Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
The UAE is a tolerant multi-cultural society with expatriates from over 150 countries forming over 80% of the population. While conservative, the Emirati Muslim culture welcomes foreigners. Both men and women work together in offices. Women can hold high positions of responsibility at government bodies and private business. UAE nationals wear the traditional national dress and women usually dress conservatively and modestly. Western women traveling to the UAE for business may find business attire trends somewhat more conservative than the United States.
As in many Middle Eastern countries, meetings can run late, and projects may experience postponements and extensions. Business visitors, however, are expected to be punctual for all appointments. It is important to respond to emails and other communications promptly.
In a meeting, the host will offer tea or coffee upon arrival. It is rude to decline. If Arabic coffee is on offer, you will be handed a coffee cup which should be held in your right hand, and when the coffee is poured from an elegant coffee pot, you should accept at least one cup. Your cup will be refilled at frequent intervals. If you do not want any more coffee, shake the cup slightly to show that you have had enough.
Formal greetings can take several minutes. It is considered impolite to begin addressing business topics without taking several minutes for small talk. Courtesy is more emphasized in the UAE than in typical U.S. business meetings and attention to titles is important. It is not customary to inquire about a person’s spouse. Business cards and gifts should be offered with the right, not left, hand.
Travelers should check the U.S. State Department website for the latest information.
U.S. citizens holding valid passports that are valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry may obtain no-fee visitor visas at the port of entry if the duration of the stay is less than 30 days. This visa does not permit employment in the UAE. For longer stays, separate visas are required.
A medical exam, including an HIV/AIDS test, is required to obtain either work or residence permits, and testing must be performed after arrival. This is a requirement for all expatriates and their dependents living in the UAE. The test must be conducted in the UAE by the Preventive Medicine Unit of the UAE Ministry of Health. A U.S. HIV/AIDS test is not accepted.
The Government of the UAE requires residents, including U.S. citizens, to have a National Identification Card. Americans who are working or living in the UAE should visit the Emirates Identity Authority website at https://www.ica.gov.ae/en/home.aspx for more information on card registration procedures and requirements.
For further information, travelers should visit the website of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington D.C. or contact them at 3522 International Court, NW Suite #400, Washington, DC 20008 or by telephone at (202) 243-2400.
The local currency is the UAE dirham (AED, but also sometimes abbreviated Dhs) which is divided into 100 fils. The dirham has been pegged to the USD at $1: AED 3.675 since 1980.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Foreign currencies and travelers checks can be exchanged in licensed exchange offices, banks, and hotels with a valid passport. Personal checks can be a bit trickier and many places won’t accept them. If you are shopping in the souks (markets) or in smaller shops, local currency cash is the best option.
A well-structured and expansive network of local and international banks, strictly controlled by the UAE Central Bank, offers a full range of commercial and personal services. Transfers can be made easily and the dirham is freely convertible. Banking hours vary, but banks usually operate 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Some banks have small branches based in malls, which are open until later times.
Most banks operate ATMs, which accept a range of cards. Most ATMs, while linked to a specific bank, are part of a central network so that bank card transactions go through with only a nominal charge. Common systems accepted around the UAE include MasterCard, VISA, American Express, Cirrus, and Plus networks. ATMs can be found in shopping malls, major supermarkets, gas stations, and at the airport. Normally, international cards have competitive exchange rates and are far more convenient than traditional traveler’s checks.
Currency exchange offices are available in the UAE and often offer rates superior to banks. They are often available in major malls and popular shopping districts. These offices normally operate Saturday to Thursday, from about 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and on Friday evenings. Many hotels will also exchange money and travelers checks at standard rates.
Telecommunications and Electronics
There are two telecommunication providers in the UAE:
- Etisalat (Emirates Telecommunications Corporation).
- Du (Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company).
Broadband and wireless connections are widely available at most hotels, malls, and airports.
Note: The UAE government restricts access to any content deemed “inappropriate” or “offensive” to the UAE’s religious, cultural, political, and moral values. These include access to adult content, selected social, networking, and dating websites, some religious and political websites, VoIP provider websites, selected media sites, websites related to gambling, and also content that constitutes a risk from cyber attacks including hacking, spyware, and phishing. Use of a Virtual Private Networks (VPN) for access to blocked websites is illegal under the UAE Cybercrime Law No. 5, and VPN use could result in stern punishments, up to a life sentence or a fine of between $13,500 to over $800,000 depending on the severity and seriousness of the cybercrime.
The UAE has an extensive mobile phone network. Pay-as-you-go cards are available for visitors who do not wish to use their home services. Most hotels offer guests internet access and Wi-Fi hotspots are provided at almost all cafes and malls.
The UAE electrical supply is 220 volts. Sockets suitable for three-pin 13 amp plugs of British standard design are the norm.
Getting around the UAE is easy, and taxis are reasonably priced and plentiful. They can be flagged down at the roadside or booked by phone or the taxi apps available for both iOS and Android platforms.
Taxi 24-hour dispatch centers:
- In Abu Dhabi 600 535353
- In Dubai 800 88088
Many taxi drivers speak English but are not always familiar with street names, so it helps to know exactly where you are going. Dubai has added Makani numbers to all buildings in Dubai, which uses unique coordinates to locate buildings. It’s very helpful to ask for the Makani number of the building that you are going to. It is also helpful to take the phone number of your destination with you in case you get lost or the roads to your destination are under construction. When using a taxi, always ask for a receipt in case you leave something behind, and the call center will be able to identify the vehicle and call the driver.
Dedicated family taxis available in four-seat or seven-seat options provide services dedicated to women and those traveling with children under ten years old. They also run a fleet of specially adapted luxurious Mercedes minivans equipped with trained drivers and the latest accessibility technologies to provide wheelchair access and safe, secure, and convenient options. It is recommended to book such services in advance to ensure that specific requirements are met.
Rideshare options are available. Uber operates a luxury chauffeur-driven service where passengers are charged by credit card and use a downloadable app to place orders. Careem (acquired by Uber) operates in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah. Careem is integrated with the Roads and Transportation Authority and standard taxis can also be ordered using this service. Prices are comparable but may fluctuate depending on demand for services.
All taxi companies service the airport in addition to specially registered airport taxis. The journey into town from the airport generally cost approximately $30 (AED 80-100).
Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken, and all roads and shop signs and restaurant menus are in both languages. Arabic can be a difficult language for Westerners, but a few Arabic words thrown in will find a warm reception.
- Hi: Salam aleykoum.
- Good morning: Sabah el kheer
- Good evening: Masaa el kheer
- Welcome! Hello!: Ahlen wa sahlen. Marhaba.
- How are you?: Kaifa alhal
- I’m fine, thanks: Ana bekhair, shukran
- Thank you (very much)!: Shukran (jazeelan)
- You’re welcome! (for thank you): Afwan
- Goodbye: Ma’a salama
A mini Arabic phrase book is available at the Abu Dhabi Tourism website.
Health care services in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are widely available.
There are numerous private and publicly operated facilities that are open to expats and visitors, including outpatient clinics and hospital facilities. Although quality of care varies between hospitals and providers, major hospitals have modern equipment and are staffed by a mix of Western and non-Western trained personnel and are prepared to handle health emergencies for visitors. U.S. health providers including the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic have a presence in the UAE.
Many facilities have achieved certification with well-recognized organizations such as the Joint Commission International. However, the care of complex patients may not be well coordinated, communication between providers is not optimum, and the use of Electronic Medical Records (EMR), while increasing, is not universal and can lead to redundancy or gaps in care. A strong primary care health system does not exist, and outpatient care is mostly specialty-based.
Many medications that are routinely available in the other regions, such as anti-depressants, psychiatric, pain, and hormonal medications are illegal without a proper prescription and have limited or no availability.
Most Western expatriates use private medical facilities and carry private health insurance. Some choose to return to their countries of origin for complex care, or to access providers with whom they feel more culturally comfortable. Significantly, for expats, health care is run as a business, and access to care is a privilege and not a right. Individuals without locally accepted insurance (including major U.S. insurance carriers) may be denied care even in emergencies if they are unable to provide up-front payment.
Public health services in the UAE have steadily improved. Clean water, healthy food supplies, and adequate housing are the norm. Childhood vaccination programs are well-established. There is a push to provide adequate and safe recreational venues to promote physical activity. There is adequate planning for disasters and trauma care. Pre-hospital care and ambulance services are catching up to western standards.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
Local Time: UTC/GMT+4 hours
The workweek in the UAE is Monday to Friday.
Effective January 1, 2022, the UAE Government adopted a four-and-a-half-day workweek from Monday to Friday, with Saturday and Sunday as the official weekend. The UAE Government work hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. (half-day) on Friday.
Many local businesses operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday. Visitors should plan appointments around these timings. Business meetings are rarely, if ever, held on the weekends, which is valued as family time.
Islamic holidays are based on the lunar calendar, although the UAE may shift holiday observances to the first or last day of the workweek. The official holiday is typically confirmed before the actual holiday.