United Arab Emirates Travel Tips
The UAE Dirham (Dh) is pegged to the US Dollar. Notes are in denominations of Dh1000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of Dh1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 fils. One dirham= 100 fils.
You will find moneychangers and ATM’s most everywhere in the main cities. You can also change money at the airport, banks and most hotels.
Travellers’ checks are widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers’ checks should be issued in US Dollars or British Pounds Sterling. Thomas Cook and HSBC have offices throughout the country.
Credit Cards such as American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted. Check with your credit or debit Card Company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.
There are no restrictions on the import and export of both local and foreign currency.
Banking hours are generally Saturday to Wednesday 7:30am-1:00pm, Thursday 7:30am to 12:00noon. Some also open in the afternoon from 4:30pm to 6:00pm Saturday to Wednesday. Thursdays and Fridays are the weekends.
Customs clearance in the UAE is fast and efficient. No customs duties are applied to personal belongings. However, since the UAE is an Islamic country, non-Islamic religious propaganda and sexy magazines, CDs, videos or films should not be brought into the country. Even cartoon kisses and fashion magazines are censored before being broadcast or sold in the country.
Since strict copyright laws are being enforced in the UAE, pirated video and audiotapes or illegal computer software will be confiscated.
Needless to say controlled substances such as cannabis, opium etc, are banned and the penalties for handling these drugs are severe.
Suspicious behavior will usually instigate a blood test. If a blood test for illegal drug usage proves positive, you can be charged with a criminal offence even if you used the drug before arrival in the UAE.
Duty free allowances are 2000 cigarettes, 400 cigars, 2 kg tobacco, 2 litres of spirits and 2 litres of wine (non-Muslims only) and perfume.
It is prohibited to import alcohol into Sharjah and you are generally not allowed to bring alcohol into the country if you are travelling by land.
220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. square three-pin plugs are widespread.
The biggest health risk in the UAE is sunburn and dehydration. The sun can be very strong and especially fierce in the summer. Sunburn can happen quickly, so wear sunscreen and a hat if you are outdoors. Always drink plenty of water.
The UAE receives very little or no complaints of holiday illness. This is due to high standards of hygiene in hotels and restaurants, an adequate supply of clean water and successful government immunization programs.
Tap water is safe to drink in the main cities. However most people prefer bottled water and it is recommended for first time visitors.
In smaller, more local eateries, raw salads and shawarmas (meat cooked on a spit and served in a pita bread sandwich) are to be avoided if you have any doubts. The meat may be old and not cooked properly.
No special immunizations are required. However it would be wise to check beforehand if you are travelling from a health-risk area. Malaria is not a health risk in the towns and cities. However, if you are exploring valleys or mountains, it would be wise to cover up and wear mosquito repellent.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi have some excellent hospitals. Public hospitals will handle emergencies free of charge. However it would be wise to take out travel insurance to cover all eventualities, especially if you need to attend a private hospital or clinic where treatment can be quite expensive. In all instances, medical procedures, including the use of sterilized needles and the provision of blood transfusions are very reliable. If you need a doctor, ask at your hotel, or ring your embassy for recommendations. Good dentists are also available, including orthodontists. Chinese medicine and acupuncture are readily available. There is also a homeopathic hospital.
Pharmacies are well-stocked and pharmacists will speak English and usually other languages. Each emirate has at least one pharmacy open 24 hours a day. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi a 24-hour emergency number lists the locations of open pharmacies (Dubai 04 223 2323/ Abu Dhabi 02 777 929).
If you need emergency treatment and are unable to contact a doctor, call 998 for an ambulance or 999 for a helicopter. Dubai Police guarantee that in an emergency a police helicopter will arrive within 8 minutes.
Arabic is the official language. English is widely spoken and used as a second language in commerce. English signs are common place.
The UAE is one of the safest places in the world to visit. In fact, it has been designated the world’s safest holiday destination by the international travel industry on two occasions. Most crimes receive harsh penalties. The streets are lively at night; therefore walking around at night in the main cities is safe. You will even see many children out past midnight.
Safety for Women Travellers:
The UAE is safe for women travellers. However women travelling alone are a novelty and you may find yourself the focus of unwanted attention. You will probably have a more relaxed visit if you stay in a four or five star hotel, especially since you will be able to use the hotel’s private beach facilities.
Ignore unwelcome comments. If you are harassed, making a lot of noise will usually embarrass and deter the harasser. Police take sexual harassment very seriously.
If you wish to avoid hassle, avoid swimming at the public beaches if you are alone. Do not wear tight or revealing clothes away from the beach clubs and resorts. You will also find that clothing suitable for the more cosmopolitan cities may not be comfortable or convenient for independent travel in rural areas. Loose trousers and a long sleeved cotton shirt will satisfy a wide range of situations.
If you are dining alone outside your hotel, most local restaurants have separate “Family Rooms” for women. Do take advantage of this and you will feel more comfortable.
When socializing in local company wait until a hand is offered to you for a handshake. Some devout Muslims prefer not to shake hands with a woman.
Remember that one advantage of being a woman in the UAE is that women are normally served first and banks and post offices, police stations and other government offices frequently have separate queues for women.
Women in the UAE have a much more liberal lifestyle than many other Gulf countries (i.e. women are permitted to drive, work, etc.) however, women travellers should be aware that they are visiting a society which has strong religious roots. Acting in a friendly manner which may be considered normal behavior in your home country, but it can be misinterpreted as an ‘open invitation’ by Muslim men.
Islamic laws should be observed. Women are expected to dress modestly and men should dress formally for most occasions. In Dubai less modest attire is more accepted within hotels, but women will feel more comfortable walking around if they are dressed modestly.
Smoking is allowed in designated areas, except during Ramadan when it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public.
Anyone who is visiting or staying in Sharjah should be aware that alcohol is strictly illegal, all couples must be married and may be stopped to show proof, and a conservative dress code is enforced: no tight fitting clothing, no baring of shoulders, torso, or above the knee.
Ask permission before photographing people in general. Avoid photographing Muslim women and do not photograph airports, docks, and telecommunications equipment, and government buildings, military and industrial installations.
Tax and Tipping
The UAE is tax free. However most hotels, restaurants and clubs add 10-16% service charges to the bill, therefore tipping is not necessary. If this charge is not included, add 10% to the bill for a tip. Gratuities to hotel staff are at your discretion. Taxi drivers, supermarket baggers, bag carriers and window washers at petrol stations are generally given Dh2.
Country code: 971
Mobile telephone: GSM 900 network
Ambulance: 998 or 999
Coastguard: 04 3450520
East Coast Coastguard: 09 2380380
Helicopter Service: 999 or 04 2821111 (Dubai Police guarantee that in an emergency a police helicopter will arrive within 8 minutes).
GMT + 4
No daylight savings time
Visa and Passports:
All visitors require a passport which is valid for a minimum of three months beyond your arrival date in the UAE.
Citizens of the following countries will be granted a free of charge Visit Visa on arrival in the UAE:
Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA, Vatican City.
Passports will be stamped with the Visit Visa as you pass through Immigration at any airport in the UAE. Although the visa may be stamped for 30 days, it entitles the holder to stay in the country for 60 days and may be renewed once for an additional period of 30 days for a fee.
A special Tourist Visa is available for tourists from China, East and West Europe, South Africa and Thailand who are not entitled to a Visit Visa on arrival. The Tourist Visa is good for 30 days and must be sponsored by a participating hotel or tour operator. You can pick up this visa at any UAE airport upon arrival. There is a fee for this visa.
Except for citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council, all other visitors who wish to stay longer than 14 days in the UAE must obtain a Visit Visa in advance through a sponsor. The sponsor can be your travel agency, your hotel, the company or department with which you are doing business in the UAE, or an individual (e.g. a relative or friend holding a resident visa in the UAE). You can pick up this Visit Visa on arrival at the airport for a fee.
A hotel will only provide a visa if you are a guest. For an individual to sponsor a Visit Visa, he or she must earn over Dh4000 per month and hold a valid residence visa. Your visit visa must be deposited at airport immigration one hour before the arrival of your flight. Note that your airline may require evidence (e.g. a photocopy) before departure that a valid visa awaits you on arrival.
If you are flying to or from Europe or the United States, to Asia or Africa and passing through UAE airports, you can obtain a special 96-hour transit visa. You must be sponsored by an airline operating in the UAE and you must have a valid ticket for your onward flight. There is no charge for this visa.
The UAE government refuses entry and transit to nationals of Israel.
Visa regulations and costs are subject to change and should always be checked with your travel agent or nearest UAE embassy before travelling.