The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been partially open to Canadians for the majority of the pandemic. While Dubai was the first of its seven emirates to reopen, more and more emirates have been welcoming visitors with varying degrees of border controls.
Between sunny beaches and the world’s tallest building, the decadence and delight of Dubai and its incredible desert resorts eagerly await you. Here’s the key information you need to know if you’re planning a trip to the United Arab Emirates.
United Arab Emirates Travel Restrictions
The UAE is composed of seven individual emirates that each set their own border policies, although their entry requirements and restrictions are largely the same.
Currently, all tourists who are eligible for a visa on arrival to the UAE are permitted entry into Dubai, whereas Abu Dhabi also requires tourists to be from a country on the “green” list, which includes Canada.
The full list of “green list” countries are viewable on the Abu Dhabi official tourism site.
How Can Canadians Enter the United Arab Emirates?
Travellers are allowed to enter the United Arab Emirates via either of the two major international airports: Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH).
In order to enter either Dubai or Abu Dhabi, travellers must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. Rapid tests, antigen tests, and at-home testing kits are not accepted.
Only children under the age of 12 or those with appropriate health documentation are exempt from the PCR test requirement.
Upon arrival in Dubai, travellers are encouraged to download the COVID19 DXB Smart App to remain abreast of local developments. You can download it prior to arrival; however, it appears to only accept local phone numbers, so pick up a SIM at the airport in order to activate the app.
Meanwhile, for all intents and purposes, proof of vaccination will be required if you’re visiting Abu Dhabi. While vaccination is not required for entry, it is required to visit most public venues as of August 20, including shopping centres, restaurants, cafes, retail outlets, museums, cultural centres, theme parks, and resorts.
Abu Dhabi requires travellers to download the Al Hosn app, where your vaccination status is documented. In order for that to go smoothly, travellers must register with the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA), which involves completing the Abu Dhabi arrivals form and uploading a vaccine certificate.
The UAE’s list of approved vaccines includes Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca (including Covishield), Sinopharm, and Sputnik V; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not approved by the UAE at this time. Mixed vaccines are allowed.
Upon arrival, travellers are then given a United Identification Number (UID), which is used to activate the Al Hosn app and set up your “green status” with your proof of vaccination.
Testing & Quarantine Upon Arrival
Abu Dhabi requires a PCR test taken on arrival and another test on Day 6. Unvaccinated travellers will have to take an additional test on Day 9.
Travellers entering Abu Dhabi from a country not on the “green” list will have to quarantine for seven days.
Dubai currently conducts random testing upon arrival, mainly for symptomatic travellers. Most travellers will not need a test upon arrival.
Other emirates with smaller international airports also have their own requirements:
- If you’re flying into Sharjah, the entry test has a wider window of 96 hours prior to departure, and a PCR test upon arrival is required. A 14-day quarantine is mandatory for individuals that test positive.
- If you’re flying into Ras al Khaimah, the entry test has a wider window of 96 hours prior to departure, and a PCR test upon arrival is required. Self-isolation at your hotel or resort is required until you receive your test results, and a subsequent 14-day quarantine is required for individuals that test positive.
Testing & Quarantine Upon Return
Travellers must complete a negative PCR test within 72 hours of boarding their flight back to Canada. This is easily achievable throughout the UAE.
In Dubai, PCR testing can be done at Al Tadawi Medical Centre for AED 130 ($45) if you’re flying with Emirates. Otherwise, I’ve personally also gotten a drive-through test at Health Hub by Al-Futtaim on my trip to Dubai last year, and there are a variety of other clinics around Dubai that offer testing at a reasonable price.
In Abu Dhabi, passengers flying with Etihad Airways can book discounted PCR tests for AED 55 ($19). A rapid PCR test is also offered at the airport upon check-in for US$50, which is accepted for the purposes of boarding a flight to Canada.
The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, a popular destination for side-trips from Dubai, is even offering tourists free PCR tests with a minimum one-night stay in the emirate.
Fully vaccinated Canadians can return to Canada by air without undergoing quarantine. Canadians are considered fully vaccinated if they’ve received a full series of one of (or a mix of) Health Canada’s approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson – at least 14 days before entering Canada.
Unvaccinated Canadians will need to complete 14 days’ quarantine at home, as well as a self-administered test on Day 8.
Current Health Requirements in the United Arab Emirates
Most of the country is operating as normal. Hotels are allowed to book to 100% occupancy, while indoor dining, museums, recreational facilities, and other exhibitions can either operate at 80% capacity or have as many guests as possible while maintaining a 1.5-metre distance between tables.
In Abu Dhabi, there is a curfew between midnight and 5am, during which public transit stops operating and residents are encouraged to stay indoors.
As mentioned above, as of August 20, proof of vaccination on the Al Hosn app is also required to enter the vast majority of public spaces.
The UAE’s current mask policy is fairly strict, with masks being mandatory at all times when in public; violators are subject to a fine of up to 3,000 AED. This includes instances such as at restaurants (when you can take off your mask to eat), by the pool (at all times except when swimming), and at water parks (where a quick-dry mask is provided between rides).
When travelling within the country, Abu Dhabi is the only emirate that enforces its stricter controls (including a negative PCR test within 72 hours) when entering from a neighbouring emirate, such as Dubai. You can travel freely among the other emirates without encountering border controls.
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How to Get to the United Arab Emirates
From Canada, flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi are bookable on Aeroplan at a rate of 85,000 points one-way in business class.
Air Canada flies direct from Toronto to Dubai, while Etihad Airways also flies direct from Toronto to Abu Dhabi.
With the Gulf blockade having recently ended, a trip to the UAE could also be an opportunity to try Qatar Airways Qsuites from Montreal at a rate of 70,000 American AAdvantage miles one-way.
And if you’re an aspirational traveller looking to celebrate your first post-pandemic trip with some First Class flying, consider aiming for:
- Etihad Airways First Class from Washington DC, starting at 120,000 Aeroplan points
- Lufthansa First Class from a US gateway airport via Frankfurt or Munich, starting at 120,000 Aeroplan points
- Emirates First Class from Toronto or a US gateway airport, starting at 136,250 Emirates Skywards miles
The United Arab Emirates represents a very attractive destination for Canadians to visit throughout the fall and winter, albeit with a strict mask policy in place and proof of vaccination required if you’re headed to Abu Dhabi.
As the capital, Abu Dhabi was the most conservative emirate in terms of opening and welcoming foreigners, so it’s great to see that they are now actively inviting fully vaccinated travellers from “green list” countries into their borders.
In some countries, the negative PCR test requirement for returning to Canada can be costly and difficult to obtain, but the UAE makes PCR tests both easy to obtain and relatively affordable.
As always, you can refer to our Travel During COVID-19 Resource for Canadians for the most up-to-date information on travelling in the pandemic era.