Comprised of little more than sand dunes, crumbling forts and fishing villages a century ago, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has grown into a show-stopping, headline-grabbing destination which offers an intriguing blend of traditional Islamic culture and rampant consumerism.
Powered largely (but by no means exclusively) by oil wealth, the UAE today is defined by opulent resort hotels, ultra-modern architecture and a seemingly unending thirst for new and innovative mega-projects. Manmade islands in the shape of palm trees? Tick. Billionaire royals taking over Premiership football clubs? Tick. Tallest building on the planet? Naturally.
Seven separate emirates make up the country, but visitor attention falls mainly on Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both are home to an ever-growing spread of luxury accommodation, gourmet restaurants, branded nightclubs and gleaming shopping malls. Dubai’s most iconic sights include the sail-shaped “7-star” hotel Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper and the sea-themed Atlantis Resort, which are microcosms of the UAE’s lofty ambitions.
The regular fountain show in the Downtown area rivals that of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, while vast shopping complexes like Dubai Mall (complete with one of the world’s largest aquariums) and Mall of the Emirates (complete with ski slope) are packed with premium international labels.
Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, doesn’t have quite the same verve but boasts some remarkable attractions, from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the Ferrari World theme park. And in both destinations, there’s the option to delve into the UAE’s blend of Islamic culture and modernity, from spice souks to falcon hospitals. Meanwhile, the vast natural desert offers endless discoveries via exciting modes of transport from hot air balloon and quad bike to helicopter or sandboard.
And don’t be dazzled by Abu Dhabi and Dubai alone – the other emirates are also worthy of exploration. Among them, coastal Fujairah offers nature walks and a host of outdoor adventures, including mountain biking and scuba diving, while Ras al-Khamiah has excellent off-road driving and hiking in the rugged Hajar Mountains.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have announced the suspension of diplomatic relations with Qatar. All air and sea points of entry between UAE and Qatar were closed on 6 June 2017. If you have a question about your travel plans you should contact your airline or travel company. There are further restrictions on travel and residence affecting UAE and Qatar nationals. For more information see this UAE government announcement.
If you’re a British national holding Qatari residency, and you wish to transit through or enter into the UAE, normal entry requirements to the UAE should apply.
The UAE authorities announced on 7 June 2017 that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or by any other means of communication is an offence. Offenders could be imprisoned and subject to a substantial fine.
Around 1.5 million British nationals visit the UAE every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the UAE.
The UAE is a Muslim country. Laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 999 (police), 997 (fire) or 998 (ambulance).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
History of United Arab Emirates
It can be fascinating to examine the UAE’s foray into the modern world when only decades ago, the country was occupied by desert roaming, nomadic Bedouin tribes, who enjoyed simple existences in fishing villages and the peaceful, expansive desert.
The Bedouin people traded with merchants from Iran, China and India before the arrival of Europeans in the 1400s. From the late 1400s, the Portuguese had control over much of the coastal emirates. But in an 1892 treaty, the sheiks that had control over what we now know as the UAE gave up much of their foreign relations power to the British government.
Trading of the UAE’s “black gold” (crude oil) – the source of the country’s infallible wealth – commenced in 1962, after years of hardship that followed the downfall of the pearling industry in the 1930s. It was soon obvious that the British government could no longer administer and protect the emirates, so in March 1971 the treaties ended and the nine Persian Gulf sheikdoms began negotiations to form a union of Arab emirates. On 2 December 1971, Abu Dhabi and Dubai joined forces with four other emirates to form the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of Abu Dhabi, became the UAE’s first president. After he passed away in 2004, his eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, took over and he has been president ever since.
- The Dubai police force use Lamborghinis and Ferraris so that they can catch speeders.
- Dubai has no address system and no postal codes. For a package to arrive at the desired location, the sender would have to leave instructions about the destination of the package, or send it to a PO Box.
- The world’s fastest roller coaster is housed at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi’s indoor theme park.
United Arab Emirates Culture
Religion in United Arab Emirates
The vast majority of Emirati nationals are muslims, approximately 90% Sunni and 10% Shia. The UAE follows a policy of tolerating existence of other religions, through the Ministry of Tolerance. Based on the latest Ministry of Economy census in 2005, 76% of the total population is Muslim, 9% Christian, and 15% are recorded as other (mainly Hindu).
Social Conventions in United Arab Emirates
The UAE is an Islamic country and women may feel more comfortable when dressed modestly. Even though foreign women can dress as they please, covering the shoulders and knees is a requirement in public areas like shopping centres and also during periods of religious significance. Men are also expected to dress with respect. Homosexuality and adultery are both illegal and while non-married couples aren’t lawfully permitted to stay together in the same hotel room, it is common practice and rarely enforced.
Alcohol is tolerated, with non-Muslims allowed to drink alcohol in the cities’ plentiful hotel bars and restaurants (except for Sharjah). Tourists are permitted to bring four litres of alcohol into the country, though under 20s are not allowed to drink alcohol or buy cigarettes. It is illegal for everyone to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours of the holy month of Ramadan, and on the day or eve of days of national importance, alcohol isn’t sold and bars are shut. As in all Muslim countries, it’s best to keep displays of affection private – kissing or embracing in public is not only considered disrespectful, it could lead to police caution or even arrest. Holding hands is generally fine, but swearing, rude gestures and drink driving are all punishable by imprisonment. Drugs are a strict no-no and could land you in serious trouble. It’s worth checking what medicine and painkillers you bring into the country, as even some common pain medications like codeine are prohibited.
Language in United Arab Emirates
Arabic is the official language. English is widely spoken and used as a second language in commerce.
Hi = Salam سلام
Thanks = Shokran شكرا
Welcome = Marhaba مرحبا
How are you? = Kaifa haloka/ haloki (women) كيف حالك؟
Good morning = sabah ala-kheir صباح الخير
Good afternoon = masa’ al-kheir مساء الخير.
I’m lost = Ada’tu tareeqi أضعت طريقي! أضعت طريقي!
How much is this = Kam howa thamanoh? كم هو ثمنه؟
Excuse me = Men fathlek/ fathleki (female) فضلك
Sorry = Aasef! !أسف
No Problem = La moshkelah مشكلة
Weather and climate
Best time to visit
The UAE draws sunseekers from all corners of the globe due to the fact that it is blessed with year-round sunshine, blue skies and very little rain. The best time to visit is between October and April, when temperatures hover at a pleasant 25-28°C (77-82°F) and the Gulf is perfect for swimming. The hottest time of year is during the sweltering summer months of June to September, when humidity can seem unbearable and temperatures can skyrocket to 45°C (113°F). The country is well prepared for hot weather, however, with temperature controlled swimming pools and permanently air-conditioned hotels, malls, taxis and metros. Rain and wind can occur in January through March.
Layering is your best bet; wear light clothing outside and bring a jumper or sweatshirt for the heavily air-conditioned buildings around the cities. During November to March, warmer clothes are advised for evening. A hat and high factor sun block is also advisable – a day on the beach in the strong summer sun is an easy recipe for sunstroke and sunburn. If visiting during the summer, make like the residents and visit the beaches early in the morning and later in the evening.
The UAE sits at the top right hand corner of the Arabian Peninsula bordered by Oman in the east and Saudi Arabia in the south. All of the Emirates bar one sit on the on the Persian Gulf opposite Iran, and cover a distance spanning 650 km (404 miles) along the coastline. Fujairah is the only Emirate that sits on the Gulf of Oman. The UAE covers an area of 83,600 sq km (32,300 sq miles), Abu Dhabi covers 87% of the country’s land mass, which has a consistent terrain of mainly desert. It is home to native animals such as gazelles and the Arabian oryx, which was reintegrated into the area 40 years after it was hunted to extinction. Whilst 80% of the land mass is desert, other ecological terrain includes mountain areas and marine coastal areas.
The highest recorded point in the country is an unnamed peak stretching 1,910m (6266ft) high near the Jabal Bil Ays in Oman (but within the UAE border). The lowest point is at the Persian Gulf. The country only has 3.8% forest and woodlands due to the arid conditions. In an oasis is it common to find date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees. Sand storms are common in the UAE, and this can cause traffic on the roads due to the poor visibility.
Off the coast of Fujairah the waters are rich in calcium carbonate, and make the ideal breeding ground for coral reefs such as alveopora coral, African pillow coral, brain coral, raspberry-rice coral and more. The marine life in the area is rich due to these diverse coral formations and species in the area include Arabian carpet sharks, areloate groupers, black-finned melon butterfly fish, blacktip reef sharks, parrot fish and even whale sharks, which can be spotted by snorkellers and divers between the months of April and July.
Keeping in Touch in United Arab Emirates
Main area codes: Abu Dhabi 2; Ajman, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain 6; Al-Ain 3; Dubai 4; Fujairah 9; Jebel Ali 4; and Ras al-Khaimah 7. There is a good local telephone network. Telephone calls within each state are free.
Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone operators. Coverage is excellent. Tourists can purchase pre-paid mobile SIM cards.
There are numerous internet and Wi-Fi cafés in the UAE but VoIP telephone systems, such as Skype, are officially blocked. Websites deemed culturally or religiously insensitive are also blocked.
Newswires such as Reuters and major news stations like CNN International have residency in the UAE, along with numerous English television and radio stations. English-language magazines are available including Time Out Dubai, Time Out Abu Dhabi, Time Out Sharjah, What’s On, Grazia, Cosmopolitan and Esquire. However, media content is controlled and the government will censor certain political, religious, and sexual content. Foreign publications may also be censored before distribution with the notorious black marker.
In the press there is a broad range of English-language state-owned and privately owned newspapers including The National (www.thenational.ae), Gulf News(www.gulfnews.com/news/uae), Emirates Today (www.emirates247.com) and Khaleej Times (www.khaleejtimes.com). Free-to-air English channels include Dubai One, MBC 4, MBC Action, MBC 2. The cable network is named OSN (Orbit Showtime Network) and airs popular US, UK and Australian programmes. English radio stations include commercial stations Radio 1 and Radio 2. The main news, talk and sport station is Dubai Eye 103.8, and the latest addition to the airways is Rock Radio 90.7.
Airmail letters and parcels take about five days to reach Europe. In order to receive mail you usually need a PO Box number, as there is no door-to-door postal system.
Post Office hours
Vary from Sun-Thurs 0730-1500 and 0730-2100, depending on the branch.
Whether you’re searching for sashimi, Italian, fish and chips or a nine-course degustation journey at a fancy French restaurant, you will find it in the UAE. Visitors to the country really are spoiled for choice, with a wide range of cuisines available. In addition, many celebrity chefs have launched their namesake branches in the UAE, including Nobu Matsuhisa, Gary Rhodes and Giorgio Locatelli. Supermarkets and grocery stores stock home comforts and nearly everything that is available in Australia, USA and the UK, while hotels serve both Arab and European food. There is also a fantastic range of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Pakistani restaurants – especially in areas like Satwa, Deira and Bur Dubai.
Modern Emirati cuisine fuses a number of regional flavours, yet the nation’s staples have remained the same for centuries. You’ll likely find lamb, beef, goat, fish and rice in any of Middle Eastern themed eateries as well as the selection below:
- Hummus (chickpea and sesame paste).
- Tabbouleh(bulghur wheat with mint and parsley).
- Ghuzi (roast lamb with rice and nuts).
- Warak enab (stuffed vine leaves).
- Dates (there are more than 30 million date palms in the UAE).
- Shawarma (spit cooked meat in pitta bread with thick garlic sauce).
- Khameer and chebab (local bread often eaten for breakfast with eggs).
- Falafel (fried or grilled balls of herby chickpeas).
- Hamour (local grouper fished in Gulf waters).
- Luqaimat (Crispy deep fried batter dumpling balls served with syrup).
Things to know
All the Emirates, with the exception of Sharjah, permit the consumption of alcohol by non-Muslims in designated areas. Designated areas are usually restaurants or bars located inside hotels. It is illegal to drink alcohol in the street or to buy it for a UAE citizen. Muslims don’t consume pork, so it is not on the menu at many restaurants. If it’s served at a buffet or sold at a supermarket it will be separate from other food and clearly labelled. During the month of Ramadan, it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in any public spaces during daylight. Regulations have tightened recently regarding food and drink consumption in public during Ramadan, and punishments are harsh; expect to be slapped with a fine of AED2000 or face up to one month in jail.
Note: It is possible to buy alcohol, provided you have a permit. Look out for bottle shops identifiable by their blacked out windows.
Most hotels and restaurants add service charges to the bill. Tipping is welcomed at local restaurants where service charges are not applied.
Over 21 for non-UAE nationals or non-Muslims.
- Ayran (a refreshing yoghurt drink).
- Strong black coffee.
Safety and security
Over 1.5 million British visitors travel to the UAE every year and more than 100,000 British nationals are resident there. The vast majority of visits are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Don’t accept lifts from strangers. Use only licensed taxis or other recognized forms of public transport.
Personal attacks, including sexual assault and rape, are relatively rare, but do happen. UAE law places a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that the sexual relations were not consensual, especially when the victim had consumed alcohol or where the alleged attacker was known to the victim. If the sexual relations are determined to have been consensual, both parties may face prosecution for the offence of sex outside marriage. In 2013, a Norwegian woman who reported her rape to Dubai police was convicted of sex outside marriage and illegal consumption of alcohol.
Female visitors and residents should take care when walking or travelling alone, and should use a reputable taxi company, particularly at night. Drink spiking can occur. Don’t accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended.
Rip currents can occur at any beach, and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Always comply with warning signs, especially red flags, and only swim from approved beaches.
If you’re visiting the UAE, you can drive a rental car using your UK driving licence. If you intend to drive a private vehicle as a visitor, you should check that you’re covered under the vehicle’s insurance.
If you’re applying for residence in the UAE, you can use your UK licence until your residence permit is issued, after which you’ll need to immediately get a UAE driving licence from the traffic department.
Driving standards in the UAE are not always as disciplined as in the UK and there is a high rate of traffic accidents. The World Health Organisation has reported that UAE road users are almost 7 times more likely to be killed than their UK counterparts and that the UAE has one of the highest rates of road deaths. Speeding is common.
It is a criminal offence in the UAE to drink and drive, no matter how small the amount. Your insurance is also likely to be invalidated in the event of an accident. Offensive gestures and bad language used at other drivers can lead to fines, a jail sentence, and possibly deportation. Flashing your lights in the UAE can mean a driver is coming through, rather than giving way.
If you have an accident you should follow the rules of the Emirate in which you are travelling. In Abu Dhabi, if no one has been hurt and vehicle damage is minor, drivers should move vehicles to the side of the road to avoid blocking traffic; otherwise, the vehicles should not be moved. In Dubai, you should only move your vehicle if it is causing an obstruction to other motorists. In the other Emirates, you may only move your car if the accident is minor and both parties agree on who is responsible for it. In all cases, call the police. It is an offence to leave the scene of an accident before the police have arrived.
Excursions to the desert can be dangerous unless you’re in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle. Always travel in convoy with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone, and leave a copy of your travel plans with friends or relatives.
Pedestrians should take great care. Only cross roads using designated pedestrian crossings, failure to comply can lead to prosecution. Vehicles often don’t stop at zebra crossings marked on the roads.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected. Mariners should make careful enquiries before entering these waters.
You should consider how regional tensions may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.
Be careful when travelling by tourist boat. The safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available for all passengers.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the UAE. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. These include references to attacks on western interests, including residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques. You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
To enter the United Arab Emirates, a passport valid for a minimum of six months beyond the end date of the stay is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.
Nationals referred to in the chart above are issued visas free of charge on arrival. EU nationals are usually given a multiple-entry stamp valid for 90 days within a six-month period. Nationals of Australia, Canada and the USA are able to stay visa-free for 30 days.
Nationals not referred to in the chart are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements for the United Arab Emirates.
Israeli citizens are not permitted to travel to the UAE.
Types and Cost
Visit visa on arrival (for eligible nationals only): free.
Short visit visa (for those not eligible for the visa on arrival): £60. A sponsor (eg travel agency, hotel, company or individual) must apply for this on your behalf and you must collect it on arrival at the airport.
Long visit visa: £125. Again, a sponsor must apply for this on your behalf.
Multiple-entry visa: £121 for 30 days; £303 for 90 days.
Visit visa on arrival: 30 or 90 days.
Short visit visa: valid for two months before entering the UAE and for a stay of up to 30 days.
Long visit visa: valid for two months before entering the UAE and for a stay of up to 90 days.
Multiple-entry visa: valid for multiple stays of up to 14 days in a six-month period.
You don’t need a transit visa if you’re connecting to another flight within 12 hours.
On arrival (if eligible), through a sponsor in the UAE, or at the embassy in your country.
If you require a pre-arranged visa and are flying to or via Dubai with Emirates, you can also apply for a visa online when booking your flight; more information is available from VFS Global (http://dubaivisa.net). Visas are available for 96 hours, 14 days, 30 days or 90 days and you must apply at least 10 working days before you travel to Dubai. You can also obtain 30- or 90-day multiple-entry visas. This option is only available to Emirates passengers.
Unless you are a UAE national, residency is temporary and usually valid for three years.
Allow between three and five days for visa processing when arranged through a sponsor. However, allowances should be made for possible delays in approval procedure. It is strongly advised to apply well in advance of your departure date.
Some nationals may require proof that they have sufficient funds in their bank account to travel to the UAE. Check with the UAE Embassy in your home country for details.
A passport valid for six months, and a visa if you require one. Though it is often not enforced, it is recommended you have a valid return air ticket, a confirmed hotel booking, and at least US$1,000 in your bank account.
Extension of stay
Certain nationalities can extend their 30-day visa for an additional period of 30 days. Visit the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigner Affairs website for further details (http://dnrd.ae/en). Alternatively extend a 30-day tourist visa on arrival by driving across the land borders to Oman. Overstaying your visa may result in a fine.
Entry with pets
If bringing a pet, you should arrange a microchip and a rabies vaccination certificate 30 days prior to travel. You should also obtain an import permit from the Ministry of Environment and Water.
Our visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing,
We strongly recommend that you verify critical information unique to your trip with the relevant embassy before travel.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into the UAE. If you hold a residence permit, your passport must be valid for at least 3 months in order to travel into the country.
If you’re transiting the UAE (and not passing through Immigration) your passport only needs to have a minimum of 3 months validity from the date of transit.
Some prescribed and over the counter medicines that are available in the UK are considered controlled substances in the UAE and can’t be brought into the country without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health. You can find a list of controlled medicines on the websites of UAE Interact or the Ministry of Health.
For more information on controlled medicines and obtaining permission, contact the Drug Control Department’s customer service centre by emailing email@example.com or calling +971 2 611 7240. If you arrive in the UAE without this permission and the required documentation, the medication will not be allowed into the UAE and you may be prosecuted under UAE law.
If your medicine is not on the controlled list, the UAE Embassy in London advise that you can bring up to 3 months’ supply as a visitor or 12 months’ supply as a resident if you have a letter from your doctor or a copy of the original prescription with you. For more information, contact the embassy.
Previous travel to Israel
UAE immigration authorities have advised that British nationals with valid or expired Israeli visas or stamps in their passports should not face any difficulties entering the UAE as long as they don’t intend to work. If you do intend to work then further checks may be required and there is a risk that entry may be refused. British-Israeli dual nationals may be refused entry to the UAE. If you have any concerns or further queries, contact the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in London.
Visitors must have legal status in the UAE when they depart. If you are subject to a travel ban, involved in legal proceedings, have unpaid debt or are a child subject to a custody dispute, you may be prevented from leaving the country.
e accepted for airside transit and exit from the United Arab Emirates.
Local laws and customs
UAE laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK. You are strongly advised to familiarise yourself with, and respect local laws and customs.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 15 May and finish on 14 June.
You can read more about living in the UAE here.
Importing pork products and pornography into the UAE is illegal. Videos, books, and magazines may be subject to scrutiny and may be censored.
There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offences. The penalties for trafficking, smuggling and possession of drugs (even residual amounts) are severe. Sentences for drug trafficking can include the death penalty and possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum 4-year jail sentence. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession. Some herbal highs, like Spice, are illegal in the UAE.
Many people stop off in UAE airports on their way to other destinations. UAE airports have excellent technology and security, so transiting passengers carrying even residual amounts of drugs may be arrested.
Non-Muslim residents can get a liquor licence to drink alcohol at home and in licensed venues. These licences are valid only in the Emirate that issued the licence. Residents must also get a permit to be able to drink in licensed venues.
Alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs, but it is a punishable offence to drink, or to be under the influence of alcohol, in public. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 18 in Abu Dhabi (although a Ministry of Tourism by-law allows hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21), and 21 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates (except Sharjah, where drinking alcohol is illegal).
Passengers in transit through the UAE under the influence of alcohol may also be arrested.
Electronic cigarettes are illegal in the UAE and are likely to be confiscated at the border.
Women should dress modestly when in public areas like shopping malls. Clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible. Swimming attire should be worn only on beaches or at swimming pools.
Cross-dressing is illegal.
It is normal practice for hotels to take a photocopy of your passport or Emirates ID. You can’t stay in a hotel if you’re under 18 years old and not accompanied by an adult.
Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported. Take particular care when dealing with the police and other officials.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.
Relationships outside marriage
All sex outside marriage is illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK. If the UAE authorities become aware that you’re conducting a sexual relationship outside marriage (as recognised by them), you run the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation. It’s against the law to live together, or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related.
Due to the laws on sex outside marriage, if you become pregnant outside marriage, both you and your partner could face imprisonment and/or deportation. Doctors may ask for proof of marriage during ante-natal checks. An unmarried woman who gives birth in the UAE may also encounter problems when registering the birth of the child in the UAE, and could be arrested, imprisoned or deported. To get a birth certificate from the UAE authorities, you must provide a marriage certificate and the authorities may compare the date of the marriage against the estimated date of conception.
All homosexual sex is illegal and same-sex marriages are not recognised.
The UAE is in many respects a tolerant society and private life is respected, although there have been some reports of individuals being punished for homosexual activity and/or sexual activity outside marriage, particularly where there is any public element, or the behaviour has caused offence. This applies both to expatriate residents and to tourists. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Photography of certain government buildings and military installations isn’t allowed. Don’t photograph people without their permission. Men have been arrested for photographing women on beaches. Hobbies like bird watching and plane spotting, may be misunderstood – particularly near military sites, government buildings and airports. In February 2015, 3 British nationals were arrested while plane spotting at UAE airports. They were detained for 2 months.
Posting material (including videos and photographs) online that is critical of the UAE government, companies or individuals, or related to incidents in the UAE, or appearing to abuse/ridicule/criticise the country or its authorities, or that is culturally insensitive, may be considered a crime punishable under UAE law. There have been cases of individuals being detained, prosecuted and/or convicted for posting this type of material.
The UAE authorities announced on 7 June 2017 that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or by any other means of communication is an offence. Offenders could be imprisoned and subject to a substantial fine.
bu Dhabi and Dubai is available on the British Embassy website.
Financial crimes, including fraud, bouncing cheques (including post-dated and ‘security cheques’) and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills) can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Bank accounts and other assets can also be frozen.
Bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for financial crimes. Those convicted will not generally be released from jail until the debt is paid or waived and they may even remain in jail after a debt has been paid if there is an outstanding sentence to be served.
Equipment like satellite phones, listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars, may require a licence for use in the UAE. Seek advice from the UAE Embassy in London.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures.
Check the latest country-specific information and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website or from NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in patients from the United Arab Emirates have been reported to the World Health Organization. There have also been cases of Legionnaires’ disease among British nationals who have recently travelled from Dubai. For the latest information and advice, see the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Healthcare facilities in the UAE are generally comparable with those in the UK, but visitors may be prevented from using them without travel insurance or without the means to settle any medical fees. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Daily flights link Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Flights can also be chartered and there are small landing fields throughout the United Arab Emirates.
Usually included in the air fare.
Well lit, tarmac roads connect all emirates. Dubai is notorious for traffic and dangerous driving, but things can slow to a crawl during peak hour in some congested parts of the city. Most roads are well maintained, with one long highway known as Sheikh Zayed Road connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Side of the road
There are good tarmac roads running along the west coast between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah; between Sharjah and Dhaid; and linking Dubai with other northern states and the interior. Roads are clearly signposted in Arabic and English.
Motorways, A-roads and B-roads.
Most international car hire companies have offices at airports, hotels and malls. A passport, credit card and either a valid international or national licence are necessary for tourists.
Taxis are a quick and convenient method of travel within the UAE, as they are available everywhere with metered fares. Make sure you carry smaller notes – anything over Dhs50 note will inspire grumbling. Taxis are scarce around 1700. This is when the taxi drivers change shift and deliver their cars back to the depot.
Cycling has been slow to take off in the UAE, but the Dubai government recently started a campaign to promote cycling as a way of maintaining fitness. However, that does not mean drivers will recognize cyclists as road partners – many drivers have very little regard for the safety of cyclists. Bikes are prohibited on major roads and highways, and cyclists are encouraged to use smaller roads or UAE’s growing number of dedicated bikeways. In addition, cyclists should take into account the brutally high temperatures in the Dubai desert summer and make sure to stay hydrated before, during, and after a ride.
Coach services in the UAE are of the luxury variety and many come with mini bars, massage chairs and TVs. Etihad offers an express service between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain. This is a free service for Etihad customers. There are also a number of bus companies offering a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing trip around Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Speed limits are clearly displayed on road signs and are usually up to 60kph (37mph) in built-up areas, up to 120kph (75mph) on major roads, and up to 120kph (75mph) on motorways. Don’t be surprised when other drivers seem to ignore this.
An International Driving Permit is recommended, although it is not legally required. A valid national driving licence from the UK, Australia or the USA is acceptable.
Abra boats trips across the creek from the Deira Old Souk and Sabkha Abra Station at Dubai Old Souk Abra Station cost AED1 per passenger. The Dubai Ferry runs between Al Ghubaib and Dubai Marina. In Abu Dhabi there is a ferry service from Jebel Al Dhanna port to Delma Island. There are also a number of private boat journeys from Abu Dhabi to various islands.
Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority in the UK
Address: 1 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LY
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7201 6400.
Dubai Department of Tourism in the UK
Address: 41-46 Piccadilly, Nuffield House, 4th Floor, London, W1J 0DS
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7321 6110.
Abu Dhabi’s islands
The eight natural islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi include the spectacular Sir Bani Yas, home to the swanky Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa and around 30 free roaming Arabian and African animal species.
Head east through spectacular scenery from Abu Dhabi or Dubai to the resort and former caravan stop of Al-Ain. The resort includes a camel market, zoo and museum containing old and new artefacts and Mesopotamian pottery. The lush oasis village also offers excellent hiking at nearby Jebel Hafeet.
The ancient fortressed villages of Hatta and Wadi Hatta are close to Dubai, in a surprisingly lush and attractive valley in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains. The area also has a number of naturally formed pools to cool off in.
Explore the important archaeological digs at Hili, 10km (6 miles) from Al Ain. The stone tombs, including the famous Great Sepulchre, date back 5,000 years. Al-Ain also includes a camel market, zoo and museum containing old and new artefacts and Mesopotamian pottery. There’s also offers excellent hiking at nearby Jebel Hafeet.
The historic Bastakiya alongside Dubai Creek is Dubai’s Bohemian quarter, with some wonderful cafés, and eclectic art galleries. It’s particularly pleasant during the evening when the mosques sound their call to prayer.
The beaches offer white sand and warm, clear waters but in Dubai, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi, the best are to be found at luxury hotels. You can pay a few dirhams to visit beaches with toilet facilities, such as Jumeirah Beach Park, Dubai, and Sandy Beach, Fujairah (for incredible snorkelling opportunities). Excellent beaches include JBR Beach, Jumeirah Open Beach (a favourite for surfers), and Kite Beach (a favourite for kite-surfers). Topless bathing is not permitted anywhere, but women are free to wear bikinis at the beach.
The waters of the Gulf are excellent fishing grounds. Fully-equipped boats with crew can be hired for deep-sea fishing trips from all marinas, via hotels and local tour companies.
Off-road driving in the desert is excellent for thrillseekers. Vehicles are available for hire either with or without guides at nearly every hotel. Adventurous travellers can view the dunes by air, in a hot air balloon.
Take a traditional dhow cruise from the Abu Dhabi or Dubai Creek marina, or book a fully-equipped boat for deep-sea fishing trips. Alternatively, catch a traditional spluttering abra (small boat) along Dubai Creek for only a few dirhams each way. Yacht trips are also available from the Dubai Marine Yacht Club.
Dubai World Cup horse race
Go to the races at the annual Dubai World Cup (www.dubaiworldcup.com), or learn more about the Arabs’ passion for horses at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club (www.adec-web.com) close to the UAE’s capital.
First-class golf courses
Dubai is unequivocally one of the world’s top golfing destinations. Venues like the Emirates Golf Club (www.dubaigolf.com) regularly host top international competitions, and there are scores of others dotted around the UAE, though the bulk and the best are in Dubai. You can even try your hand at sand golf.
At more than 828m (2,716.5ft), Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (www.burjkhalifa.ae) is the tallest building in the world and if you reserve ahead you can visit the observation deck on Level 124. Tours of the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab or Abu Dhabi’s sprawling Emirates Palace hotel (reportedly the most expensive in the world) can also be arranged.
Mosques and forts
Don’t miss the many historic mosques and forts dotted around the older parts of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, notably the incredible Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi and Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai. Non-Muslims are welcome to enter during certain visiting times, however women must cover their hair and body. Sheilas (head scarf) and abayas (traditional black dress for women) are available to borrow.
Dubai’s manmade palm-shaped island is rumoured to be visible from the moon, and it truly does have a wow-factor – especially when seen flying low over the city. The built up areas consist of residential and hotel projects including the awesome Atlantis The Palm, home to Aquaventure water park – an absolute must for a hilariously wet, fun day out.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy Ras al-Khaimah (www.rasalkhaimah.ae), which has coastline, the rugged Hajar Mountains and Khatt mineral springs.
Aside from the main cities, there are remote stretches of coastline to be found dotted around the country – one of the most peaceful parts include the harbour at Dibba (around 90 minutes from Dubai) and Khor Kalba, where you can kayak through mangroves. Umm-al Quwain also has some beautiful beaches with small, coastal hotels offering boat trips and crab-hunting.
Go haggling in Dubai’s famous souks, magnets for those in search of gold and jewellery bargains, and also for photographers or those who just want to experience the sights, smells and hubbub.
Wadis and Mountains
Wadis are dried out river beds and Emiratis love to explore them in four-wheel drive cars, a past time known as wadi bashing. The best areas are in Hatta and Jebel Hafeet mountain in Al Ain, or head for the hills in Ras al-Khaimah.