What you need to know before traveling to United Arab Emirates

There are few places in the world quite like the United Arab Emirates. A loose confederation of seven different emirates, the nation operates as a group of independent states with shared values and political goals. Often referred to simply as the UAE, the Emirates boast a population of roughly 4.4 million and occupy a small slice of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. The UAE has shorelines along both the Gulf of Oman to the north and the Persian Gulf to the east. When you visit the UAE, you'll find an extreme mix of modern amenities, remote desert dunes, and craggy wadis along the border with Oman.

  • Key facts
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    The United Arab Emirates consists of seven, independent imarah (imarat, singular). Abu Dhabi is the largest and most powerful of the states, taking up roughly 2/3 of the space within the UAE. Not only is it the largest, the state's capital city of the same name (Abu Dhabi) is the capital of the UAE. Dubai is the most prominent of the states, and its capital city of the same name (Dubai) is the transport and commerce hub of the UAE. The five remaining emirates occupy a small slice of the nation along the north coast. These emirates include Ajman (the smallest), Fujairah, Ra's al Khaymah, Sharjah, and Umm al Quwain. While most visitors never travel outside of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, each of the other emirates have their own appeal. Sharjah is the cheapest destination in the UAE, followed by Ajman. Umm al Quwain is a peaceful destination that lacks the hustle and bustle of Dubai, for example.

    When you travel to the UAE, you'll find a culturally diverse vacation waiting. Although the official language is Arabic, Persian, English, Hindu, and Urdu are widely spoken as well. The wide range of languages spoken is a testament to the diverse ethnic and cultural heritage of residents in the UAE. Only 20% of the residents are native Emiratis. Almost 50% of those living in the UAE come from the subcontinent of India, specifically India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
    The official currency of the UAE is the Emirati Dirham (AED).
    You'll need a passport to gain entry into the UAE.
    There is no nationwide emergency number, but access to modern healthcare is widely available in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.
    The country code for the UAE is 971.
  • Weather & when to go
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    As you might expect, summer is a brutal time of year to visit the Arabian Peninsula. High temperatures in the summer months can reach 122 F (50 C), but the average high between late May and August is 105 F (40 C). During the summer months, not only do the temperatures soar, but the humidity can be stifling. The location of the UAE along the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf provides ample humidity in the air, which seems to wrap you in heat as the temperatures soar.
    The best time of year to visit the UAE falls between late October and March. High temperatures during this period average 85 F (27 C), with low temperatures averaging a very comfortable 63 F (15 C). The weather is often sunny throughout the UAE, even during the fall and winter, but rain is a common occurrence from November to February.
  • Getting around
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    Dubai is the best option for getting into the United Arab Emirates. The Dubai International Airport is the primary hub in the UAE, and is served by Emirates Airlines from New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto in the United States and Canada. The Abu Dhabi airport is your next best option for entry, with Etihad Airways offering flights from New York and Toronto.
    Dubai has invested heavily in a Metro system consisting of monorails and trams, with a growing bus network as well. Public transportation in other cities and emirates remains rudimentary. You must be 18 to drive a car in the UAE, but travel between the different emirates can be frustrating by car. While the UAE's infrastructure is modern, signage is poor and it can be difficult to navigate between cities, villages, and different regions.
  • Know before you go
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    As you prepare for your trip to the United Arab Emirates, there are a number of things you should keep in mind. Although the Emirates have a lot of Western amenities and appear similar to the West, cultural norms and religious beliefs create a stricter environment.
    The imarat of Sharjah is extremely conservative. While most of the emirates require a liquor license simply to purchase alcohol as a visitor, the entirety of Sharjah is dry.
    Although it is often ignored, a liquor license is required to prove you are a non-Muslim, and thus allowed to purchase and consume alcohol. You can expect to see this condition waived in Dubai, as the city is very liberal and cosmopolitan.
    You'll find plenty of Western shopping and dining options, but don't overlook the traditional souks. Here you'll find cultural treasures for sale, local spices, and rugs, to name a few.
    Politics creates numerous differences between the emirates. The ruling Sheiks (kings) of each region dictate political policy. While Dubai is forward-thinking, Ajman and Sharjah are extremely conservative regarding religion, alcohol, and general living.
    At this point, the UAE maintains laws making LGBT behavior and activities illegal. The penalty for expressing this behavior and belief ranges from fines to prison sentences. Keep that in mind when planning a trip to the UAE. Given the extreme heat of the UAE, it is vital that you remember to drink water. If you go exploring, keep bottled water handy to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
    As you walk along the streets of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and other cities, exercise extreme caution crossing roads. While these emirates are modern and the infrastructure is safe, there is a very high rate of automobile accidents. Crossing the road on foot can be quite dangerous.
  • Travel tips & recommendations
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    • The East Coast offers beautiful beaches for you to enjoy sunshine and cool waters.

    • Dubai has one of the world's finest malls, with many Western shops and brands.

    • Dress conservatively. Residents of the UAE are welcoming of foreigners, but revealing clothing can offend their cultural beliefs.

    • Friday and Saturday are considered the weekend in the UAE. Thursdays are often half-days.

    • Shops and business often remain closed on Fridays until after morning services at mosques.

    • If you visit during Ramadan, you'll find most local restaurants closed during daylight hours.

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