Compared to many other Middle Eastern countries, the UAE has come forward leaps and bounds in making facilities more accessibility friendly.
Hotels Many budget, most midrange and all top-end and international-name hotels have rooms fitted out for wheelchair users. Nearly all hotels have elevators.
Access All malls, most restaurants (except for budget places), public buildings and most sights and attractions have access ramps and fitted-out toilet facilities.
Airports Both Abu Dhabi International and Dubai International offer separate check-in gates and meet-and-assist services for travellers with accessibility needs.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Bargaining isn't as much a part of the culture in the UAE as it is elsewhere in the Middle East. Malls and shops are all fixed price. It's only in the souqs where you can try out your bargaining skills.
- Bargaining should be a relaxed, genial affair. Being friendly and chatting with the vendor will get you a better deal. But don't be too enthusiastic about the item you're thinking about purchasing.
- It pays to shop around so you can check out the prices offered for the same item in different shops.
- Don't begin negotiations unless you definitely want to buy the item.
- Don't start off your bargaining by quoting too low. What you're working towards is about 20% to 30% off the initial asking price.
- If you can't reach a price both you and the vendor agree on, it's absolutely fine to walk away.
Dangers & Annoyances
- The UAE has a low incidence of crime; even pickpocketing and bag snatching are rare.
- If you're swimming at an unpatrolled (ie public) beach, be very careful. Despite the small surf, there may be dangerous rip tides and drownings are not uncommon.
- Tourists cannot buy alcohol from a shop or drink in public parks, at beaches or on the street. Alcohol can only be bought and consumed in licensed premises.
- The UAE has zero tolerance towards illegal drugs.
- Dissent is not permitted. Don't strike up conversations about sensitive matters such as the Qatar blockade or the UAE's involvement in Yemen.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
To dial a phone number from outside the UAE, dial your international access code, the UAE’s country code (971) and then the number (dropping the ‘0’).
|UAE's country code||971|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
UAE airports have duty-free shops in the arrivals and departure areas. Allowances can be slightly different at other UAE airports, but visitors over the age of 18 arriving at Dubai International Airport are allowed to bring in the following duty-free:
- 4L of wine or spirits or 48 cans of beer (non-Muslims only)
- 400 cigarettes plus 50 cigars plus 500g of loose tobacco
- Gifts up to the value of Dhs3000
As well as bans on narcotics, firearms and other weaponry, travellers are not allowed to enter the UAE with:
- Materials (eg books) that insult Islam or contradict its teachings
- Israeli products
- Pork products
- Alcohol (if you cross into the UAE by land)
- Many medications
The UAE currently lists 70 medications as illegal and banned from entry into the country. Many of them (such as some painkillers with codeine as an ingredient) are legal as over-the-counter or prescription drugs in other countries, so it pays to check carefully before travel. A full list of banned medications is available from the UAE Ministry of Health at www.mohap.gov.ae/en/AwarenessCenter/Pages/UnauthorizedMedicines.aspx.
For controlled but not banned medications, the UAE has introduced a pre-approval entry form for importing drugs for personal use. It can be found at www.mohap.gov.ae/en/services/Pages/361.aspx. Approval generally takes around five days.
All travellers' passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of arrival.
Although you cannot enter the UAE with an Israeli or Qatari passport, an Israeli or Qatari entry stamp in any other nationality's passport shouldn't cause problems.
Free visas on arrival (either 30-day or 90-day depending on country) are available for passport-holders of 60 nations.
- Free 30-day single-entry tourist visas are available on arrival for 20 countries including Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, UK and USA. These visas have a further nine-day grace period (making 39 days in total) before you are charged for overstaying, though rumours abound that the grace period will soon be removed.
- Free 90-day multiple-entry tourist visas are available on arrival for an additional 40 nationalities including passport-holders from nearly all European countries, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras and Uruguay.
- If you are a passport-holder of any of these countries, simply proceed straight to the immigration desk or border post and get your passport stamped.
- Otherwise, if you are entering on a sponsored visa, you’ll need to go to the clearly marked visa-collection counter at the airport when you arrive.
- Israeli passport-holders and Qatari passport-holders are not currently granted visas to enter the UAE.
- Citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia only need a valid passport to enter the UAE and stay indefinitely.
- Overstaying a tourist visa costs Dhs340 for the first day and Dhs100 for each additional day, payable at immigration on exiting the country.
Sponsored Tourist Visas
- If you are a citizen of a country that does not receive a visa on arrival, you must arrange a tourist visa through a sponsor before you arrive.
- Sponsors could include your UAE hotel or tour operator, but by far the easiest way to arrange a sponsored tourist visa is to fly into the country using either Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways or Fly Dubai, which will all arrange visas for their passengers (see their websites for details and the application process).
- A four-day transit visa costs Dhs50, a 30-day single-entry sponsored tourist visa costs Dhs350 and a 60-day multiple-entry sponsored tourist visa costs Dhs650.
- No sponsored tourist visa is extendable.
Thirty-day tourist visa extensions are possible for 20 nationalities through the local immigration office of the emirate you arrived in, but applying for an extension can be an expensive and convoluted process. Most visitors from nationalities permitted to extend their visa simply do a visa-run to Oman instead; exiting the country and then turning around to re-enter the UAE on a new free on-arrival tourist visa. There is no limit to the number of times you can do this.
The 20 nationalities permitted to do this are citizens of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, UK, Ukraine, Uruguay and USA.
For those who don't want to drive themselves to and from the border, Go Tours offers daily, year-round visa-run trips from Dubai. The trip takes around five hours with comfortable minivan transport and an experienced English-speaking driver. As well as the trip cost, each passenger must bring Dhs85 to pay for the UAE exit fee and Oman visa fee. Go Tours' website is also the most up-to-date source on Emirati visa-extension information.
- Clothing Modesty is key. Shoulders and knees covered at all times – for both sexes – is a good rule to stick to. Swimwear is only for the beach.
- Greetings Soft handshakes are normal (and firm ones seen as disrespectful). Unless a woman offers her hand first, men should refrain from shaking hands with a woman.
- Politics and religion Avoid contentious issues such as the UAE's involvement in Yemen and the Qatar blockade. Insulting Islam is against the law as is publicly expressing sympathy towards Qatar.
- Public displays of affection A no-no. Couples should refrain from kissing, cuddling or hand-holding in public. Technically all are public-decency offences, though most people turn a blind eye to hand-holding.
- Ramadan Drinking, eating, smoking, loud music and dancing in public during daylight fasting hours are illegal.
- Swearing Considered highly offensive and people have been prosecuted or deported for it.
Places in the UAE are well-wired, and you should not have a problem getting online. Hotels, cafes and restaurants nearly all offer free wi-fi.
Most shopping malls offer free public wi-fi, if you're using an UAE SIM card, as part of the WiFi UAE initiative (www.wifiuae.ae/en). Check the website for a map of all public wi-fi locations.
Pornography, LGBT-interest sites, websites considered critical of Islam or the UAE’s leaders, dating and gambling sites, drug-related material, Qatar's Al Jazeera news network and the entire Israeli domain are blocked in the UAE.
VoIP call services such as Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp's call function continued to be officially blocked (WhatsApp chat is unaffected).
Note that although VPN usage is rampant in the UAE, using a VPN remains illegal.
Locals are tolerant of cultural differences – to a point. Go beyond that point and you could find yourself subject to some of the harshest penalties in the region.
Penalties for breaching the code of conduct or breaking the law include warnings or fines (for littering, for example), or jail and deportation (for drug possession and criticism of Islam, for example). Ignorance is no defence.
If arrested, you have the right to a phone call, which you should make as soon as possible (ie before you are detained in a police cell or prison pending investigation, where making contact with anyone could be difficult). Call your embassy or consulate first so they can get in touch with your family and possibly recommend a lawyer.
Detained in Dubai (www.detainedindubai.org) is a leading NGO specialising in UAE law and can provide legal representation.
The UAE police have established a Department of Tourist Security (www.dubaipolice.gov.ae) to field any complaints from visitors.
Buying When arriving by air, you may, as a non-Muslim visitor over the age of 18, buy 4L of spirits, wine or beer in the airport duty-free shop. With the exception of the ‘dry’ emirate of Sharjah, where alcohol and even shisha (water pipe) smoking are banned, you can also purchase alcohol in licensed restaurants, bars and clubs (many generally attached to hotels); alcohol purchased in these places is for on-site consumption.
Non-Muslim UAE residents may obtain an alcohol licence, which entitles them to a fixed monthly limit of alcohol sold in such places as the African & Eastern liquor stores and some branches of Spinneys. Visitors are not permitted to legally purchase alcohol in these places, and staff members are supposed to ask to see the licence. The only stores where visitors can legally buy alcohol are at the Barracuda Beach Resort and the Umm Al Quwain Beach Hotel, both in Umm Al Quwain. Note that you are not officially allowed to transport alcohol through Sharjah, although most people seem to take the risk anyway.
Driving There is zero tolerance in the UAE when it comes to drinking and driving. And we mean zero: under no circumstances should you get behind the wheel of a car if you’ve had even one sip of alcohol. Getting caught could get you a one-month stint in jail, a fine and deportation.
Public drunkenness Being drunk in public is illegal and may also result in jail time and a fine of several thousand dirham.
Also note that even if you are the victim of a crime (eg sexual assault or robbery), police protection may be limited if you are found to have been under the influence.
Attempting to use illegal drugs in the UAE is simply a bad idea. The minimum penalty for possession of even trace amounts is four years in prison, and the death penalty is still on the books for importing or dealing in drugs (although in practice the sentence usually ends up being a very long jail term). Just being in a room where drugs are used, even if you are not partaking, could land you in trouble. The secret police are pervasive, and they include officers of many nationalities.
There are import bans on many prescription medications that are legal in most countries, such as diazepam (Valium), dextromethorphan (Robitussin), fluoxetine (Prozac) and anything containing codeine. The full up-to-date list of banned medications can be found at www.mohap.gov.ae/en/AwarenessCenter/Pages/UnauthorizedMedicines.aspx. To bring any other prescription medication into the country, you must carry no more than a three-month supply in its original packaging and with the original prescription. Failure to do this has resulted in visitors being prosecuted.
In 2018, the UAE introduced a pre-approval entry form for importing controlled, but not banned, medications for personal use. It can be found at www.mohap.gov.ae/en/services/Pages/361.aspx. Approval generally takes around five days.
Homosexual acts are illegal under UAE law, and those accused can incur deportation, fines or a jail term. Discretion here is key.
You cannot access many LGBT+ websites and dating apps such as Grindr from inside the UAE.
Note that all public displays of affection (cuddling, kissing and hand-holding) between opposite-sex couples are also illegal in the UAE as is sex outside of marriage. A same-sex couple sharing a room is likely to be construed as companionable or cost-cutting, but unless you're staying at a five-star resort, where staff are likely to look the other way, it's advisable to book two single beds rather than a double bed.
Despite this, there is an active but very underground LGBT+ scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi because of the large number of young international residents, though tapping into it can be difficult as a visitor on a short stay.
A useful read is Gay Travels in the Muslim World by Michael Luongo.
Newspapers Widely read English-language dailies are The National, Gulf News, Gulf Today and Khaleej Times. Content is government controlled.
Magazines Time Out produces the most popular weekly listings magazine, with separate editions for Dubai and Abu Dhabi. What's On is an insightful monthly alternative. International magazines and newspapers are readily available.
Radio Popular stations include BBC Worldwide (87.9) and Dubai Eye (103.8) for news and talk, and Dubai FM (92), Channel 4 FM (104.8) and Emirates Radio 1 (104.1) and 2 (99.3) for music.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
Credit and debit cards can be used for withdrawing money from ATMs that display the relevant symbols, such as Visa and MasterCard. A charge (around 1.5% to 2%) on ATM cash withdrawals abroad is levied by some banks.
If you need to change money, exchange offices tend to offer better rates than banks.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted at shops, hotels and restaurants, and debit cards are accepted at bigger retail outlets.
The UAE dirham (Dhs) is fully convertible and pegged to the US dollar. One dirham is divided into 100 fils. Notes come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 dirham. Coins are Dhs1, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils and five fils.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is common practice but at your discretion.
- Hotels Tip porters Dhs5 to Dhs10.
- Restaurants If a 10% service charge is already included, a small tip to your server is greatly appreciated, as that service charge rarely reaches their pocket.
- Spas Tip therapists 5% to 10% of the fee for expensive treatments. Add an extra Dh5 to Dh10 onto the fee for smaller treatments.
- Taxis Round fares to nearest Dhs5.
The UAE weekend is on Friday and Saturday. Hours are more limited during Ramadan and in summer.
Banks 8am to 1pm (some until 3pm) Sunday to Thursday, 8am to noon Saturday
Government offices 7.30am to 2pm (or 3pm) Sunday to Thursday
Restaurants noon to 3pm and 7.30pm to midnight
Shopping malls 10am to 10pm Sunday to Wednesday, 10am to midnight Thursday and Friday
Souqs 9am to 1.30pm and 4pm to 9pm (often later in Dubai and Abu Dhabi), closed Friday morning
Supermarkets 9am to midnight daily, some open 24 hours
Taking video or photographs of airports, government offices, or military and industrial installations may result in arrest and/or prosecution. Taking photos of people without first asking permission is also officially illegal.
The postal system, operated by Emirates Post (www.emiratespost.com) is reliable. Standard postcards and letters to Europe cost Dhs6 and to Asia, Australasia, and North and South America Dhs7. Post offices are found in every city or town.
As well as the major Islamic holidays, the UAE observes the following public holidays:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Commemoration Day 30 November
National Day 2 December
A mourning period of up to one week usually follows the death of a royal-family member, a government minister or a head of a neighbouring state. Government offices, some businesses and state-run tourist attractions (such as museums) may be closed on these days, and events may be cancelled.
Major Islamic Holidays
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar year so religious holidays and celebrations shift throughout the seasons.
Ramadan Month of fasting during daylight hours. Many restaurants close during the day (though some, mainly in upscale hotels, remain open for discreet serving of non-fasters). Most licensed premises stop serving alcohol for the entire month. It is a crime to drink, smoke or eat in public during fasting hours. Tourist sites, and many businesses, keep shorter hours.
Eid Al Fitr Three-day celebration marking the end of Ramadan.
Eid Al Adha Three-to-four-day celebration commemorating Ibrahim's (Abraham's) sacrifice.
Islamic New Year Beginning of the Islamic calender's new year. Usually a public holiday for government and public-sector employees. Private businesses remain open.
Prophet's Birthday A national holiday if it falls on a work day.
Note that dates below are approximate as confirmation is based on the sighting of the new moon.
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Adha
Islamic New Year
- Smoking A comprehensive smoking ban is in place in all public areas, with the exception of nightclubs and enclosed bars. The fine for lighting up in a nonsmoking area can range from Dhs1000 to Dhs8000. There are fines for throwing cigarette butts onto the street. The smoking ban includes public-access parks, beaches and recreation areas. Smoking is also not permitted in cars where children are present.
Taxes & Refunds
Restaurants charge a sales tax that is usually incorporated into menu prices. Hotels also charge this tax plus a city tax and a per room, per night tourist tax. Tax fees differ between emirates.
In 2018, the UAE introduced VAT refunds for visitors. VAT refunds for purchases from registered retailers can be obtained from designated areas in airports upon departure.
When calling the UAE from another country, dial that country's international access code, then the UAE country code, followed by the area code (dropping the zero) and then the seven-digit local number. When calling abroad from the UAE, dial the international access code 00 then the relevant country code.
To make a call within the UAE using a landline, dial the seven-digit local number if already in the city. If dialling a number in another city – or using a mobile phone – dial the two-digit area code first.
|UAE's country code||971|
|International access code||00|
|International directory assistance||151|
The UAE’s mobile phone network uses the GSM 900 MHz and 1800 MHz standard. Mobile numbers begin with either 050 or 055. If your phone is unlocked, consider buying a prepaid SIM card, available at the airport or city shops.
Mobile Services Providers
The three mobile phone service providers are Etisalat (www.etisalat.ae/en), Du Mobile (www.du.ae) and Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobile.ae).
Etisalat and Du Mobile both offer rechargeable pre-paid plans specifically targeted at tourists.
Etisalat's 14-day 'tourist plan' costs Dhs100 (rechargeable at Dh75) with three minute-and-data choices, including one with 700MB of data, 40 minutes of local and international calls plus 40 local and international SMS.
Du Mobile's 7-day 'tourist plan' costs Dhs65 (rechargeable at Dh55) with 500MB of data, 20 minutes of local calls and 20 local SMS.
You'll need to bring your passport to purchase a local SIM card.
Recharge cards in various denominations are sold at grocery stores, supermarkets and petrol stations.
The UAE is four hours ahead of GMT. The time does not change during the summer. Not taking daylight saving into account, when it’s noon in the UAE, the time elsewhere is as follows:
Paris & Rome
Perth & Hong Kong
- Public toilets in shopping centres, museums, restaurants and hotels are sit-down affairs and are generally very clean and well maintained.
- Bus stations have toilet facilities for both men and women. These can be less maintained. It's a good idea to bring tissues as they're often out of paper.
- Outside of the cities, you might have to contend with hole-in-the-ground toilets at the back of restaurants or petrol stations, although these are increasingly rare.
- You'll always find a hose and nozzle next to the toilet, which is used for rinsing (left hand only if you want to go native); toilet paper is used for drying only.
Travel with Children
It’s easy to travel through the UAE with children. Many top-end hotels and some midrange ones have kids clubs, pools and playgrounds. There are plenty of beaches, parks, playgrounds and activity centres (many in shopping malls) to keep kids amused; many restaurants have children’s menus and high chairs. Formula is readily available in pharmacies, and disposable nappies at grocery stores and supermarkets. Malls have excellent nappy-changing and baby-feeding facilities.
High kerbs on pavements can hinder pushchair use though pavements are sloped at traffic light intersections in city centres, and there are also pedestrian underpasses with ramps as well as stairs in built-up centres like downtown Abu Dhabi to aid with access.
Wadi Adventure Al Ain's massive water park has rides, slides and watery fun for both teens and tots.
Aquaventure Waterpark Home to the world's longest water slide, there's enough here for kids of all ages.
Yas Waterworld The pools and slides here are good for younger kids.
Dreamland Aqua Park A bit long in the tooth but younger teens and little ones will still find enough to keep them busy.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi Thrills and spills for all ages with nearly all of the theme park enclosed.
Green Planet The tropics brought indoors with sloths, toucans and a bat cave.
Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi A completely enclosed theme park with rides based on cartoon favourites and DC Comics characters.
The Zone Teen-only space with movie lounge and DJ sets.
Virtual Reality Park Sightseeing without stepping outside the mall.
Hub Zero Ground zero for gamers. Great for older kids and teens.
Great Outdoors for Kids
Absolute Adventure The main Dibba hikes this company runs are suitable for active kids as young as eight.
Noukhada Adventure Company These kayaking tours in Abu Dhabi's mangroves are great for families.
Kite Beach Centre Kitesurfing lessons plus kayak and SUP-board rental and a great beach with hammocks.
Jebel Jais Flight Zip Line For older teens (more than 122cm tall) this is the UAE's ultimate adrenaline buzz.
Challenging Adventure Family-focused kayaking around Ras Al Khaimah's mangroves.
There is very little scope for volunteering in the UAE.
Weights & Measures
- Weights and measures The metric system is used.
Women will encounter few problems travelling around the UAE by themselves. Harassment (both vocal and physical) is rare, though not nonexistent. It's safe to walk around late at night by yourself in most areas, take taxis and public transport and to stay in budget hotels as a solo woman. You will often be asked about why you're travelling by yourself and where your family is. If you're single and childless and don't feel like fielding a barrage of questions about why this is, you can always make up an imaginary husband to satisfy the questioner.
Dispelling the Myths
Many women imagine that travel to the Gulf cities and within the UAE is much more difficult than it is. Some key facts:
- You don’t have to wear a burka, headscarf or veil.
- You won’t be constantly harassed.
- In taxis, it's normal for a woman to sit in the back of the taxi. On public buses, solo females usually sit towards the front. Also on buses, it's not normal for an unrelated man to take a free seat next to a woman.
- Public beaches are one of the few places where you are likely to receive unwanted male attention – generally just long, lewd stares.
Attitudes Towards Women
Some of the biggest misunderstandings between Middle Easterners and people from other parts of the world occur over the issue of women. Half-truths and stereotypes exist on both sides: foreigners sometimes assume that all Middle Eastern women are veiled, repressed victims, while some locals see foreign women, particularly Western ones, as sex-obsessed and immoral.
Traditionally, the role of a woman in this region is to be a mother and matron of the household, while the man is the financial provider. However, as with any society, the reality is far more nuanced. There are thousands of middle- and upper-middle-class professional women in the UAE, who, like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, juggle work and family responsibilities.
The issue of sex is where the differences between cultures can be particularly apparent. Premarital sex (or indeed any sex outside marriage) is taboo, although, as with anything forbidden, it still happens. Emirati women are expected to be virgins when they marry, and a family’s reputation can rest upon this point. The presence of foreign women provides, in the eyes of some Arab men, a chance to get around these norms with ease and without consequences – hence the occasional hassle foreign women experience.
What to Wear
Even though you’ll see plenty of female tourists wearing skimpy shorts and tank tops in shopping malls and other public places (especially in Dubai), you should not assume that it’s acceptable to do so. While as hosts they’re too polite to say anything, most Emiratis find this disrespectful. Despite the UAE's relative liberalism, you are in a country that holds its traditions dear and it's prudent not to parade a different set of values. A bit of common sense (such as covering up to and from a beach party or when taking a taxi to a nightclub) helps keep the peace.
Generally speaking, dressing ‘modestly’ has the following advantages: it attracts less attention to you; you will get a warmer welcome from locals (who greatly appreciate your willingness to respect their customs); and it’ll prove more comfortable in the heat. Dressing modestly means covering your shoulders, knees and neckline. Baggy shirts and loose cotton trousers or below-the-knee skirts will not only keep you cool but will also protect your skin from the sun. Areas outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi are often more conservative, though that's not always the case.
Work permits for foreigners are always sponsored by an employer. If you find work while on a tourist visa, you normally have to exit the country and then re-enter on your sponsored permit.
Work permits are applied for and organised by the employer. The process involves a fair heft of paperwork, and you will have to undergo medical tests for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Once processed, you will receive an Emirates residency ID card, a labour card and a work residency permit stamp in your passport.
Once your work residency permit application has been completed, you may then sponsor your family members for non-work residence visas.
At the end of your employment contract, or if your work permit is cancelled, you have a 30-day grace period to obtain a new sponsored work permit. If unsuccessful, you must leave the country.
Comprehensive details on work and residency permits can be found at www.government.ae/en.