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United Arab Emirates

General   Money   Entry Requirements   Health & safety   Weather   Embassies   Etiquette   Public Holidays   Attractions   Map  


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque ©mattharvey1

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 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.


998 (Ambulance); 999 (General)

Languages Spoken

Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.

Duty Free

Visitors to the UAE do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 500g tobacco; and goods 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.


Electrical current is 220-240 volts, 50Hz. The most frequently used plugs are the flat, three-pin type.

Climate Info

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.


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.

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.

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 fee.

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 a fee.

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.

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.

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 fee.


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. Dubai has just recently taken on the same approach making it mandatory to have health insurance. In general, travellers who require medical treatment will have to cover the cost of any medical fees incurred.


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 threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including references to attack Western interests, such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests.

Emergency Phone Number

998 (Ambulance); 999 (General)

* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov


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.

Exchange Rate

Not available.

Embassies of United Arab Emirates

Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 243 2400.

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.

Foreign Embassies in United Arab Emirates

United States Embassy, Dubai: +971 (0)4 309 4000.

British Embassy, Dubai: +971 4 309 4444.

Canadian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 694 0300.

Australian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 401 7500.

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.


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.


Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10 percent is adequate and many hotels and restaurants add a service charge, so it is best to check the bill.

Public Holidays in United Arab Emirates

New Years Day1 Jan1 Jan
Israa & Miaraj Night24 Apr13 Apr
Eid al Fitr (end of Ramadan)25 Jun14 Jun
Eid al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)1 Sep21 Aug
UAE National Day2 Dec2 Dec
Hijiri New Year22 Sep12 Sep
Arafat (Haj) Day31 Aug21 Aug
The Prophets Birthday1 Dec21 Nov


Attractions are certainly not in short supply in the United Arab Emirates, considering not only its vast size, but also its incredible and varied landscape. There is little doubt that visitors will find something to enjoy in any one of the UAE's astounding cities, as well as beyond the city walls in its greater regions.

For most travellers, the towering city of Dubai is the first stop, and for good reason. From exotic souks to hi-tech malls, this ultramodern oasis straddles the ancient past and vivid future of the Middle East. Abu Dhabi is another favourite on most travel itineraries, and visitors are continuously enchanted by the flashy lifestyle of its locals, as well as the beautiful palaces and glittering mosques.

For those less interested in the urban glamour, there are extraordinary underwater wonderlands in which to get lost. The Persian Gulf is renowned for its snorkelling and scuba diving potential, and there are plenty of high-end resorts which make the most of this. Ancient cities and forgotten civilizations also lie hidden in its deserts, such as the spectacular city of Musandam. Here, the bright lights of Dubai and Abu Dhabi will feel centuries away.

Map of United Arab Emirates

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