Dubai Travel Guide
Originally a small fishing settlement that became a busy port of call on the ancient trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, the emirate was rapidly transformed into an international business centre and modern tourist destination following the discovery of oil in 1966.
Today Dubai ranks as the country’s foremost commercial centre, a city whose skyline is constantly being upgraded with new developments providing the infrastructure and facilities needed for a progressive society, including world-class hotels, shopping plazas and outstanding sports facilities. Dubai Creek divides the city centre into two parts: Deira on the northern side and Bur Dubai to the south and each has its fair share of souks, restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and fine mosques.
From within these high standards of luxury and convenience, visitors can experience exotic Arabia in the bustling souks or a night in a Bedouin tent with belly-dancing under the starlit desert skies, as well as a way of life that is still embedded in the Islamic traditions of an ancient land. Dubai’s attraction lies in the contrast between the ultra-modern and the enchantingly traditional, which gives the city a personality like no other and visitors a variety of experiences to choose from. From desert oases and unspoiled beaches, camel races and old wind towers, to top-class shopping opportunities, avant-garde architecture and the finest international cuisine, Dubai has more than enough depth to satisfy even the most seasoned of travellers.
One of the city’s top attractions is its excellent shopping. As an open port with low import duties, Dubai can offer an incredible range of top brand names at cheaper prices due to the tax-free environment, and ‘shopping tourists’ are drawn from around the world to this paradise of malls, souks, boutiques and modern department stores selling everything from Paris fashions to Japanese electronics. The annual Shopping Festival attracts millions of tourists to the city for a shop-till-you-drop holiday.
Electrical current is 220/240 volts, 50Hz. The most frequently used plugs are the round two-pin type.
Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.
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. In general, travellers who require medical treatment will have to cover the cost of any medical fees incurred.
Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10% 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. 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.
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.
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.
Visitors to the UAE do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes, cigars to a maximum value of 3,000 dirhams and 2kg tobacco; and perfume for personal use 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.
Entry requirements for Americans
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 of AED 600.
Entry requirements for UK nationals
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 cost of AED 600.
Entry requirements for Canada
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 AED 600.
Entry requirements for Australians
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 of AED 600.
*Entry requirements for South Africans
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.
Entry requirements for New Zealanders
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 cost of AED 600.
Entry requirements for Irish nationals
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 of AED 600.
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.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.