Travel to the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, which together form a triangular wedge of land, straddling the Persian Gulf and a small portion of the Gulf of Oman.

The UAE is found on the eastern edge of the Arabian peninsula. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and its emirate has the largest size. UAE has Saudi Arabia to its south and west, Oman to the south east and also at the tip of the Musandam Peninsula.

Providing a familiar environment for Western tourists, yet steeped in centuries of culture and history, the UAE is the ideal starting point for Middle Eastern exploration. This is a place where fast-food chains like McDonald’s and KFC and shopping chains and brands like IKEA, have a well established presence, side by side with traditional Arabian souks.

Roads and infrastructure in the main cities are extremely modern with state-of-the art architecture and the cities are very crowded. This is in contrast to the remote sand dunes of the majestic deserts.

Visiting the UAE is a wonderful experience and a lesson in contrasting cultures and scenic vistas. Before heading there, read our top things to know about the UAE.

Travel tips for the United Arab Emirates

Visa Requirements for the United Arab Emirates

Citizens of the European Union (except the UK and Ireland), Iceland, Seychelles, Switzerland, Andorra, Norway, Andorra and the Vatican City are exempt from requiring a UAE visit visa. Citizens of Australia, Canada, UK, USA, New Zealand, China, South Korea and other countries are able to attain a free visa on arrival for a period of 30 days.

Indian citizens are able to obtain a visa on arrival, valid for 14 days, for AED 100.

Citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Niger, Somalia and Yemen may enter the UAE for 4 days after obtaining a transit visa. Most other nationalities will have to apply for a visa in advance. Entry to the UAE is refused to Israeli and Qatar citizens. Many people apply for a Dubai visa particularly when transiting through Dubai with the Emirates.

Important Cultural Information

People of the Emirates are extremely polite, respectful and can be quite generous. However, do keep in mind that certain rude gestures or mannerisms that are used in Western culture, may not be tolerated in Emirati culture. They may even result in arrest. Being drunk and disorderly in public may also result in arrest.

Emiratis are extremely conservative regarding dress. Native women wear an abaya (black robe) and black head scarf (hijab). Avoid clothing that reveals shoulders and knees. 

Emirati men wear flowing white robes (kandoura or dish-dash) and red-checked headdress. It is against the law to live with, or share a hotel room with someone you are not married to.

You’ll find many interesting culture and traditions in Dubai.

Banking & Money in the United Arab Emirates

The currency in UAE is the dirham (AED). 100 fils make one dirham. The notes commonly used in the UAE are denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 dirhams. Coins exist in 1 dirham, 25 and 50 fil denominations.

ATMs are widespread and accept cards from Visa, Cirrus, Maestro etc. Cash and travelers cheques can be exchanged at airports and most major shopping malls.

UAE is an expensive country to visit. Hotels are usually full to 90% or more occupancy and can be expensive. If considering long term stay – house rental costs rival that of major Western cities.

Some banks in the UAE are Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, First Gulf Bank and more.

Medical Emergency Information

Medical care in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah is generally of very high quality and several clinics are open at all times. Hospitals in all three cities are capable of managing medical emergencies and ambulatory service is also available.

Visit Rashid Hospital, which is a government hospital in Dubai. Other reputed private hospitals in Dubai include Welcare Hospital and Belgium Hospital. In Sharjah, the Kuwaiti Hospital and Zulekha Hospital are good hospitals in the government and private sector respectively. The names of some reputable hospitals in Abu Dhabi are Burjeel Hospital (private) and Shaikh Khalifa Medical City (managed by Cleveland Clinic). 

Water is safe for drinking in the UAE. Since daytime temperatures may reach 50 degrees centigrade, ensure that you drink enough water to avoid heat stroke. The country is malaria free.

Some of the medical emergency numbers are:

999 for Police

998 for Ambulance

997 for Fire

It’s always a good idea to get a good travel insurance before traveling to the UAE. We recommend comparing options at both World Nomads and Safety Wing.

Wi-Fi and Internet in the United Arab Emirates

The country code for the UAE is 971. Mobile phone networks use the GSM technology and the network is widespread in the UAE. Internet cafes are present in the major towns. Some names of mobile phone operators are Etisalat and Du. Area codes for Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah are 2, 4 and 6 respectively.

While Internet cafes and usage are widespread, web censorship is certainly prevalent. There are a number of places in the big cities like Dubai to pick up on free Wi-Fi. Certain shops at Dubai Mall, certain hotels, locations on Jumeirah Beach are all places to check out.

Tourists can purchase pay as you go SIM cards from the airport or from one of the malls or smaller grocery shops in the city. A copy of the visa page in the passport is required as identification.

You may be required to use a VPN while in the UAE if you still want to access many of the video calling apps as some of them are blocked. We recommend ExpressVPN.

Arrival in the United Arab Emirates

Dubai is the largest hub for air travel into the Emirates and also a major hub in the Middle East. Air travel is powered by Emirates Airlines, which has direct flights from locations in South Africa, UK, Australia, India, Pakistan, Europe, North America and Africa. Etihad Airlines has a big hub in Abu Dhabi and has direct flights to New York, Toronto and other cities in Europe and Asia. Air Arabia, a low-cost airlines also uses Sharjah as a hub. 

Search for flights to the UAE on Expedia.

It is possible to arrive in UAE across land borders via Saudi Arabia in the south and Oman in the east. Highways are very well maintained and in excellent condition. However, some of them may be very congested, particularly the highway between Sharjah and Dubai. 

Certain dhow boats carry cargo between India and Dubai/Abu Dhabi. It may be possible to buy passage on such a boat.

Areas of the United Arab Emirates

The UAE consists of seven emirates which include the following places to visit in UAE:

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE. This is the largest Emirate.

Dubai

Dubai is a popular entry point to the Emirates. It is a haven for shoppers with a dazzling array of skyscraping urban development.

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Sharjah

This is more of a budget destination than Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Fujairah

A quiet, tranquil spot in the Emirates, quite close to Oman. Enjoy the slow-paced life here, with chances to enjoy the seaside.

Ajman

Famous for the Ajman Museum with a fabulous display of Emirati weaponry and its beaches.

Umm al Quwain

Perhaps the most peaceful and quiet of the Emirates.

Major Cities

The major cities in the Emirates include Dubai and Abu Dhabi with Abu Dhabi being the capital city.

Ras Al-Khaimah

The place to go dune bashing and to get in some beach relaxation time.

Transportation in the United Arab Emirates

Since relative distances between the Emirates is short, traveling from one place to another within the country, can be achieved by road. Roads are well built and maintained well although signs may not be good in certain remote areas. Intercity buses are frequent and quite reliable.

Dubai is creating an extensive metro network as part of the Dubai public transport system. Taking a Dubai bus is another option as the Dubai bus service covers a large percentage of the urban area of the Emirate.

Abu Dhabi has a fleet of city buses but they are often very crowded, particularly for male passengers and are not really the best way to visit Abu Dhabi tourist attractions. 

Taxis are available in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. You can rent a car in the UAE by using an international driver’s license. Keep in mind that people in the UAE drive quite fast and overtaking by the right is the rule.

Accommodations in the United Arab Emirates

UAE, particularly Dubai, has many accommodations in the luxury and super luxury category, although all budget sectors are catered for.

The names of some super luxury hotels are the Burj-Al-Arab (Dubai) and The Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi). The Burj-Al-Arab’s architecture has the shape of the sail of a ship. The hotel is built on an artificial offshore island and features a 180 m tall atrium. One of its two restaurants, ‘Al Muntaha’ lives up to its name of ‘The Ultimate’ by offering 660 ft high views over the Persian Gulf. The other restaurant, ‘Al Mahara’ (The Oyster) is entered after a simulated submarine voyage and has a huge 990,000 L seawater aquarium.

Rates drop in all hotels in the high summer (June-September), when temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius. Dubai’s DXB Backpackers, Dubai Youth Hostel, Jazz Hostel and California Hostel Dubai Beach are some budget backpacker accommodations.

Booking.com

What to Eat and Drink in the United Arab Emirates

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have an international food scene. Most of the world’s cuisines are well represented here – largely due to the high concentration of expat populations in the region. Indian, Pakistani, Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian restaurants can be seen alongside Western fare and traditional Emirati cuisine.

World famous restaurant chains have set up shop in the city’s malls. If wanting to try food a bit more local and know more about UAE culture, try khubz (Arabic bread), hummus, the fragrant rice dish of Biriyani, Shawarma and falafel, grilled chicken and lamb, Al Harees and Al Machboos. Many dishes from the Emirates include camel meat as an ingredient.

Things to Do and See in the United Arab Emirates

The UAE has a number of spectacular tourist attractions that are guaranteed to stun the visitor.

There are a number of things to do in Abu Dhabi. The region south of Abu Dhabi boasts of the world’s largest sand dunes. This area is known as the Liwa Oasis. There are also wonderful oases in Al Ain making it one of the great places to visit in Al Ain. Taking a desert safari is a nice way to take in the surreal landscape.

Some of the top places to visit in Abu Dhabi are Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Corniche Road, Qasr Al Hosn, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Heritage Village, Emirates Park Zoo, Yas Mall and more.

One of the major draws to the UAE are the beaches. There are major swathes of white sand beaches around Dubai and the snorkeling opportunities in the Indian Ocean are magnificent. 

Shopping is also one of the major tourist attractions in Dubai in particular. The size and original features of some of these over the top Malls can be jaw dropping. Dubai Emirates Mall features ‘Ski Dubai’ with the world’s third largest indoor ski slope. The Mall of the Emirates, The Dubai Mall, Deira City Centre, Mercato Mall, Dubai Festival City Mall and Ibn Batuta Mall should all be on your shopping trip itinerary and are Dubai landmarks. You will literally shop till you drop. 

For the adrenaline junkies, check out these crazy things to do in Dubai. And if you’re traveling with the family, you’ll want to check out these things to do in Dubai with kids. Dune bashing in Dubai is a major highlight!

The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building and the views from the top provide you with a dizzying display of Dubai’s phenomenal urban development, overlooking the azure Persian Gulf.

If you’re interested in visiting another one of the popular hotels in Dubai, here’s how to get into Burj al Arab.

Things to do & see in the United Arab Emirates

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Shopping in the United Arab Emirates

One of the things the UAE is famous for is its plush shopping malls and shopping opportunities.

Dubai probably has the best places to shop in the UAE and Middle East. Make sure to attend the annual Dubai shopping festival in January if you enjoy shopping.

Some local gift items that you might consider buying in the UAE are carpets and rugs, dry fruits, spices, perfumes known as oud, Arabic coffee pots and much more. If you are tired of the glitzy shopping malls with its high-end brands, consider browsing a traditional Arabic market known as a souk.

If you are interested in visiting the shopping malls in Dubai– there are several names that you should keep in mind. They include Mall of the Emirates, The Dubai Mall, Deira City Centre, Mercato Mall, Dubai Festival City Mall, Ibn Batuta Mall … the list is endless. The Dubai Mall is slap bang next to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain and features many well known western retail brands and eateries like Nando’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Carluccio’s and Coldstone Creamery. The Mall of the Emirates has an outrageous 2.4 million square feet of retail space, featuring an indoor ski resort and a family theme park.

Nightlife in the United Arab Emirates

The best nightlife in the UAE is to be had in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The weekend and opportunity for having a night on the town, spreads from Thursday night to Saturday night- Friday and Saturday being holidays here.

Dubai has a vibrant and lively clubbing scene and some of the best DJ’s visiting from around the globe. Some of the best clubs in the city are Boudoir – The French Connection, Trilogy – The Colours of the Night and Club 360 with stunning views of Burj-Al-Arab and the Persian Gulf.

If you prefer not to visit a nightclub, there are other ways to enjoy night time in Dubai. Visit the Dubai Marina, which lights up at night and where one can browse the small shops and cafes along the artificial canal. Take a ride on a yacht and take in the sights of buildings on either side of the canal.

’ At.mosphere’ is the world’s highest restaurant located in the world’s highest building- the Burj Khalifa. Treat yourself to high tea at sunset. If high buildings are your thing, check out the highest buildings in Dubai.

A dhow cruise is a unique experience to be had in Dubai. These cruises operate in Dubai Marina and Creek. Taking a Dubai dhow cruise will ensure a lovely evening enjoying Arabic music and cuisine while taking in stunning views of Dubai’s skyline.

Lastly, an overnight desert safari, enjoying barbecued food under the stars will have you thrilling with the nocturnal experience.

Abu Dhabi, too, has a happening nightlife scene. From live music venues, pubs galore, lounges and bars – this city has it all.

Safety Tips for the United Arab Emirates

The crime rate is quite low in the UAE although of course, petty theft may occur. The majority of the hazards you face when traveling to the UAE do not involve crime.

One factor to be wary of is the extreme heat. Temperatures can soar to 50 degrees Celsius in the height of summer. Heat stroke can result from exposure for lengthy periods to the sun, particularly around midday.

One particular hazard is the high level of automobile accidents due to fast and reckless driving.

The UAE has very strict drug laws. Certain substances that are allowed in certain countries are banned from usage in the UAE, like codeine. Keep prescription copies of medications when you travel.

Conclusion

The UAE is a premier holiday destination for a multitude of reasons: a country with luxurious shopping opportunities, plush five star hotels with the most incredible features, a warm climate all-year round with dreamy white sand beaches and a vibrant nightlife in the major cities, among many other things.

Moreover, with incredible infrastructural facilities that rival the top Western cities, this is a country located deep in the Middle East, that would make any western traveler feel welcome and comfortable. With superior western development, yet deep Middle Eastern roots, the UAE is the perfect stepping stone into Middle Eastern exploration.

Whether you visit to experience a safari in the undulating dunes of the arid desert, or you visit for the lush shopping experiences, or you just want to pamper yourself with five star (and five star plus) hotel experiences, the UAE will not disappoint.

If nothing else, come to be surprised at the amazing resourcefulness of man, creating a spectacular, sky-soaring urban landscape from the mere nothingness of arid desert. Gaze down on the distant haze of the azure blue of the Persian Gulf, from the dizzying heights of the observatory deck of the Burj Khalifa and toast the heights of human enterprise.

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