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United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates

Tucked into a corner of the traditional, conservative Middle East lies the unique, progressive United Arab Emirates. Like most countries on the peninsula, the UAE made its wealth from oil and gas. Unlike its more traditional neighbours, it then expanded into tourism. 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.

The majority of people in the UAE are expatriates and most of them are there to live and work in Dubai. The city is a playground of palm-shaped islands, colossal skyscrapers, malls the size of small towns, seven star hotels, supercars, Michelin-star restaurants and luxury beach resorts. To the west of Dubai lies Abu Dhabi, the capital, where visitors can enjoy large gardens and parks, green boulevards, sophisticated high-rise buildings, modern communication services and transport, international luxury hotels, rich shopping malls and cultural centres.

Alongside the two famous emirates sits Sharjah, the world capital of Islamic Culture. This conservative emirate plays host to the best museums and art galleries in the country. Surrounded by mountains and desert oases, Ras Al Khaimah is fast becoming a destination for adventurous travelers. Visitors can also relax on the beaches in Ajman, visit the fort of Fujairah at the foothills of the Hajar Mountains, or take a break from the glitz and glammer in low-key Umm Al Quwain.

The modern cities on the Persian Gulf give way to a desert interior, home to magnificent dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter, stunning desert oases such as the Liwa Oasis, and rugged archaeological sites in the Hajar Mountains. The UAE presents an astonishing mix of outlandish luxury and remote adventure, which will fascinate visitors to this unique land.


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


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.


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


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.


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. Terrorists continue 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.


The international code for the United Arab Emirates is +971. Travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones at the airports or city shops. WiFi is widespread, but the internet is censored to filter out any material and websites deemed undesirable by the authorities.


No vaccinations are required for entry to the UAE, though a certificate is required for yellow fever if visitors are arriving from an affected area. Tap water in the major cities is safe to drink but sticking to bottled water may be preferable elsewhere. 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 as visitors may be prevented from using healthcare facilities without travel insurance or without the means to settle any medical fees.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day1 Jan1 Jan
Israa & Miaraj Night11 Mar1 Mar
Eid al Fitr (end of Ramadan)11 May30 Apr
Eid al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)20 Jul9 Jul
UAE National Day2 Dec2 Dec
Hijiri New Year10 Aug30 Jul
Arafat (Haj) Day19 Jul8 Jul
The Prophet's Birthday19 Oct8 Oct


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 considered a sign of respect and is essential, even though it is not uncommon to be kept waiting on occasion. 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, though foreigners should 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.

Passport & Visa

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. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


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.

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 AED 3,000. 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 Department of Tourism: +971 4 223 0000 or

998 (Ambulance), 999 (General and Police), 997 (Fire).

Entry Requirements

United States citizens require a passport valid for 6 months after date of arrival. No visa is required for tourist stays under 30 days.

Passports must be valid for 6 months after date of entry. British passport holders can get a visitor's visas on arrival for a maximum of 30 days.

Canadian passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry. Canadians entering the UAE as tourists must obtain an entry stamp at the port of entry. This entry stamp is free and valid for 30 days. It's renewable for a further 30 days.

South African nationals require a passport valid for six months from the departure date. A visa is required.

Irish nationals require a passport valid for six months from the departure date, and can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum of 30 days.

Passports must be valid for at least six months from the departure date. New Zealand nationals are eligible for a free 30-day visitor visa-on-arrival.

Embassy Consulates

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

British Embassy, Dubai: +971 4 309 4444.

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

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 Consulates

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, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 7736.


Most tourists start their UAE adventures in Dubai. Visitors can scale the heights of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, visit the narrow lanes and preserved Arabian architecture of the Bastakia Quarter, take a sunset cruise on the traditional Dhow boats in Dubai Creek, or get lost in the storied shopping malls or the traditional souks in the Deira district. Sport fanatics will be entertained with events such as rugby sevens and horse racing.

The colossal Sheikh Zayeh Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a crown jewel in the capital city. Visitors can take a day trip out to Jebel Hafeet, the second highest peak in the UAE, offering stunning panoramic views out over the desert. The rugged, twisted Hajar Mountains are also prime territory for road trips, with fantastic hiking, trekking and bird watching opportunities.

Sharjah is the cultural capital of the Arab world. The city is home to the Sharjah Arts Museum, a diverse collection of works featuring many local artists, and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, which traces Islamic history and culture back to its earliest years.

With 400 miles (650km) of coastline along the Persian Gulf, the UAE is a renowned beach destination. There are numerous beach resorts in Ajman and Raj Al Khaimah. Luxury Hotels in the big cities often have their own private beaches, which non-residents can pay to use. Watersports are hugely popular, with many visitors enjoying jet-skiing, diving and snorkeling holidays.

For the more adventurous traveller, the desert beckons. Intrepid explorers can experience 4x4 safari's, dune buggy rides, camel rides, sand-boarding and even traditional Bedouin-style dinners. Ancient cities and forgotten civilisations lie hidden in the desert sands, such as the spectacular city of Musandam. Here, the bright lights of Dubai and Abu Dhabi will feel centuries away.


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.

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