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United Arab Emirates travel guide

About United Arab Emirates

Comprised of little more than sand dunes, crumbling forts and fishing villages a century ago, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has grown into a show-stopping, headline-grabbing destination which offers an intriguing blend of traditional Islamic culture and rampant consumerism. 

Powered largely (but by no means exclusively) by oil wealth, the UAE today is defined by opulent resort hotels, ultra-modern architecture and a seemingly unending thirst for new and innovative mega-projects. Manmade islands in the shape of palm trees? Tick. Billionaire royals taking over Premiership football clubs? Tick. Tallest building on the planet? Naturally.

Seven separate emirates make up the country, but visitor attention falls mainly on Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both are home to an ever-growing spread of luxury accommodation, gourmet restaurants, branded nightclubs and gleaming shopping malls. Dubai’s most iconic sights include the sail-shaped “7-star” hotel Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper and the sea-themed Atlantis Resort, which are microcosms of the UAE’s lofty ambitions.

The regular fountain show in the Downtown area rivals that of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, while vast shopping complexes like Dubai Mall (complete with one of the world’s largest aquariums) and Mall of the Emirates (complete with ski slope) are packed with premium international labels.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, doesn’t have quite the same verve but boasts some remarkable attractions, from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the Ferrari World theme park. And in both destinations, there’s the option to delve into the UAE’s blend of Islamic culture and modernity, from spice souks to falcon hospitals. Meanwhile, the vast natural desert offers endless discoveries via exciting modes of transport from hot air balloon and quad bike to helicopter or sandboard.

And don’t be dazzled by Abu Dhabi and Dubai alone – the other emirates are also worthy of exploration. Among them, coastal Fujairah offers nature walks and a host of outdoor adventures, including mountain biking and scuba diving, while Ras al-Khamiah has excellent off-road driving and hiking in the rugged Hajar Mountains.

Key facts


83,600 sq km (32,278 sq miles).


9,269,612 (2016).

Population density:

99 per sq km.


Abu Dhabi.


Federation of seven autonomous emirates. The highest federal authority is the Supreme Council of Rulers comprising the absolute rulers of the seven emirates. Decisions reached by the council must have the agreement of at least five members, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two largest members. The council appoints a president to act as head of state. There are no political parties.

Head of state:

President Sheikh Khalifa ibn Zaid Al Nahayan since 2022.

Head of government:

Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum since 2006.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice

Before you travel 

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes: 

  • advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks 
  • information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated. 

Travel insurance 

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel. 

The authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you contact the UAE Embassy in the UK

COVID-19 rules 

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering UAE. 

Passport validity requirements

To enter the UAE, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive in the UAE.

If you have a residence permit, your passport’s expiry date must be at least 3 months after the date you arrive in the UAE.

If you’re travelling through the UAE and not passing through immigration, your passport must have an expiry date at least 3 months after the date you will transit.

Visa requirements

You can get a visitor or tourist visa issued free of charge when you arrive in the UAE. You do not need to apply in advance of travel. Your passport will be stamped with the visa as you go through immigration. It will be valid for up to 40 days.

You can be fined for overstaying your visa. If you want to extend your stay, contact:

Living and working in the UAE 

If you have entered Dubai on a visit visa and want to start working, you must get a probationary work permit valid for up to 3 months from the Ministry of Labour. If you are caught working on a visit visa, you could get a fine or a prison sentence, and you risk deportation. 

You risk arrest if you have lived or worked in the UAE and return when:

  • your previous visa is not in order - for example if you did not cancel your work visa
  • you have outstanding debts
  • you have an unresolved legal issue

If you have any doubt about your status before returning to the UAE seek advice from a local lawyer

If you have any questions on the validity or expiry of your visa, or on how to work or stay in the UAE, contact UAE Immigration directly: 

Residence visas

If you apply for a residence visa, you will have to take a blood test. If you test positive for any communicable diseases like HIV, hepatitis or tuberculosis, you may be detained and then deported, without appeal. Check the health and fitness requirements on the United Arab Emirates’ government portal.  

When applying for a UAE residence visa, it is common practice for your sponsor’s representative to give their details as the contact information on your application. When your residence visa is issued, update these details using ICP Smart System services. These details are used by the local authorities when they contact you.

Previous travel to Israel 

UAE immigration authorities have advised that British nationals with valid or expired Israeli visas or stamps in their passports should not face any difficulties entering the UAE as long as they do not intend to work. If you do intend to work, further checks may be required and there is a risk that entry may be refused. 

If you are a British-Israeli dual national and have any concerns about entering the UAE, contact the UAE Embassy in the UK.

Leaving the UAE 

If you are subject to a travel ban, involved in legal proceedings, have unpaid debt or are a child subject to a custody dispute, you may be prevented from leaving the UAE.

Vaccination requirements  

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need on TravelHealthPro

Customs rules 

There are strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of UAE. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty. 

It is illegal to bring pork products or pornography into the UAE. Videos, books, and magazines may be subject to scrutiny and may be censored. 


There are strict rules about what medications can be brought into the UAE. You will need approval from the UAE authorities to bring in medication that the UAE classes as narcotic, psychotropic, controlled or semi-controlled. 

You must request approval in advance to bring in medication. Apply online using the electronic application form on the UAE Ministry of Health website. The UAE authorities advise that applications are normally processed within 5 working days. 

If you arrive in the UAE without evidence of prior approval, the medication will not be allowed into the UAE and you may be prosecuted. For information on controlled medicines or the process for obtaining permission, contact the UAE Ministry of Health on or call +971 800 11111. 

In all cases, there are limits on the amount of medication that can be brought into the UAE legally. The Ministry of Health advise you can bring up to 3 months’ supply of medication as a visitor, reduced to one month’s supply if the medication is included in the list requiring approval. 

You do not need to complete this approval process if you are only transiting airside through a UAE airport and will not pass through UAE immigration to enter the UAE.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times. 

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad

Terrorism in the UAE 

Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the UAE.  

Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. 

Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. These include references to attacks on western interests, including against UK citizens. Targets may include:  

  • residential compounds 
  • military sites 
  • oil 
  • transport 
  • aviation interests  
  • crowded places 
  • restaurants  
  • hotels 
  • beaches 
  • shopping centres 
  • places of worship

Maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places and at public events.

Military activity in the Red Sea area       

Military activity is currently underway in response to attempts by Houthi militants to prevent movement of international shipping in the Red Sea. While the area of activity is limited to the Red Sea and Yemen, there is a possibility that Travel Advice for nearby countries could change at short notice. You should continue to monitor Travel Advice and follow any relevant instructions from local authorities.


Protecting your belongings 

Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.

Sexual assault 

Take care when walking or travelling alone, and use a reputable taxi company, particularly if you are female, and at night. Do not accept lifts from strangers. 

Personal attacks, including sexual assault and rape, are relatively rare, but do happen. A male who rapes a female will be given life imprisonment, and in some cases, prosecutors may request the death penalty. However, UAE law places a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that the sexual relations were not consensual, especially when the victim had consumed alcohol or where the alleged attacker was known to the victim. If the sexual relations are determined to have been consensual, either party may still face prosecution for the offence of sex outside marriage.  

Drink and food spiking 

Do not accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended in bars and clubs. Criminals can spike drinks in order to assault or rob you.

Property scams 

If you want to buy property in the UAE, seek appropriate professional advice as you would in the UK. FCDO keeps a list of lawyers for Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Laws and cultural differences 

The UAE is a Muslim country. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions. Make sure your actions do not cause offence, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you visit religious areas. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK but is in the UAE.  

Your passport

UAE employers may ask foreign employees to deposit their passports with the company as part of their terms and conditions of employment. This is illegal under UAE labour law. 

It is normal practice for hotels to take a photocopy of your passport or Emirates ID.

Hotel regulations

You cannot stay in a hotel if you’re under 18 years old and not accompanied by an adult.   

Pedestrian crossings 

Only cross roads using designated pedestrian crossings, it is illegal to cross in other places. Take care when crossing, as vehicles often do not stop at zebra crossings marked on the roads. 


Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. The dates vary by year and country. During this time, it may cause offence if you: 

  • eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public in the daytime, including in your car 
  • play loud music or dance 
  • swear in public 

Find out how Ramadan is observed in the UAE or get more advice when you arrive from your tour guide, hotel or business contacts. 

You should also: 

  • check opening hours of shops and restaurants 
  • be aware that if hotels and restaurants are providing food or drink in fasting hours, they may separate you from Islamic guests, for example with screens 
  • follow local dress codes – clothing that does not meet local dress codes may cause more offence at this time 
  • be aware that driving may be erratic, particularly when people are trying to get home at dusk 
  • be patient and show tolerance - fasting can cause tiredness, particularly during the late afternoon and early evening 

Dress code 

Dress modestly in public areas like shopping malls: 

  • women should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible  
  • swimming attire should only be worn on beaches or at swimming pools
  • cross-dressing is illegal 

Swearing and rude gestures 

Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are illegal as they are considered obscene acts. You can be jailed or deported. Take particular care when dealing with the police and other officials. 

Public displays of affection 

Public displays of affection are frowned upon, you can be arrested for kissing in public. 

Sexual relationships outside marriage 

Consensual sexual relationships between a male and female outside marriage are generally legal as long as both are over the age of 18 years. This includes extra-marital sexual relationships. However, if either person’s spouse or parent/guardian files a criminal complaint, then both parties of an extra-marital consensual relationship can get a prison sentence of 6 months or longer. 

If a person aged 18 or over has a sexual relationship with a person under 18 years old, they will be prosecuted for having a sexual relationship with a minor. If both people are under 18 years of age they will both be prosecuted but punishment is likely to be limited to a caution, parental supervision, judicial supervision, professional training or psychiatric treatment. 

If you are unmarried and give birth to a child in the UAE, you will only be able to get a local birth certificate if:  

If you become pregnant outside of marriage, you may not be covered by your medical insurance. Consult your medical insurance provider before getting pregnant, or giving birth in the UAE. 

Financial crime 

Financial crimes, including fraud and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills) can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Bank accounts and other assets can also be frozen. 

If you are arrested for a financial crime and are not resident in the UAE, it is likely that you will not be allowed bail. If you are convicted, you may not be released from prison until the debt is paid or waived and your full sentence is served. 

You must have permission to bring weapons and related equipment into the UAE, or to transit through the UAE with them, no matter how small the quantity or the purpose. This includes items such as ammunition, body protection items, cleaning kits and gun belts. If you intend to bring restricted items to the UAE, read the UAE customs clearance portal

Alcohol laws and bans 

Drinking alcohol, or having alcohol in your possession, is illegal in the city of Sharjah, 30km north of Dubai. 

It is illegal to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in a public place anywhere in the UAE. British nationals have been arrested and charged under this law, often in cases where they have come to the attention of the police for a related offence, such as disorderly or offensive behaviour. 

The legal age for purchasing and drinking alcohol is 21 in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the Northern Emirates except Sharjah, where drinking and having alcohol in your possession is illegal. 

If you are resident in Dubai and want to buy alcohol to drink at home, you must get a liquor licence. Liquor licences are no longer required for residents in the other Emirates. 

Liquor licences are not required in Dubai to purchase and consume alcohol in licenced venues like hotel bars, restaurants, and pubs. However a liquor licence is required for consuming alcohol in private places like homes or private parties. While this requirement might not be strictly enforced in private settings, it remains a legal requirement.  

Outside licensed venues, alcohol is only available to purchase with a liquor licence from the two official liquor distributors in Dubai, MMI and African & Eastern. Tourists can get a temporary liquor licence which is valid for one month, from either supplier. This licence is only for use in Dubai.   

Liquor licences are not required for non-residents in the other Emirates; it is possible for tourists and visitors to buy and drink alcohol in licensed venues, such as hotels, restaurants and clubs.  

Illegal drugs and prison sentences 

There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offences.  

The penalties for trafficking, smuggling, using and possessing illegal drugs (including residual amounts) are severe. Sentences for drug trafficking can include the death penalty. Possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum 3-month prison term or a fine of between AED20,000 and AED100,000. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession.  

Some herbal highs and products containing cannibidoil (CBD) are illegal in the UAE.  

Possessing, concealing or making transactions with money from drugs related offences is a crime, which can lead to imprisonment and a fine. 

UAE airports have excellent technology and security for detecting illegal items. This is also used to scan the baggage of transiting passengers. Passengers, including transiting passengers, carrying even residual amounts of drugs may be arrested. 

Some skincare products and E-cigarette refills may contain ingredients that are illegal in the UAE such as CBD oil. If you are found in possession of such products, they will be confiscated from you and you may face criminal charges. A list of narcotic, psychotropic and controlled drugs where this rule applies, allowed quantities and documents to be presented can be found on the UAE Ministry of Health website

Fundraising and charitable acts 

Fundraising and acts of charity are heavily regulated in the UAE. This includes online and social media activity. Check whether any of the activity you are planning to do in the UAE, or whilst passing through the UAE, is illegal. Seek legal advice if necessary. 

Using cameras and binoculars in secure areas 

It is illegal to take photos of some government buildings and military installations. Hobbies like bird watching and plane spotting may be misunderstood, particularly near military sites, government buildings and airports.  

Do not photograph people without their permission. Men have been arrested for photographing women on beaches. 

It is illegal to post material (including videos and photographs) online that is critical of the UAE government, companies or individuals, or which relates to incidents in the UAE. This includes material which appears to abuse, ridicule or criticise the country or its authorities. Material that is culturally insensitive, may also be considered illegal. 

Technical equipment 

You may need a licence for the use of equipment like satellite phones, listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars. Seek advice from the UAE Embassy in the UK.  

Media activity 

You must apply for the appropriate permissions to carry out media activity, including the production, transmission and/or distribution of printed, digital, audio, video and/or visual information. Failure to do so could result in imprisonment and a substantial fine. 

Information about media activity and how to obtain the necessary permits can be accessed by registering on the National Media Council website. 

LGBT+ travellers 

All same sex activity is illegal in the UAE, and same-sex marriages are not recognised. 

The UAE is in many respects a tolerant society and private life is respected, although there have been some reports of individuals being punished for same sex activity, particularly where there is any public element, or where the behaviour has been accused of causing offence. This applies both to expatriate residents and to tourists. See our information and advice page for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism  

Swimming safety 

Rip currents can occur at any beach, and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Check for warning signs, especially red flags which mean that swimming is dangerous. Only swim from approved beaches where a lifeguard and flags indicating it is safe to swim are present. 

Transport risks  


Use only licensed taxis or other recognised forms of public transport including the ‘Careem’ and ‘Uber’ apps. In Dubai authorised taxis are painted cream with different coloured roofs – taxis with pink roofs have female drivers. In Abu Dhabi taxis are painted silver/grey.  

Road travel  

If you are planning to drive in the UAE, see information on driving abroad and check the UAE traffic portal.  

If you’re visiting the UAE, you can drive a rental car using your UK driving licence. If you intend to drive a private vehicle as a visitor, check that you’re covered under the vehicle’s insurance. 

If you’re applying for residence in the UAE, you can use your UK licence until your residence permit is issued, after which you’ll need to immediately get a UAE driving licence from the traffic department. 

Police in the UAE have the power to impound your car for traffic violations that may be considered minor in the UK. They will charge a fee of Dirham 50,000 plus a traffic violation fine to release your car.   

Driving standards are not always as disciplined as in the UK and there is a high rate of traffic accidents. Speeding is common, despite clearly signposted legal limits and widespread use of speed cameras. 

It is illegal to drink and drive, no matter how small the amount, and your insurance is likely to be invalidated in the event of an accident.  

Offensive gestures and bad language directed at other drivers can lead to fines, a jail sentence, and possibly deportation.  

Flashing headlights can mean a driver is coming through, rather than giving way to you. 

If you have an accident you should follow the rules of the Emirate in which you are travelling: 

  • in Abu Dhabi, if no one has been hurt and vehicle damage is minor, move your vehicle to the side of the road to avoid blocking traffic; otherwise, you should not move your vehicle 
  • in Dubai, only move your vehicle if it is causing an obstruction to other motorists 
  • in the other Emirates, only move your car if the accident is minor and both parties agree who is responsible.  
  • in all cases, call the police. It is illegal to leave the scene of an accident before the police have arrived 

Driving in the desert 

Excursions to the desert can be dangerous unless you’re in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle. Always travel with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone, and leave a copy of your travel plans with relatives, friends or where you are staying.  

If you join a tour for driving in the desert or quad-biking, make sure your go with a reputable company who have adequate health and safety procedures.  

Always check that such activities are covered by your insurance. 

Sea travel 

Be careful when travelling by tourist boat. The safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available for all passengers.  

Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected by the competent authority in the area. Mariners should make careful enquiries with local relevant authorities before entering these waters. 

You should consider how regional tensions may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.

Extreme weather and natural disasters


Heavy rain in the UAE can cause flooding. Check weather forecasts from the National Centre of Meteorology, and follow advice from the local authorities. Sources for up to date information include local radio and online media outlets The National and The Khaleej Times.

Before you travel check that: 

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need 
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation 

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant. 

Emergency medical number 

Dial 998 and ask for an ambulance. 

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment. 

Vaccinations and health risks 

At least 8 weeks before your trip check: 


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. In the UAE, some UK prescribed and over the counter medicines are considered controlled substances and cannot be brought into the country without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health.  

You must request approval in advance to bring certain medication into the UAE. Apply online using the electronic application form on the UAE Ministry of Health website. The UAE authorities advise that applications are normally processed within 5 working days. 

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro

Healthcare facilities in the UAE 

FCDO provides a list of English-speaking doctors in the UAE.   

Healthcare facilities in the UAE are similar to those in the UK, but visitors may be prevented from using them without travel insurance or without the means to settle any medical fees. You may be prevented from leaving the UAE if you are unable to settle your medical bill. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. 

COVID-19 healthcare in the UAE

Emirates and Etihad Airways provide COVID-19 information for travellers.

You can use the Al Hosn App to demonstrate your COVID-19 vaccination status and test results.

Travel and mental health 

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel. 

Emergency services in the UAE  

Ambulance: 998 

Fire: 997 

Police: 999 

If you’re in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi or the British Embassy in Dubai.  

Contact your travel provider and insurer 

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do. 

Refunds and changes to travel 

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first. 

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including: 

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider 
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim 

Support from FCDO 

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including: 

Contacting FCDO 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated. 

Help abroad in an emergency 

If you’re in the UAE and need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi or the British Embassy in Dubai

You can also contact FCDO online

FCDO in London 

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad. 

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours) 

Living in the United Arab Emirates 

If you are thinking of moving to, or already live in the United Arab Emirates, see our living in the United Arab Emirates guide

Risk information for British companies  

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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