The United Arab Emirates Travel Guide

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Where is United Arab Emirates? History of United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates Visa Requirements United Arab Emirates-Travel-Health
What is United Arab Emirates Local Currency? What is United Arab Emirates Weather?
Culture of United Arab Emirates What Languages Are Spoken In United Arab Emirates?
United Arab Emirates Transport Options United Arab Emirates Travel Tips
United Arab Emirates Local Food United Arab Emirates Local Timezones
United Arab Emirates Dutyfree Limits

Where is United Arab Emirates?

The United Arap Emirates Flag

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a nation of seven regions (emirates) on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, with its coastline on the Persian Gulf. The UAE is made up of the of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ra’s al Khaymah and Umm al Quwain. The most visited of the emirates is Dubai, although Abu Dhabi is the largest of the emirates and contains the UAE’s capital city also called Abu Dhabi. The country is mostly desert and saltpans. With an area of nearly 83 000 km², less than 1% is deemed to be arable land and less than 4% is forests or woodlands.

History of United Arab Emirates

The earliest known human habitation of this area dates back to 5500BC, with evidence of foreign trade from around 3000BC, the major trade partners being Syria, Iraq, Oman and India. In more recent history, the Portuguese took control of much of the area for about 150 years from the early 16th Century. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the area became known as ‘The Pirate Coast’. Bedouin raiders based along the coastline attacked passing ships, especially UK vessels. In 1820, leaders from the emirates signed a peace treaty enforced by the United Kingdom in return for British protection during sea or land attacks. The Maritime Truce of 1835 granted Britain even more control of the defence and foreign affairs of this area, leading to the UAE’s former name, ‘The Trucial States of the Persian Gulf’.

During the 1800’s, prosperity and jobs came from pearling, but the world pearl market collapsed in the early 1900’s and the Trucial States faced economic disaster. Oil came to the rescue, with exploration beginning in the 1930’s leading to the first crude oil export in 1962. Life quickly improved for inhabitants of The Trucial States and the potential for wealth and prosperity from oil mining led to unification between the emirates. When treaties with the British expired in 1971, the seven states became fully independent and united to create the United Arab Emirates during 1971 and 1972.

Today the United Arab Emirates has a highly developed economy and the sixth largest oil reserves in the world. The major cities are fascinating, glittering shopping meccas for cashed-up tourists, offering superb resorts and endless duty-free shopping that has earned the UAE a reputation for the best shopping in the world. The architecture is sleek, innovative and unique, and the city surrounds are full of lush, green parks and gardens, making it hard for tourists to believe they are in the middle of the desert. Dubai is the most wealthy, visited and cosmopolitan of the cities, and the annual Dubai Shopping Festival in January each year is fast becoming the destination for serious shopaholics!

Tourists visiting the UAE are also offered a variety of fascinating attractions that showcase the more traditional Bedouin heritage, including excursions through the sand dunes, sailing on a dhow (Arabian sailing boat), day and night camel treks with star-gazing at night, or souvenir shopping at a souq (Arabian marketplace). If you’re not into shopping or the traditional attractions, The United Arab Emirates will still astound you with its choice of things to do and see: gorgeous beaches and coral reef diving spots, fine dining and great dance venues, and magnificent mountain landscapes like Hatta.

United Arab Emirates Visa Requirements

Citizens of many nations are able to visit the United Arab Emirates with minimal visa requirements however you may experience difficulties as you enter the UAE if your passport has evidence of travel to Israel, such as entry or exit stamps. 

Nationals from the following countries can enter the UAE without a prior visa for up to 60 days – an Entry Visit Visa will be issued on arrival; Australia, United States, Canada, New Zealand, the UK as well as most of the countries of the EU and many Asian countries, including Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. Currently the Entry Visit Visa is free of charge but is recommended that you check with the department of foreign affairs before travelling. The Entry Visit Visa may be renewed once for an additional period of 30 days for a fee of 500.00 Dirhams. 

Citizen of the Gulf Cooperation Council do not require a visa, and 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 in certain instances an individual such a relative or friend resident in the UAE.

The importation of pornographic material is forbidden. Videos, books and magazines may be scrutinised and censored or confiscated. 

An embarkation tax of AED30 is levied on passengers departing from any airports in the UAE.

As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.

United Arab Emirates Travel Health

The United Arab Emirates is considered to be a safe area to travel in. Although there are no widespread endemic diseases, there is a small risk of malaria if travelling in rural areas of the northern Emirates.

If you are planning a trip which includes using hotels and restaurants used to catering to international travellers, the quality of the food and water should pose no problems as hygiene standards will usually be good. When exploring off the beaten track however, hygiene, food preparation and storage standards can be variable. It is wise to assume that water in these areas is not safe to drink and ice should be avoided. Likewise, fruit and vegetables should be peeled and make sure that meat is cooked thoroughly. Although no vaccinations are mandatory for travel to the UAE, some travel doctors recommend vaccinations for diphtheria, hepatitis A and tetanus. 

Medical facilities in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are of a good standard but treatment is generally expensive. General and specialised care and is widely available in the major centres, but can be difficult to find in outlying areas, and a comprehensive medical travel insurance is highly recommended. 

Because of the sometimes extreme heat in the region, visitors are advised to ensure that they remain adequately hydrated by drinking plenty of water. When exploring outdoors, use of a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen can provide sensible protection from the sun.

The UAE has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, making this a very safe destination to travel to, although common sense should always be applied. As in many parts of the world, the threat of terrorist acts cannot be entirely discounted, so it is always prudent to check any travel alerts before venturing to a foreign country. 

The laws relating to drugs, narcotics and some medicines, are very strict and diligently enforced in the UAE with prison sentences being enforced. Travellers are advised that the painkiller codeine is illegal, as are a number of other prescription and over the counter medications. The UAE has a zero tolerance policy, and even inadvertent possession of trace elements of a banned substance can result in prosecution.

For a list of controlled and banned pharmaceutical substances, visit http://www.emirates.com/uk/english/plan_book/essential_information/banned_substances_in_the_uae.aspx

Emergency telephone numbers for the UAE are: 997 for fire, 998 for ambulance and 999 for police.

What is United Arab Emirates Local Currency?

The currency in the United Arab Emirates is the dirham (AED, or it’s local abbreviation dhs). One dirham is divided into 100 fils. Banknotes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 dirhams. Coins come in denominations of 1 dirham, 5, 10, 25, and 50 fils, The The UAE dirham is pegged to the US dollar and because of this, large fluctuations against the dollar are unlikely. In the 2008-2009 period, the exchange rates of the dirham against the US dollar showed an average of 3.674 AED to US$1, a high of 3.673 and a low of 3.659.

ATMs are plentiful and easy to find in the larger centres of population. Machines accept all of the major cards, so withdrawing cash should not cause any problems during your visit.

As of July 2009 the United Arab Emirates do not operate a Value Added Tax (VAT) system, although it has been under consideration for some time. The price displayed for any goods and services will be the price to be paid.

What is United Arab Emirates’s Weather?

The climate in the United Arab Emirates is generally hot and dry. Summer temperatures along the coastal plain during the summer months of July and August regularly soar to 48 Celsius, with later months of the summer often adding humidity to the heat. The mountainous regions of Haajar Gharbi and Ras al-Khaimah to the east are somewhat cooler due their elevation, with average minimum winter temperatures in January and February being 10 to 14 Celsius. Average annual rainfall in elevated locations can often reach 350mm, whilst the coastal plain receives as little as 120mm, most of which falls in the cooler months in short torrential showers sometimes causing minor flooding. October to April is considered to be the most pleasant time to visit the UAE because of cooler daytime temperatures.

Culture of United Arab Emirates

The people of the United Arab Emirates are proud, but friendly, warm and welcoming to tourists. They are generally courteous and generous, expecting the same level of courtesy from visitors to their country. While the traditional Bedouin culture is still strong, it competes with the fast-paced lifestyle of consumerism, and also the fact that over 75% of the population are non-citizens, coming predominantly from South and Southeast Asia with their own cultures and influences.

The strongest influence on culture in the UAE is the official religion, Islam, practised by around 96% of the population. There are mosques in most neighbourhoods, where faithful Muslims pray five times a day. Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, where Muslims abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset every day, can begin as early as August but sometimes occurs in October and November, depending on the year. It is a fascinating time to visit the UAE, but do your research well if you plan to experience Ramadan. Most eating establishments are closed during daylight hours and the locals can become very offended if tourists eat, drink or smoke in public during the fasting hours. The weekend begins on Thursday or Friday in all the emirates, due to Friday being the holy day for Muslims. 

The influence of Islam extends well beyond the mosque walls, maintaining a highly conservative culture and an unforgiving legal system. Many Muslims are offended by revealing clothing so tourists are advised to wear loose, modest clothing, especially when visiting Sharjah and Ajman, the most conservative emirates. There are very serious laws surrounding drug possession and trafficking, with penalties ranging from the death penalty to imprisonment and heavy fines. Prostitution, homosexuality and adultery are all illegal with severe penalties for offenders. Anyone found speaking publicly about another religion, or distributing non-Islamic materials will be imprisoned and deported. Many laws forbid behaviour that is tolerated in many Western societies such as taking photos of locals without permission, swearing or making rude gestures, harassing women in any way, and drinking or being intoxicated in a public place. If you are visiting the UAE, make yourself very familiar with the laws, as breaking the law can mean a considerable stay in detention before a trial occurs. 

In the UAE, tipping depends on whether there is already a service charge in the bill. Most hotels and restaurants add a 10 to 16% service charge, so no tip is necessary. If the bill does not contain this charge, a 10% tip is adequate if deserved. Bargaining is commonplace in the souks (Arabian marketplaces), and possible but less common in stores. The famous gold and jewellery souks of Dubai are full of haggling tourists. Most vendors will drop prices substantially especially for a cash sale.

What Languages Are Spoken In United Arab Emirates?

Although the official language of the UAE is Arabic, the population of the country is so multicultural that English has become the de facto language in most instances. Other languages widely spoken include Tagalog (Filipino),Hindi, Farsi and Malayalam.

The international dialling code for the UAE is +971, and the dialling code for make an outbound international call from within the UAE is 00, followed by the country code of the country you wish to connect to. Payphones generally accept coins as well as prepaid calling cards available from many convenience stores, hotels and malls.

The UAE operates an extensive GSM mobile network with very good coverage in the main population centres. If your existing provider does not support international roaming for this region, prepaid “Ahlan” SIM cards are available from the Emirates Telecom provider Etisalat. 

Internet access in the UAE is becoming more widespread, with a number of internet cafes in the cities, and an increasing number of WiFi hotspots to be found in popular locations such as Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, whilst many of the more upscale hotels offer chargeable internet access from rooms and common guest areas. 

Overall, connection speeds and reliability can be variable, with lapses in service and dropouts common. Visitors should also be aware that the government operates a certain level of web censorship and the restriction of access to some websites and web-based services, sometimes including VOIP and instant messaging.

Postal services are fairly basic in the UAE, with deliveries being made to PO boxes rather than homes or businesses. Post boxes and even postage stamps can be hard to find, although services such as Mumtaz Post and DHL do offer express International delivery.

United Arab Emirates Transport Options

There are two main international airports in the United Arab Emirates at Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They are both state-of-the-art facilities, considered to be among the finest airports in the world. Etihad and Emirates are the major UAE airlines, both with a reputation for superb service, safety and comfort. Other major airlines servicing the UAE include British, Lufthansa, Singapore, Air France, Gulf Air, Air India, and KLM airlines. For budget flights within the Middle East and India, Air Arabia flies from Sharjah airport, quite close to Dubai. Small airports also exist at Al-Ain, Fujairah and Ras al-Khaimah offering predominantly charter flights.

There are no rail services in the United Arab Emirates, though hire cars are readily available at all airports and in the city centres. A rental car costs between Dh150 and Dh270 per day. Tourists can enter the UAE by road via Oman from the east or Saudi Arabia in the south. Roads are of a very high standard, although very congested in urban areas and places like the stretch from Sharjah to Dubai. Ask your car rental company for advice on toll licences as many roads are subject to tolls. 

Public transport is very limited within the cities although Dubai is currently building a train and monorail system. There are however, frequent comfortable and fast intercity bus services. Taxis are widely available in the major centres and relatively cheap, based on the distance travelled. Vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road, and the UAE is renowned for speeding and reckless drivers, especially in urban areas. Before deciding to drive in the UAE, visitors should be aware of the issues of road-rage and aggressive drivers, especially during peak traffic periods

United Arab Emirates Travel Tips

Western visitors are advised to remember that they are guests in a Muslim county and to make the effort to learn and respect the laws, customs and culture of the locals. Although holy days and the annual festival of Ramadan can offer a rare glimpse into Muslim culture and tradition, visitors should take into account the laws and customs observed during these times. 

The UAE’s attitude towards narcotics and banned pharmaceuticals is zero tolerance, with extremely harsh penalties for offenders. Do not drink and drive in the UAE as offenders will usually end up in jail. All forms of pornographic materials are also banned.

Occasional dust storms can result in reduced air quality which may be problematic for people with respiratory difficulties.

United Arab Emirates Local Food

A wide variety of international cuisines can be found in the UAE and eating out can be fairly inexpensive, although of course there are many upmarket restaurants and hotels where dining is correspondingly more expensive. A popular local dish Shawarma consists of tasty slow roasted shaved chicken served with flat bread. Generally, Arabic food is tasy and nutritious and considered to be similar to that found in Greece and Lebanon, often focused on skewered and grilled meats such as lamb and chicken with a mild spicy flavour derived from cumin and saffron. 

Alcohol is available to tourists in liquor stores, many hotel restaurants and bars in all emirates except Sharjah, where alcohol can only be consumed in the home. During the festival of Ramadan, no alcohol is served between dawn and dusk. Dubai and Abu Dhabi do permit alcohol to be served in some bars after sunset during Ramadan, but all music is turned off and no dancing is allowed. Consequently the nightclubs are closed. Other holy days in the Muslim calendar prohibit the public sale of alcohol anywhere in the Emirates.

United Arab Emirates Local Timezones

The United Arab Emirates has a single time zone and is four hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+4). The UAE does not implement daylight saving time.

In the United Arab Emirates, electricity is supplied at 220V / 50Hz. Power outlets and plugs can be of two or three types, with the most prolific being the British type with three rectangular pins. If you plan on using your own electrical equipment in the UAE, a plug adaptor may well be a useful investment. Additionally, if your electrical equipment is of a different voltage, a power convertor will be required. These can be purchased at most duty free shops and some convenience stores and are sometimes available at the reception desk of hotels

United Arab Emirates Dutyfree Limits

The following items are allowed to be imported by visitors without paying duty: 

• 400 cigarettes and/or cigars to a maximum value of AED3,000, 

• perfume for personal use up to a value of AED3,000. 

Rules applying to alcohol vary. 

• Abu dhabi and Fujairah: 4 litres of any kind of alcohol, provided passenger is non-Muslim; 

• Dubai: 24 cans of beer or 4 litres of any other kind of alcohol; 

• Sharjah: 2 litres of alcohol and one case of beer.


Prohibited items: 

• Abu Dhabi and Fujairah: Fruits and vegetables from cholera infected areas, cultivated pearls. 

• Dubai and Sharjah: uncooked edible seafood, fruits and vegetables from cholera infected areas. 

Visitors should note that duty free allowances, currency regulations and prohibited items can and do change from time to time, so it’s always best to check details near to the time of travel.

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