Can you now visit the United Arab Emirates?

Sheikh Zayed Road through the centre of Downtown Dubai at sunset

It’s an empathic yes to returning to the United Arab Emirates in 2021 and beyond. However, as you’d expect, there are ever-changing rules that every tourist should be aware of before they go booking those plane tickets!

Promising almost guaranteed year-round sunshine and a huge range of attractions from museums to mosques, theme parks and water thrills to extreme mountain sports, it’s easy to see why so many have the UAE pegged as a hot destination this winter.

Get the Right Visa for the UAE 

All visitors to the United Arab Emirates require a visa (with exemptions only for GCC neighbours Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain & Kuwait)

Many nationalities are entitled to a free tourist visa on arrival to the UAE for 30 or 90 days. All others need to apply in advance for a single entry or multiple entry visit e-Visa. You can check which Visa you may be eligible for here before you travel.

Do I need a visa for a layover in DXB?

If you are a transit passenger-only through the UAE you do not need a Visa, but you will still have COVID testing requirements to consider. You should check this with your airline before flying.

Can I leave the airport on a long layover?

Anyone leaving the airport during a layover will need to have the correct visa to do so; check if you are eligible for the Visa on Arrival first. If not, you’d still need an e-Visa in advance, even for a short layover visit. You will also need to check with the airline about the ongoing validity of your PCR test if you leave the airport.

Different Emirates = Different Rules

Just to clarify, Dubai is not the capital of the UAE! The United Arab Emirates is made up of 7 Emirates (like states). Whilst there are laws set at a Federal level, each Emirate has different rules and government departments too, particularly when it’s come to dealing with COVID.

The Emirate of Dubai was the first to re-open its borders to tourism in July 2020, and at this time Abu Dhabi (which is the capital and largest Emirate) then closed its land border with Dubai.  This border has subsequently reopened with restrictions. You will find different rules apply depending on which Emirate you arrive in. The Northern Emirates, generally speaking, follow the rules of Dubai.

Abu Dhabi’s “Green List” and the “Green Pass”

Abu Dhabi does permit tourism but is much more restrictive at present on entry.  They have a Green List of countries. Arrivals from these countries only require a PCR test on landing and a follow up after 6 days, they DO NOT need to self-quarantine.

If you are coming from a country not on this green list, you will have to self-quarantine for either 7 or 10 days, depending on if you are vaccinated or not. Whether you come via air, or land in Dubai first and cross to Abu Dhabi these rules apply from your UAE arrival date stamped in your passport. Those aged over 12 are fitted with a tracker watch until their self-quarantine is completed.

Once in Abu Dhabi, you will need the Alhosn App on a mobile device to get the “Green Pass”. Coming into effect on 20 August 2021, this App is needed to get you into most public buildings. To activate the pass, proof of COVID vaccination is required. It’s very important that visitors do this in advance of arriving in the UAE to make sure their vaccine status is approved by the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA).

Be mindful that Abu Dhabi has different entry rules to Dubai

Dubai’s COVID restrictions

Dubai is not as restrictive when it comes to entering the country. Most incoming passengers (except under 12’s and the severely disabled) will need a PCR test before they board a flight to DXB but no further tests when they land. This can change depending on outbreaks and departure country so check your status before flying.

Once on the ground in Dubai, there’s no subsequent testing unless you’re from a restricted country – you can find the current list here. You can freely move around Dubai and the Northern Emirates once you land, but be mindful if you’re crossing to Abu Dhabi, even on a day trip to see the Grand Mosque, for example, you must still meet their entry rules.

You can find out more about how to cross between Dubai and Abu Dhabi with COVID border restrictions here.

What Airlines Fly to the UAE?

Everyone thinks of the big guys’ Emirates (flying into DXB) and Etihad (based out of Abu Dhabi’s AUH) when it comes to flying to the UAE.  The great news is, there are plenty more value options!

Why not try for your next trip to the UAE:

  • FlyDubai (the budget arm of Emirates – still earn those miles!)
  • Wizz Air operating out of AUH serving much of Eastern Europe
  • Air Arabia out of Sharjah Airport (close to Dubai)

As the tourism industry continues to flourish into winter 2021/22 you will also see package tour companies running charter airlines from the major airports and some of the smaller airports in the Northern Emirates. Many other international airlines also have landing rights at DXB and AUH worth considering for your holiday in the UAE.

Emirates aircraft parked at Dubai Airport

Weather in the UAE

With so many indoor attractions in the UAE, it really is becoming a year-round destination. However, for an optimal UAE experience combining the best of both indoors and out, we recommend the best time to visit is between November to March. The busiest time of year is the Christmas to New Year week – you will definitely want your accommodation booked in advance if planning a visit at this time.

The summer months (really any time from late April to mid-October) can still be great to miss peak crowds and enjoy the sun in the early mornings and late evenings, but be mindful in the middle of the day often the “feels like” temperature tops 50°C/122°F.

Other Rules & Regulations to be Aware of Visiting the UAE

So, if you’ve got your correct visa status sorted, flights booked at the right time of year and all your COVID testing sorted, what else do you need to be mindful of once you hit the ground in the UAE?

  • The UAE is a Muslim country and Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken. 
  • Visitors are expected to dress with cultural sensitivity in mind – no abayas or head coverings needed for women but do try and cover up when away from the beach and avoid overly clingy and revealing clothing.
  • Drinking alcohol is allowed at licensed venues.
  • Swearing, obscene gestures, overt displays of affection in public and leud behaviour are all strictly prohibited.
  • The country operates a 5 day work week for most, Sunday to Thursday.
  • For a complete guide, check out our Our family guide to the Do’s and Don’ts of visiting the UAE.

Further resources to help plan a trip to the UAE

Keep up to date with the latest rules and Government resources before your trip to the United Arab Emirates:

Pop on over to our Discover the UAE series to learn more about all the best things to do in the UAE, including detailed hotel, restaurant and attraction reviews for families.

Disclosures: This page contains affiliate links to third party tour operators and booking platforms. Should you make a qualifying booking after using our affiliate link we may make a commission. You can read our full disclosure policy and website terms of use here.

© Our Globetrotters | Feature image sourced CanvaPro | DXB Airport image Depositphotos

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