Friday, September 8, 2023
United Arab Emirates travel guide - Travel S helper

United Arab Emirates

travel guide

The United Arab Emirates, often known as the Emirates or the UAE, is a nation in the Persian Gulf at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing maritime boundaries with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north. The UAE’s population was 9.2 million in 2013, including 1.4 million Emirati nationals and 7.8 million expats.

The nation was founded in December 1971 as a federation of seven emirates. Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain are the constituent emirates. Each emirate is ruled by an absolute monarch, who together constitute the Federal Supreme Council. The President of the United Arab Emirates is chosen from among the monarchs. The official religion of the UAE is Islam, and Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken and used in business and education, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The UAE has the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves and the world’s seventeenth-largest natural gas reserves. Sheikh Zayed, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the first President of the UAE, supervised the country’s growth and directed oil money into healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The UAE has the most diverse economy in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and its most populated metropolis, Dubai, is a major global city and an international aviation center. Nonetheless, the nation is still heavily dependent on petroleum and natural gas exports.

The UAE has been chastised for its record on human rights, particularly the unique interpretations of Shari’a applied in its judicial system. Because of the UAE’s growing worldwide prominence, several observers see it as a regional and medium power.

Flights & Hotels
search and compare

We compare room prices from 120 different hotel booking services (including, Agoda, and others), enabling you to pick the most affordable offers that are not even listed on each service separately.

100% Best Price

The price for one and the same room can differ depending on the website you are using. Price comparison enables finding the best offer. Also, sometimes the same room can have a different availability status in another system.

No charge & No Fees

We don’t charge any commissions or extra fees from our customers and we cooperate only with proven and reliable companies.

Ratings and Reviews

We use TrustYou™, the smart semantic analysis system, to gather reviews from many booking services (including, Agoda, and others), and calculate ratings based on all the reviews available online.

Discounts and Offers

We search for destinations through a large booking services database. This way we find the best discounts and offer them to you.

United Arab Emirates - Info Card




UAE dirham (AED)

Time zone

UTC+04:00 (United Arab Emirates Standard Time)


83,600 km2 (32,300 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language

Arabic - English

United Arab Emirates | Introduction

Weather & Climate in UAE

The country is exceptionally dry, with rainfall on only a few days a year. Nevertheless, the Emiratis use water in alarming proportions: in the large public parks, for example, there are wide swaths of grass, and in the resorts or other public places, landscaping can be extensive. Most of this water comes from desalination. Visitors do not pay for their water consumption.

The weather from late October to mid-March is quite pleasant, with temperatures ranging from highs of around 27°C (85°F) to lows of around 15°C (63°F). It is almost always sunny. Between November and February it can rain, and when it does rain, traffic can be dangerous. In summer, temperatures soar and humidity is almost unbearable – it is generally believed that the officially stated temperatures are “optimised” to cut off the true summer highs, which can be over 50°C (120°F).

Geography of UAE

The United Arab Emirates are located in the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf between Oman and Saudi Arabia, and are strategically located just south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit point for the world’s crude oil.

The UAE are located between 22° 30′ and 26° 10′ latitude north and in between 51° and 56° 25′ longitude east. It borders Saudi Arabia to the west, south and south-east for 530 kilometres (330 miles) and Oman to the south-east and north-east for 450 kilometres (280 miles). The land border with Qatar in the region of Khawr al Udayd is some nineteen kilometres (12 miles) to the north-west, but it is a source of ongoing dispute. Following the British military withdrawal from the UAE in 1971 and its establishment as a new state, the UAE claimed islands, which led to disputes with Iran that remain unresolved. The UAE also contested the claim on other islands against the neighbouring state of Qatar. UAE’s biggest emirate, Abu Dhabi, comprises 87% of the overall area of the United Arab Emirates (67,340 square kilometres (26,000 square miles). The smallest emirate, Ajman, covers only 259 square kilometres (100 square miles) (see figure).

The coast of the United Arab Emirates extends over 650 km (404 mi) along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. Most of the coast consists of salt marshes that extend far inland. The biggest seaport is in Dubai, despite the fact that other ports have been dredged in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and elsewhere. Many islands are in the Persian Gulf, and the ownership of some of them has been the subject of international disputes with Iran and Qatar. Small islands as well as numerous coral reefs and shifting sandbanks pose a threat to shipping. High tides and occasional storms further complicate the movement of ships near the coast.

South and west of Abu Dhabi, wide rolling sand dunes merge into the Rub al-Khali (empty quarter) of Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi’s desert area comprises two important oases with sufficient underground water for sustainable settlement and agriculture. The huge Liwa oasis is located in the south, close to the undefined border with Saudi Arabia. Approximately 100 km north-east of Liwa is the Al-Buraimi Oasis, which is located on both sides of the border which separates Abu Dhabi from Sudan. Lake Zakher is an artificial lake near the border with Oman.

Before withdrawing from the region in 1971, Great Britain demarcated the internal borders between the seven Emirates to prevent territorial disputes that could hinder the formation of the Federation. Generally, UAE leadership has accepted British intervention, although in the specific case of the border conflicts between Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well as between Dubai and Sharjah, these conflicting claims were not resolved until the UAE gained independence. Perhaps the most complicated borders involved the mountains of Al-Hajar al-Gharbi, in which five of the Emirates disputed jurisdiction over a dozen enclaves.

Flora and fauna

Date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees grow in the oases. The flora in the desert is very sparse and is composed of grasses and thornbushes. The indigenous fauna was almost extinct due to intensive hunting, which led to a conservation programme on the island of Bani Yas, initiated in the 1970s by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in which e.g. Arabian oryx, Arabian camels and leopards survived. Coastal fish and mammals include mainly mackerel, perch and tuna, as well as sharks and whales.

People in UAE

After landing in the Unite d Arab Emirates, you might wonder if this is an Arab country. You could think that you are actually in India or the Philippines. Dubai has attracted thousands of migrants looking for work from all over the world, especially from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, since the oil industry was founded. Today, Indians and Filipinos have left their influence in the emirate: Indian restaurants and Pakistani bakeries are everywhere, while Philippine supermarkets are growing. Europeans (mainly British and French) and Sri Lanka form the next largest communities. Chinese and Indonesian migrants are increasing. Many Arab countries have adopted policies such as the emiratisation of the UAE, a policy that prevents migrants from taking up all job opportunities and offers more jobs to local emiratis.

The population is incredibly diverse. There are only 20% “real” Emiratis; while the rest are from the Indian subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (50%); from other regions of Asia, particularly the Philippines and Malaysia (another perhaps 15%); and from “western” countries (Europe, Australia, North America, South Africa; 5-6%), the rest come from all other countries. For example, in any given day in Dubai or Sharjah, you may see people from each continent and from all social classes. With this diversity, one of the few unifying factors is the language, and consequently almost everyone speaks a particular version of English. Almost all street or other signs are in English and Arabic, and English is widely spoken, especially in the hospitality industry. There are elements to which some overseas travellers may not be accustomed, such as fully veiled women, but as this is “their way”, tourists should show respect and they are offered the same in return.

Demographics of UAE

The demography of the UAE is extremely diverse. In 2010, the population of the UAE had an estimated 8,264,070 people, of which only 13% were citizens of the United Arab Emirates, with a majority of the population being foreign nationals. The country’s net migration rate is 21.71, the highest in the world. In accordance with Article 8 by the UAE Federal Law No. 17, after 20 years of residence in the country, expatriates can obtain UAE citizenship if they have never been convicted for any crime and if they are speaking fluent Arabic. Nowadays, however, citizenship is not so easily granted, as many people live in the country as stateless persons (known as bidun).

There are 1.4 million Emirati citizens. The population of the United Arab Emirates is ethnically diverse. According to the CIA, 19% of the population were Emiratis, 23% other Arabs (Egyptians, Jordanians) and Iranians, 50% South Asians and 8% other expatriates, including West and East Asians (as of 1982).

Emirati nationals made up 16.5% of the total population in 2009; people from South Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India) represented the largest group with 58.4%; and other Asians (Filipinos, Iranians) represented 16.7%, while expatriates from the Western world represented 8.4% of the total population.

Indian and Pakistani expatriates account for more than a third (37%) of the population of the three Emirates of Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, according to the latest statistics for 2014 provided by Euromonitor International, a market research company. Top 5 nationalities living in the 3 Emirates are Indian (25%), Pakistani (12%), Emiratis (9%), Bangladeshi (7%) and Filipino (5%).

An increasing presence of Europeans is noticeable, particularly in multi-cultural urban areas such as Dubai. Western expatriates from Europe, Australia, North and Latin America account for 500,000 people in the UAE. More than 100,000 British citizens live in the country. The rest of the population comes from other Arab states.

Approximately 88% of the United Arab Emirates’ population is urban. The average life expectancy is 76.7 years (2012), higher than in any other Arab country. Having a gender ratio of 2.2 for the overall population as well as 2.75 for the 15-65 age group, the gender imbalance of the UAE is the second highest of the world after Qatar.

Religion in UAE

Islam is the largest and the official state religion in the UAE. The government pursues a policy of tolerance towards other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims. Conversely, non-Muslims are expected not to interfere in Islamic religious affairs or the Islamic education of Muslims.

The government imposes restrictions on the dissemination of other religions through any form of media, as this is considered a form of conversion. There are about 31 churches throughout the country, a Hindu temple in the Bur Dubai region, a Sikh Gurudwara in Jebel Ali and also a Buddhist temple in Al Garhoud.

Based on the 2005 census of the Ministry of Economy, 76% of the total population were Muslims, 9% Christians and 15% others (mainly Hindu). The census figures do not take into account the many “temporary” visitors and workers, while they also include Baha’is and Druze Muslims. Among Emirati nationals, 85% are Sunni Muslims, while 15% are Shiite Muslims, concentrated mainly in the Emirates of Sharjah and Dubai. Omani immigrants are predominantly Ibadi, while there are also Sufi influences.

Language in UAE

The official language is Arabic, but it is certain that the majority of the population does not speak it. Iranian, Indian, Filipino and Western expatriates outnumber the Emiratis, especially in Dubai (where the foreign population is over 80%), and generally have very limited knowledge of Arabic. English is the lingua franca and many Emiratis speak it to communicate with the many foreign workers who work for them. As the Emirates is a British protectorate, most people would have learnt English at school and have at least a basic knowledge of English.

Other languages widely spoken in the UAE are Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu), Malayalam/Tamil, Farsi (Persian) and Tagalog (Filipino). Most people have at least a basic knowledge of English, although it is not uncommon to meet people with limited English skills.

In Dubai, most shops, hotels and commercial enterprises are run in English. Arabic is generally spoken by government agencies and the police; however, in Abu Dhabi and the northern emirates, Arabic is much more widely spoken.

Internet & Communications in UAE

By phone

The country code is 971. The mobile phone network uses GSM technology (as in Europe and Africa) and is widely used. The dialling format is as follows: +971-#-### ####, where the first “#” indicates the area code. The main area codes are Dubai (4), Sharjah (6) and Abu Dhabi (2). Calls to mobile phones use the operator’s area codes: (50/56) for Etisalat and (55) for Du. As in other countries, local dialling uses ’00’ for an international number (followed by the country code) and ‘0’ for a national number (followed by the area code).

Via the internet

Cybercafés are quite common in big cities, and web censorship is sometimes strange but rarely embarrassing. All websites under the Israeli domain .il are blocked. Not much is known about how to get around this blockade for people who need to visit Israeli websites. Instant messaging and VoIP services like Skype sometimes work. The state-owned telecommunications operator blocks access to these services to varying degrees. The blocking does not always stop calls and can vary depending on the network used. It also seems to be able to block Skypeout calls while allowing Skype-Skype calls. Even if services are not blocked, connection speed can be a problem. Most people use a VPN service to bypass local internet restrictions.

Etisalat and Du both offer USB internet connections.

Economy of UAE

UAE is the 2nd largest economy in the GCC ( behind Saudi Arabia) with a GDP of US$ 377 billion (AED 1.38 trillion) in 2012 and has grown almost 231 times since it became independent in 1971 to AED 1.45 trillion in 2013. Non-oil trade has risen to AED 1.2 trillion, a growth rate of about 28 times from 1981 to 2012. The United Arab Emirates is ranked the 31st best nation in the world for doing business, measured by its economy and regulatory environment, in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Report for 2016, which was published by the WB Group.

Despite having the most diversified economies in the GCC, it remains enormously dependent from oil. Except Dubai, most of the UAE is dependent from oil revenues. Oil and gas continue to play a central role in the economy, especially in Abu Dhabi. More than 85% of the UAE economy was based on oil exports in 2009. Although Abu Dhabi as well as other UAE emirates remained relatively conservative in its approach to diversification, Dubai, where oil reserves are much lower, has been bolder in its diversification policy. In 2011, oil exports accounted for 77% of the UAE’s national budget. Successful efforts to diversify the economy have reduced the share of oil/gas production in GDP to 25%.

Dubai suffered from a severe economic crisis in 2007-2010 and was saved by Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth. Dubai has a balanced budget that reflects economic growth. Tourism functions as a growth sector for the entire UAE economy. As a result, Dubai has become the top tourist destination of the Middle East. The annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index ranked Dubai as the 5th most popular travel destination of the world. Dubai has a share of up to 66% of the UAE’s tourism industry, with Abu Dhabi holding 16% and Sharjah 10%. In 2013 Dubai could welcome 10 million tourists.

The UAE have the most sophisticated and highly developed infrastructure in this region. The UAE has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure since the 1980s. These developments can be observed especially in the larger emirates Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Northern Emirates are rapidly catching up and offer important incentives for residential and commercial property developers.

Property prices in Dubai fell dramatically when the state-owned construction company Dubai World tried to delay a debt payment. The economy is dependent on foreign labour, and emiratisation is showing few positive effects, as studies by Paul Dyer and Natasha Ridge of the Dubai School of Government, Ingo Forstenlechner of the University of the United Arab Emirates, Kasim Randaree of the British University of Dubai and Paul Knoglinger of the University of Applied Sciences Vienna show.

UAE law does not allow the existence of trade unions. The right to collective bargaining and the right to strike are not recognised, and the Ministry of Labour has the power to force workers to return to work. Migrant workers who take part in a strike can have their work permits revoked and be deported. As a result, there are very few anti-discrimination laws on labour issues, with Emiratis – other GCC Arabs – being favoured over competitors and less motivated in public sector jobs, despite having lower qualifications than their competitors and lower motivation. In fact, just over eighty per cent of Emirati workers hold government posts, while many of the rest hold shares in state-owned companies such as Emirates Airlines and Dubai Properties.

On a positive note, 56% of the skilled workers in the UAE expect the economic situation to improve, according to a recent survey conducted by

Law in UAE

The UAE has a federal judicial system. Within the judicial structure there are three main branches: Civil Law, Criminal Law and Sharia Law. The judicial system in the UAE is derived from the civil and Sharia law system. The judicial system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE criminal and civil courts apply elements of Shari’a codified in the penal code and family law in a manner that discriminates against women.

Flogging is punishment for crimes such as adultery, premarital sex and alcohol consumption. Because of Shari’a courts, flogging is legal with penalties of 80 to 200 lashes. Verbal insults to a person’s honour are illegal and are punishable by 80 lashes. In the period 2007 to 2014 a number of people in the UAE have been punished with 100 lashes. In 2015, 2 persons have been sentenced to 80 lashes on charges of beating and verbally abusing a woman. Also in 2014, a foreign national in Abu Dhabi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 80 lashes on charges of drinking alcohol and of raping an infant. Alcohol consumption is illegal for Muslims and is punishable by 80 lashes; many Muslims have been sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking alcohol. Sometimes 40 lashes are given. Illegal sexual intercourse is sometimes punishable by 60 lashes. The standard number of lashes for those who are sentenced to flogging is 80 lashes in several emirates. Shari’a courts have punished domestic servants by flogging. In October 2013, a Filipino housekeeper was sentenced to 100 lashes for illegitimate pregnancy. Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly illegal and punishable by 80 lashes; many expatriates have been sentenced to 80 lashes for drunk driving. People in Abu Dhabi had been sentenced with 80 lashes for kissing in public. According to UAE law, sex before marriage is penalized with 100 lashes.

Stoning is a legal punishment in the UAE. An Asian cleaning woman has been sentenced to death by stoning on May 2014 in Abu Dhabi. Other expatriates have been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. From 2009 to 2013, a number of persons were sentenced to death by stoning. Abortion is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 100 lashes and 5 years in prison. In recent years several people have withdrawn their guilty pleas in cases of illegal sexual relations after being sentenced to stoning or 100 lashes. The penalty for adultery is 100 lashes for unmarried persons and stoning for married persons.

Shari’a courts have exclusive jurisdiction in family law cases and also have jurisdiction in a number of criminal cases, including adultery, premarital sex, theft, alcohol consumption and related offences. Sharia-based civil status law governs matters such as marriage, divorce and custody of children. Islamic civil status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes also to non-Muslims. Non-Muslim expatriates may be subject to Shari’ah decisions on marriage, divorce and custody of children.

Apostasy is a crime that is punishable by death in the United Arab Emirates. Blasphemy is illegal; expatriates who insult Islam are liable for expulsion. The UAE includes Huddish Shari’a crimes (i.e., crimes against God) in its penal code – apostasy is one of them. In accordance with sections 1 and 66 of the Penal Code of the UAE, all Huddish crimes are punishable by death; as a result, apostasy is one of them and is punishable by death in the UAE.

In several cases, UAE courts have imprisoned women who have reported rape. For example, a British woman was charged with “alcohol consumption” after reporting a gang rape by three men, another British woman was charged with “public intoxication and extramarital sex” after reporting a rape, while an Australian woman was sentenced to a similar prison term after reporting a gang rape in the UAE. In another case, an 18-year-old Emirati woman recently withdrew her charge of gang rape by six men when the prosecutor threatened her with a long prison sentence and flogging. The woman had to serve another year in prison. In July 2013 a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, reported a rape to the police and was sentenced to prison for “unlawful sexual intercourse and alcohol consumption”.

Other laws discriminate against women. Emirati women must obtain permission from a male guardian to marry and remarry. This requirement results from the interpretation of Sharia law by the United Arab Emirates and has been a federal law since 2005. In all Emirates it is forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. In the UAE, it is criminalised to marry a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man, since it is considered a form of “fornication”.

Kissing in public is illegal and can lead to expulsion. Expatriates in Dubai have been deported because they kissed in public. In Abu Dhabi, people have been sentenced to 80 lashes for public kissing. A New Federal Law of the UAE forbids swearing on the Whatsapp and punishes them by a fine of $68,061 and imprisonment; while expatriates are punished with deportation. In July 2015, an Australian living abroad was deported because he had sworn an oath on Facebook.

Homosexuality is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and a capital crime. In 2013, an Emirati man was put on trial on charges of “homosexual handshake”. Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Criminal Code provides for a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment for consensual sodomy, while Article 177 of the Dubai Criminal Code provides for a prison sentence of up to 10 years for consensual sodomy.

In the UAE, according to the Sharia courts, amputation is a legal punishment, while crucifixion is a legal punishment in the UAE. Article 1 of the Federal Criminal Code states that “the provisions of Islamic law apply to the crimes of doctrinal punishment, punishment and blood money”. The Federal Criminal Code has only repealed those provisions of the criminal codes of the individual Emirates that contradict the Federal Criminal Code. Consequently, both are applicable simultaneously.

During the fasting month of Ramadan it is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset. Exceptions apply to pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and failure to observe this rule may lead to arrest. Dancing in public is illegal in the United Arab Emirates.

Entry Requirements For United Arab Emirates

Visa & Passport For UAE

Visa restrictions
Citizens of Israel are denied entry. Travellers with non-Israeli passports bearing Israeli stamps and/or visas from Israel are allowed entry.

Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) do not require a visa. A short-stay visa is issued on arrival to residents of GCC member states, regardless of nationality.

Citizens of most developed countries receive a free 30-day visa stamped in their passport upon entry. This visa can be extended up to 90 days after arrival for a fee of Dhs500. The countries are as follows: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (except BN(O) passports), United States and Vatican City.

Several other countries can benefit from free tourist visas for hotels and travel. See UAE Interact for the latest details.

All other nationalities must apply for a visa in advance, which requires a UAE sponsor. Your travel agent can or will usually arrange this for you. The cost of a 2015 visa is 250 dirhams (about $70) plus travel agent fees for 30 days single entry, no extensions are possible. The new tariff and visa regime is designed to discourage tourists from seeking work in the UAE. While the airline-sponsored transit visa is 100 dirhams (about $23) for 96 hours of transit.

Israeli citizens are prohibited from entering the country by the government of the United Arab Emirates. Despite much misinformation on the internet to the contrary, Israeli visa stamps are officially correct. See these links for more information.

If you are entering from a South Asian country, you will need to obtain an “OK to Board” stamp. In most cases, your travel agent will take care of this. If not, once you have received your visa, take your passport and airline ticket to your airline office and get an ‘OK to board’ stamp. Without this, you may not be allowed to enter the UAE.

Passports must be valid for 6 months from the date of entry.

Customs regulations

Each non-Muslim adult can bring four alcoholic drinks, for example four bottles of wine, four bottles of spirits or four cases of beer (regardless of alcohol content).

The United Arab Emirates has a deplorably strict policy on medicines. Many common drugs, including those containing codeinediazepam (Valium) or dextromethorphan (Robitussin), are banned unless they have a notarised doctor’s prescription. Visitors who break the rules, even accidentally, will either be jailed or deported. UAEinteract keeps a list of controlled drugs.

Do not even think of bringing narcotics: Possession of even the smallest amounts leads to at least four years in prison. The consumption of khat/qat (a flowering plant containing an alkaloid called cathinone), popular in other neighbouring countries (especially Yemen), is also illegal and can be punished with life imprisonment.

How To Travel To United Arab Emirates

Get In - By plane

The main air hub in the UAE is Dubai International Airport, which is served by several major airlines, including Dubai-based Emirates. Direct flights connect Dubai with Durban, Johannesburg, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Karachi, Tehran, Riyadh, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hong Kong, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt, Milan, Madrid, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, São Paulo and many other major cities in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Africa. Chances are that there are airlines from your country that offer flights to Dubai.

After Dubai, Abu Dhabi Airport is the second best-served airport for international connections. Abu Dhabi-based 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 and Lufthansa from Frankfurt.

Low-cost airlines

For cheap flights,

  • Air Arabia has established a hub at Sharjah Airport (very close to Dubai) and serves many cities in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and India.
  • Cebu Pacific offers flights from Dubai to Manila, Philippines, with prices starting from $150.
  • Fly from Dubai to the Middle East, Europe, Africa and India.
  • Pegasus airlines fly from Dubai to many European cities.
  • Wizzair flies to many European cities from Dubai.
  • Smartwings airlines fly to many European cities from Dubai.

Norwegians fly to many cities in Europe and North America

Get In - By car

There are road accesses to the UAE from Saudi Arabia to the south and Oman to the east. All UAE highways are in excellent condition, but there is a large amount of traffic between Sharjah and Dubai, and a fee of AED 4 to pass through the Salik toll booth. This requires a pre-paid Salik pass.

Get In - By boat

The Iranian shipping company Valfajre-8 operates a twice-weekly ferry service between Bandar Abbas in Iran and the port of Sharjah. It is an overnight ferry that takes 10 to 12 hours and departs in the early evening on Sundays and Thursdays. Prices start at Jh160 for economy class.

In addition to the scheduled services, there is an extensive network of traditional dhow trade routes that transport goods throughout the Gulf and even to India. It may be possible to purchase passage on one of these vessels. Depending on which dhow you are on, they can call at any coastal city in the UAE, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

How To Travel Around United Arab Emirates

Distances in the UAE are relatively short, and with the Dubai Metro you can reach several stations just in Dubai and the surrounding area. The peak hours for the Dubai Metro are in the morning and evening. The Dubai Metro offers three classes: silver class, which is used daily by workers, women’s class, which is reserved for women and children, and gold class. If you are a frequent rider, you can get monthly passes for each class. The Metro also connects with public buses as soon as you get off at a station. You can also plan your route online at Travelling by metro has its own advantages as it is relatively cheap, fast and you can see most of Dubai along the way. The roads are generally in excellent condition, though signage is poor in some emirates.

Get Around - With public transport

Public transport in the cities remains rudimentary. Dubai is building an extensive monorail and train system, but the other emirates offer very little public transport. Abu Dhabi has an urban bus network that costs dh2 per trip inside the city and dh4 per tirip outside the city and is fairly reliable, but can be congested for male passengers. Intercity buses are fast, comfortable and relatively frequent.

Taxis are widely available in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. They are relatively cheap in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. A ride to anywhere in Abu Dhabi city costs around US$2, as they are only charged according to the distance travelled. After 10pm, a night surcharge of US$3 may apply, depending on the driver.

Get Around - With car

The United Arab Emirates has a modern road network. To rent a car or drive in the UAE, you will need an international driving licence, which is simply a translation of your standard driving licence, available from a local motoring organisation. If you are a resident of the UAE, you will need to obtain a local driving licence. This is a simple process that can be done in 20 minutes, but only if you belong to a certain list of (mainly Western) countries. If you are from an Asian country, you currently have to take 40 courses at a local driving school and pass a fairly difficult driving test. But this is changing, and could soon apply to all nationalities.

Car rentals are slightly cheaper than in the United States. A flat rate per day is charged for renting a car, depending on the size of the car. Petrol is cheap by American and European standards. The road system is based on British or European standards, with many roundabouts and heavily channelled traffic. But signs are easy to understand and clear and consistent in most places. Drivers in the UAE, especially in urban areas, tend to be very aggressive and often use tactics that range from stupid to disastrous. This may be due to traffic, which can be extremely congested in urban areas, or other factors.

People in the UAE drive extremely fast and sometimes completely recklessly: overtaking on the right is the rule, speed limits are ignored by many, even by heavy vehicles. Changing the last line seems to be a popular sport. The United Arab Emirates has the third highest road fatality rate in the world (just behind Saudi Arabia and Oman).

Be especially careful if you see an off-road vehicle with tinted windows at night: Black windows will cause the driver not to see you and change lanes. Theoretically forbidden, tinted windows are common among young Arabs and are generally associated with poor driving skills and fast driving.

There are now some good city maps, especially for Dubai (the Explorer book series). Note that construction is still ongoing and the road network sometimes changes rapidly, so the maps only cover a “point in time”. Sharjah remains poorly mapped. Google Earth provides solid satellite imagery but with a satisfactory level of detail, mainly for general reference purposes. The lack of good maps or signage makes the use of a compass or GPS sometimes useful when going off the highway.

Desert safaris or “wadi bashing” are good attractions around Dubai, but you should be very careful when choosing a rental vehicle; it should be a four-wheel drive vehicle. Also, desert safaris are usually planned in advance with tour operators and you can save money on the amount.

Accommodation & Hotels in United Arab Emirates

For the visitor, the UAE has one of the most spectacular ranges of tourist accommodation in the world. There are both modern hotels of breathtaking beauty, which can be extremely expensive, and more modest accommodation. Cheap accommodation is available, but like everywhere else, its condition is shockingly variable.

There are an impressive number of luxury hotels, including the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab (Tower of the Arabs), a monument in Dubai known as a “7-star hotel” – a non-existent category, but still opulent in every way. The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi also aspires to the same standard, for a fraction of the price.

Things To See in United Arab Emirates

  • Some of the largest sand dunes in the world south of Abu Dhabi in the Liwa oasis region
  • Beautiful beaches on the east coast
  • Isolated and difficult to access wadis in the Northern Emirates
  • Archaeological sites and natural rock formations in the Hajar Mountains
  • Magnificent Oases in Al Ain

Although at first glance nature may seem boring and uninteresting, or even dangerous due to the desert conditions, there are actually some amazing natural destinations in the UAE – the difficulty is knowing where to find them! There are pristine waterfalls, fossil-lined cliffs and even freshwater lakes.

Things To Do in United Arab Emirates

The beach is one of the most important points in tourist life (next to shopping). The waters of the UAE, although much murkier in recent years due to intensive coastal development, are still remarkably warm, clean and beautiful for those from less hot climates. There are long stretches of white sand beaches that range from completely undeveloped to very touristy (even in cities like Dubai). Snorkelling and diving can be wonderful, especially on the east coast (Indian Ocean). Vast desert areas lie south of the major urban areas and offer spectacular views and scary rides on fast safaris. The mountains are steep and spectacular cliffs, and a visit to these mountains (e.g. the town of Hatta) is rewarded with breathtaking views. Women in swimming costumes will attract unwanted attention on public beaches; it is advisable to pay for a day pass to a private beach in a hotel.

There are also many man-made wonders to enjoy. Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi is the largest indoor amusement park in the world and, as the name suggests, focuses on experiencing the world of Ferrari. It is located right next to the Yas Marina racetrack, where the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix is held. Yas Marina is widely recognised as the most technologically advanced racetrack in the world and hosts Formula 1 as well as various national and international racing series, including the GP2 and GP3 series, V8 Supercars and the now defunct FIA GT1 series. It opened its doors in 2009. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world and visitors can climb it to a viewpoint near the top of the building for stunning views of the city and beyond. Wild Wadi and Aquaventure are two world-class water parks for the whole family. In addition, those seeking proper retail therapy can visit the Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in the world and also the location of the world’s largest dancing fountain, with several shows starting after sunset, and one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, the Dubai Aquarium.

Ski Dubai in the Dubai Emirates Mall opened in 2005. It is the third largest indoor ski slope in the world, measures 400 metres and uses 6000 tonnes of snow. The Dubai Ski Mall is the first indoor ski slope to open in the United Arab Emirates, with more planned. All equipment, except gloves and a hat, is provided – skis/snowboards, ski suits, boots and socks are included (socks are disposable). The nearby ski shop sells equipment, including gloves. A ski slope in Ra’s al Khaymah is also in preparation.

Desert safari trips can be a fun experience for tourists. They can be booked in advance, but it is often possible to book them the day before and most hotel receptions can do this for you. The rides usually start in the late afternoon and end in the late evening. You will be picked up at your hotel and driven into the desert in a 4×4 vehicle. Most packages include a dune walk with a heart, a short camel ride, an Arabic buffet and a belly dancer. Another option would be to rent/buy a 4×4 and join the many 4×4 clubs that are developing in the UAE, which are diverse and each has its own flavour: ad4x4 [www], uaeoffroaders [www], arabianoffroader [www], me4x4 [www], emarat4x4 [www], etc. They provide a free learning experience for all novices with weekly scheduled rides for all levels of driving skills. Some of them have more than 2,000 members of many nationalities.

Food & Drinks in United Arab Emirates

Food in United Arab Emirates

Dubai and, to a lesser extent, Abu Dhabi offer a wide range of products from most of the world’s great cuisines. By Western standards, most restaurants are quite affordable, although it is easy to find extremely expensive food. Most upscale restaurants are located in hotels.

Due to the large number of expatriates, there are many Indian and Pakistani restaurants offering affordable and succulent choices. Restaurants serving Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian cuisine are also popular.

Grilled chicken is one of the most popular dishes found in most outdoor street cafes and can be enjoyed with other side dishes such as khubz (Arabic bread), hummus, etc. Traditional shawarma and falafel sandwiches are readily available and are quite cheap and delicious.

Few traditional Emirati dishes are served in restaurants; the closest is Mendi-style Yemeni cuisine, where fragrant rice plates are garnished with lamb, chicken or fish that have been slow-roasted in a pit.

Drinks in United Arab Emirates

Dubai has a thriving nightlife and even Abu Dhabi, which used to be in the Straits, has loosened up and is trying to catch up. Alcohol can be found in liquor shops, restaurants in 5-star hotels and bars in every emirate except Sharjah, where you can only drink at home or in a hangout for expats called Sharjah Wanderers. As a tourist, you are allowed to buy alcohol to drink in bars and restaurants. If you are a resident, you must have a liquor licence (never applied for in bars), which also allows you to buy alcohol in liquor shops (they check).

During Ramadan, no alcohol is served during the day (while fasting). In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, bars are allowed to serve alcohol at night, but groups no longer play, background music is turned off or turned down, dancing is prohibited and nightclubs are generally closed. On some holy days of the Islamic calendar, alcohol is not served in public in the UAE.

Never drive drunk in the UAE. If you happen to have an accident, it will be a ticket to go straight to jail – especially during Ramadan. Taxis are widely available if you have been drinking and are a much safer and wiser option given the crazy driving habits in the area.

Money & Shopping in United Arab Emirates

The currency is the United Arab Emirates dirham (AED, local abbreviation dhs). It is pegged to the US dollar at AED 3.67 per dollar. The conversion rates are AED 5 to EUR 1 and AED 6 to GBP 1. The notes come in denominations of MAD 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000. There is a MAD 1 coin with sub-denominations of 25 and 50 threads (100 threads = MAD 1). There are coins of 5 and 10, but these are rarely seen (and are used by traders as an excuse to give change at short notice).

Cash and travellers’ cheques can be exchanged in bureaux de change at the airports or in all major shopping centres. ATMs are plentiful and generously distributed. They accept all major card chains: Visa, Cirrus, Maestro, etc. Credit cards are widely accepted.

When you pay with a foreign credit card, most merchants will try to do a dynamic currency conversion, charging several percent more than the issuer’s conversion would have cost. The credit card terminal offers the choice of whether to accept the conversion. The merchant will not ask you any questions about it and will choose to accept the conversion. If you are careful, you can intervene and ask for a “no” answer. If you ask straight away, some traders will have no idea what you mean, but many will.

Costs in United Arab Emirates

Commodities used to be cheaper than in most Western countries, although the situation is changing fast (Dubai has risen in the rankings to 25th most expensive city to live in; Abu Dhabi is close behind). Hotel prices are not cheap: there is a shortage of available hotel rooms, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, leading hotels to occupancy rates often above 90%. Numerous new hotels are expected to open in the next five to ten years, but as tourism increases, prices are unlikely to fall. Besides, anything touristy tends to be expensive. Rents in Dubai are starting to rival those in cities like Paris or London, and other prices tend to follow. Some places offer shared accommodation and are quite cheap.

Shopping in United Arab Emirates

One of the things the UAE is best known for is shopping. There are no sales taxes in the UAE, but it is very difficult to find real bargains as inflation is at its highest. If you are interested in shopping, you cannot leave the UAE without going to Dubai. Dubai offers some of the best shopping in the entire Middle East, especially during the annual shopping festival, which usually takes place from mid-January to mid-February.

Festivals & Holidays in United Arab Emirates

Weekends in the UAE last from Friday to Saturday for most government and public services as well as businesses; for many, Thursday can be a half day (although they usually work all day Saturday). In almost all cities, there is little commercial activity on Friday morning, but after midday services in the mosques, most shops open and there may be crowds on Friday evening.

The main exception is the fasting month of Ramadan, when the rhythm of life changes radically. Restaurants (apart from tourist hotels) remain closed during the day, and although most offices and shops are open in the morning from about 8am to 2pm, they usually close in the afternoon while people wait (or sleep) for the last hours of the fast. After sunset, people gather to break their fast with a meal called iftar, often eaten in tents outside (often with air conditioning), which traditionally starts with dates and a sweet drink. Some offices do not open until after 8pm and stay open until well after midnight, as many people stay up into the morning. Just before sunrise, a meal called sohoor is taken and then the cycle repeats.

Traditions & Customs in United Arab Emirates

The Emiratis are proud but hospitable people, and when not in their cars, they are generally extremely civilised and friendly. Like most people in the world, they welcome visitors who are willing to show a little respect and can be extremely generous (some expatriates and visitors don’t understand that exposing one’s clothes can be quite offensive to some people, even if you don’t tell the delinquents). Their culture is unique and can be very conservative, but on the whole they are quite well adapted to customs, events, media and worldly ways.

The men of the region usually wear a “kandoura”, a long dress (usually white), and a ghutra, a red or white checked headdress. Women wear a black dress (abaya) and a black scarf (shayla).

The UAE is more conservative than most Western societies, but not as conservative as some of its neighbours. Travellers should be aware of and respect the UAE’s more traditional outlook, as there are typical Western behaviours (e.g. “rude and insulting gestures”) that lead to arrest in the UAE. On the other hand, Western travellers will find most of the UAE quite comfortable.

Although women are not legally obliged to wear the hijab, fashion trends such as tank tops and shorts should be avoided. Skirts below the knees are a little more acceptable, but you still risk being stared at. However, there are a number of areas dominated by tourists or expatriates where ‘provocative’ clothing may also be seen without necessarily being respected. These include many parts of the emirate of Dubai and, for example, the seaside resorts of Ajman or Fujairah. Nudity in public is strictly forbidden everywhere and is punished. Sharjah is the most conservative emirate in the emirates with public decency laws (i.e. prohibiting overly revealing clothing or certain types of beachwear), but few of them are enforced (although this varies).

The Emirates do not support homosexuals, and consensual homosexual activity is potentially punishable by death. However, discretion is key: as with many things in Emirati society, what happens behind closed doors is – well – what happens. On the other hand, it is not unusual for Emirati men or women to show physical affection, but not consistently. Emirati men often kiss each other on the nose as a greeting and women greet each other with kisses on the cheeks and may hold hands or link arms.

Culture Of United Arab Emirates

Emirati culture is based on Arab culture and has been influenced by the cultures of Persia, India and East Africa. Arabic and Persian-inspired architecture is part of the expression of the Emirates’ local identity. The influence of Persia on Emirati culture can be felt in the Emirates’ traditional architecture and folk art. For example, the distinctive wind tower that tops traditional Emirati buildings, the barjeel, has become a signature feature of Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence. This influence stems both from traders fleeing the tax regime in Persia in the early 19th century and from Emirati ownership of ports on the Persian coast, for example the port of Al Qassimi in Lingeh.

The United Arab Emirates has a diverse society. The most important holidays in Dubai are Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and National Day (2 December), which marks the founding of the United Arab Emirates. Emirati men prefer to wear a kandura, a long white tunic with long ankles woven from wool or cotton, and Emirati women wear an abaya, a black tracksuit that covers most parts of the body.

Ancient Emirati poetry was strongly influenced by the 8th century Arab scholar Al Khalil bin Ahmed. The oldest known poet in the UAE is Ibn Majid, born between 1432 and 1437 in Ras Al-Khaimah. The best known Emirati writers are Mubarak Al Oqaili (1880-1954), Salem bin Ali al Owais (1887-1959) and Ahmed bin Sulayem (1905-1976). Three other poets of Sharjah, known as the Hirah group, were strongly influenced by the poets of Apollo and the Romantic poets. The Sharjah International Book Fair is the oldest and most important book fair in the country.

The list of museums in the United Arab Emirates includes some regionally renowned museums, the most famous of which is that of Sharjah, whose Heritage District includes 17 museums and which was the Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998. In Dubai, the Al Quoz district has attracted a number of art galleries as well as museums such as the private Salsali Museum. Abu Dhabi has created a cultural district on Saadiyat Island. Six major projects are planned, including the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Dubai is also planning to build an Kunsthal Museum and a district for galleries and artists.

Emirati culture is part of the culture of eastern Arabia. The Liwa is a type of music and dance performed mainly in communities with descendants of Bantu people from the African Great Lakes region. The Dubai Desert Rock Festival is another important festival featuring heavy metal and rock artists. Cinema in the UAE is minimal but growing.

Stay Safe & Healthy in United Arab Emirates

Stay safe in United Arab Emirates

Visitors should be less concerned about crime than about harsh law enforcement.

Homosexuality can be heavily sanctioned, so gay and lesbian tourists need to be very discreet.

Sexual relations outside marriage are also illegal. Even women who report rape are imprisoned for adultery [www] or extramarital sex [www]. Care should be taken.

There are a few things you need to know about drug laws in the UAE. Some painkillers commonly used in Western countries are illegal narcotics in the UAE, such as codeine. Do not bring them with you unless you have a copy of your prescription or join other people who have been sentenced to prison. Antibiotics, on the other hand, are available over the counter at pharmacies. If you get a prescription for controlled drugs in the UAE, such as certain painkillers and antidepressants, make sure you have a copy of the prescription with you when you travel outside the country.

Another pitfall for the unwary is that if you are suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a blood test may be carried out and if this reveals the presence of illegal substances in the UAE, you are likely to end up in jail, even if these substances were taken in the country you were in before. In addition to blood tests, they are likely to check your personal belongings. People have been jailed for drug possession because they found microscopic traces of drugs on their bodies using very sensitive equipment.

Another area of concern is the very high rate of road accidents: In addition to the caution required when driving a vehicle, crossing the road on foot can also be very dangerous.

Stay healthy in United Arab Emirates

General medical care in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah is quite good. General and specialist clinics are widely available, some of which are now open 24 hours a day. Hospitals in the major centres are well equipped to handle all medical emergencies. An ambulance system is available in all major urban centres; however, coverage may be uneven in more remote areas. Ambulances are designed for transport rather than primary care, so do not expect highly skilled care on site.

The main Abu Dhabi government hospital is quite good, as is Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, now run by the 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 American Hospital Zulekha Hospital NMC Hospital and Belhoul Hospital in the private sector all have a good reputation. The country is malaria-free and prophylaxis is not necessary. In Sharjah, the Kuwaiti (government) hospital accepts expatriates. Private hospitals in Sharjah are Zahra Hospital, Zulekha Hospital and Central Private Hospital. Prices including healthcare are generally cheaper in Sharjah and although all hospitals meet Ministry of Health standards, the Central Private Hospital and Zulekha Hospitals are considered more affordable.

Al Ain is home to a number of modern hospitals and health centres: Tawam Hospital, now run by John Hopkins and housing the UAE University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences; Al Ain Hospital (also called Al Jimi Hospital because it is located in the Al Jimi district), now run by the Medical University of Vienna; and the private Oasis Hospital, formerly known as Kennedy Hospital, which was founded and run by Christian missionaries and was the city’s first hospital.

Water is safe to drink in the UAE, although most people prefer bottled water for its taste. Food is clean and served to Western standards in most restaurants, especially in tourist areas; however, hygiene can be a problem in some outdoor venues, especially street stalls. Still, food poisoning can occur, so use common sense!

In summer, the heat can reach 50°C. Therefore, avoid outdoor activities during the maximum temperature of the day and watch out for signs of heat stroke. Be sure to drink plenty of water as dehydration can easily occur in such heat. If you are travelling off-road (most of the country is desert), carry enough water to run to the road in case vehicles get stuck.

Although the UAE is slightly more accommodating to disabled travellers than other countries in the Middle East, it would still be a difficult country to navigate with a wheelchair. Pavements are high and there are few, if any, ramps or other facilitators. In particular, bathrooms for the disabled are almost non-existent.



South America


North America

Read Next

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (the most populated city being Dubai), as well...


Ajman is the smallest of the seven emirates and is situated in the center of the United Arab Emirates on the western coast. The...

Al Ain

Al Ain (meaning “Spring”), popularly known as the Garden City owing to its lush vegetation, is the second biggest city in the Emirate of...


The city of Dubai is the most populated in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is situated on the Persian Gulf’s southeast coast and...


Fujairah is one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates, and the only one with a coastline only on the Gulf of...


Sharjah is the UAE’s third biggest and third most populated city, and is part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan region. It is situated in the...