Travel Guide
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The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. It has coastlines on the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia to the west and southwest, and Oman to the southeast and also on the eastern tip of the Musandam Peninsula as well as an Omani enclave within its borders. It is a country rich in history and culture and an easy starting point for travels in the Middle East. Regions

The seven emirates (imarat, singular - imarah) that make up the UAE are:
Abu Dhabi (Abu Zaby)
Fujairah (Al Fujayrah)
Sharjah (Ash Shariqah)
Dubai (Dubayy)
Ra's al Khaymah
Umm al Quwain
The largest and wealthiest of these is Abu Dhabi, while probably the most well known is Dubai.


Abu Dhabi - The capital of the UAE
Ajman - The smallest emirate, One of The Budget destinations.
Al Ain - Inland and close to the Omani bordertown of Buraimi, Al Ain comprises a triangle between the proper cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Dubai - The most common entry point for travelers, it is the transport and commerce center of the UAE.
Sharjah - A more budget destination, dusty and chaotic in places but with some charms.

Get in Visas and Documentation

Citizens from different countries will have different requirements for entry into the UAE via Dubai.

If you are a citizen of one of these countries listed below, you do not need to apply for a visa in advance of travel - a visit visa is stamped directly in your passport by Immigration officials at the port of entry, and is valid for 60 days.

Countries eligible for visa on arrival: Australia, Andorra, Austria, Brunei, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America and the Vatican.

Holders of British overseas passports issued in Hong Kong or China can obtain a visa on arrival at Dubai Airport.
GCC(Gulf Corporation Council) residents can also visit Dubai without applying in advance for a visa.
Israeli citizens are banned by the UAE government from entering the country.

Please note, that there has been reported cases of Racial Discrimination against European Union citizens when entering Abu Dhabi and Dubai airport by Immigration officials in 2005.

If you experience any forms of discrimination you are advised to contact your Embassy as soon as possible.
If you are a European Citizen, it would also be advised when returning from the United Arab Emirates to your home nation, on reporting any cases of discrimination that you suffered to both your local Member of Parliament and European Member of Parliament.

The European Union is against all forms of discrimination.

By plane

Dubai airport
The main hub for air transport in the United Arab Emirates is Dubai, which is served by several major airlines, most notably Dubai-based Emirates. Direct flights connect Dubai to Johannesburg, London, Sydney,Melbourne,Tehran,Riyadh, Bombay, Hong Kong, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt, New York City and most major cities in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Africa. Etihad Airlines now offers direct flights from New York City (JFK) to Abu Dhabi. British Airways also offers direct flights from London (Heathrow) to Abu Dhabi.

By car

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.

By boat

There is a large network of Dhows which transport goods throughout the Gulf region and as far away as Tanzania and India. It may be possible to buy passage on one of these boats. They call at all coastal cities in the UAE, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
There are also ferry services between Iran and the UAE, notably between Bandar Abbas and Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi.

Map of the United Arab Emirates

Get around

Distances in the UAE are relatively short and no rail service exists for the moment, so getting around by road is the only way to go. The roads are safe and in good condition; however, signage is poor in some emirates (namely Sharjah).

There are now some good local city maps, particularly for Dubai (the Explorer series of books). Sharjah remains poorly mapped ; however , recently a web site ( offered the first decent online maps of the UAE. Google Earth does offer solid satellite pictures but at a level of detail good mainly for reference purposes.

The lack of good map or signage makes the use of a compass or GPS sometimes useful if you want to get off the highway. People in the UAE drive extremely fast and some are completely reckless: overtaking by the right is the rule, speed limits are ignored by all - including heavy trucks. Last-second line change seems to be a national sport.

However, compared to other countries of the region, UAE drivers are exemplary. Just be careful when you spot a tinted-window SUV at night: due to the black windows, the driver won't see you if he decides to change lanes. Theoretically forbidden, the practice of tinting windows over 30% is widespread among young Arabs, and is generally associated with poor driving skills (the local license test is a joke) and fast driving.

Desert Safari's are good attraction in the vicinity of Dubai, but great care to be taken while choosing a hired vehicle, it should be a 4WD. And desert safari's are also generally pre-designed with travel agents and can give you good deal as well on quantity.


The official language is Arabic, but it is safe to say that the majority of the population doesn't speak it (Iranian,Indian, Asian and Western expatriates are more numerous than Arabs in Dubai, and usually have very limited knowledge of Arabic). English is the lingua franca.

Other languages widely spoken in the UAE include: English, Farsi (Persian), Hindi/Urdu (Hindustani), Malayalam, Tagalog (Filipino).Most people possess at least a basic command of English, though it is not uncommon to meet people whose English is limited.

In Dubai, most shops, hotels, and commercial businesses conduct business in English. Generally speaking, Arabic is spoken by government departments and the police, however in the Northern Emirates Arabic is much more widely spoken.


The currency is the United Arab Emirates dirham (AED, local abbreviation dhs). Conversion rates are 3.68 AED for 1 USD, 4.5 AED for 1 EUR and 6.8 AED for 1 GBP. The Dirham is pegged on the USD, so rate variations with this currency are unlikely. 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 travelers 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.


Basic commodities tend to be cheaper than in most western countries. However, hotels rates are not, and basically all things touristic tend to align themselves with western tariffs. Rents in Dubai are starting to compete with cities like Paris or London, and other prices tend to follow. Some places even shared accommodations are available and are quite reasonable.


One of the things UAE is most famous for is shopping. There are no sales taxes in the UAE. If you are interested in shopping, you can't leave UAE without visiting Dubai. Dubai boasts the best places for shopping in the whole of the Middle East, if not the world, especially during the annual shopping festival, from mid-January to mid-February.


Dubai and, to a lesser extent, Abu Dhabi offer a vast spread of food from most of the world's major cuisines. Traditional Shawarma and other Arabic cuisines are readily available and are quite cheap and delicious with medium spicy flavour, with controlled calories. Grilled chickens are available at most of the hotels on the road which can be relished with other accompaniments like Khubz (Arabic Bread), hummus, etc,.


Ski Dubai in Dubai Emirates Mall started in December 2005 is the world's third largest indoor ski slope, measuring 400 meters and using 6000 tons of snow. Ski Dubai resort is the first Dubai indoor ski slope to open. No equipment is needed - skis/snowboards, snowsuits, boots and socks are all included in the price (the socks are disposable). You may want to buy a cheap pair of glove liners and a hat from their souvenir store.

The Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open an indoor ski slope as well in 2007 - 2008.


Alcohol is available in liquor stores, 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 a liquor license (never asked for in bars) which also allows you to buy alcohol at liquor stores (they do check). There are some variations in the degree of tolerance of alcohol in the different emirates. For example, during Ramadan no alcohol is served in bars and restaurants in Abu Dhabi. Dubai still serves alcohol but bands stop playing, background music is off or quiet, no dancing is allowed and nightclubs are usually closed. In Ras Al Khaimah there's no noticeable change.


The UAE has a full range of accommodations. There are several hostels, quite a few midrange hotels, and a remarkable number of pleasant beach resorts. (However, hotels in Dubai can be gathering grounds for prostitutes, and a bit of research should be done before purchase.) There is an impressive number of super-luxury hotels, most notably; the Burj al-Arab (Tower of Arabia)(It is popular as the world's first 7 star hotel, but actually is certified as a 5 star deluxe property; boasting of 7 star standards for its unique architecture and service standards). It is also rated as one of the most luxurious hotel of the world, with award winning restaurants. Significant discounts can be obtained if the booking is made through a local corporation.

Stay safe

The crime rate is extremely low in the United Arab Emirates, just be vigilant. A couple of things you should be aware of are to do with drug laws in the UAE.

Some common painkillers in western countries are illegal narcotics in the UAE, for example codeine. Don't bring any with you. People have received jail sentences for making this mistake. In contrast, antibiotics are freely available over the counter at pharmacies.

Another trap for the unwary is that if you are suspected of being under the influence of drugs, a blood test can be taken and if it shows evidence of illegal substances (in the UAE) then you will probably end up in jail. Even if the substances were ingested in another country.

Stay healthy

The water is safe to drink in the UAE and 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. The country is free of malaria and prophylaxis is not needed.

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.

The heat in summer can reach 50 degrees C, so avoid outdoors activity at the height of the day and watch for signs of heat stroke. 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 handicapped travelers than other countries in the Middle-east, 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 a complete lack of handicapped-friendly bathrooms.

Contact and Communications

The country code is 971. The mobile phone network uses the GSM technology (as in Europe and Africa) and use is widespread. There are internet cafes in the major towns. The format for dialling 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) for Etisalat and (55) for Du. Like other countries, when dialling 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).



Quick Facts

Capital Abu Dhabi
Government Federation with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates
Currency Emirati dirham (AED)
Area total: 82,880 km2
land: 82,880 km2
water: 0 km2
Population 2,563,212 (July 2006 est.)
Language Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu
Religion Muslim 96% (Shi'a 16%), Christian, Hindu, and other 4%
Electricity 220/50Hz (UK plug)
Calling Code +971
Internet TLD .ae
Time Zone UTC+4

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