The United Arab Emirates (Arabic: دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة) or simply the Emirates is a country rich in history and culture at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. It makes an easy starting point for travels in the Middle East.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates (imarat, singular - imarah):
|Emirate of Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi and Al Ain)|
|Emirate of Dubai (Dubai and Hatta)|
|Emirate of Sharjah (Sharjah, Dibba, Kalba and Khor Fakkan)|
|Emirate of Ajman (Ajman)|
|Emirate of Umm al Quwain (Umm al Quwain)|
|Emirate of Ra's al Khaymah (Ra's al Khaymah)|
|Emirate of Fujairah (Fujairah)|
The United Arab Emirates has multiple cities, towns, and villages across the country. The seven capitals of the seven emirates constitute the major city and transport hub in each respective emirate.
- 1 Abu Dhabi (Arabic: أبو ظبي) – The nation's capital, filled with major museums and monuments.
- 2 Dubai (Arabic: دبي) – The financial capital and commerce center and largest city of the UAE.
- 3 Sharjah (Arabic: الشارقة) – The nation's cultural hub famous for its Arabic and Islamic architecture.
- 4 Ajman (Arabic: عجمان) – The smallest emirate, one of the quiet destinations with a relaxed atmosphere.
- 5 Umm al Quwain (Arabic: أم القيوين) – A peninsular town extending into the gulf with multiple beach resorts.
- 6 Ras Al Khaimah (Arabic: راس الخيمة) – An adventure hub of the Middle East, with the highest mountain in UAE and many thrill activities.
- 7 Fujairah (Arabic: الفجيرة) – Popular tourist and stay-cation destination on the gulf of Oman. Nicknamed as The Bride of the Eastern Coast.
Other famous destinations include the following:
- 1 Al Ain (Arabic: العين) – Once a small oasis and now a major town close to the Omani border town of Buraimi.
- 2 Hatta (Arabic: حتا) – Once a mountainous village, but now a major adventure destination for kayaking and hiking.
- 3 Khor Fakkan (Arabic: خورفكان) – A town set on a picturesque bay with multiple historical watch towers and a traditional Friday's Market.
- 4 Liwa Oasis (Arabic: واحة ليوا) – A crescent of farms around an oasis on the edge of the Empty Quarter. Provides an easy access to the Empty Quarter and famous for off road adventures across sand dunes.
- 5 Ruwais (Arabic: الرويس) – An industrial and energy town located in the western region in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
|Currency||United Arab Emirates dirham (AED)|
|Population||9.8 million (2020)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||112, 997 (fire department), 998 (emergency medical services), 999 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Even well into the 20th century, the UAE was not on anybody's tourist itinerary. But investment of fabulous oil and gas wealth, as well as a comparatively liberal interpretation of Islam (if you are a wealthy foreigner, that is), have changed that in a big way - megaprojects including artificial islands, gargantuan malls with everything on offer for those of wallets large enough, and the tallest building in the world have created a lot of buzz around the Emirates. The rapid expansion of the UAE's aviation industry in the 21st century, in large part due to the explosive growth of Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, has arguably turned the UAE into the center of the world. The less well known side of the UAE includes remote, magnificent desert dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter and awe-inspiring wadis and mountains in the north-east emirates bordering Oman.
Beneath the glimmering façade, however, there is a vast underclass of migrant workers who are often horribly mistreated, not to mention a rather authoritarian set of ruling families who won't brook criticism from anyone - not even "unruly" members of their own families.
The arrival of envoys from the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 630 heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After Muhammad, one of the major battles fought at Dibba resulted in the defeat of the non-Muslims and triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. Historically as a collection of port towns on the coast and oases in the desert, the Emirates is a collection of seven tribal affiliations ruled by Sheikhs who joined hands to form one federal state. The Sheikhs of the different emirates decided to form a union and pooled their sources to counter other tribal expansionism which was dominant in Arabia then and around the surrounding region, particularly the Saudi's and Omani's expansionism. The Sheikhs of the 7 emirates agreed to become a British protectorate in 1820, and were known as the Trucial States. The United Arab Emirates declared independence from the United Kingdom on 2 December 1971 when the Sheikhs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai met and Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi proposed forming a union with Sheikh Rashid of Dubai. Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain, and Fujairah all accepted the invitation and agreed to the union. Ras Al Khaimah agreed to join a couple of months later on 10 February 1972. Sheikh Zayed was seen as the driving force of creating the UAE and is credited with the formation of the state as its founding father. Sheikh Zayed and the rest of the Sheikhs of the emirates are all referred to as the UAE's founding fathers.
The country is mostly desert, however other terrains can also be found. In multiple emirates, particularly Ras Al Khaimah, mountains and wadis can be seen everywhere. The different landscape gives the northern emirates their own distinct features. Water dams and local wildlife can be experienced around the country. Several mangrove swamps are present around the coast, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Umm al Quwain where you may be able to kayak around them. Inside major cities, you will almost forget that you're in the desert as the cities are decorated with greenery, parks, and wide grass fields.
There are three different factors that determine the Emirati cultural landscape. On the one hand the traditional Islamic Bedouin culture including the traditional items of clothing. Men wear white garments called Kandora, while women wear black clothing called Abaya. Then there is the immigration of badly paid workers mostly (but not entirely) from South Asia who are barely integrated into society at all and often treated as if invisible by mainstream Emirati society. Third is the "modern" and "western" image that especially the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi wish to portray to the rest of the world with glitzy shopping malls, more lenient interpretations of Islam than in neighboring Saudi Arabia, and an overall air of luxury for those willing and able to pay for it. Naturally, those three tend to clash, sometimes glaringly, but for the most part the native Emiratis are content to participate in the fossil fuel wealth and ignore all but the most blatant "un-Islamic" practices of wealthy foreigners as long as they keep the tourism and shopping going. There are however more off the beaten path places where the locals still live a more traditional lifestyle.
Nightlife is evident in major cities such as Dubai. Compared to certain countries where the country or city winds down after 5PM or 7PM, the UAE's nightlife continues in all emirates (except maybe in small villages or towns). Street lights, buildings, and lights around the country overall continue to illuminate the country at night. Most of restaurants, retail shops, malls, and services continue to operate till approximately 10PM during weekdays and sometimes midnight during weekends. Alcohol is widely available at many restaurants and bars in all emirates except for Sharjah. There is a legal but roundly overlooked requirement to have a license to buy alcohol in liquor stores (of which there are few). The alcohol license is proof that the bearer is a non-Muslim. A passport will not suffice. However, you can purchase alcohol duty-free at the airport to bring into the UAE. Sharjah emirate is completely dry. An alcohol license is required in the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ajman; the remaining emirates of Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, and Umm al Quwain do not require any type of license. The requirement is sometimes overlooked at certain stores.
The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, each of which is an absolute monarchy headed by its own sheikh. Each emirate retains considerable autonomy, each with their own laws. The sheikh of each emirate is revered by the native Emirati population (and if he isn't, they certainly won't tell a random tourist) and is considered the leader and visionary of the emirate. Each emirate's sheikh is the driving force for its emirate's most well known attribute. For example, Dubai is progressive and has become more cosmopolitan and a major tourist destination as the result of its sheikh's vision for Dubai to be a tourist hub. The ruling sheikh of Sharjah is more conservative and a big advocate of education as well as Arabic literature and architecture, thus Sharjah hosts multiple universities, has many Abbasid and Ummayyad architectural buildings, and alcohol is not served anywhere in the city. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirates and has the Presidential Palace (called Qasr al Watan), all the major country's national institutions, and all foreign embassies. Abu Dhabi also hosts many monuments, museums, and has more of a political atmosphere. In theory, the President and Prime Minister are elected by the Federal Supreme Council, which is composed of the sheikhs of each of the seven emirates. In practice, the sheikh of Abu Dhabi is always elected President while the sheikh of Dubai is always elected Prime Minister, making the posts de facto hereditary.
The infrastructure in the UAE is all modern and well-developed. Most buildings are brand new. Lights shine almost all streets, pot holes are almost non-existent, crime rates are very low, no homelessness can be seen, telecommunication signals can be found everywhere, and road signs with bilingual Arabic and English languages are well placed in all cities. Date palm trees is the symbolic tree of the country and can be seen lining almost all roads. The country is fairly new, so a lot of things change rapidly and new buildings sprout out of nowhere. Its almost like Sim City on steroids.
The roads and other public facilities are modern if, at times, extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a vast assortment of products from Europe and the US, depending on the shop, along with local and regional items. Major international chains such as Ikea, Carrefour, and Géant have a presence and fast-food chains (nearly all major chains) such as McDonald's and KFC operate widely. On the other hand, there are still a few crowded traditional souks filled with products from around the world and rug stores. These can be hard to find for the average traveler, as the malls tend to gain an overwhelming amount of attention. The souks are usually present in the old historic districts of the cities which is usually the most crowded as well as the most culturally appeasing areas.
The country is extraordinarily dry, getting only a few days of rain a year. Water usage is however very high, with broad swaths of grass in the major public parks and landscaping can be extensive in the resorts or other public places. Most of this water comes from desalination. The weather from late October through mid-March is quite pleasant, with temperatures ranging from highs around 27°C (85°F) to lows around 15°C (63°F). Winters can get a bit chilly where you might require a warmed jacket or sweater but nothing annoyingly cold (the desert tends to be freezing cold though). It is almost always sunny. Rain can fall between November and February, and can cause road hazards when it does. In the summer, temperatures soar and humidity is close to unbearable. The average temperature for July ranges from 34.8 °C to 37.2°C. Temperatures may rise above 45°C and in extreme cases even 50°C (120°F). The highest recorded temperate is 51.8°C and was recorded in 2017. Almost everywhere in the UAE, temperature is controlled and air-conditioned through the UAE National Central Cooling Company called Tabreed.
Seven emirates, many peoples
After landing in the UAE, you might not think it is an Arab country. You might think you are in India or the Philippines. Dubai, since the founding of the oil industry, has attracted thousands of migrants in search of jobs from all over the world, notably from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Today, Indians and Filipinos have left their influence in the emirate: Indian restaurants and Pakistani bakeshops are everywhere, while Filipino supermarkets are growing. Europeans (mostly British and French) and Sri Lankans form the next largest communities. Chinese and Indonesian migrants are increasing.
The population is incredibly diverse. Only 20% are native Emiratis; the rest come from the Indian subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka (50%); other parts of Asia, particularly the Philippines, and Malaysia; and Western countries (Europe, Australia, North America, 5-6%), with the remainder from everywhere else. On any given day in Dubai or Sharjah, for example, you can see people from every continent and every social class. With this diversity, one of the few unifying factors is language, and consequently nearly everyone speaks some version of English. All road or other information signs are in English and Arabic, and English is widely spoken, particularly in the hospitality industry. As a result of its substantial oil wealth and high GDP, the United Arab Emirates provides its citizens with one of the world's most comprehensive welfare states despite not levying any income tax.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to United Arab Emirates during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
The weekend in the UAE for most government and public services as well as businesses runs from Friday to Saturday; for many, Thursday may be a half day (although most often work all day Saturdays). In nearly every city, commercial activity will be muted on Friday mornings, but after the noon services at the mosques most businesses open and Friday evenings can be crowded.
The major exception is during the fasting month of Ramadan, when the rhythm of life changes drastically. Restaurants (outside tourist hotels) stay closed during the daylight hours, and while most offices and shops open in the morning from 8AM to 2PM or so, they usually close in the afternoon while people wait (or sleep) out the last hours of the fast. After sundown, people gather to break their fast with a meal known as iftar, often held in outdoor tents (not uncommonly air-conditioned in the UAE), which traditionally starts with dates and a sweet drink. Some offices reopen after 8PM or so and stay open well after midnight, as many people stay up late until the morning hours. Just before sunrise, a meal called sohoor is eaten, and then the cycle repeats again.
- New Year's Day (1 January)
- Prophet's Ascension (Based on Hijri calendar; date varies in Georgian calendar)
- Eid al-Fitr (Based on Hijri calendar; date varies in Georgian calendar)
- Eid al-Adha (Based on Hijri calendar; date varies in Georgian calendar)
- Islamic New Year (Based on Hijri calendar; date varies in Georgian calendar)
- Mawlid (Based on Hijri calendar; date varies in Georgian calendar)
- Commemoration Day (30 November) - Commemorates the date of the first fallen Emirati soldier.
- National Day (2 December) - The date of the union and formation of the UAE.
Planning and pre-arrival documentation
Visa-free or visa on arrival
Citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman,and Saudi Arabia) do not require a visa (except for Qatar). A short stay visa will be granted on arrival to non-citizen residents of GCC member states as well regardless of nationality.
Citizens of certain countries get enter the UAE without a visa or a 30-day or 90-day visa on arrival that is stamped in their passport free of charge on arrival. 30-day visas can be extended for up to 90 days after arrival for a fee of Dhs 500. The countries are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Brazil, Barbados, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia (can be extended for up to 30 days after arrival), San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (except BN(O) passports), United States and Vatican City.
Obtaining a visa
All other nationalities not exempt from visa are required to apply for a visa in advance. You will require a sponsorship by an Emirati airline, hotel or tour operator to be able to apply for a visa. Each UAE airline offers visa services when you fly with them. Apart from that, travel agents and hotels can also arrange a tourist visa for you. The cost of a visa as of 2015 is 250 dirhams plus travel agency fee for 30 days single entry, and there are no extensions available anymore. The new visa tariff and rule is to avoid tourists to search work in the UAE. While for transit visa sponsored by the airlines for 96 hours transit is 100 dirhams.
Unlike many countries in the region, the UAE and Israel have established diplomatic relations. Flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai / Abu Dhabi, serviced by flyDubai and El Al, start 1 July 2021. Israelis and UAE citizens may enter the other country visa-free, however this may change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Israeli citizens have no problem entering the UAE and if you have an Israeli visa or stamp there's no need to worry and there is an Israeli embassy in the UAE.
If you are a citizen of India or Pakistan and you're traveling from your country of citizenship, and you have the ECR stamp in your passport you will require to get 'OK to Board' approval. You will also require this if you are a citizen of Sri Lanka or Bangladesh traveling outside of India or Pakistan. Most of the time it is arranged by your travel agent or airline. If it isn't, as soon as you get your visa, take it, your passport and ticket to your airline office and get the stamp of 'OK to board'. Without this you might not be allowed to travel to the UAE.
Passports must be valid for 6 months from date of arrival.
Each non-Muslim adult can bring in four items of alcohol, e.g. four bottles of wine, or four bottles of spirits, or four cases of beer (regardless of alcohol content).
The UAE takes an infamously strict line on medicines, with many common drugs, notably anything with containing codeine, diazepam (Valium) or dextromethorphan (Robitussin) being banned unless you have a notarized and authenticated doctor's prescription. The UAE, Dubai in particular, is used by drug traffickers as a gateway to ship drugs from the east to the west and hence laws regarding drug possession or use are strict. Visitors breaking the rules, even inadvertently, have found themselves deported or jailed. The UAE's government online portal maintains instructions, advice, and a list of controlled substances that are prohibited.
Drugs that are used and tolerated around neighboring countries are also prohibited. Using khat/qat (a flowering plant that contains an alkaloid called cathinone) which is popular in other nearby countries (notably Yemen) is also highly illegal. Cannabis and CBD-related products are also considered illegal.
- 1 Dubai International Airport (DXB IATA). This airport is served by several major airlines, most notably Dubai-based Emirates. Direct flights connect Dubai to Durban, Johannesburg, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Karachi, Tehran, Riyadh, Mumbai,Kolkata, Hong Kong, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt Airport, Milan, Madrid Barajas, New York City, LAX, San Francisco Airport, Toronto, São Paulo and many other major cities in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Africa. Chances are carriers from your country will offer flights to Dubai.
- 2 Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH IATA) (Abu Dhabi). After Dubai this airport has the next best international connections. Abu Dhabi-based flag carrier Etihad Airways now offers direct flights from New York, Toronto and many other airports in Europe and Asia. Other major airlines serving Abu Dhabi include British Airways from London-Heathrow, KLM from Amsterdam Schiphol and Lufthansa from Frankfurt.
For low-cost flights,
- Air Arabia has set up a hub at Sharjah airport (which is very close to Dubai), and flies there from many cities in Africa , Europe, Middle East and India.
- Cebu Pacific fly from Dubai to Manila in the Philippines with fares from as low as US$150.
- Fly Dubai fly from Dubai to Middle East, Europe, Africa and India.
- Pegasus airlines fly from Dubai to many cities in Europe.
- Wizzair fly from Dubai to many cities in Europe.
- Smartwings airlines fly from Dubai to many cities in Europe.
- Norwegian fly to many cities in Europe and North America
There is road access to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia in the south and Oman in the east. All highways in the UAE are in excellent condition and installed with street lights. There is a huge amount of traffic between Sharjah and Dubai during rush hour. All the emirates are connected through highways with multiple gas stations, food and rest stops, and highway police. The longest highway connects the city of Abu Dhabi to the city of Ras Al Khaimah. The highway extends from Abu Dhabi to connect to Ruwais and then to the border with Saudi Arabia.
Multiple electronic toll gates system are used in roads in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A toll of AED 4 is charged to cross the Salik toll gate in Dubai. A prepaid Salik Tag is required for this. A toll gate system which charges AED 4 during rush hours and AED 2 during off peak hours is also required to access Abu Dhabi island in the capital city Abu Dhabi.
There's a twice-weekly ferry service from Bandar Abbas in Iran to the port of Sharjah by the Iranian shipping company Valfajre-8. It's an overnight ferry taking 10-12 hours, departing early evenings on Sundays and Thursdays. Prices start at 160 dirhams for economy class.
Apart from regular services, there is a large network of traditional dhow trading routes which transports goods throughout the Gulf and even to India. It may be possible to buy passage on one of these boats. Depending on which dhow you end up on they can call at all coastal cities in the UAE, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Distances in the UAE are relatively short and are all connected with lighted roads, highways, and abundant transportation methods. The UAE is not very walking friendly to get around mainly due to the hot weather, strong sun, and relatively spaced out attractions. Transportation is increasingly being expanded with a train connecting all the emirates being built, as well as a functioning massive network of public transportation network which can transport you to any place in the UAE with ease.
By public transport
Public transportation within cities is widely available and advanced, with bus stations in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah offering shaded air conditioned bus stops to protect people from the sun and hot weather in the summer. There is an extensive metro system in Dubai that connects various parts of the city, as well as a monorail in Palm Jumeriah and a tram in Dubai Marina area. All public transport systems across all the cities in the UAE are connected, either by a taxi, bus, metro, monorail, or tram. Inter-city buses are also numerous with buses taking you as far as Muscat in Oman. Intercity bus services are fast, comfortable and reasonably frequent.
In all cities of the UAE, taxis are widely available and relatively affordable. Local ride share apps such as Uber and Careem are also common in the UAE; however, the prices are relatively the same compared to taxis as not to create a disparate market competition prices. A hyperloop system is under development with future plans to connect all the cities within the United Arab Emirates. The hyperloop, once inaugurated, is expected to decrease the travel time between Abu Dhabi and Dubai to 6-10 minutes instead of the usual hour and 45 minutes car ride.
The UAE has a modern road infrastructure with right sided traffic. Renting a car or driving in the UAE requires an international driver's license, which is simply a translation of your standard license and can be acquired at a local automobile association. If you are a resident, you will need to obtain a local driver's license as an international drivers license use cannot be used if you are a resident. If you have a driving license from a different country you may be able to exchange it for an Emirati driving license. This is a simple process and can be done in twenty minutes but only if you are from a specific list of countries. If you are from a country which is not exempt, you have to undergo 40 classes at a local driving school and get through a pretty tough license exam. This is changing, though, and license exchange may apply to all nationalities soon so check the UAE government official online Portal - Transportation to see if your country is among the countries eligible to convert your alien driving license. Car rentals are slightly cheaper than in North America. There is a flat fee per day for renting a car, based upon the car's size. Petrol (gasoline) is, by international standards, inexpensive. The road system is based on European standards, with many roundabouts and highly channeled traffic. Signs are all bilingual (Arabic and English) and are readily understandable and are, in most places, clear and coherent. The speed limits are all documented in western Arabic numerals. Gas stations are available all around highways as well as inside cities. Tesla superchargers are also available and are being increased in number.
Overtaking is performed from the left. If you are driving slow on the most left side lane, expect to be "flashed" by light from a faster incoming car behind you. It is a courtesy in this case to move from the left lane and allow the car behind you to overtake. If you do not change lanes while the person behind you is flashing his lights to signal you to move, this is considered offensive and you may encounter a road rage. Do not use the left most lane if you are driving slow. Most roads have a solid yellow line on the margins of the road that may act as an entire lane by itself. Do not cross the yellow line (this may be tempting in a traffic considering there a long empty side lane). The yellow line margin is reserved for emergency vehicles only and cannot be used by civilian use at any time except for an emergency. If you encounter an accident or a car breakdown, you may park on the side of the road and cross the yellow margin. Using the yellow margin of roads otherwise is illegal (by both cars and motorcycles) and will get you a hefty fine if you violate it. Do not make any insulting gestures while driving anywhere in the Emirates. Using an insulting gesture such as the middle finger is forbidden by law and considered a form of verbal assault, and you may find yourself in police custody or in court for using insulting gestures while on the road. Roads in the UAE are highly monitored.
The third-highest cause of death in the UAE is from traffic accidents (First is cardiovascular disease and second is cancer). People in the UAE drive extremely fast, and some are completely reckless. As a result, most of the roads adhere to strict speed limit laws. The speed limit has a margin of about 20 km/hr (except in Abu Dhabi, if you exceed the written speed limit you'll get a ticket). Most of the roads are monitored through remote radar systems which will fine you without having to stop you. Do not expect a police officer to pull you on the side to write you a ticket. You will receive the ticket through a message in your phone (if your phone is tied to the car in registration) and you will be required to pay all traffic fines you encounter before leaving the UAE. Drones also monitor the highways and roads in rural areas, so truck drivers should take care. Drones usually photograph truck drivers who do not adhere to their specific lane or drive faster than the speed set for them.
Desert safaris and dune bashing are good attractions in the vicinity of all the emirates, but great care needs to be taken while choosing a hired vehicle; it should be a four wheel drive. Desert safaris are also generally designed with travel agents and can give you good deal as well on quantity. Do not attempt to enter the desert using one car or alone. As a general rule of thumb, more than two four wheel drive cars should enter the desert together so that if one of them gets stuck, the other can pull it out. Desert driving is a hard skill to learn. Safaris and tour groups usually take you for a desert safari and you may even be able to dune bash yourself if you desire.
Four wheel drives such as the Toyoto Land Cruiser or Nissan Patrol and trucks such as the Ford Raptor are popular in the Emirates due to the natural desert terrain and necessary off-roading in some areas. Most cars are tinted black for both privacy and to keep the hot sun rays from entering the car, hence providing a cooler temperature in the car. While driving to the desert, make sure to pay attention to any camels that may be crossing the roads.
The official language is Arabic, although the majority of the population are expatriates and don't speak it. Expatriates from Iran, India, the Philippines and Western countries outnumber the native Arabs, particularly in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah. English is the lingua franca, and the great majority of Emiratis know how to speak it. All traffic, shops, and destination signs are written in both Arabic and English. Speaking in English to anyone in the Emirates should be fine, and you will not have to learn any Arabic to get around. That said, if you can learn to speak some Arabic, it will certainly impress the locals.
As Arabic is the official language, government documents may be written in Arabic only, though English translations or versions are common. The only place where Arabic is used almost exclusively is within the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces buildings and headquarters.
The UAE has a very diverse population; many languages and communities exist. Languages widely spoken in the UAE include Hindustani (Hindi & Urdu), Malayalam/Tamil, Farsi (Persian), and Tagalog (Filipino). Most people with secondary education possess at least a basic command of English, though it is not uncommon to meet people whose English is limited. As a major hub for Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Asians who do not speak the English language as a mother language, expect their English to be in a beginner or an intermediate level. In this Muslim-majority country, expect to be greeted with the Arabic phrase of "Peace be upon you" - as-salām `alaykum - even if you are not a Muslim. The proper response would be to state "Peace be upon you too" - wa-`alaykumu s-salām.
There's plenty of things to see in the United Arab Emirates, both in terms of the Earth's natural wonderful landscape as well as the best of human's constructed attractions. From the world's largest tower in Dubai to the world's largest contiguous sand desert in the world in Liwa Oasis (which was the film set of planet Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Most of the United Arab Emirates lies on the coast of the Persian Gulf, except for Fujairah which lies on the Gulf of Oman, offering both experiences of beautiful beaches in both gulf waters. The western side of the UAE's landscape is a sand terrain, with the Empty Quarter desert forming the south side of the UAE and containing some of the largest sand dunes in the world. The golden sand dunes form a wonderful sight and offer great adventurous safari rides into the wilderness of the desert. The northeastern side terrain is mountainous, offering mountain climbing activities in Ras Al Khaimah as well as the world's longest zip line that shoots from the tops of a mountain.
The UAE was initially a collection of small fishing villages with Eastern Arabian culture which has boomed significantly after the unification of the seven emirates. Hence, in every emirate's capital you will find an old district with old buildings consistent of mostly windcatchers and military forts that were common in the region then, and more progressive glass skyscrapers that signify the advanced progression of the emirates. Archealogical sites from the Umm Al Nar period are scattered across the emirates, with distinctive cultural variations found in the Hajar mountains in the northeastern emirates. In the western side of the UAE, oases are common across vast majority of desert landscape as they formed the major population centers in these areas such as Al Ain city (once only an oasis, now an entire city) and Liwa Oasis. Although outdoors in UAE may seem dull and uninteresting to the knowledgeable traveler, there are actually amazing natural destinations in the UAE - the difficulty is in knowing where to find them! There are pristine waterfalls, cliffs lined with fossils, even freshwater lakes.
Other than the natural beauty of the Arabian desert and mountainous regions of the Al Hajar mountains which may seem dangerous due to the rough surrounding environment, the UAE offers tourists a whole new experience in terms of comfortable living with tall skyscrapers and skylines and enormous malls and huge indoor theme parks as well as an entire indoor ski resorts in the middle of the desert!
There's also multiple islands around cities in the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is surrounded by natural islands with green mangroves surrounding the city. The water surrounding Abu Dhabi is light blue in color and is considered one the biggest coral reefs in the entire Persian Gulf region. In Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, there are man-made islands that extend from the desert into the sea such as Palm Jumeriah and Murjan Island, allowing people to live in close proximity to the sea and green landscape while surrounded to a rough desert in Dubai and rough mountains in Ras Al Khaimah just south of these two respective cities.
Burj Khalifa is the world's largest skyscraper since 2009 extending to 828 meters and is located in Dubai. It is the easiest sighted landmark once you land in Dubai and a major tourist attraction site. You can see the vast desert outside Dubai and the sheen and progressive buildings that form Dubai from the top. You can also see planes flying from the top!
Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the most beautifully created mosques in the world. The architecture and designs of the mosque is a marvel and attracts tourists from all over the world to this magnificent religious site. The mosque is open to non-muslims and allows people of all faith to visit and explore the structure.
In the south, the Hajar mountains are easily distinguished by the rough and rugged landscape that pop out of suddenly from the desert. Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain is an accessible peak that is considered the outline of the Hajar mountains. The rough mountainous landscape forms a major hiking, trekking, and bird-watching opportunities, while the vast amount of picturesque wadis in the area are fun to explore. It offers a different landscape than just the desert found mainly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
From Islamic museums in Sharjah to international and global museums in Abu Dhabi, the UAE offers voyagers a great deal of museums that dig into the area's historical past as well as displays the historical artifacts of the empires surrounding the region. Most popular museums are the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi, the Sharjah Arts museum, and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. Of course, each emirate has its own national museum which showcases the emirates original history and displays iconic eastern Arabian items such as dhows, khanjars, and other aspects of earlier life such as clothing and vocation.
Jebel means mountain in Arabic. Jebel Jais is located in Ras Al Khaimah and is the highest accessible mountainous peak in the UAE and is a great site for camping in the winter. Similarly to the Hajar mountains, Jebel hafeet is a great location for major hiking, trekking, and mountain climbing.
Al Bidyah mosque
This is the oldest mosque found in the UAE and it is located in Fujairah. The mosque and its surroundings are a major archaeological site. This is a great attraction for history and archaeology fans. Although the mosque is very simple and modest in size, many excavations of pottery and metal artifacts are found in this area.
One of the main focuses of tourist life (other than shopping) is the beach. The waters of the UAE, although cloudy due to heavy coastal construction, are still, for those from less torrid climes, remarkably warm, clean, and beautiful. There are long stretches of white-sand beaches, ranging from completely undeveloped to highly touristed (even in cities like Dubai). The snorkeling and diving can be magnificent, especially along the eastern (Indian Ocean) coast. Vast swaths of desert stretch to the south of the major urban areas, offering dramatic views and terrifying rides in fast-driven safaris. The mountains are dramatic, steep rocky crags, and a visit to them (for example, the town of Hatta) is well rewarded with amazing views. Women wearing bathing suits will draw unwanted attention at the public beaches; it is advisable to pay for a one-day entry pass to a private beach at a hotel.
There are plenty of man-made wonders to enjoy as well. Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi is the world's largest indoor theme park, and as the name suggests, is centered around experiencing the world of Ferrari and includes the fastest rollercoaster in the world, accelerating from 0 to 149 mph (240 km/h) in 4 seconds. This is alongside the Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. The Yas Marina Circuit is widely known as the most technologically advanced circuit on the planet, and, along with Formula One, hosts various national and international racing series, including the GP2 and GP3 series, and V8 Supercars. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world, and visitors can travel up it to a viewing station situated near the building's peak to enjoy stunning views of the city and beyond. Wild Wadi and Aquaventure are two world class water parks that cater to the whole family. Those looking for proper retail therapy can visit Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in the world, and also the location of the world's largest dancing fountain, with multiple shows starting after sunset, and one of the world's largest indoor aquariums, Dubai Aquarium.
Ski Dubai in Dubai Emirates Mall is the world's third largest indoor ski slope, measuring 400 m and using 6000 tons of snow. Ski Dubai resort is the first UAE indoor ski slope to open, and more are planned. All equipment, except for gloves and a hat, are provided—skis/snowboards, snowsuits, boots and socks are all included in the price (the socks are disposable). The adjoining ski store sells equipment, including gloves. A ski slope in Ra's al Khaymah is also in the works.
"Desert safari" trips can be a fun experience for tourists. They can be booked ahead, but can often be booked as late as the day before, and most hotel receptionists can arrange this for you. Trips normally start late afternoon and end late evening. You will be collected from your hotel and driven to the desert in a 4x4 vehicle. Most packages include a heart-pumping drive over the dunes, a short camel ride, an Arabic buffet and a belly dancer. Another option would be renting/buying a 4x4 and joining the many growing 4x4 clubs in the UAE, which are varied and each carry their own different flavour: ad4x4, uaeoffroaders, emarat4x4, etc. They offer a free learning experience for all newcomers with scheduled weekly trips to suit all levels of driving skills. Some of them have over 2,000 members from many nationalities.
Exchange rates for Emirati dirham
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency is the United Arab Emirates dirham demoted by the symbol " د.إ" or "dh" (ISO code: AED). It is pegged to the US dollar at 3.67 dirhams for $1. Notes are in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 dirhams. There is a one dirham coin with sub-units of 25 and 50 fils coins (100 fils = 1 dirham). There are 5 fils and 10 fils coins but these are rarely seen (and provide an excuse for traders to 'short change').
Cash and travellers' cheques can be changed at exchanges located at the airports or in all the major shopping malls. ATMs are numerous and generously distributed. They accept all the major chain cards: Visa, Cirrus, Maestro, etc. Credit cards are widely accepted.
If you pay with an overseas credit card, most merchants will attempt to apply dynamic currency conversion, charging several percent more than the issuer conversion would have cost. The credit card terminal will offer the choice of whether the conversion should be accepted. The merchant will not ask you about this, and will choose to accept the conversion. If you pay attention, you can intervene and ask for "No" to be answered. If you ask upfront, some merchants will have no idea what you mean, but many will.
Basic commodities used to be cheaper than in most Western countries, although this is changing rapidly (Dubai has moved up the ranking to be the 25th most expensive city to live in; Abu Dhabi is close behind). Hotels rates are not cheap—there is a shortage of hotel rooms available, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which keeps the hotels often at above 90% occupancy. Vast numbers of new hotels are scheduled to come on line during the next five to ten years, but as tourism is on the rise, it is unlikely that prices will come down. All things touristy also tend to be rather expensive. Rents in Dubai are starting to compete with cities like Paris or London, and other prices tend to follow. Some places have shared accommodations available and are quite reasonable.
One of the things the UAE is most famous for is shopping. There are no sales taxes in the UAE, but it is very difficult to find any real bargains anymore as inflation is at an all-time high. If you are interested in shopping, you can't leave the UAE without visiting Dubai. Dubai boasts the best places for shopping in the whole of the Middle East, especially during the annual shopping festival, usually from mid-January to mid-February.
- See also: Middle Eastern cuisine
The UAE's traditional cuisine is the Emirati and Eastern Arabian cuisine; however, the country also offers a global cuisine. The more than 165 nationalities residing in the Emirates have made the country a destination which offers and caterers to all cuisines or religious compliant food for everyone.
Eastern Arabian cuisine
Eastern Arabian cuisine forms the major traditional food in the UAE. Emirati cuisine is sampled and widely marketed as the traditional food of the state. However, traditional Emirati cuisine is somewhat difficult to find due to the minority presence of Emiratis in their own country. Al Fanar restaurant is a famous and common Emirati-styled restaurant that was established to offer Emirati food and atmosphere for foreigners wishing to experience the country's traditional food. Emirati food is commonly platters of fragrant rice topped with lamb, camel meat, chicken or fish that has been slow-roasted in a pit. If you have Emirati friends, being invited to their homes would generally be the best chance you have to sample the local cuisine. Arabic coffee, camel milk, and dates form the staple food of which the Emiratis have lived on for generations. Camel milk is widely available in supermarkets and is a common sight to see in an Emirati grocery store. There's even flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry camel milk. Camel milk or Date flavored milkshakes are commonly found. Chocolate made of camel milk is also available. The UAE has established companies that use camel milk and camel meat as a major alternative to the regular chicken, lamb, and cow meat that are commonly available worldwide. Camel milk and camel meat is commonly available in the UAE and is a great chance for tourists and visitors to experience a new type of delicacy for an inexpensive price. Another famous Emirati dessert is Luguaimat (called Luqaimat in standard Arabic). The dessert is widely available and offered in almost all Emirati gatherings and is sold in a lot of restaurants and outlets as well. Ramadan is a great time to be invited to an Emirati house to experience a lot of their traditional foods.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai and, to a lesser extent, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah all offer a vast spread of food from most of the world's major cuisines. By western standards most restaurants are quite affordable although it is easy to find extremely expensive food too. Most upper-end restaurants are located in hotels. South east Asian cuisine such as Indian and Pakistani restaurants are also widely available and can be found in every corner. Arabic cuisine such as Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian cuisines are also available. Persian cuisine is proudly marketed around the country due to the proximity of Iran. Persian restaurants proudly present Persian atmosphere; both Islamic Persian design, Persian Empire-styled, and even Imperial Iran atmosphere with pictures of the Shah and Imperial Iranian flag adorning the restaurant depending on the Iranian owner's fidelity. The Iranian Club in Dubai proudly caters to Iranians and is funded by the Iranian government and is run by the Iranian community in Dubai. If you have an Iranian friend its a great opportunity to be invited to experience the Persian cuisine in the Iranian Club. Since the UAE forms the home of major Middle Eastern, south east Asian, and western communities its safe to say that almost every cuisine exist around the country. South African, Nigerian, and Ethiopian restaurants are few but are still present. Chinese restaurants are also increasing in number due to the increasing Chinese community in the country. There's even a famous North Korean restaurant in Dubai. All types of cuisines African, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, European, and American cuisines are all widely available. Finding a favorite restaurant chain should not be a problem. There's also a lot of local chains and business start ups which offer different types of food which you may not have experienced. Pork is also available and is sold in supermarkets, albeit in a specifically designated location marked "For Non-Muslims".
Famous restaurant chains have also established branches in the country. Restaurants by the world's most famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsey, Gary Rhodes, Guy Fieri, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, and Salt Bae all operate restaurants around the country. In fact, some of the world famous chefs, such as Salt Bae, primary restaurant and base of operation is in Dubai such as Salt Bae's Nusr-Et restaurant in Four Season Hotel in Jumeriah (Visited by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others). Other international food chains such as Cheesecake factory, Texas Fried Chicken, Red Lobster, PF Chang's, Chili's and many more all operate branches throughout the country. Fast food is also common, with many chains such as McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Popeye's, Hardee's, and Wendy's are almost found everywhere. The major ice cream chain is Baskin Robbins, but other ice cream brands such as Cold Stone Creamery, Marbles Lab, Moishi, and Amorino are all available. Local branches of gelato and other desserts are also common. Pakistani and Indian restaurants are also very common. South Asian food in the UAE is more authentic than the food found in Europe or elsewhere due to the proximity of India and Pakistan to the Emirates. Indians, Pakistanis, Malayalis, Malabaris and Sri Lankans can be found everywhere and form the majority of the population in the Emirates. The UAE is a favorite destination for Keralites outside of Kerala, and proper authentic eastern Asian restaurants are found all over the Emirates.
In public, general global and mostly western etiquette is required to be adhered. If you are invited to an Emirati's house for food, it depends on how cultural the family is. You may be required to sit on the ground, eat with your hands, or share the same plate with everyone. It is not uncommon for Emiratis to present a feast in one big platter, and everyone sits around it and eats with their hands. The key thing to remember when doing so is to use only your right hand, as the left hand is traditionally reserved for handling dirty things. Being invited to break bread or share a platter with Emiratis is a considered a huge sign of respect and fondness. Young Emiratis are however, very understanding if you choose to have your own plate or eat with utensils, and some Emiratis don't even adhere to the traditional floor sitting and eating with hands style of cultural eating etiquette. A more modern etiquette is to sit on the ground with everyone having their own plate, spoon, fork, and knife while eating the food in front of you or politely asking someone next to you to serve the food away from you. Do not get up and attempt to move to the place where a certain type of food is placed.
If you are invited to a Majlis (a traditional and common gathering commonly men-only or women-only), you will be presented with dates and Arabic coffee (called gahwa). The majlis is a big room or a tent with places to sit where people talk and converse. A person will rotate around the maljlis and offer you dates, dessert, or Arabic coffee. If you eat dates, remember to take them in odd numbers (1 or 3, etc..). Taking dates in even numbers is not a problem but its preferred to take them in odd numbers to adhere to the Arabic culture. If you are presented with Arabic coffee the person who rotates to pour the coffee will continue to pour you coffee until you shake the cup while presenting it to him. This signals that you do not want more coffee and he will take the cup from you. In a traditional setting, if you are entering a majlis you'll be required to move to the chair closest to your right and shake hands with the person starting from there until you shake hands with everyone. If you're sitting in a chair and someone is coming to greet you, you will be required to stand up and shake hands with that person before sitting down. If there is a Sheikh in the majlis, its customary to greet him first before going back and shaking hands with everyone else. Arabic men from the same tribe perform a nose kiss (also called Eskimo kiss). It may also be performed by very close friends. In an nontraditional majlis, its not customary to do any of that and simply going in and goofing around with your friends is totally fine.
If you are presented with food in an Emirati house, its customary to eat. Its considered disrespectful if you do not eat anything. If you're full, eating small amounts is better than rejecting the food entirely. You will be presented with a lot of food if you visit an Emirati house for lunch or dinner, as Emiratis consider generosity a virtue and you'll be disrespecting them if you don't eat or touch any food they present you with.
All food in the UAE is Halal. Kosher food is also increasingly available. Companies and restaurants such as Kosher Arabia and Eli's Kosher Kitchen, which is supervised by Chief Rabbi of the UAE Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, are also available. Vegetarian restaurants are also widely available due to the major presence of Hindus in the country. Finding your local, favorite or religiously compliant cuisine should not be a problem in the Emirates.
Dubai has a burgeoning nightlife scene and even formerly straitlaced Abu Dhabi has loosened up and tried to catch up. Alcohol is available in alcohol stores, 5-star hotel restaurants and bars in all emirates except Sharjah, where you can only drink in your home or in an expat hangout called the Sharjah Wanderers. As a tourist, you are permitted to buy alcohol in bars and restaurants to drink there. If you are a resident, you're supposed to have an alcohol license (never asked for in bars) which also allows you to buy alcohol at alcohol stores (they do check).
During Ramadan, no alcohol is served during daylight (fasting) hours. Dubai and Abu Dhabi permit bars to serve alcohol at night, but bands stop playing, background music is off or quiet, no dancing is allowed and nightclubs are usually closed. On certain holy days in the Islamic calendar, no alcohol is served publicly in any of the UAE.
Do not under any circumstance drink and drive in the UAE. If by chance you are in an accident, this becomes a card for going directly to jail — especially during Ramadan. Taxis and ride-share apps such as Uber are widely available if you have been drinking and are a much safer and wiser option given the insane driving habits in the region.
For the visitor, the UAE has one of the most spectacular ranges of tourist accommodations in the world. There are staggeringly beautiful, modern hotels, which can be expensive. However, more modest housing is also available. Hotels and accommodation in the Emirates are always available - in fact, hotels are a major revenue source for investors in the UAE. The hotels and accommodation throughout the Emirates are stunning and extraordinary luxurious due to the fact of the high luxury standards in the Emirates (particularly in Dubai) as well as the relatively new buildings and skyscrapers. Some of the most famous lodging destinations that are famous for being portrayed in movies are the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi and the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi also serve as a lodging destination for foreign head of states or diplomats visiting the capital city Abu Dhabi.
Almost all hotels serve alcohol with the notable exception of hotels in Sharjah. Most hotels also have various bars, night clubs, and meeting hot spots. Most resorts are built on artificial made islands such as the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai and Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah. Beach access and amenities are a given when booking a resort or a hotel on a beach.
Per the Times Higher Education (THE) and the QS World University rankings in 2019, the highest ranking universities in the UAE are:
- 1- Khalifa University
- 2- United Arab Emirates University
- 3- American University in Sharjah
- 4- American University in Dubai
- 5- University of Sharjah
- 6- Abu Dhabi University
- 7- Zayed University
- 8- Ajman University
The UAE has government-sponsored universities that are limited only to citizens or high achieving non citizens only. The four local government-sponsored universities are Khalifa University, the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, the Higher Colleges of Technology with various campuses throughout the UAE, and Zayed University with campuses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In addition to the local universities, the UAE also hosts branches of several well-known American and European universities. These are primarily concentrated in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Examples of global universities with campuses in the UAE include New York University Abu Dhabi, Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, London Business School, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and University of Exeter.
You will need a work visa to be allowed to work in the UAE, and receiving one requires a local company or sponsor to apply on your behalf. A 10-year, 5-year, and 6-month visa schemes are also available for investors, entrepreneurs and outstanding students. The UAE government official online portal has all the details to apply for visas or long term visas.
Qualifying investors, entrepreneurs, professional talents, researchers in various fields of science and knowledge, and outstanding students are offered a permanent residency scheme called the Gold card.
Obtaining UAE citizenship is only possible for foreign women who are married to Emirati men (but not for foreign men married to Emirati women), but is otherwise next to impossible for other foreigners. A foreign woman must be married for 7 years with at least one child or 10 years with no children to be eligible for citizenship. Citizenship may also be granted by a decree from the president if a person has done extraordinary accomplishments for the country.
Emiratis are proud but welcoming people and, when not in their cars, are generally extremely civil and friendly. Like most peoples of the world, they welcome visitors who are willing to show some amount of respect and can be extremely generous. (Some expats and visitors do not understand that revealing clothing can be quite offensive to some people, even if nothing is said to the offenders.) Their culture is unique and can be highly conservative, but overall they are quite attuned to the ways, customs, events, media, and manners of the world.
Local men usually wear a "Kandoura", a long robe (typically white), and ghutra, a red-checked or white headdress. Local women wear a black robe-like garment (abaya) and a black head scarf (shayla).
The UAE is more conservative than most Western societies, though not as much as some of its neighbors. Travelers should be aware and respect the more traditional outlook in the UAE, as there are behaviors typical in the West (for example, making "rude and insulting gestures") that will result in arrest in the UAE. On the other hand, Western travelers will find most of the UAE quite comfortable.
Although women are not legally required to wear the hijab, revealing fashions such as tank tops and shorts are discouraged. Hijab and modest clothing are necessary to visit mosques or religious sites. Some mosques such as the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi provide modest clothing for tourists visiting the site. Short skirts and shorts are acceptable, although you might incur stares. However, there are quite a few tourist or expatriate-dominated zones where even "provocative" dress may be seen, although not necessary respected. Bikinis and other type of swimwear can be worn there. These include many areas of the Emirate of Dubai and, for example, beach resorts in Ajman or Fujairah. Public nudity anywhere is strictly forbidden and is considered a crime. Sharjah is the most conservative of the Emirates with public decency statutes (i.e., forbidding overly revealing clothing or certain kinds of beach wear), but few of them are enforced (although that varies).
The Emirates are not gay-friendly, and consensual homosexual activity is potentially subject to the death penalty (although never carried out in the history of the country). However, discretion is the key: like many things in Emirati society, what happens behind closed doors is - well - what happens. Public display of affection is considered impolite or ill-mannered to the Emirati population. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for Emirati men or women to show physical affection but not across gender; Emirati men often kiss one another's noses in greeting and women greet one another with cheek kisses and may hold hands or link arms.
Don't tell locals that the UAE is part of Saudi Arabia. Don't compare it to Bahrain, Oman or Qatar either. Many locals and expats are proud of their country and culture so some would be deeply offended. Don't discuss the crisis between the Emirates and Qatar either as it is a touchy topic to the locals.
The UAE is exceptionally safe. The country is considered one of the safest places to live. Abu Dhabi is ranked as the safest city in the world in 2019, while Dubai was ranked the 6th safest city in the world.
Visitors should be less concerned about crime, than the harsh law enforcement. Homosexuality is a crime that may carry the death penalty in the UAE (although never enforced in the history of the country), so gay and lesbian tourists should be discreet. Same-sex public display of affection is illegal and punishable by fine or jail.
Sex outside marriage is also illegal but not enforced unless it results in pregnancy. Public sex, nudity, and any form of sexual activity conducted in public is illegal. Caution is definitely advised.
There are a couple of things you should be aware of to do with drug laws in the UAE. Some common painkillers in western countries are illegal narcotics in the UAE like codeine. Don't bring any with you unless you carry a copy of your prescription or you may join others who have received jail sentences. In contrast, antibiotics are freely available over the counter at pharmacies. If you receive a prescription for controlled drugs in the UAE, such as some painkillers and antidepressants, be sure to keep the copy of the prescription with you when traveling out of the country.
Another trap for the unwary is that if you are suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a blood test can be taken, and if it shows evidence of substances that are illegal in the UAE, then you will probably end up in jail even if the substances were ingested in the country that you were previously in. In addition to testing your blood, they will likely check your belongings. People have been jailed for possession for finding microscopic specks of drugs on them with highly sensitive equipment.
Under cyber-crime laws if a person makes a defamatory statement about someone in the UAE on social media, even if a number of years ago in another country, they can be jailed or fined.
Another cause for concern is the very high rate of automobile accidents: besides due care while driving a vehicle, crossing the road on foot can be quite dangerous as well.
General medical care in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah is quite good, with clinics for general and specialized care widely available, including some which are now open 24 hours. Hospitals in the major centers are well-equipped to deal with any medical emergencies. There is an ambulance system in all major population centres; however, coverage can be patchy in the more remote areas. Ambulances are designed for transportation rather than providing care as first responders, so don't expect top-flight on-site care.
The main government hospital in Abu Dhabi is quite good; as is the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, now managed by Cleveland Clinic.
In Dubai, the government hospitals are Rashid hospital, which has a new Trauma Centre and Dubai Hospital which are very good. Welcare Hospital International Modern Hospital American Hospital Zulekha Hospital NMC Hospital, and Belhoul Hospital in the private sector all have a good reputation. The country is free of malaria and prophylaxis is not needed. In Sharjah, the Kuwaiti (Goverrnment) Hospital accepts expatriates. The private hospitals in Sharjah are the Zahra hospital, Zulekha Hospital and Central Private Hospital. Prices including healthcare are generally cheaper in Sharjah and although all hospitals meet the Ministry of Health standards the Central Private Hospital and Zulekha Hospitals are considered more affordable.
Al Ain is served by modern hospitals and care centers: Tawam Hospital, now managed by Johns Hopkins, and host to the UAE University Faculty of Medicine and Health Science; Al Ain Hospital (also called Al Jimi Hospital as it is in the district of Al Jimi), now managed by the Vienna Medical University; and the private Oasis Hospital, previously known as Kennedy Hospital, which was founded and run by Christian missionaries, and which was the first hospital in the city.
The water is safe to drink in the UAE, although most people prefer bottled water for its taste. The food is clean and in most restaurants is served to Western standards, particularly in tourist areas; however, hygiene can be an issue in some establishments outside, particularly roadside stalls. That said, food poisoning does happen, so use your common sense!
The heat in summer can reach 50°C (122°F), so avoid outdoors activity at the height of the day and watch out for signs of heat stroke. Be sure to drink lots of water as dehydration happens easily in such heat. If travelling off road (most of the country is desert), ensure you carry sufficient water to allow you to walk to the road should vehicles become bogged.
Although the UAE is somewhat more accommodating to travellers with disabilities than other countries in the Mideast, it would nonetheless be a difficult country to navigate in a wheelchair. Curbs are high and there are few, if any, ramps or other accommodations. This includes an almost complete lack of handicapped-friendly bathrooms.
As of July 2019, free prepaid SIM cards - loaded with a three-minute talk time, five SMS and 20MB mobile data - would be given to tourists upon their arrival at any of the UAE's entry points as per the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) initiative to welcome new tourists.
Landline area codes
The country's international calling code is +971 in reference to its independence year (1971)
Calling internationally, 971 + (the second number of the area code) followed by the number calls a specific landline in that area.
The country code is 971. The mobile phone network uses the GSM technology (as in Europe and Africa) and use is widespread. The format for dialing is: +971-#-### ####, where the first "#" designates the area code. Key area codes include Dubai (4), Sharjah (6) and Abu Dhabi (2). Calls to mobile phones use the operator's area codes: (50/56/58) for Etisalat and (52/55) for Du. Like many other countries, when dialing locally, "00" is used to access an international number (and followed by the country code) and "0" is used to access a national number (followed by the area code).
Internet cafés are fairly common in the larger cities, and web censorship is at times odd, but rarely obtrusive. Instant messaging and voice-over-IP services like Skype sometimes work. The government owned telecommunications operator blocks access to these services to varying degrees. The blocking does not always stop calls and may vary depending on the network used. It also appears to be able to block Skypeout calls whilst allowing Skype-Skype calls. Even if the services are not blocked, connection speed can be an issue. Most people use a VPN service to bypass local Internet restrictions.
Etisalat and Du both provide USB Internet connections.
The United Arab Emirates has a fairly efficient postal system run by the Emirates Post Group. There are dozens of post offices scattered across the major cities. It costs 4.50 dirhams at standard rates to send a standard letter weighing 29-30 gr (1 oz) locally and between the emirates within the country; 5 dirhams to neighboring Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain); 9 dirhams across the gulf to Iran; and 11 to 13 dirhams to most other countries. Mailing to nearby conflict zones (Iraq, Syria, Yemen) can only be sent on the premium rate starting at 165 dirhams. Sending parcels can get costly, being counted per kilogram and by distance. A full list of rates and branch locations can be found on the Emirates Post Group website [dead link].
All mail sent within and to the country are sent only to PO Boxes without zip or post codes. Therefore, addresses should be formatted as:
- Name of recipient
- Name of company or organization if relevant
- PO Box xxxx
- NAME OF EMIRATE
- COUNTRY IF MAILING FROM OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY
- John Doe
- Raffles World Academy
- PO Box 122900
- UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
If sending by private courier (DHL, FedEx, UPS, etc) to a physical address be sure to confirm the delivery address with recipient and provide the recipient's telephone number on the package so that the delivery driver can call to clarify the location if necessary as physical addresses are vague and inconsistent. Such as:
- John Doe
- Raffles World Academy
- Al Marcup Street، Umm Suqeim 3
- Jumera 3
- UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Many expats working in the UAE typically use their employer's PO Box to receive personal mail. But, there is no concept of 'privacy' and mail can be opened by the employer, especially after the employee has left the company. Therefore, it is recommended that anybody staying long term to establish their own mailing address than to have personal mail sent to them via their employer.