Country guides Middle East
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. The most frequently used plugs are the flat, three-pin type.
Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely spoken.
The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. There are no currency regulations in the UAE and all major currencies are readily exchanged at banks and large hotels. The Dirham is fixed against the US Dollar. The best exchange rates are found at private moneychangers who operate throughout the territory, particularly in the more popular souks (markets) and shopping centres. Most major credit cards are accepted. ATMs are common throughout the UAE. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 3pm, but some are also open until 8.30pm, after a midday break.
Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10 percent is adequate and many hotels and restaurants add a service charge, so it is best to check the bill.
No vaccinations are required for entry to the UAE, though a certificate is required for yellow fever if visitors are arriving from an affected area. Tap water in the major cities is safe to drink but sticking to bottled water may be preferable elsewhere. Medical care is excellent in the main cities, but extremely expensive, while medicines and medical care are not always available in the outlying areas. Health insurance is essential as visitors may be prevented from using healthcare facilities without travel insurance or without the means to settle any medical fees.
Most visits to the UAE are trouble free. Crime is not a problem, but there is deemed to be a threat of terrorism against Western interests and gathering points, particularly entertainment venues. It is therefore wise to be vigilant when frequenting these. It is also wise to avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including references to attack Western interests, such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests.
The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Some prescribed and over the counter medicines from outside the country may be considered to be a controlled substance within the UAE and will not be allowed into the UAE without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health Drug Control Department (DCD). A passenger arriving with such medication without permission may be subject to prosecution. Dress and behaviour should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women's clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs. Cohabiting, adultery and homosexual behaviour are illegal in the UAE, and it is an offence to swear or make rude gestures, or show a public display of affection. In general, the country has a tolerant approach to Western visitors, but local laws and sensitivities should be respected.
The United Arab Emirates, although a very warm country, requires formal business attire from both men and women. Women should dress conservatively, being careful to cover up as much as possible. It is unlikely that visitors will come into contact with local women in business, as it is an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. Punctuality is considered a sign of respect and is essential, even though it is not uncommon to be kept waiting on occasion. With interruptions in meetings quite prevalent, patience is expected.
The Arabic greeting of 'Salaam Aleikum' is advisable instead of 'Hello' and politeness helps to build strong relationships. Shaking hands is common, but men should only shake the hand of a woman after she offers it, otherwise a simple bow of the head will suffice. Often agreements are verbal and will be acted upon. Dates in documents should be detailed in both Gregorian dates and the Hijrah date. Gifts are appreciated but not necessary, though foreigners should be sure to avoid anything involving alcohol or pig-related products, as the UAE is a Muslim country. Friday is the day of rest and most likely very little business will occur on this day. General business hours are 9am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday. During the holy month of Ramadan businesses may halt in the middle of the day and only continue after the fast has been broken in the evening.
Visitors to the UAE do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 500g tobacco; and goods to the value of AED 3,000. Alcohol allowances vary. Dubai: 24 cans of beer or 4 litres of any other alcohol; Abu Dhabi and Fujairah: 4 litres of alcohol provided traveller is not Muslim; Sharjah: 2 litres of alcohol and 1 case beer. Fruit and vegetables from cholera-infected areas are strictly prohibited.
The international code for the United Arab Emirates is +971. Travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones at the airports or city shops. WiFi is widespread, but the internet is censored to filter out any material and websites deemed undesirable by the authorities.
Passport & Visa
All visitors to the United Arab Emirates must hold a passport that is valid for six months. Visitors must hold documents and confirmed tickets for their next destination and have a sponsor in the UAE to cover their stay. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
United States citizens require a passport valid for 6 months after date of arrival. No visa is required for tourist stays under 30 days.
Passports must be valid for 6 months after date of entry. British passport holders can get a visitor's visas on arrival for a maximum of 30 days.
Canadian passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry. Canadians entering the UAE as tourists must obtain an entry stamp at the port of entry. This entry stamp is free and valid for 30 days. It's renewable for a further 30 days.
Passports must be valid for at least six months from the departure date. Australians are eligible for a free 30-day visitor visa-on-arrival.
South African nationals require a passport valid for six months from the departure date. A visa is required.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for six months from the departure date, and can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum of 30 days.
Passports must be valid for at least six months from the departure date. New Zealand nationals are eligible for a free 30-day visitor visa-on-arrival.
Dubai Department of Tourism: +971 4 223 0000 or www.emirates.org998 (Ambulance), 999 (General and Police), 997 (Fire).
Embassies / consulates in other countries
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 243 2400.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7581 1281.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 565 7272.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 8802.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 7736.
Embassies / consulates in United Arab Emirates
United States Embassy, Dubai: +971 (0)4 309 4000.
British Embassy, Dubai: +971 4 309 4444.
Canadian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 694 0300.
Australian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 401 7500.
South African Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 447 3446.
Irish Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 495 8200.
New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for the United Arab Emirates): +966 1 488 7988.