Early History. The earliest significant settlements in the UAE date back to the Bronze Age. In the 3rd millennium BC, a culture known as Umm Al Nar arose near modern Abu Dhabi. Its influence extended well into the interior and down the coast to today’s Oman, at Badiyah (near Fujairah) and at Rams (near Ras Al Khaimah).
The Persians and, to a lesser extent, the Greeks, were the next major cultural influences in the area. The Persian Sassanid empire held sway until the arrival of Islam in AD 636, and Christianity made a brief appearance in the form of the Nestorian Church, which had a monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island, west of Abu Dhabi, in the 5th century.
During the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Hormuz controlled much of the area, including the entrance to the Gulf, as well as most of the regional trade. The Portuguese arrived in 1498 and by 1515 they occupied Julfar (near Ras Al Khaimah). They built a customs house and taxed the Gulf’s flourishing trade with India and the Far East, but ended up staying only until 1633.
British Rule. The rise of British naval power in the Gulf in the mid-18th century coincided with the consolidation of two tribal factions along the coast of the lower Gulf: the Qawasim and the Bani Yas, the ancestors of the rulers of four of the seven emirates that today make up the UAE.
The Qawasim, whose descendants now rule Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, were a seafaring clan based in Ras Al Khaimah whose influence extended at times to the Persian side of the Gulf. This brought them into conflict with the British, who had forged an alliance with the Al Busaid tribe, the ancestors of today’s rulers of Oman, to prevent the French from taking over their all-important sea routes to India.
The Qawasim felt that Al Busaid had betrayed the region and launched attacks on British ships, who dubbed the area the ‘Pirate Coast’ and raided the Qawasim in 1805, 1809, 1811 and 1820 destroying their fleet. Treaties were imposed on 9 Arab sheikdoms then and again in 1835 and 1853 greatly increasing British influence in the region. The agreements accepted formal British protection.
Throughout this period, the main power among the Bedouin tribes of the interior was the Bani Yas tribal confederation, made up of the ancestors of the ruling families of modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Bani Yas were originally based in Liwa, an oasis deep in the desert, but moved their base to Abu Dhabi in 1793. In the early 19th century, the Bani Yas divided into two main branches when Dubai split from Abu Dhabi.
Black Gold. Until the discovery of oil the region remained a backwater, with the sheikhdoms nothing more than tiny enclaves of fishers, pearl divers and Bedu. Rivalries between the various rulers occasionally erupted into conflict, which the British tried to thwart. During this time the British also protected the federation from being annexed by Saudi Arabia.
After the collapse of the world pearl market in the early 20th century, the Gulf coast sank into poverty. However, the sheikhs of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah had already discussed oil exploration in the area, with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Shakhbut granting the first of several oil concessions in 1939 to the Anglo-Iraqi company Petroleum Concessions Limited. The first cargo of crude left Abu Dhabi in 1962 and from Dubai in 1969.
The Road to Unification. In 1951, Britain’s goal was to form a federation of the present UAE states, Bahrain and Qatar with the goal of exit the Gulf in 1971.
Independence. United Arab Emirates was born on 2 December 1971. Six emirates signed up immediately, Ras Al Khaimah joined the following year and Bahrain and Qatar remained independent. The UAE’s first president was Sheikh Zayed, its ‘founding father’, who held the position he held until his death in 2004. Still greatly revered by his people, he also commanded huge respect across the Middle East. After his death, power passed peacefully to his son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who’s still got the job today.
Today, the UAE remains the region’s only federation and is in no danger of breaking up. In fact, if anything, the financial bailouts by oil-rich Abu Dhabi of Dubai during the 2009 economic crisis tightened the bond and demonstrated the emirates’ commitment to – and interdependence on – each other.
Government & Politics. The UAE is composed of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. ‘Emirate’ comes from the word ‘emir’ (ruler). In practice, the seven hereditary emirs of the UAE are called sheikhs. Though there is a federal government led by one of the sheikhs (the president), each ruler is completely sovereign within his emirate. The 7 rulers form the Supreme Council which ratifies federal laws and sets general policy with the more populous and wealthier emirates like Abu Dhabi and Dubai with greater representation.
The cabinet and Supreme Council are advised, but can’t be overruled, by a parliamentary body called the Federation National Council (FNC). Half of its 40 members are elected by the 6689 members of the Electoral College (selected by the ruler of each emirate); the other 20 are directly appointed by rulers. There are eight representatives each from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, six from Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah and four from Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. Nine FNC members are women.
The UAE has the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves (after Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Canada, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait), but the vast majority of it is concentrated in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is thought that at current levels of production, oil and gas will run out in about a century and, sensibly, the government has been working hard at diversifying the country’s economy. Tourism, trade, transport, finance and real estate have brought down the portion of GDP derived from oil and gas to about 25%. In Dubai, which has very little oil of its own, only 5% of the economy is oil-based.
The fiscal crisis of 2008 hit Dubai especially hard. After real estate prices plummeted as much as 50%, the emirate was unable to meet its debt commitments but markets stabilized after Abu Dhabi rode to the rescue with a US$10 billion loan. Still, the country’s GDP suffered a contraction of 2.7% in 2009 but has been rebounding since, first slowly by 1.4% in 2010, then 4% in 2011 and still achieving a respectable 2.3% in 2012. Contributing to the recovery were high oil prices along with increased government investment in job creation and infrastructure.
The free trade zones have also been significant factors in the rebound. Companies are enticed here by the promise of full foreign ownership, full repatriation of capital and profits, no corporate tax for 15 years, no currency restrictions, and no personal income tax. One of the largest is the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai, which is home to 5500 companies from 120 countries.
PEOPLE AND SOCIETY
The UAE population is one of the most diverse, multicultural and male (three quarters of the population) in the world. In stark contrast to neighbouring Saudi Arabia and nearby Iran, it is, overall, a tolerant and easygoing society. Most religions are tolerated (Judaism being the most blatant exception) and places of worship have been built for Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. Notwithstanding, traditional culture and social life are firmly rooted in Islam, and day-to-day activities, relationships, diet and dress are very much dictated by religion.
Emirati Lifestyle. Don’t be surprised if you hear expats make crude generalizations about Emiratis (called ‘nationals’ or ‘locals’ in everyday speech). You may be told they’re all millionaires and live in mansions, or that they refuse to work in ordinary jobs, or that all the men have four wives. Such stereotypes simply reinforce prejudices and demonstrate the lack of understanding between cultures within the UAE.
Not all Emiratis are wealthy. While the traditional tribal leaders, or sheikhs, are often the wealthiest UAE nationals, many have made their fortune through good investments, often dating back to the 1970s. All Emiratis have access to free healthcare and education as well as a marriage fund. The upper and middle classes generally have expansive villas in which men and women still live apart. Extended families living together is the norm, although some young couples choose to have their own apartments.
Women & Marriage. Gender roles are changing, with more and more Emirati women wanting to establish careers before marriage. Women make up 75% of the student body at universities and 30% of the workforce. Successful Emirati women serving as role models include Foreign Trade Minister, Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi, who was ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women by Forbes.
Living with such a large proportion of expats, and an increasing number of Western cultural influences, has led to both growing conservatism and liberalization. This is especially noticeable among young Emirati women: while some dress in Western fashion (usually those with foreign mothers), most ‘cover up’ with an abeyya (a full-length black robe) and shayla (headscarf) out of choice when in the presence of men who are not relatives. What is worn underneath is a personal choice; look closely and you’ll often catch glimpses of silk stockings in high-heels poking out from beneath those modest frocks. Also note the great variety in robes and scarfs; some are made by Gucci or Prada and are embroidered or festooned with Swarovski crystals.
One aspect of Emirati society that’s difficult for most Western visitors to understand is the fact that most marriages are still arranged, often to a cousin or other blood relative. However, it’s now common for the couple-to-be to get to know each other a bit before exchanging wedding vows. Both can refuse to marry if they feel the person is not right for them. A woman may also divorce her husband, although this rarely happens.
The UAE Marriage Fund, set up by the federal government in 1994 to facilitate marriages between UAE nationals, provides grants to pay for the exorbitant costs of the wedding and dowry, and promotes mass weddings to enable nationals to save for a down payment on a house.
Business & the Workplace. Most Emiratis work in the public sector, as the short hours, good pay, benefits and early pensions are hard for people to refuse. The UAE government is actively pursuing a policy of ‘Emiratization’, which involves encouraging Emiratis to work in the private sector, and encouraging employers to hire them. In the long term, the government hopes to be much less dependent on financing an inflated public sector and on relying on an imported labour force, which account for about 80% of the population. While professional expats hail mostly from Western countries, especially the UK, blue-collar and service workers come mostly from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, China and the Philippines and, increasingly, from Africa as well.
One aspect of Emirati business society that hasn’t changed in centuries is the notion of wasta (clout and influence). Basically, if you have the right networks (which generally means being born into one of the major families) you can get things done – whether it be clinching a massive business deal with the government or getting the best parking place at work.
The UAE Demystified.
You can’t buy alcohol? Partially true. When arriving by air, you can, as a non-Muslim visitor over 18, buy certain quantities of booze in the airport duty-free shop. With the exception of ‘dry’ Sharjah, where alcohol and even sheesha smoking (using a waterpipe) is banned, you can also purchase alcohol in licensed bars and clubs that are generally attached to four- and five-star hotels for on-site consumption. Expat residents can acquire an alcohol license, which entitles them to a fixed monthly limit of alcohol available from alcohol stores. The only store where you can officially buy alcohol without a licence is at the Barracuda Beach Resort in Umm Al Quwain. There are also a couple of unlicensed (ie illegal) hole-in-walls, which we can’t really tell you much about…
There’s no pork? Pork is available for non-Muslims in a special room at some supermarkets (such as Spinneys and Carrefour). In many hotel restaurants, pork is a menu item and is usually clearly labelled as such. However the ‘beef bacon’ and ‘turkey ham’ that are commonly available are nothing more than a reminder of how tasty the real thing is…unless you’re a vegetarian, of course.
Do women have to ‘cover up’? All locals ask is that people dress respectfully, with clothes that are not too revealing – especially outside of Dubai (Sharjah in particular). Emiratis will judge you on how you dress: men in shorts and women in tube tops will not earn much respect.
Homosexuals are banned? Simply being homosexual is not illegal as such, but homosexual acts are – as is any sex outside marriage.
What about those guys holding hands? Simply a sign of friendship. It’s OK for married couples to hold hands as well, but serious public displays of affection by couples (married or not) are frowned upon, and fines and jail terms can result. Really.
If you’re HIV-positive you’ll be kicked out? Yes. As a worker coming to live in Dubai you will be tested for HIV as well as other things such as diabetes. If you are proven to be HIV-positive, you’ll be deported.
Dubai is the capital? No! Abu Dhabi is. Both are emirates (like states) and both are the capitals of their respective state, but Abu Dhabi is the seat of UAE power. It just looks like Dubai is the capital, but Abu Dhabi’s too busy counting the oil revenue to care…much.
Owing to its Bedouin heritage, the most popular art forms in the UAE are traditional dance, music and poetry, although of late other forms of artistic expression have seen a surge in popularity. Sizeable art communities have sprouted in Dubai and Sharjah alongside world-class galleries and such international art festivals as Art Dubai, Abu Dhabi Art and the Sharjah Biennial. Abu Dhabi, in fact, is especially ambitious when it comes to positioning itself as an art world leader by building outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island.
The UAE also hosts two annual film festivals: the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October and the Dubai International Film Festival in December.
Poetry. In Bedouin culture a facility with poetry and language is greatly prized. Traditionally, a poet who could eloquently praise his own people while pointing out the failures of other tribes was considered a great asset. Modern UAE poets of note include Sultan al-Owais (1925–2000) and Dr Ahmed al-Madani (1931–95). Nabati (vernacular poetry) is especially popular and has traditionally been in spoken form. These days, sheikhs such as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, are respected poets in this tradition. There are scores of well-known male poets in the UAE who still use the forms of classical Arab poetry, though they often experiment with combining it with other styles. There are also some well-known female poets, most of whom write in the modern tafila (prose) styles.
Music & Dance. Emiratis have always acknowledged the importance of music in daily life. Songs were traditionally composed to accompany different tasks, from hauling water to diving for pearls. The Arabic music you’re most likely to hear on the radio, though, is khaleeji , the traditional Gulf style of pop music. Alongside this, an underground rock and metal music scene is increasingly taking shape, with a few Dubai bands worth noting.
The UAE’s contact with East and North African cultures through trade, both seafaring and by camel caravan, has brought many musical and dance influences to the country. One of the most popular dances is the ayyalah , a typical Bedouin dance performed throughout the Gulf. The UAE has its own variation, performed to a simple drumbeat, with anywhere between 25 and 200 men standing with their arms linked in two rows facing each other. They wave walking sticks or swords in front of themselves and sway back and forth, the two rows taking it in turn to sing. It’s a war dance and the words expound the virtues of courage and bravery in battle.
Camel Racing. Camel racing is not only a popular spectator sport but is deeply rooted in the Emirati soul and originally practiced only at weddings and special events. These days it’s big business with races held on modern, custom-built 6km- to 10km-long tracks between October and early April. Pure-bred camels begin daily training sessions when they’re about two years old. The local Mahaliyat breed, Omaniyat camels from Oman, Sudaniyat from Sudan and interbred Muhajanat are the most common breeds used in competition. Over 100 animals participate in a typical race, each outfitted with ‘robo-jockeys’ since the use of child jockeys was outlawed in 2005. Owners race alongside the camels in SUVs on a separate track, giving commands by remote. There’s no fixed racing schedule, although two- or three-hour meets usually take place starting around 7am on Friday, sometimes with a second race around 2.30pm. Admission is free.
Environmental awareness is increasing at the macro level in the UAE, due in no small part to the efforts of the late Sheikh Zayed, who was posthumously named a ‘Champion of the Earth’ by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2005. With his efforts in wildlife preservation, such as Sir Bani Yas Island, which operates a breeding program for endangered Arabian wildlife species, as well as the ban on hunting with guns decades ago, Sheikh Zayed foresaw the acute threats to the endangered native species of the region.
In Dubai, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) comprises 225 sq km (5% of the area of the Dubai emirate) and integrates both a national park and the superluxe Al-Maha Desert Resort & Spa. One of DDCR’s most notable achievements is the successful breeding of the endangered scimitar-horned oryx. Migrating birds and flamingos are in the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. Sharjah has a successful breeding centre at the Sharjah Desert Park, as does Al Ain Zoo, which is being expanded into a wildlife park with a heavy focus on sustainability.
In terms of going green at the micro level, much work needs to be done in the UAE. Water and energy wastage (nearly all water comes from desalination plants). However, recycling bins are increasingly popping up at such places as malls and bus and metro stations. Meanwhile, public-transport systems are proliferating. Dubai Metro inaugurated in 2009 and other emirates, such as Sharjah, have recently introduced public bus networks. Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, the most ambitious environmental project is taking shape: when completed, Masdar City will be the world’s first carbon-neutral community.
The UAE has the gamut of places to unpack your suitcase, from ultraposh beach resorts to romantic boutique hotels and buttoned-up business properties, furnished hotel apartments with kitchens to basic hostels and inns where bathrooms may be shared. Those in the midrange usually represent the best value for money.
Camping. Although the UAE has no official campgrounds, pitching a tent on a beach or in the desert is very popular with locals and expats and is a free and safe way to spend the night. Be prepared to pack everything in (and out), don’t litter and bring a shovel to bury your ‘business’. For camping destinations consult locally published specialist guides widely available in bookstores everywhere.
Hostels. There are five hostels affiliated with Hostelling International in the UAE: one each in Dubai, Khor Fakkan “and Fujairah and two in Sharjah. All are open to men and women, although solo women are a rare sight. Facilities are basic and shared and alcohol prohibited. Accommodation is in dorms or family rooms, which may be available to small groups and couples depending on availability and the manager’s “mood.
Cost. Since rates fluctuate wildly – depending on such factors as demand, location, season, day of the week and major events or holidays. Prices are official rack rates provided by the hotels but better rates can usually be obtained through the hotel websites or online booking engines. Predictably, rates are highest between November and March and lowest in July and August.
FOOD & DRINK
Filling your tummy in the UAE is an extraordinarily multicultural experience with a virtual UN of ethnic cuisines to choose from. Lebanese, Indian and Iranian fare are the most common, but you’ll basically find anything from British fish and chips to German sauerkraut and South African boerewors (sausage).
By law, alcohol may only be sold in restaurants and bars in hotels or in members-only clubs, such as golf clubs, which often admit paying nonmembers. Because of the 30% tax on alcohol in the country, prices are high. Expect to pay around Dh25 for a bottle of beer, from Dh40 for a glass of wine and from Dh50 for a cocktail. The only ‘dry’ (meaning alcohol is not permitted) emirate is Sharjah.
Getting online in the UAE should not be a problem. Nearly every hotel has in-room internet access, either broadband or wireless, although rates can be extortionate. A growing number of restaurants, cafes and shopping malls offer their own wireless services, usually free with purchase.
Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software continues to be banned in the UAE. If the programs are already installed on your smartphone or computer before you arrive, you should be able to use them with no problem. Using a VPN circumnavigates the problem.
Drugs are simply a bad, bad idea. The minimum penalty for possession of even trace amounts is four years in prison, and the death penalty is still on the books for importing or dealing in drugs (although it’s not been enforced in ages). Even if you are in a room where there are drugs, but are not partaking, you could be in as much trouble as those who are. The secret police are pervasive, and they include officers of many nationalities.
There are also import restrictions for prescription medications that are legal in most countries, such as diazepam (Valium), dextromethorphan (Robitussin), fluoxetine (Prozac) and anything containing codeine. If medication you need is on it, ask what kind of papers you need (eg original prescription, letter from your doctor) in order to bring such medication into the UAE legally.
Other common infractions that may incur a fine, jail time or even deportation include drinking alcohol in an unlicensed public place; buying alcohol without a local license; writing bad cheques; unmarried cohabitation; and public eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours in Ramadan. Another big no-no is sexual or indecent public behaviour.
If arrested, you have the right to a phone call, which you should make as soon as possible (ie before you are detained in a police cell or prison pending investigation). Call your embassy or consulate first so they can get in touch with your family and possibly recommend a lawyer.
The UAE dirham (Dh) is fully convertible and pegged to the US dollar. One dirham is divided into 100 fils. Notes come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. Coins are Dh1, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils and 5 fils.
Currency exchange offices sometimes offer better rates than banks. Not all change traveller’s cheques, but currencies of neighbouring countries are all easily exchanged.
There are globally linked ATMs all over the country, at banks, shopping malls, some supermarkets and big hotels. Major credit cards are widely accepted; debit cards less so, although they’re usually no problem at bigger retail outlets.
In each emirate, a different level of municipal and service tax is charged against hotel and restaurant bills. This is somewhere between 5% and 20%. If a price is quoted ‘net’, this means that it includes all taxes and service charges.
The UAE has a low incidence of crime and even pickpocketing and bag snatching are rare. One very real danger is bad driving. Courtesy on the road simply does not exist. People will cut in front of you, turn without indicating and race each other on highways.
Out of the cities, remember the left lane is for passing only – block them at your own risk as speeds of up to 200km/h are not unusual. Some drivers also have a tendency to zoom into roundabouts at frightening speeds and try to exit them from inside lanes. Pedestrian crossings are no guarantee that drivers will stop or even slow down.
If you have an accident, even a small one, you must call the police and wait at the scene. If it’s a minor accident, move your car to the side of the road. You cannot file an insurance claim without a police report.
If you are swimming at an unpatrolled (ie public) beach, be very careful. Despite the small surf, there may be dangerous rip tides and drownings are not uncommon.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are these goods illegal in the many countries, purchasing them is a violation of local law.
The UAE has an efficient communications system that connects callers with anywhere in the world, even from the most remote areas. There are two mobile networks: Etisalat and Du. Both are government-owned and there’s little difference between the two. In April 2013, Etisalat unblocked Skype (it was previously blocked in the UAE), making it possible to download the software within the UAE and to use all of its features.
If you don’t have a worldwide roaming service but do have an unlocked phone, consider buying a prepaid SIM card. Recharge cards in denominations of Dh25, Dh50, Dh100, Dh200 and Dh500 are sold at grocery stores, supermarkets and petrol stations.
Phone Codes. If dialing a UAE number from another country, dial the country code 971, followed by the area code (minus the zero) and the subscriber number. To phone another country from the UAE, dial 00 followed by the country code. For directory enquiries call 181, for international directory assistance call 151.
When making calls within the UAE, dial the seven-digit local number if already in the city and using a landline. If dialing a number in another city – or using a mobile phone – dial the two-digit area code provided throughout this book first.
Phonecards. Coin phones have been almost completely superseded by card phones. Phonecards are available in various denominations from grocery stores, supermarkets and petrol stations.
The best advice is to go when you can. Public toilets in shopping centres, museums, restaurants and hotels are Western-style and are generally clean and well maintained.
Those in souqs and bus stations are usually only for men. Outside the cities you might have to contend with hole-in-the-ground loos at the back of restaurants or petrol stations, although these are increasingly rare. You’ll always find a hose and nozzle next to the toilet, which is used to rinse yourself before using the toilet paper.
Entry requirements to the UAE are in constant flux, so all information below can only serve as a guideline. Always obtain the latest requirements from the UAE embassy in your home country.
At the time of writing, citizens of the UK, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Spain, Monaco, Vatican, Iceland, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Hong Kong are granted a free 30-day tourist visa upon arrival in the UAE.
Everyone else must have a visit visa arranged through a sponsor – such as your UAE hotel or tour operator – prior to arrival in the UAE. The nonrenewable visas cost Dh210 and are valid for 30 days.
Visas can be extended for a further 30 days at a cost Dh500 at an immigration office in the emirate in which you arrived.
If you’re transiting via the UAE and are a citizen of a country eligible for an automatic 30-day tourist visa, you do not need to pre-arrange a transit visa. Other nationalities need to get the airline or a local hotel to organise a 96-hour visa. The official fee is Dh165.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) citizens only need a valid passport to enter the UAE and stay indefinitely.
Many women imagine that travel to the UAE will be much more difficult than it actually is. No, you don’t have to wear a burka, headscarf or veil. Yes, you can drive a car. No, you won’t be constantly harrassed.
In fact, the UAE is one of safest Middle East destinations for women travellers. It’s fine to take cabs, stay alone in most hotels and walk around on your own in most areas. Having said that, this does not mean that some of the problems that accompany travel just about anywhere in the world will not arise in the UAE as well, such as unwanted male attention and lewd stares, especially on public beaches. Try not to be intimidated and appear self-confident.
Even though you’ll see plenty of Western women wearing skimpy clothing in public, you should not assume that it’s acceptable to do so. While most are too polite to actually say anything, Emiratis find this disrespectful. When it comes to beach parties and nightclubs almost anything goes, but take a taxi there and back.
Although prostitution does not officially exist, authorities do little to suppress the small army of ‘working women’ catering to both expats and Emiratis in clubs, bars and backstreets. In terms of dress, they’re often indistinguishable from other women, which is confusing to men and can open up the possibility of non-working women being solicited erroneously.”
ENTERING THE UAE
If you’re a citizen of a country eligible to collect a free visit or transit visa upon arrival, simply proceed straight to the immigration desk or border post and get your passport stamped. If you are entering on a sponsored visa you’ll need to go to the clearly marked visa collection counter at the airport when you arrive.
It is generally not possible to enter with an Israeli passport, but anyone entering the UAE with an Israeli stamp in a non-Israeli passport should have no problem.
Air. Dubai International and Abu Dhabi International are the UAE’s main airports. A growing number of flights, especially charters, also land at Sharjah International Airport. Ras Al Khaimah, Al Ain and Fujairah also have small airports but few, if any, passenger flights. Departure tax is included in the ticket price.
Emirates Airlines (www.emirates.com) Dubai-based, extensive route network, excellent service and high safety record. Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) Based in Abu Dhabi with the same credentials as Emirates Airlines.
Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com) Sharjah-based low-cost carrier flying to North African, Middle Eastern, Asian and select European destinations, including Amsterdam, London and Barcelona.
FlyDubai (www.flydubai.com). Discount carrier with around 50 destinations, mostly within the Middle East, India and Central Asia.
RAK Airways (www.rakairways.com) Flights to Egypt, Qatar, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
Border Crossings. The UAE shares borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia, but only GCC citizens are permitted to cross into Saudi at the Ghuwaifat/Sila border post in the far west of the UAE.
Non-GCC citizens headed for mainland Oman may use the Hili checkpoint in Al Ain, the Hatta “checkpoint east of Dubai and the tiny coastal Khatmat Malaha crossing south of Fujairah.
If you’re headed for Khasab on the Musandam Peninsula, use the Shams/Tibat checkpoint north of Ras Al Khaimah. There’s another border crossing to the Musandam in Dibba on the east coast
Public Transport. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are the only emirates with public bus services. Dubai also has the high-tech Dubai Metro, which links some of the major attractions and malls and is an inexpensive, efficient way to get across town.
Taxis. Taxis are cheap, metered and ubiquitious and – given the dearth of public transportation in some emirates – often the only way of getting around. Most drivers can also be hired by the hour. In that case, rates should be negotiated unless fixed fees are set in place. Most cabs can also be engaged for long-distance travel to other emirates, in which case you should negotiate the fee at the beginning of the trip.
Few drivers are fluent English speakers and many are more familiar with landmarks than streets names. It helps if you mention parks, shopping malls or hotel names when giving directions for your desired destination. Tip about 10% for good service.
Shared Taxis. For inter-emirate travel, shared taxis are an alternative for some travellers. Although fares tend to be similar, they leave when full, which may be more frequently than scheduled bus service. They do get cramped, so people in need of much personal space will likely not feel so comfortable. Women solo travellers may feel especially uncomfortable. You can get these taxis engaged (ie privately, not shared) if you are willing to pay for all of the seats.