilions and cultural events attracts millions of tourists each year. http://www.dubaishoppingfestival.com/

  3. Feb Dubai International Jazz Festival

    Held in the week following the Shopping Festival, this increasingly popular event is staged at Dubai Media City over three nights. While the mainstream is well catered for, jazz purists may sneer at the choice of performers, with recent headliners including Toto, ELO and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp. http://www.dubaijazzfest.com/

  4. Feb Dubai Tennis Championships

    February and March

    The championships consist of a Women's Tennis Association (WTA) event followed by an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) event. It's a great opportunity to see some of the best players in the world in a relatively small stadium. Ticket prices - especially for the earlier rounds - offer great value for money. http://www.dubaitennischampionships.com/

  5. Mar Dubai Desert Rock

    Dubai's surprisingly large contingent of Goths can be spotted nervously adjusting to sunlight in the mosh-pits of this annual live rock music event. In recent years, headliners of the two-day festival have included Iron Maiden, Robert Plant, Megadeth and Muse. http://www.desertrockfestival.com/

  6. Mar Dubai World Cup

    February through March

    The Dubai International Racing Carnival, running from February through to the end of March, culminates in the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race and the city's biggest social event. While there's no betting, many of Dubai's society women take a punt in wearing some of the silliest hats this side of the Melbourne Cup. http://www.dubaiworldcup.com/

  7. Jul Dubai Summer Surprises

    July/August

    Perhaps the most surprising thing about DSS, DSF's more family-focused little sibling, is that it manages to attract any visitors at all. It takes place, after all, at the sweaty height of the sweltering summer. But a combination of free kids' entertainment, sales in shopping malls, and Modhesh, a springy yellow mascot, draws in plenty of tourists from other Gulf nations.

  8. Oct UAE Desert Challenge

    This desert rally, the final race of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, starts in Abu Dhabi and finishes in Dubai. It's held over five days, takes in some challenging terrain, and attracts car, truck and motorbike riders. http://www.uaedesertchallenge.com/

  9. Oct Desert Rhythm Festival

    Following the success of the second instalment of Desert Rhythm in 2007, at which Kanye West, Mika, Joss Stone and Madness made their UAE debuts, watch this two-day music festival go from strength to strength. http://www.desertrhythmfestival.com/

  10. Nov Dubai Rugby Sevens

    Featuring 16 international squads, a huge number of amateur teams and live entertainment over three days. While England and Australia receive plenty of support from the mainly expatriate crowd, the Arabian Gulf team, consisting of players from six countries, get the biggest cheers of the day. http://www.dubairugby7s.com/

  11. Nov Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

    November

    Abu Dhabi decided to stage a Formula One (F1) festival in early 2007. Subsequently, a seven-year contract was inked for the city to host a F1 Grand Prix, starting in 2009. The 5.6km circuit on man-made Yas Island, close to Abu Dhabi International Airport, also hosts a Ferrari theme park, as well as the obligatory golf courses.

  12. Dec Dubai International Film Festival

    Independent and art-house cinema is thin on the ground in Dubai, making this the cultural highlight of the year for the city's cinephiles. With a mission to bridge cultures and open minds, DIFF provides a wonderful opportunity to see quality films from around the Middle East and good world cinema. http://www.dubaifilmfest.com/

Jan Feb

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Visa has had no inappropriate influence over its content. The views expressed are those of Lonely Planet, told without fear or favour.

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