Dubai was one of the first large international cities to openly welcome tourism returning after the initial waves of COVID lockdown in July 2020.
A negative PCR result was all that was needed since planes started landing again at DXB, with no compulsory self-quarantine.
Whilst there are small rule variations that come up to be aware of – depending on your passport and port of origin – Dubai, for the most part, remains completely OPEN FOR BUSINESS IN 2021.
What should I know visiting Dubai post-Covid?
At the time of writing (early January 2021), you can expect:
- COVID testing only for certain countries and residents BEFORE flying.
- COVID testing on landing but no enforced self-quarantine if your test is negative.
- Thermal scanners when entering indoor buildings – malls, hotels etc (this was abolished 1 January 2021 but many places have kept it).
- Social distancing (though this is scant in many places) – restricted doorways in and out of buildings frequently cause bottlenecks and people closely queuing.
- Maximum table group sizes in a restaurant of 10.
- Wearing of face masks in any public place other than when you’re eating and drinking is compulsory.
You may find this Emirates guide to current testing requirements in, out and transiting through Dubai helpful.
Residents of Dubai and the UAE now have access to two types of COVID vaccine but this does not negate the need to comply with social distancing and face mask-wearing, preferable a 3 layer face mask.
Our experience as Dubai “tourists” in 2020
As residents of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for nearly a decade, we have become what you could call serial Dubai tourists! Within the same country but cities at times that can be so foreign to one another, despite only sitting around 150 kilometres apart along the Arabian Gulf.
We used to visit Dubai 3 or 4 times a month, be it for work, pleasure, events or shopping essentials. There was never a border between the two Emirates; a simple and fast freeway system got us door to door almost anywhere we needed in around 1 hour.
Now we have been “tourists” to Dubai from Abu Dhabi twice in 2020; once in the summer immediately following the re-opening to overseas tourists (though in the peak of summer, it was essentially only domestic tourism due to the summer heat). We returned again in late December 2020, traditionally one of the cities busiest weeks for tourism and when Dubai was one of only a handful of large cities openly welcoming international tourists.
The Abu Dhabi – Dubai border
Following lockdown periods across the UAE in April & May 2020, on 22 June 2020, Abu Dhabi abruptly closed it’s bordered to its neighbour Dubai. Without a significant excuse registered via an app and an insane amount of luck, there was a period of weeks where residents of the UAE simply could not cross between the two – far from convenient in a country where the two cities are so intertwined.
The border from Dubai into Abu Dhabi has now reopened but a negative COVID test result is required to cross the border (for all ages over 12), in addition to follow up testing if you remain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
The opening of multiple new lanes at the Ghantoot border crossing point has significantly improved traffic flow but nonetheless, you can expect it to add 30 minutes to your trip, and another 30 minutes to an hour if you need to do the DPI test at the border.
This is subject to frequent changes so we strongly suggest you consult our Dubai Travel Planner website where we are keeping a guide to the latest crossing news, as released by Abu Dhabi Media Office, along with a description of the different types of COVID testing and where to get them done on either sie of the border.
Ironically, there is no border testing requirement at all crossing from Abu Dhabi Emirate into Dubai, via any of the major freeways, the E11, E311 and E66. It is just travelling Dubai to Abu Dhabi that is restricted.
Note that the rules are significantly different if you are flying into AUH. Abu Dhabi still has a compulsory self-quarantine for most incoming passengers of 10 days, unless you’re from a “green list country” – plus ongoing COVID testing requirements.
Did we feel safe in Dubai post-COVID?
I can tell you as the mum of young kids, and having gone through the extremes of lockdown in Abu Dhabi versus the peak traffic week in Dubai, the jury is still out.
I felt it was far more crowded than any places I have seen in Abu Dhabi and many, many instances when social distancing was not observed by others – or simply not possible.
Put simply, there were just too many people. Everywhere. When you limit the number of people that can enter a room or attraction at one time, but then make them all line up together or crowd around a small entry point, it’s impossible to socially distance, regardless of any little dots you draw on the floor.
The difference between July and December was vast. The attention people paid to their personal space and the sheer crowds. Dubai is very much a city almost entirely back in full swing, only face mask-wearing which is largely complied with is a visible sign that COVID still exists.
To avoid this, you need to stay away from pretty much anywhere a crowd can congregate – this counts out malls, theme parks, basically any key tourist attractions. Then you need to ask yourself is a trip to Dubai worth it if you can’t see anything? Beaches and parks may be nice, but you still need to tackle crowds to get to them.
What can you do to stay safe in Dubai during COVID?
- Keep up with your handwashing and sanitising; try to stop kids touching every surface known to man and do keep the kids face masks on. even your little ones if you can.
- Pick your times to visit carefully. Christmas to New Year we know is a busy week at the best of times. Crowds subside substantially in Dubai at key attractions and public places when schools are back in January. It will no doubt be busy again February half-term and again in March/April school holidays. Weekends (Thursday night, Friday & Saturday) are also much busier.
There is, of course, no surety with the cruel fate of this disease who will be unfortunate enough to catch it.
With the benefit that yes, we can easier travel across our border again (“only” 3 uncomfortable nasal scraps for each adult) we will return to Dubai during 2021 when it’s not peak season. But with nowhere near the frequency that we did before 2020, likely until we’re in a position the whole family can be vaccinated.
Family Things to do in Dubai in 2021
There are still loads of things to see and do in Dubai every time we visit something new has opened.
We have a super detailed family guide to Dubai here, but some of the newer openings that may be of interest:
- Dubai Safari Park – The “new and improved” park reopened in October 2020
- Bluewaters Island – Ain Dubai (the giant new observation wheel) is yet to open but there are several new restaurants and a beach club ready and welcoming visitors
- Splash and Play inflatable water park on Kite Beach (and a new branch due to open at JBR early this year)
- Venture further south of the city and into the mountains to experience glamping and plenty of adventure sports at Wadi Hub
- There are always new instalments every season at Dubai Garden Glow.
- Head down to the trendy new Dubai Design District – on the waterfront look for a little-known park The Block
- Check out the interactive galleries and indoor experiences at Woo-Hoo
- See the new fountain show at The Pointe on Palm Jumeirah
- Stroll the new Palm West Beach promenade on the Palm Jumeirah
- Wander through Al Seef and the old-meets-new waterfront areas of Dubai Creek
- Partake in some hug-therapy at The Camel Farm
- Dubai Food Festival will be back again in the spring from 25 February to 13 March 2021
You can follow along with our 4-day Dubai Itinerary, ideal for short breaks in the UAE that cover the highlights if you’re seeking some more inspiration.
What about visiting the rest of the UAE?
There are 7 Emirates in the UAE – Dubai is simply the most well-known whilst Abu Dhabi is the capital and largest Emirate (and where most of the country’s oil is found).
There are 5 more Emirates, often collectively referred to as “the Northern Emirates” that sit to the north and the east of Dubai.
In September 2020, the remaining Emirates fell into line with Dubai allowing international visitors. Each airport might have different arrival rules but there was never a hard border placed with Dubai emirate, meaning if you land in DXB you can easily transit to other parts of the country.
You kind find a detailed guide here to exploring all 7 Emirates of the UAE on our sister publication Family Travel in the Middle East.
The Oman Border from Dubai
This is again varying and changing constantly, you will need to keep up to date with news from Oman authorities. Tourists visas were being issued in December, though a spike in cases saw things change again later in the month. At the time of writing, you can again get a 10-day visa but with a 7-day self-quarantine. Do check in advance before planning a land border crossing from the UAE to Oman. Different rules may apply to citizens from the GCC.
A Dubai Family Vacation in 2021?
No one has a crystal ball and can predict what will happen next.
Since New Years, daily COVID cases in the UAE have more than doubled on late 2020 numbers; Abu Dhabi Emirate has taken a tough stance again, increasing border testing and closing schools; Dubai remains completely open with only some fine-tuning of testing requirements from certain countries.
The promise of a quick vaccine rollout in the UAE gives some confidence and hope of a return to “normal” conditions, but it’s still early days and does not cover children.
If you do plan to come to Dubai, book with travel insurance and money-back guarantees.
- We recommend World Nomads for insurance (though bear in mind there are some countries they simply WON’T cover right now depending on your passport)
- For hotels, we recommend the re-assurance of using cancellable rooms on booking.com.
- For tours and activities, Get Your Guide run a fabulous 100% refund policy if your trip doesn’t go ahead.
- Flying with Emirates, they cover your costs should you get sick and allow free date transfers on tickets purchased up to 30 June 2021 should plans change.
Do join us on our Family Travel Middle East Facebook Group if you have any more questions about visiting Dubai, and make sure you bookmark our website Dubai Travel Planner which is packed full of handy information for visitors.
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