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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country in the Arabian Peninsula that shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It is a collection of seven different emirates, similar to principalities, which are united under one national government. Two of the biggest highlights of the United Arab Emirates are the major cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Unsurprisingly, many tourists choose to travel to the UAE and especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for the unique combination of hot sunny weather and luxurious urban living.
The UAE has a modern road system, with much of the design echoing British roads and their numerous roundabouts. Despite the language barrier, signs are, on the whole, clear and coherent and readily understandable throughout the Emirates. In the major cities, where most of your driving is likely to take place, a good map can prove essential but be aware that road layouts are prone to change on a regular basis.
Driving licenses: international driving licenses are necessary to rent a car or drive in the UAE and these can be acquired by translating your domestic license at a local automobile association. If you intend to obtain residency status, you will need a local driver's license, which for most Western visitors requires only a simple, 20-minute registration process.
What side does the UAE drive on: the right.
Speed limits: speed limits vary from the busy roads of the cities to the vast open highways of the more rural areas. There are, however, enough signs to make limits apparent. In built-up areas, 50 miles per hour is the norm.
Alcohol limit: the UAE has a fairly strict outlook on alcohol in many aspects of life and driving is no exception. The alcohol limit is zero so if you have had a drink, it is always safer to opt for a taxi.
Driving age: 18 years. Most rental companies prefer you to be 25+ and with some driving experience.
Seatbelts: it is mandatory for the driver and all passengers to be wearing a seatbelt.
Mobile phones and GPS: driving while talking on a mobile phone is illegal (but it is quite common among the local population).
Cost of fuel in UAE: petrol is quite cheap in the UAE compared to the UK and Europe.
Car hire and fuel payment: both cash and major credit cards are widely accepted.
Insurance: many rental-car companies will offer inclusive insurance, but it can prove cheaper to arrange your own insurance in advance. Be advised that any level of alcohol intoxication while driving invalidates your insurance.
Traffic and parking: in terms of parking, the major airports at Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer thousands of spaces and most hotels have free parking for residents. Other than that, trying to park elsewhere in the cities can prove tricky and also highly expensive.
Rail connections within the United Arab Emirates are limited, although there is a larger rail network under construction presently. There are no rail links with neighbouring countries. In Dubai, there is a growing metro system and Abu Dhabi is establishing a tram system. Visit rta.ae for timetables and ticket prices.
Taxis are widely available in the main urban centres of the UAE and are, on the whole, very cheap. The prices are usually based on distance travelled and the size of the cities means that it is rarely excessive. In some places, certain drivers will charge around an extra £1.50- £2 as a night surcharge, usually applicable after 10pm.
Abu Dhabi has an urban bus service which is fairly regular and reliable and also quite cheap. Intercity bus services are fast, comfortable and relatively frequent. To book tickets visit et.ae
The two main tourist airports in the UAE are at Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The former has the best connections flying to destinations worldwide, from Los Angeles and London to Sydney and Beijing. The latter is not quite as widely connected but offers flights to destinations throughout Europe and Asia.
There is plenty to do in the UAE for visitors. While most people will base their entire stay in one of the major cities, there is also plenty to see outside of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In the urban areas, the luxury and opulence on offer is a huge draw and so are the beaches. The water is delightfully warm and clear. Outside the cities, natural landmarks are plentiful, from some of the world's largest sand dunes in the Liwa Oasis area to rugged rock formations in the Hajar Mountains.
The weekend in the UAE tends to run from Friday to Saturday, with Thursdays often being a half-day. Friday evenings can often be the busiest time and the biggest celebration of the weekend takes place then.
The major Islamic festival to be aware of is Ramadan, when the rhythm of everyday life changes drastically. It is usually observed at some point between June and August and lasts for approximately one month. It is a period of fasting, but the fast will be broken every evening with a celebratory meal (iftar) and then another meal will be taken just before sunrise (sohoor). After Ramadan is over, the festival of Eid ul-Fitr is held to celebrate the end of fasting for another year.
The climate is dry and hot and rainfall is very rare. The temperatures are most pleasant between October and March when it is warm but not unbearably so and it remains sunny. In the summer months, however, heat and humidity soar, sometimes reaching somewhere in the region of 50 degrees Celsius.
The UAE is a fascinating country and has a rich and interesting culture. The people are friendly and hospitable and are gradually getting used to a greater influx of tourists. It is important to show respect as most locals are devout Muslims, but this can sometimes be hidden behind the far-reaching Westernisation that has taken place, especially in the big cities, in recent years.
UAE Contact Numbers
- International dialling code: +971
- Police: 999 or 112
- Fire service: 997
- Ambulance: 998 or 999
- British Embassy (Abu Dhabi): +971 2 610 1100
- British Embassy (Dubai): +971 4 309 4444
The local currency is the United Arab Emirates dirham, abbreviated as AED, or dhs locally. The dirham works out at approximately 5 AED to 1 GBP. The dirham comes in note denominations ranging from 5 through to 1000 and in 1 AED coins. There are 100 fils to 1 dirham and 25 and 50 fils coins are also fairly common.
Health & Safety
The primary concern is the climate and if you're heading out into the desert, make sure to have plenty of food and water available and that someone knows where you're going and how long you'll be. Healthcare is good in the UAE and most food and drink preparation is to a high Western standard, especially in tourist areas.
The UAE may be an Islamic nation, but it is increasingly Westernised and much of what is on offer is targeted at British, European and American visitors. As such, most Western travellers will have no problem fitting in and feeling welcome.
Visas for the UAE
A 30-day visa will be provided free of charge upon arrival in the UAE and this can be extended to 90 days for a fee of 500 AED.
The plugs in the UAE are 220 volts, 50 hertz with the same design as the UK.
Most businesses are open long hours, but not always late into the evening. This changes during Ramadan, when many businesses are closed altogether during the day or only open limited hours.
Hello - MarHuba
Goodbye - Ma'assalaama
Thank you - Shukran
No - La'