Summer travel is set to soar as pupils finish school, federal travel restrictions are eased and tourists prepare to return to Dubai.
Whether you’re a UAE resident looking to travel abroad or a visitor flying in, there is an important checklist to tick off before you set out.
It is crucial to understand that Dubai, which has its own crisis authority and immigration service, has different rules than the rest of the country.
You should make sure you have researched both the UAE’s travel rules and those of your destination to ensure you aren’t caught out.
Here’s your pre-departure checklist:
I’m a Dubai resident travelling abroad this summer
– Before you book your flight, you should apply to Dubai's immigration service, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, for permission to return. You will be given a file number which must be entered on your visa. You don't technically need this to leave the country – but you will need it to return. For peace of mind, you should apply before you go. If you are travelling abroad for more than 30 days, you must apply once you're abroad and well before your return flight.
– If you are flying with Emirates Airline, you need a GDRFA number to book your outward-bound journey. Other airlines do not require this.
– As a Dubai visa-holder you are not required by the emirate’s government or airlines to be tested for Covid before you fly. This is the main difference between Dubai and federal rules, outlined by the crisis authority Ncema.
– Despite this, many Dubai residents are paying the Dh370 cost of being tested as a precaution before they fly. "People do not want to be stopped at the airport with a positive test, so more patients are arriving for voluntary testing because they now want to travel," Dr Sukhant Bagdia, a pulmonologist at NMC Royal Hospital, told The National this week.
– If you live in Dubai but work on a visa from another emirate, you must follow federal rules, which include getting approval from the ICA/Tawajudi system, and which is explained below.
– When you land in Dubai you will be tested at the airport and must quarantine at home until you get the results, which take up to two or three days. You do not have to self-isolate for 14 days unless your test result is positive.
I’m a tourist visiting Dubai from July 7
– You should take a PCR nasal swab test up to four days before your flight to Dubai, in a hospital or private clinic in your home country. Make sure you take the results to Dubai with you. If the test if valid and recognised and you have no symptoms, you will not be tested in Dubai or quarantined.
– There is a list of clinics in more than 100 cities that are recognised by the UAE authorities. If you cannot find one, you can contact your airline for advice.
– If it is not possible to be tested before you travel, medics at Dubai airport will screen you when you land. In this case, you would need to take an airport taxi straight to your hotel and quarantine in your room until the results arrive, which can take up to two or three days. Visitors staying with family should isolate in a separate room with an en suite bathroom, where possible.
– Children of all ages must be tested.
I’m an Abu Dhabi or Northern Emirates resident travelling abroad this summer
– You should to apply to the federal government's ICA/Tawajudi system before you travel. This is a similar process to the GDRFA system. Some Abu Dhabi-visa holders leaving the country said they were not required to show it at Abu Dhabi or Dubai's departure gates, but it is definitely required to return.
– Abu Dhabi airport said it does not require passengers to show a negative Covid test before they depart.
Relatively few outbound flights have run in recent weeks, but Etihad and other airlines plan to expand operations this month.
– Once in your home country or destination, you will need to be tested before you return to the Emirates. You can do so by visiting one of the clinics listed here, and should plan this well ahead of your trip. This is an important difference with Dubai's system, which does not require this.
– On your return, you must present your negative test before you board the aircraft home to the UAE. On arrival, you must quarantine for 14 days – even if your test was negative – as a precaution.
– Regular inbound flights for tourists and visitors are not yet flying in to Abu Dhabi or Sharjah, among other emirates.
I’m an Abu Dhabi resident. Can I fly from Dubai?
– You can, but as a non-Dubai visa holder you should apply for ICA/Tawajudi approval before you leave. Even if your airline or the airport does not ask for this, you should apply before you go. Last month the government said about 200,000 people with UAE visas or residency were outside the country when the borders closed on March 19. It would be unwise to travel abroad without approval to return.
Contact tracing and health forms
– Whether you’re a resident or tourist, you can expect to fill out a health declaration form stating you feel healthy, and that you and your insurance will bear the costs of any Covid-19 treatment should you become ill.
– You must also download the government’s Al Hosn tracing app, which will deliver your test results and can help officials trace anyone you’ve been in contact with if you are later found to have the virus.
Travel and health insurance
– You should look carefully at your travel and health insurance, which can cost as little as Dh60 and is provided automatically with some bank accounts. If you or a relative tests positive for Covid-19 while abroad, you may need an extended stay in a hotel or apartment and have to rebook your flights. More importantly, you should ensure your family is well covered should you need potentially expensive hospital treatment.
It is worth looking at international health plans, which typically cover an extensive range of treatment around the world, but tend to be more expensive and require you to sign up for months or a year. Insurance companies such as Axa and Aetna, among others, provide such services.
This article has been updated to clarify that Abu Dhabi airport does not require passengers to produce a negative Covid test before they fly.