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Advice on Travel to the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a welcoming destination for international travelers
The United Arab Emirates is a welcoming destination for international travelers. The city of Dubai in particular has looked beyond the time its oil reserves will run out and has created practically from scratch one of the most well known, glittering, accommodating cities on the planet. Most of the seven emirates that make up the UAE also cater to international travelers, who go to the UAE not only for its amazing urban areas, but also because it has beautiful weather and is located along either the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman, with plenty of shoreline to entice vacationers.

The best times to go there are in the autumn (October and November) and late winter (February and March) when the temperatures are cool enough to be comfortable. December and January are also good months to go, but the chance of dark, rainy weather is higher then.

It is generally best for Westerners to avoid visiting the UAE during Ramadan, the holy month. Even though hotel rates are often discounted during this time, business hours are chaotic, and not eating in public can be difficult. While there are heavily discounted hotel rooms to be had in the summer, the temperatures are overwhelmingly hot.

The UAE’s currency is called the dirham (Dh), and it is pegged to the U.S. dollar. Dirhams are further divided into 100 fils. Coin denominations are 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils, and Dh1. Paper notes are Dh5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000.

It may be harder to exchange traveler’s checks than cash, but there are ATMs on main streets, in shopping malls, and at some hotels, and major credit cards are accepted most everywhere. Depending on which emirate you visit, municipal and service taxes will vary from 5% to 20%. When someone quotes a price as “net,” it means that taxes and service charges are included in the quote.

The UAE is a safe Middle Eastern destination for Westerners, with many luxurious amenities to tempt those who love shopping and fine dining. Besides the well-appointed cities, you can also visit traditional Souks, ride a camel under the stars, or go diving in the unspoiled waters off the coast of Ras al-Khaimah. And, though if you break a leg you’ll have a hard time explaining it back home, you can go snow skiing in Dubai year-round. The enormous indoor skiing mountain is next to the massive Mall of the Emirates in Dubai.

Though the UAE is an Islamic state that is governed by traditional tribal families, it is also very accommodating to travelers from other cultures. It is entirely possible in Dubai to see a traditional Bedouin within a few minutes of seeing a sheikh in a Ferrari zoom by on the highway.

There are a number of ways to get to the UAE depending on where you are arriving from. From Iran, you can go by water with the Valfajre-8, which has service to Sharjah twice a week. You have to arrive several hours before setting sail to get through the necessary border crossing procedures on time. It’s about a 10 or 11 hour trip.

For non Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) residents, there are land border crossings at Al Hilli, Khatmat Malahah, Wajaja, and Al Darah. Only GCC residents are allowed to cross to Saudi Arabia at Gheweifat.

If you’re going from the UAE to Oman, use border crossings at Wajaja, Al Darah, and Khatmat Malahah. There is a Dh20 visa processing fee for you to leave, and a Dh60 entry visa fee at the Omani entry point.

You can cross into the UAE from Oman by buses run by the Oman National Transport Company(ONTC). Buses run from Muscat to Dubai by way of Hatta two or three times a day. It is a five hour trip and costs Dh60 one way or Dh100 round trip. Though there are other bus services to and from Oman, the ONTC is the only service that those who are not GCC citizens can use.

There are also bus services to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, but non-GCC citizens are not allowed to travel on these buses, and the bus companies are not allowed to sell tickets to them.

If you are eligible to get a visit visa or a transit visa when you arrive – and you are if you’re from most European countries, plus the U.S. and Canada – you may go straight through the immigration desk or border post in order to get your passport stamped. If you are arriving on a sponsored visa, you have to go to the appropriately designated visa collection counter at the airport when you land.

Though the UAE has six international airports, the two main ones are in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The official Dubai carrier is Emirates Airlines, and the official UAE national airline is Etihad Airways. Also, a more budget minded carrier, Air Arabia opened in Sharjah in 2003 flies to Gulf countries, and other Middle Eastern destinations.

The UAE is easily accessible and very accommodating to world travelers, and has a reputation as being a major destination for those who demand the best in hotels, food, and sunny beaches.

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