Emiratis can now travel through Europe without applying for visas after the European Parliament on Wednesday waived requirements.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, applauded the move after the UAE and European Union signed a Schengen Area visa waiver agreement yesterday at a ceremony in Brussels.
The waiver allows UAE citizens to travel through the 26 Schengen countries without applying for visas, as well as eight non-Schengen states.
“Our UAE citizens have the full right to feel proud of their leadership, which exerts every possible effort to take care of their welfare internally, as well as anywhere else in the world,” Sheikh Abdullah said.
“And they can be genuinely loyal to our dear country, which provides its citizens with a decent life that conforms to high international standards.”
The move makes the UAE the first Arab country to be granted free entry to the Schengen zone. It means Emiratis can stay in Schengen zone countries for 90 days in any 180-day period.
After years of pushing by UAE officials for visa-free travel, the first step was taken in February last year when the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour.
The 26 Schengen states are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Emiratis will also have visa-free access to eight non Schengen countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania, the Vatican, Andorra, San Marino and Monaco.
The UK and Ireland are not in the Schengen area but since the start of last year Emiratis have been able to apply online for a visa waiver for travel to the UK.
The Schengen agreement brings to more than 100 the number of countries for which Emiratis do not require a visa.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week released a list advising citizens on their rights and responsibilities under the waiver, and spelling out what it meant for them.
Emiratis welcomed the agreement. Sara Saeed, 33, a frequent traveller, said: “This is a relief. It saves a lot of time and money. I can now travel any time without the hassle of going to the embassy for a visa.”
Sheikh Abdullah said the deal was recognition of the status achieved by the UAE, and offered his congratulations to the leaders and people on the achievement.
“It will also allow our students more opportunity to know European universities better and choose whichever suits them best in the pursuit of their education,” he said.
He praised the admirable behaviour of UAE citizens while visiting European countries, noting they had been excellent ambassadors for their country. This “has been a decisive factor in the decision to exempt UAE citizens from the Schengen visa requirement”.
Sheikh Abdullah re-affirmed the desire of the UAE to establish effective and strong relations with important regional groupings. At the forefront of this is the EU, within the framework of the country’s active foreign policy, which seeks to build relations with all countries to serve the supreme national interest and enhance its presence both regionally and internationally.
He added that the passing of the resolution by the EU Parliament represented a major achievement for UAE diplomacy, which has proven itself to be an example of distinguished performance, thanks to its basic characteristics which include mobility and flexibility, the exertion of influence, making use of planning, and a comprehensive approach to work, as well as the ability to achieve the supreme national interests, both internally and externally.
Sheikh Abdullah also praised recent significant achievements such as the successful bid by the UAE to host the forthcoming International Energy Conference, in 2019 and the winning bid by Dubai to host the 2020 World Expo.