Introduction

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a a federation of the sheikhdoms, composed of 7 emirates. Even though the UAE is a religious country, it’s one the more progressive nations in the MENA region and is quite tourist friendly. It’s amazing just how much the country has grown particularly in terms of infrastructure when considering the fact that the country didn’t exist before the end of 1971.

In recent years, the country has achieved a reputation for the opulent displays of wealth, which are inconspicuous in the two major cities, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This reputation was even on display in blockbuster movies such as Mission Impossible 4 and the Fast & Furious 7, which featured the iconic Burj Khalifa and the Emirates Palace hotel, as well as tons of high end sports and luxury vehicles.

General Tips

There are several rules for tourist visa requirements to visit the UAE, so I'll list a few below. However, for the complete requirements, please visit UAE's visa information site.

No visa is required for citizens of several countries (including the US) for stays shorter than 30 days and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months.

Most EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Argentinian, Icelandic and Japanese citizens don't need visas for stays shorter than 90 days. (The exception is Republic of Ireland and UK).

Note that citizens of countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are exempt from UAE visa requirements, with the exception of Qatar.

Qatari and Israeli nationals are currently prohibited from entering the country.
Most of the hotels in the UAE are internationally recognizable hotel brands.

Standard rooms are double occupancy, though some chains (typically US-based) allow more persons without charge, for a max of 3 people.
There are two major international airports in the UAE: Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH).
Transportation within the country is mostly car-based. I’m not aware of a bus that tourists can (and should) use, though there’s probably one.

Travel Between Abu Dhabi and Dubai

You can fly into Abu Dhabi. Etihad is the airline of choice but other airlines also fly into Abu Dhabi. The other option is to fly to Dubai or Sharjah and take a taxi or bus. Dubai has lot more flights than either Abu Dhabi or Sharjah.

You can take a cab from Abu Dhabi to Dubai or vice versa. It normally takes 90 minutes, but it took me about 2 hours because of traffic. It typically costs 300 AED for a taxi ride between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I would recommend utilizing your hotel lobby or concierge staff for arranging a taxi to take you to Dubai if you’re coming from Abu Dhabi, or the other way around. Note that the outside taxis are cheaper but are cash only.
Generally speaking, since the UAE is an Islamic country, the food is halal. What that means for most people is that pork/bacon/sausage or any other pig-based ingredients are rare. So, the bacon, sausage, etc. are made from beef and not pork.

That being said, there’s quite a variety of cuisine available in the UAE, and they cater to all sorts of diets. Food prices can be a little expensive even for fast food, but it’s not prohibitively expensive unless you go to upscale restaurants.
UAE weather has been described by residents as having three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. And, given that the country is pretty much in the desert, it’s rather dry, even in places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai which are surrounded by water.
Credit card acceptance is pretty good in the UAE, but it’s not so prevalent that cabbies take it. The currency of the UAE is the Emirati Dirham (AED).

A note about the currency: it’s prohibited to take the currency outside of the country. In my experience, having a little bit of cash leftover (maybe 60 AED) is okay.
It gets very hot in the UAE, so be prepared with water and sunscreen. Additionally, be careful if you’re going to the UAE during Ramadan, since consumption of food and beverages (even water) is prohibited (see the Local Laws and Customs section under Other Information).

Another useful tip is to take sunglasses with you, not only to be able to see during the blinding daytime, but also to protect your eyes against sand blowing in the wind. A hat may also help.
The UAE has restrictions on their internet, including on any voice and video conferencing applications. This means that Skype, Google Hangouts video conferencing, Vonage, Facetime, WhatsApp voice call, etc. don’t work regardless of whether you’re on cellular data service or WiFi because they’re blocked. Don’t try using a VPN to get around these restrictions – VPNs are prohibited as well. The penalties are steep if you get caught (to the tune of over US $500k)!
Local Laws and Customs

Though this country is one of the most progressive countries in the middle east, it’s still a traditional Islamic country and some laws must be followed strictly. This is most apparent during Ramadan, when everyone, including tourists, must abide by the “no food and no beverage” rules in public (they are lenient with people eating in the privacy of their own rooms, and perhaps in hotel lounges).

Other laws that should be observed in the UAE are dressing modestly in public, though some sites, especially religious sites, require more covering, and most importantly – not disparaging the royal family. The latter is severely punished, regardless of who you are or where you’re from.

Places to Visit

Approximately 1-1.5 days to see:

  • Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (The Grand Mosque)
  • Corniche
  • Emirates Palace Hotel
  • Falcon Hospital
No more than 1 day to see:

  • Camel racing track (part of Al Ain Day tour)
  • Al Ain Palace Museum
  • Al Ain National Museum
  • Al Ain Oasis
  • Camel Market
  • Jebel Hafeet
  • The Green Mubazzarah and Hot Spring
Approximately 2-4 days to see:

  • Burj Khalifa + Dubai Mall + Dubai Fountain
  • Palm Jumeirah and the Atlantis, The Palm (hotel)
  • Helicopter or Seaplane rides/The World Islands
  • Desert Safari
  • Ski Dubai (in the Mall of Emirates)
  • Dubai Gold Souk

Gallery

(Trip to UAE made in July 2013 and November 2016)

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