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To assist expatriates and travelers going to the UAE, we’ve created a quick guide on various topics of interest in the UAE.
- Banking Practices
- Emergency Assistance
- Laws and Local Culture
- Visa Information
- Travel Tips
Expatriates or travelers going to the UAE can contact UAE Medical Insurance for more information. All our services are free. Our local experience and knowledge can help answer any questions related to healthcare or insurance in the UAE.
Contact our team today.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), located in the southeast region of the Arabian Peninsula, is bordered by Oman to the east, Saudi Arabia to the west, and the Persian Gulf to the north. The UAE is made up of seven emirates, Abu Dhabi, Aiman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain, which are each ruled by an emir. The UAE has one of the most developed economies in West Asia, which is largely supported by its abundant oil reserves. Its exotic landscape and geographical location combined with its world-renowned infrastructure makes it a popular destination for tourists and expatriates.
The UAE government is comprised of a constitutional monarchy with a presidential system of government. Although the president and prime minister are supposed to be elected, the positions are essentially hereditary, with the Abu Dhabi emir serving as the president and the Dubai emir serving as the prime minister. Healthcare legislature, policies, regulations are formulated by the Supreme Council, which is made up of the emirs of the seven emirates. Although the UAE central governing body can propose and ratify national laws, the emirates still maintain strong administrative control over their individual territories. For example, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have their own separate healthcare governing bodies, and do not follow national healthcare laws and policies.
Standards of healthcare in the UAE are considered to be very high. The government has traditionally highly prioritized its healthcare sector, and has gradually increased government spending, especially during good economic years. The UAE government’s total expenditure on healthcare from 1996 to 2003 was estimated to be around $436 million USD. In 2006, total expenditures on healthcare made up 2.6 percent of the UAE’s gross domestic product (GDP). Healthcare is free for all UAE citizens, but very expensive for expatriates without insurance. The government is currently working on creating a health insurance scheme for expatriates working in the Emirates.
As of 2010, both Abu Dhabi and Dubai had mandated employer provided health insurance coverage. Although most western expatriate workers enjoy health insurance from their employer under this law, most of the time the quality of the insurance packages are quite low and offer limited coverage. Better, more comprehensive health insurance packages may be offered in order to attract high-level senior executives. However, the majority of western expatriates will opt to purchase their own separate insurance in order to supplement the insurance package provided by their employer.
Although the mandate is in effect, enforcement may sometimes be limited especially for expatriate workers of South Asian origin. Many expatriate workers who are enticed by the higher wages come to the UAE only to find that they are the victims of an illegal human trafficking industry. Many workers soon become debt-ridden indentured servants with their passports confiscated. The cramped, squalid, unsanitary housing conditions for these victims are often subject to international criticism. For almost all of these workers, there are no employer-provided health insurance schemes in place.
As of 2005, there were 18 hospital beds, 17 doctors, 30 dentistry personnel, and 40 pharmaceutical personnel per 10,000 people. The life expectancy in the UAE is 78.5, which is the highest in the Arab world and higher than the US. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the UAE healthcare system as fourth in the world. As with many highly developed countries, the UAE’s principle cause of death is cardiovascular diseases. Diabetes and cancer are also major causes of death.
In February 2008, the UAE Ministry of Health proposed a five-year public health program only for the northern emirates. As mentioned before, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have their own separate healthcare governing authorities. The program seeks to unify healthcare policy of all the northern emirates and improve access to healthcare services. The Ministry of Health’s program is designed to reduce dependency on overseas treatment. To achieve this goal, the ministry’s strategy is to add 3 hospitals, and 29 primary healthcare facilities.
Expatriates and travelers who are planning to travel to the UAE are advised to purchase an international medical insurance policy beforehand. Healthcare services in the UAE can be very expensive without insurance coverage. For example, a regular doctor’s consultation in Dubai can cost $120 USD per visit, not including additional medication or diagnostic procedures costs. It is also important to make sure that your policy provides emergency evacuation coverage. Although the UAE provides excellent healthcare services, if you are injured or seriously ill in a remote area, emergency evacuation may be required. Emergency evacuation transportation expenses with a medical insurance plan can cost as much as $100,000 USD.
Travelers should make sure that all their vaccinations are up-to-date. Recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, rabies, measles, mumps, tetanus-diptheria, and rubella. In addition, travelers are recommended to carry diarrhea medicine, as traveler’s diarrhea is one of the most common ailments of travelers. Most cases are mild, and can be treated with adequate fluids and rest.
UAE Medical Insurance can assist you with any international, travel, or health insurance needs if you decide to travel to UAE. We offer professional advice at no cost to you. No matter what your budget is or what your requirements are, our professional consultants can help find a policy that fits you or your group. Policies can cover a wide range of services including dental, maternity, specialist consultation, transportation, inpatient services, and many more. Please contact us today for a free consultation.
Banking Practices in the UAE
The UAE’s official currency is the United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED), frequently just referred to as the “dirham.” Dirham notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 denominations. Dirham coins are further subdivided into 5, 10, 50, and 100 fils, although the 5 fils are rarely seen or used.
It may be a bit difficult for visitors or new expatriates to get used to the currency initially because coins’ values are written only in Eastern Arabic numerals, but notes’ values are written both in Arabic and Eastern Arabic numerals. Arabic numerals are typically what most western countries used, while Eastern Arabic numerals refer to the numbering system used in many Arab countries.
You can refer to the “Laws and Local Culture” page to learn more about the Eastern Arabic numeral system.
Money can be easily exchanged in most shopping malls, airports, and major city center areas. The dirham is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of $3.67 AED to $1 USD.
Generally, the best exchange rates can be found in the most popular urban areas from private moneychangers.
Only holders of a UAE resident visa can have a bank account. The UAE banking network is quite efficient. Unlike western working days, banks are only opened from Sunday through Thursdays from 8am to 1pm. Friday and Saturday are considered the “weekend” in the UAE because Friday is a Muslim holy day where Junmah prayers take place.
Generally visitors can use most internationally recognized credit card companies, such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, etc. in the UAE. However, if you applied for this credit card in another country, it is highly likely that you will be charged an international fee, which can vary from company to company. It is advised that you inform your credit card company before coming to the UAE to avoid a fraud block from being placed on your card once you use it.
One of the easiest ways to get money in the UAE. Most shopping centers, and major urban areas will have a variety of ATMs that can accept Visa, Mastercard, Union Pay cards. However, be warned that there is typically a withdrawal fee imposed by your company. To find out the withdrawal fee, contact your bank for more information.
Lost Credit Card
If you lose your credit card, you can call one of the local or toll free numbers below:
|American Express04 336 5000||Head Office00973 228811|
|Diner's Club349 8200||MasterCard International332 2956|
|Visa800 4420/331 9690||Head Office(150)0013105813836|
|HSBC800 4440||Citibank800 4000|
|Emirates Bank International800 4080||Mashreq Bank800 4010|
|Standard Chartered800 4884 / 04 3520455||Commercial Bank of Dubai800 4474|
|National Bank of Dubai800 4767/04 223 3166|
UAE Medical Insurance has many years of local experience. Through our knowledge of local healthcare networks and international insurers, we can help you decide the medical insurance plan that is appropriate for you and your family.
Traveling to a new country can be an exciting time, and the UAE has a relatively low crime rate. However, in the event that you are injured, ill, or the victim of a crime, it is important to know where to look for help.
UAE ambulances are much smaller than the ones in western countries. Ambulances are generally used by hospitals for transporting car accident victims. If you need to get medical treatment immediately, a taxi will probably be faster. You can also use your own transportation. However, be warned that UAE cities may be difficult to navigate for someone who has just arrived in the country. If you are not familiar with where the nearest hospital is, it is better to take a taxi.
In most areas, there will be at least a few pharmacies that are open 24 hours a day. You can contact the 24-hour emergency hotline to ask for the closest pharmacy near you at 04 2232323.
Below is a list of emergency numbers that you can call. It is highly advised that you keep a copy of this list, especially if this is your first time traveling to the UAE.
- Police: 999
- Ambulance: 998/999
- Fire: 997
- Electricity and Water: 991
- General Information: 101
- Airport Enquiries (Dubai): 04-2066666
- Telephone Directory: 180 / 181
- Taxis (Dubai): 04-2080808
- Emergency (Abu Dhabi): 344 663
- Municipality Emergency Number
Abu Dhabi: 02 777 929
Dubai: 04 2232323
- Dubai Hospital
Al Wasl 04-3341111
Dubai Hospital 04-2714444
Rashid Hospital 04-3371111
American Hospital (Private) 04-3367777
Wellcare Hospital (Private) 04-2827788
- Abu Dhabi
Central Hospital 02-6214666
Mafraq Hospital 02-5823100
- Sharjah Hospitals
New Al Qassimi Hospital 06-5386444
Kuwaiti Hospital 06-5242111
Dhaid Hospital 06-8822221
Zulehka Hospital 06-5378866
Al Zahra Hospital 06-5619999
- Ras Al Khaimah Hospitals
Saqr Hospital 07-2223666
Saif Bin Ghobash Hospital 07-2223555
Ghobash Hospital 07-2223555
- Al Ain
Al Ain Hospital 03-7635888
Travelers should be careful when seeking medical treatment in the UAE. Although the UAE has an exceptionally high quality healthcare system, the prices for non-UAE citizens can be very high. Without medical insurance coverage, the costs for a serious injury or illness, especially at private hospitals, can be astronomical. In most cases, payment will also be expected immediately. By law, private hospitals are required to post up their treatment fees, so you can always request a copy before receiving treatment.
With an international medical insurance plan, policyholders would not have to worry about checking the costs of medical services before receiving treatment. An emergency situation is stressful enough. The last thing that a person wants to think about is costs for the treatment. With our insurers, members can be covered no matter where they are or what they need treatment for. We have a wide network of hospitals in the UAE that offers direct billing. If members need further assistance, the insurers we work with offer a 24-hour hotline that policyholders can call for support.
To learn more about emergency assistance in the UAE or how we can assist you in finding an international medical insurance policy appropriate for your unique needs, contact us today to receive a free information pack and comparison table of leading insurers in your area. As always, our service is completely free, so feel free to utilize our expertise in finding the insurance policy suitable for you or your family.
The UAE formed in 1971 as a unification of the seven independent sheik-ruled emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairaj, Ras al-Khaiman, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain. As a result, the culture of the area can vary from emirate to emirate. For example, while Dubai is very tolerant of other cultures and religions because of its influences from its large expatriate community, other emirates may expect visitors to adhere more strictly to local laws and customs.
The overall culture of the UAE is heavily influenced by Islamic traditions and beliefs, with around 96 percent of the population identifying themselves as Muslims. However, even with a Muslim majority, the UAE is a very tolerant country that respects different religions and cultures. Many Christian and Catholic churches, Hindu temples, and Sikh Gurudwara can be found in the UAE. There are also many Western and Asian-operated restaurants, businesses, and schools. A large expatriate and urban population also promotes the inter-mixing of cultures and values.
Realizing the influences that a large foreign national population can have on a local culture, the UAE government, through the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, has launched programs with the aim of preserving the traditional art and culture of the UAE.
Major Holidays and Ramadan
The majority of public holidays in the UAE are Islamic holidays. However, there are also other holidays that are observed. In the UAE, the following list of days are considered to be public holidays:
New Years Day
This is the same New Year’s Day that is observed in many western countries on January 1st.
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Fitr is a 3-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan, and the beginning of the next month on the Islamic calendar. Typically, UAE residents will enjoy 2 days off from work in the private sector and around 5 to 6 days in the public sector. The start and end date for each year is generally not announced until close to the end of Ramadan, as it is dependent on the moon. This is generally a busy time for travelers and tourists, as many UAE residents will take this opportunity to take their families away for holiday.
Lailat al-Qadr, the Night of Value, is believed to be the night that the Islamic prophet Muhammad received the first verses of the Qur’an from Allah. Muslims will generally devote extra time for prayers, worship, and reflection during this time. There is no historical record in the Qur’an as to the specific date of Lailat al-Qadr, but it is accepted that Lailat al-Qadr occurs sometime in the last ten odd nights of Ramadan. Generally, in Islamic countries, Lailat al-Qadr is observed on the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 29th night of Ramadan.
Eid Al Adha
Eid Al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, celebrates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael. Abraham and Ishmael’s devotion and obedience to Allah is rewarded when Allah replaces Ishmael with a ram instead. To this day, a ram is typically sacrificed during Eid Al Adha, and its meat divided into three parts. One part is given to relatives, another is kept by the family, and the last is given to the poor and needy. As with Ramadan and Lailat al-Qadr, Eid Al Adha is dependent on the moon, and the exact date changes from year to year.
Islamic New Year
The Islamic New Year marks the beginning of the new Islamic calendar year. As the Islamic calendar is based on moon sightings, this date can change from year to year. Typically, most workers will get this day off, and there will be no alcohol served in bars or restaurants in observation of this day.
Ahoora lands on the 10th of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. This holiday commemorates the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Husain, in battle. Typically, workers will receive one day off.
The Islamic prophet Muhammad’s birthday is observed in the Rabi’ al-awwal month of the Islamic calendar. The exact date is different for different sects, and every year because the Islamic character is based on moon sightings. Typically, it is sometime from January through March. In the UAE, workers receive one day off. However, this day may sometimes be changed in order to create a three-day weekend.
National Day, 2nd December
The UAE National Day celebrates the unification of the 7 emirates. It is always on December 2nd. Typically, workers will receive 2 – 3 days off, depending on the sector and company.
One of the most important Islamic events of the year is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, also known as Ramadan. Ramadan, which has a state date that may vary from year to year depending on the moon, is a time of fasting, religious devotion, and worship for Muslims. During this period, all UAE residents over the age of 12 in good physical and mental health, including non-Muslims, must abstain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public from sunrise to sunset. There are some rumors that people have been jailed for being caught breaking the fast in public. However, it is more likely that you will receive a fine of about 1000 to 2000 DHS ($270 USD - $545 USD). Of course, the penalty also depends on where you are. As mentioned earlier, some emirates adhere more closely to Islamic law than others. If you are caught breaking the law in Sharjah, you are likely to be penalized more harshly than if you were caught breaking the law in Dubai. However, even in Dubai, sentences or penalties for crimes committed during Ramadan are likely to be more severe than crimes committed outside of Ramadan.
Most commercial businesses and bureaucratic activities will slow down considerably during this period. The majority of businesses and government divisions will be closed from 2pm to 4pm. Iftar, which is sunset, signals the end of fast for the day. Often many businesses or government offices may also reopen for a few hours after Iftar. Almost all restaurants are closed during the day, but open with extended hours after Iftar. Most supermarkets are open, but does not permit food or beverage consumption on their premises. There may also be room service or dine-in areas in large hotels and shopping centers. The rules may change from year to year and region to region. If you are not sure about the rules of Ramadan, it is highly advisable to check with your local government for a full list of restrictions and rules.
The weekends in the UAE are on Friday and Saturday. Because Friday is a Muslim holy day, the weekends are different from what many westerns may be accustomed to. However, many international companies may require their non-Muslim workers to work on Fridays in order to conduct business with companies based in other countries. Please note that other Islamic countries may choose to observe their weekend on Thursday and Friday, instead of Friday and Saturday.
The official language of the UAE is Arabic. However, it is easy for expatriates and visitors who speak other languages to communicate with most people. English, the most commonly used second language, is the language of trade and business, along with Arabic. Most signs and information will be printed in both Arabic and English. In addition, Urdu, Hindi, and Farsi are also major languages in the UAE, as many foreign nationals are from India, South East Asia, and other regions. However, outside of the major cities, English may not be as commonly spoken.
It is important to be aware of UAE customs and culture. Proper manners and respectful behavior is an integral part of UAE customs. Not only is it important for day-to-day interactions, it is absolutely necessary in order to run a business.
It is expected that people are polite and respectful to elders. People in the UAE also consider it disrespectful to eat with the left hand. When entering the house of a friend, remember to take off your shoes. If you are a guest at a friend’s house, it is not polite to show a liking for anything in the house, as the owner will feel obliged by customs to offer it as a gift to the visitor. One of the most important aspects of UAE traditions is to be very respectful of women. Do not take pictures or speak with UAE women, unless you have received permission from a male member of the family to do so.
Women and men in the UAE will typically adhere to local dress customs in public or while conducting business, but many will dress in western clothing in their own homes. In public, men will typically wear a Khandura, which is a full-length white shirt-dress along with a white or red headdress, called a gutra. Women in public will wear a long black robe called a abaya, with a headscarf. Some also will choose to wear a burqa, which completely hides the face, except for a small opening for the eyes.
Foreign nationals and tourists are not expected to dress in the local dress. In some emirates, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they can even wear bikinis in designated areas. However, it is advised that tourists, men and women alike, dress more modestly in public. For men, this means always wearing a shirt and avoiding shorts. For women, this means covering up the shoulders, chest, legs, and arms.
Because of the growth of the tourism industry in many parts of the UAE, night clubs, bars, hotels, and restaurants have flourished. Alcohol consumption is allowed in bars and night clubs in the more tolerant emirates. Some restaurants in designated areas that are out of the sight of the public are also allowed to serve alcohol. However, do not act drunk in public or you may find yourself sent to jail or having to pay a hefty fine. Many other areas and emirates such as Sharjah will not serve alcohol. In more conservative or rural areas, it is nearly impossible to find an establishment that sells or serves alcohol.
There is a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Do not risk even having one drink and driving. The penalties can be very severe.
Non-Muslim residents are allowed to purchase and have alcohol in their homes if they have a alcohol license. Residents can apply for this at their local government department. Visitors are also able to bring in up to 4 liters of alcohol from the duty free store in the international airports.
People of all nationals are required to apply for a visa before entry with the exception of nationals from the following 33 countries:
Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Spain, Monaco, Vatican City, Iceland, Andorra, San Marino and Liechtenstein, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and GCC countries i.e. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The UAE immigration office will issue citizens of the countries above a free Visit Visa that is valid for 30 days upon entry.
All nationals must have a passport that is valid for 90 days or more from the date of entry.
Types of Visas
Visit Visas: Visit visas are issued to travelers who need to stay for less than 30 days in the UAE. As mentioned above, visit visas are free upon entry for nationals of the above 33 countries.
Tourist Visas: Tourist visas are a special category of visit visas. A tourist visa allows the holder to stay for 3 days and is non-renewable. Tourist visas require hotel or tour sponsorships. There is a 100AED fee. There may also be additional fees for delivery service and processing fees imposed by the hotel or tour operators.
Tourist visas are typically issued to nationals from:
Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Albania, Russia, the Hellenic Republic, St Kitts-Navis, St Lucia, Mexico, Cuba, Bermuda, Belize, Guyana, French Guiana, Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent, Jamaica, Palao other non-defined American nationalities, Thailand, South Africa, Singapore, China, Malta, Cyprus.
Transit Visa or Stopover Visa: Transit Visas are for individuals who are traveling through UAE airports. They are mandatory and can be only issued to passengers who have a valid ticket for an onward flight by an airline that has an office in the UAE. The transit visa is valid for only 96 hours.
Multiple Entry Visa: Multiple entry visas are frequently issued to businessmen who often have to leave and enter the UAE. It is typically valid for 6 months upon date of issue. Each stay may not exceed 30 days.
Types of Business Visas
Investor Visa: Issued to expatriate investors in partnership with an UAE citizen, with a requirement of the foreign investor to have a minimum stake of Dh70,000 in the share capital. Visa is valid for three years.
Employment Visa: Issued to foreign nationals who will work for a company in the UAE. The employer will typically arrange the employment visa.
Documents required for UAE Visas
- Valid passport
- 1 passport-size, color photographs
- Letter from applicant's company/organization for business visas
- Proof of sponsorship
- 2 completed visa application forms
UAE Medical Insurance is an international insurance broker that operates out of the UAE. We are familiar with local laws and regulations. In addition to helping you with your travel plans, we can also provide you with free medical insurance advice.
The UAE is a beautiful country filled with cultural history, activities, and sights to see. However, tourists and travelers should keep in mind the weather conditions, public holidays, local customs, and safety when they are planning a trip to the UAE.
Trips to the Middle East in general should be taken from October to April because the summers in this region can be extremely hot and humid. Summer temperatures can reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius. If you really cannot schedule your trip for any other time, there are still plenty of indoor activities to do. Dubai boasts the world’s largest mall, which has an aquarium, Discovery Center, ice skating rink, movie theatre, and over 1,200 stores and restaurants.
Travelers should also keep in mind public and religious holidays. The month of Ramadan, which occurs in either the same month or the previous month that it occurred the year before, depending on the cycle of the moon, is a holy time for Muslims. This means that visitors are required by law to be respectful of the fast that Muslims are undergoing, and also refrain from eating, smoking, or drinking in public. Breaking this law can result in a heavy fine or even jail time depending on where you are and the severity of the crime that you have committed. Many restaurants and businesses will be closed or very slow until after sunset in observation for Ramadan. Always respect local traditions. This includes not taking photographs of government areas or people without permission.
There are no major health concerns or vaccinations required for visitors traveling to the UAE. However, you are advised to check for health warnings before departure. Always use sunscreen as the desert sun can be very harsh. Be careful of what types of medicine you bring into the UAE. Many prescription drugs that are considered legal in your home country may be illegal in the UAE. Check with the UAE government to make sure that your drugs are allowed in the UAE, and always carry a doctor’s note. Penalties for illegal drugs can be as severe as jail time or even a death penalty.
Healthcare in the UAE is of very high quality, but can also be very expensive without medical insurance. Travelers are strongly advised to take out an international medical insurance policy before departure to avoid the risks of astronomical health treatment expenses.