We all have a favorite destination, a place we would love to revisit again and again because it pulls at our heartstrings. Over the years, I have visited numerous countries and islands; mountain retreats, quaint villages, seaside cities. Although these places have carved me into the traveler I am today, they didn't leave as much of a mark as UAE did. There is no need to think twice when I say that UAE is my favorite destination in the world. Before COVID, the only reasons I would say that would be because of UAE's lively culture, its warm hospitality, the refreshing balance of modern with tradition, and of course its go-getter attitude.
As an Australian citizen, I do not require a visit visa to UAE. So I made my hotel reservation and booked a flight to Dubai, UAE. Before I continue let me guides you with UAE's COVID restrictions and the UAE travel advisory.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
- UAE Travel Restrictions
- Extending my stay
- Hotels and tours
- Points of Interest
- Where to exchange
- UAE Travel Tips
1. UAE Travel Restrictions – Australian travelers
Entry to Dubai is allowed only for the following categories of passengers:
- Members of diplomatic missions
- UAE nationals
- UAE golden visa holders
- Passengers allowed entry into UAE by relevant authorities
- Passengers travelling on a business flight with certified COVID 19 PCR eat certificate
There are no issues for Australian passengers upon arrival. However, they need to adhere to the following
- Travelers must have a certified COVID 19 PCR certificate issued within 48 hours before scheduled flight departure to UAE. Take a look at the designated laboratories to get your PCR done.
- COVID-19 PCR test reports that have a linked QR code and have been issued by approved labs will be accepted.
- Upon arrival in Dubai, passengers must take a COVID-19 PCR test followed by one test on the 4th day and another on the 8th day of their quarantine duration.
- Passengers should sign a document agreeing to a 10-day hotel or home quarantine starting from the arrival date.
- Passengers must provide all necessary information upon arrival at Dubai airport and download the DXB COVID-19 app.
When you arrive
- Upon arrival at Dubai airport, you might have to take another COVID-19 PCR test. If the test is taken at the airport, you must stay in your home or hotel until you get the certificate.
- If the certificate shows a positive result, you will have to self-isolate and follow the Dubai Health Authority rules.
- It is mandatory to download the COVID19 – DXB Smart App (iOS/Android)
When you are travelling to Abu Dhabi
When road-tripping to Abu Dhabi, there are some strict rules to follow. Travelers entering Abu Dhabi must have either a negative COVID 19 PCR test result (issued within 48 hours) or a negative DPI test result (issued within 24 hours). The day you enter Abu Dhabi is counted as day 1.
If travelling to Abu Dhabi, you have to adhere to the following rules that are meted out on all Abu Dhabi entry points. Please note that these measures can lengthen your travel duration.
Abu Dhabi authorities have revised the rules related to compulsory COVID-19 testing and self-isolation rules for visitors/vaccinated passengers who are either Emirati residents or UAE citizens
- Vaccinated travelers from green countries don't need to quarantine. They only need to take two PCR tests, one on arrival and on Day 6.
- Vaccinated travelers from other countries must take a PCR test on arrival and on the 4th day. They must also self-isolate for 5 days.
- Vaccinated travelers identified as a close context must quarantine for 5 days. A PCR test on arrival and on Day 4 is a must.
- Non-vaccinated travelers coming from green countries don't need to be isolated. They need to take a PCR test on arrival, on Day 6, and on Day 12 if they are staying longer.
- None vaccinated travelers coming from other countries need to be isolated for 10 days. They must take a PCR test on arrival and on Day 8.
- Non-vaccinated travelers identified as close contact must quarantine for 10 days and take a PCR test on arrival and on Day 8.
2. Extending my stay
Due to the 10-day hotel quarantine, I wasn't able to explore the city much. Before I started exploring Dubai and the rest of UAE, I made up my mind to extend my stay in the UAE. After browsing I came across a really informative page of a UAE travel firm, Arabiers. They had pages educating travelers on the different visa-related procedures in UAE and other topics that would be helpful for travelers visiting UAE. UAE visa extension Page that cleared all my doubts and made me confident that the COVID won't stand in my way for an extended stay in UAE
All you need to know about extending your stay in UAE
If you are an Australian passport holder, you don't need to make any advance visa arrangements to enter the UAE. Simply proceed to immigration upon arrival at Abu Dhabi or Dubai airport and your passport will be stamped with a free 30-day visit visa.
After you have used up your free 30 days you will have a 10 day grace period within which you can do either of the 2 options to extend your stay
1. Extend your on-arrival visa
2. Do an inside country visa without exit
Extend your on-arrival visa
Upon entering any UAE airport, your eye scan and passport details will be collected by the immigration system and stored in the federal government system. This information will be used to extend your visa and you will get an additional 20 days along with your free 40 days. Total stay from this option-60 days
Do an inside country visa without exit
This new visa change inside the country option allows you to extend your visa without leaving the UAE. You don't have to endure long hours in the airport or travel to Oman by bus. An extension can be done for both 30 days and 90 days with different packages available for an affordable price in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The applicant must submit their documents 2 to 3 days before their last day. This procedure can be done at home and doesn't require the applicant to leave the country.
Visa extension, also known as visa change, is possible for tourists within the UAE. Visit or tourist visa holders can get an extension without leaving the UAE. Due to the current situation, airport to airport or Oman visa change facility is unavailable and most operators will be providing the visa change without exit for on-arrival nationalities and tourist visa holders. On-arrival nationalities can get a pre-arranged UAE tourist visa.
Now that we have understood the visa extension processes let me tell you about the hotel I stayed in and what you can expect during COVID.
3. Hotels and tours
As an international traveler, my priority during this situation are the COVID-19 preventive measures taken by a hotel. I stayed in the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel and I will be doing an injustice if I don't applaud the efforts of the Jumeirah Creekside team for their amazing service and dedication in implementing the measures throughout the hotel. The food was amazing and served by friendly staff while properly following the social distancing requirements. I stayed in a deluxe room which was then upgraded to a club room and I really appreciate the warm hotel hospitality I experienced throughout my stay.
On Monday, May 17 2021, Dubai's Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced new precautionary measures for weddings, restaurants, hotels, and other gatherings held within the UAE. A maximum of 100 guests are allowed at wedding venues. The staff in these venues and attendees need to be vaccinated. Home weddings are allowed with a maximum of 30 guests and must adhere to all precautionary measures.
4. Points of Interest
Don’t be fooled by UAE’s contemporary facade! The country still holds dear to its Bedouin roots and desert origin. In UAE you can experience a refreshing blend of modern attractions, bare desert lands packed with adventure, a heady mix of cultures, refreshing green vistas and of course the trademark Emirati hospitality. Here is a smorgasbord of UAE attractions and places that will not only dazzle up your instagram feed but also make you adore UAE even more.
The Burj Khalifa is not only the world’s tallest building, it has also bagged certain other superlatives and has not only become synonymous with Dubai but it is also one of the places you shouldn't miss. Zoom to the building’s observation deck for a very much heightened view of Dubai and beyond. This scenic view is not for the faint hearted, so skip it if you have a fear of heights.
The massive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a mandatory stop when visiting Abu Dhabi. The serene facade gives way to the gigantic interior adorned with gold, marble, mosaic tiles, intricate glass work and lavish carpets. The pure white domes and minarets are a breathtaking contrast against the blue sky.
If you love road tripping and curvy mountain roads flanked by breathtaking views, then a drive to the summit of the Hajar Mountain range is compulsory. Nature lovers will have a blast with bird watching opportunities, hiking, trekking and gorgeous views of the scenic wadis (valleys). Ras Al Khaima’s Jebel Jais is home to the world’s longest zipline, a thrilling way to drink in the mountain scenery. If adventure is not your cup of tea then stick to the landscaped viewing platforms that give a good view of the mountainside. A visit to UAE’s second tallest peak, Jebel Hafeet, should not be missed either. Feast your eyes on never-ending desert vistas that are a worthy price for enduring the curvy mountain roads.
Art lovers will be thrilled to visit the spectacular Louvre Abu Dhabi, housed in a futuristic building that was inspired by many Emirati cultural elements. Visitors can embark on an exploration of human history, modern art or early history with artifacts sourced from different corners of the world. Until the opening of the Louvre, the Sharjah Arts Museum used to be the only kind dedicated for the display of art. The sand-colored building houses many collections by Arabic Artists and noteworthy pieces from European artists who painted the Arab world.
Go back in time by going to the Bastakiyah Quarter, the only existing part of Old Dubai. Within the quaint streets lined with sand-colored walls you will get a taste of Dubai’s simplistic past that is a stark contrast to its daring modern metropolis. Wind towers adorn well-preserved structures that are proof of the Emirati architectural style. You can view typical Emirati interiors by visiting many museums that are in the Quarter. If you are a history buff, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization houses a wealth of information about the spread of Islamic Empires, religious documents and rare manuscripts that are showcased with well-planned exhibits.
Not adding the desert to the list of must-visit places in the UAE is nothing less than a crime. A visit to the desert will help you understand UAE’s personality and its determination even more. The desert can be anything you want it to be. Romantic with private dune drives. Adventurous with dune bashing, sandboarding, and camel rides. Overnight safaris and Day safaris will give you a look into Bedouin culture.
Mountains, deserts and now the Beach! UAE is blessed with diverse vistas that add to its appeal as a destination. You can find a beach to suit your preference. Dubai’s is backed with a skyscraper-populated skyline. Abu Dhabi’s beach has many islands adorning its coastline. The beach of Ajman is untouched with miles of soft golden sand. You can stroke your adventurous side with standup paddleboarding, Snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing, and more. For more fun on the water and a unique perspective of the Dubai Skyline opt for a Dhow Creek Ride. Smack in the middle of Dubai city, the Dubai Creek is lined by modern Dubai on one side and Bur Dubai and Deira on the other. A sunset dhow cruise will be a memorable trip as you will get the chance to see the buildings transforming into their nocturnal self.
The shopaholics can quench their thirst for shopping’s in any of the many malls or souks in the UAE. The souks expose the local shopping scene. In Dubai, Deira is the best spot with a souk dedicated only for gold and a separate one for spices. You will be able to find more local products, handicrafts and souvenirs while walking through the alleys of a souk rather than browsing the shelves of a mall. Every Emirate has its own souk district that you can explore.
5. Where to exchange
The Dirham (AED) is UAE’s currency and 3.67 AED is equal to 1 US dollar. All other currency rates keep fluctuating. You can exchange money by visiting banks, hotels, currency exchange outlets or money changers.
I prefer to exchange via money changers as they offer the best exchange rates and have outlets in prominent locations. Their exchange rate usually remains the same across all their outlets. Every mall will have at least one money changer outlet that operates according to the same hours as the mall. Traveler’s cheques are widely accepted, so don't hesitate to travel with them. Here are some money changer outlets in Dubai that offer a good exchange rate and a pleasant service.
1. Al Ansari Exchange
Listed in ‘Forbes Middle East’s Top Companies in the Arab World’ list for the year 2015 and the owner of 2014’s Sheikh Khalifa Excellence Award, Al Ansari exchange has 70 branches in Dubai and a 100 more across other UAE Emirates. There is a high chance you will encounter one of their branches in a mall or within the city. They accept travelers’ cheques and offer money transfer, bill payment and buying - selling of foreign currency. Their main branch is in Al Barsha and other notable branches are in Dubai Mall, City Centre Deira, Al Fahidi Souk and Al Ghubaiba.
2. Al Rostamani Exchange
With 16 outlets across Dubai, it is the first foreign exchange company to bag the 2003 Dubai Quality Award. They offer currency exchange, credit card payment and money transfer services. Their popular outlets are in Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai, Deira and Karama. They are headquartered in Sheikh Zayed Road.
3. Al Fardan Exchange
Al Fardan Exchange has 16 branches in Dubai and was awarded 2011’s Best Money Transfer Company in the Middle East award by IAMTN (International Association of Money Transfer Network). Their services include remittances, money exchange and a variety of other money-related services. They have branches in Bur Dubai, Deira, Hudaiba, Deira city centre and Al Qusais.
4. UAE Exchange
Established in 1980 with operations spanning across 31 countries, it is one of the largest money changer chains in Dubai. They have more than 60 branches in Dubai providing foreign exchange, bill payment and money transfer services. They also have a loyalty program and was the recipient of the 2016 International Business Excellence Awards. They have branches at Al Qusais, Deira, Al Fahidi Station, Al Ghubaiba Station and Bur Dubai.
5. Sharaf Exchange
This money exchange has over 16 branches in Dubai offering currency exchange and remittance services. They also have numerous kiosks that offer 24/7 money transfer service in collaboration with Western Union. Their main branch is in Bur Dubai with more in Jumeirah, Mercato Mall, Deira and Satwa.
6. UAE Travel Tips
Before we get into some serious travel tips, let me cover the basic ones which you might tend to overlook but are crucial for a pleasant trip to UAE.
1. The best time to visit is between October and April
UAE’s winter months are between October and April. If you are imagining snow dripping and everyone wearing jackets to keep themselves warm outdoors, you are having the wrong dream. UAE is a desert land which is why the only words you use will be hot and less hot to differentiate between its summer and winter seasons. Expect clear blue skies, pleasant weather for outdoor activities and occasional rain showers (that don't last long) during winter and they are enough to make the desert land manageable.
2. Flight-hawk six months ahead
If you are confused by what I'm trying to imply, this paragraph will help you. International airlines offer the cheapest price for their seats roughly six months before the scheduled departure date. It's a good idea to start observing their price fluctuations ahead of time so that you can book your flight with a price margin that makes you happy. Don't wait too long to book your flight! I would suggest booking at least one month in advance.
3. Make advance hotel bookings
We all know what a popular holiday destination UAE is, so why take any risk to jeopardize a good stay? Since October to April is the tourist season, hotels get booked really fast. To make sure you have a good place to stay after arriving in the UAE, reserve your hotel room two to three months ahead.
UAE is very accommodating towards travelers, however there are certain tips you should keep in mind to avoid offending anyone while in UAE.
4. Respect the culture during Ramadan
If your visit coincides with the month of Ramadan (which comes in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar), then you have to show respect to the islamic practice of fasting. Since the fasting period is between sunrise to sunset, avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public within this duration.
5. Modest dresses are encouraged
In UAE womens’ clothing that are overly revealing, tight or short are considered indecent. Men should never be shirtless in public. So, pack your clothes accordingly to not offend the locals and respect the Islamic culture.
6. Take permission before taking pictures
A good practice to follow is always seeking permission before taking a picture of an individual, especially muslim women. Don't take pictures of the airport, military institutions, government buildings, etc.
7. What about tipping?
Tipping is not expected, but it is a favorable practice. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip, restaurants usually add a tip to your bill, luggage carriers and supermarket baggers are usually tipped for their service.
8. Watch where you consume alcohol
Although alcohol is legal in UAE, you are not allowed to consume it in public as drunk driving and being drunk in public are prohibited. You need to have a permit to buy alcohol for personal use. Even if you have a permit, the alcohol has to be purchased from a licensed establishment. Purchasing drinks from a bar or restaurant is allowed, however don’t leave overly drunk.
9. An address is not enough for a taxi driver
Going in a taxi is an easy and cheap way to get around the UAE. But, taxi drivers might not be aware of every street and road in UAE which is why you should include references of prominent landmarks so that they can find it easily.
10. No PDA
Public Displays of affection are considered an offense in the UAE. Many visitors have been imprisoned for PDA. Avoid holding hands or kissing your partner in public.
Don't let some of these tips steer you away from visiting the UAE. This amazing destination has a lot to offer compared to the little compromises you have to make. I’m no Ibn Batuta, but I hope this article not only helped you understand the UAE visa procedures but also made you want to visit the UAE even more.