Fast Facts about the UAE
Weather & Climate: Very hot, especially during the summer months (avoid June - August in particular when temperatures hover over 110 every day). Rain is rare. During the winter months (Oct - Feb) the UAE has some of the best weather in the world. The desert inlands are very hot during the day and can get extremely cold at night.
Religion: Islam plays a large role in the country. Emiraties are 100% Muslim though there are large numbers of Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists living in the country as well. The majority of the country is Sunni Muslim and there is a minority of Shi'a as well. The UAE is fairly conservative but very tolerating of Western culture.
During Ramadan, the country effectively shuts down during the day and you are not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke outside in public (in respect to the Muslim fasters). Ramadan is a month long religious observation and the date changes every year, check with a consulate or mosque in your country to find out about when Ramadan will take place. That said, after hours, shops and restaurants stay open very late to accomodate the late night parties that take place after fasting is over. It is a fun time after dark, though Ramadan has its genesis in holy and spiritual reflection.
Language: Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, and English are all common. Most people speak English, and most of the road and store signs are in English and Arabic.
Clothing: Clothing is somewhat conservative, though not as restrictive as other Gulf States. Women should dress modestly. Men or women should not wear shorts outside. Private beaches and pools are available throughout the country. Public beaches should be avoided to stem unwanted attention.
Visa: Many hotels or travel agencies will arrange all of your necessary paperwork. You should contact an embassy or consulate to double check requirements. You may also just show up at the airport if you fit one of the categories listed below.
A "visit visa" (or "tourist visa") can now be automatically given by Immigration officials at the port of entry, and is valid for 30 days. Extensions are available.
Countries eligible for visa on arrival:
British overseas passports issued in
Hong Kong or China:
Citizens of countries that are not mentioned above require the sponsorship of a UAE resident, hotel, travel agency, or company in order to obtain a visit visa.
The Government of the UAE refuses entry and transit to Israeli passport holders. Persons with Israeli stamps or signs of visiting Israel will also be denied entry.
For more information and other questions about visas and travel to the UAE, contact your country's UAE consulate. The address for the UAE consulate in the US is: http://www.uae-embassy.org/.
Driving: Driving in the UAE is fairly safe though speeding is prevalent. The road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is now well lit. Other roads throughout the country in the mountains are not lit and are not safe to drive at night. One major problem is that the camels in the desert like to relax on the quiet asphalt at night, and there are numerous examples of what happens after an accident on the sides of highways throughout the country.
Another problem is speeding and reckless driving by young people, generally in very expensive cars. Racing is seen as a pastime and is especially a problem at night and on the periphery of the cities.
International Driving Permit required (though this is not always followed by the rental agencies, sometimes a driving license and passport from the same country will be fine to use as well). Application for International Driving Permit and info for US drivers on AAA's Web site here: http://www.csaa.com/.
Drugs and Alcohol: Alcohol is available throughout the country though is only served in bars connected with hotels, and usually only to Westerners in Western dress. Public drunkeness is severely frowned on and will not be tolerated. There are, however, many huge, modern clubs and discoteques, especially in Dubai. Entrance is usually limited to the doorman's discretion.
Drugs are harshly dealt with, though hashish is widely available. If you are caught using, buying, or selling drugs, the penalties are very severe and could include capital punishment. Needless to say, avoid using illegal drugs, especially in the UAE.
Money: The currency in the UAE is the dirham, worth about 27 US cents. The dirham is split into smaller amounts called fils.
Vaccinations Needed: None.
Annoyances: There are few annoyances in the UAE. The cultural climate is welcoming and friendly. The worst that may happen is that someone will say something or cat-call you if you are a female. However, women travellers often report being treated with the utmost respect in public. Usually if there is a problem, a shopkeeper, taxi driver, or bystander will intervene or help out (without alterior motives!). The UAE is a very open and great country to visit.
There are undercover police known as the CID. Make sure and see a badge and do not go anywhere with them if approached. The most they will do is check out bars and clubs to make sure there is no drug use or any illegal activities.
Gay and Lesbian Travel: There is some amount of gay community active in Dubai but the UAE's official stance is that it is illegal. Be careful in public especially. That said, Dubai is making some headways into loosening the legalities of homosexuality in the country.
You will invariably see men holding hands throughout the country, this is not seen as a sign of homosexuality, but a strong sign of friendship between men.
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