In one of the biggest shakeups of pandemic travel rules announced by officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), travellers heading to Dubai and Abu Dhabi no longer need a pre-departure COVID-19 test if they are fully vaccinated.
The change was announced by the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority on Friday and came into effect on Saturday.
Along with easing travel testing requirements, officials also eased a slew of other pandemic restrictions, including face mask rules which are no longer mandatory outside. Masking remains compulsory in most indoor settings, including on public transport and on aeroplanes but physical distancing rules have been completely dropped.
Dubai has built up a massive COVID-19 testing infrastructure and had required all passengers heading to the emirate to take an expensive and time-consuming RT-PCR test. Unlike other countries, the UAE has not embraced cheaper and quicker alternatives like rapid antigen tests.
As the Omicron variant quickly spread around the world, Emirati officials had tightened travel testing rules by reducing the timeframe for pre-departure testing to just 48 hours for travellers from many countries and adding secondary and even tertiary testing in some circumstances.
Now, nearly all testing rules have been dropped for travellers who can prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the UAE – The Russian developed Sputnik V vaccine is yet to be authorised by the WHO but has been approved for use in the UAE.
The UAE will only recognise travellers as fully vaccinated if their proof of full vaccination includes a QR code.
Travellers who aren’t fully vaccinated will still be permitted to enter the UAE but will need to take a PCR test within 48 hours of travel. Unvaccinated but recently recovered travellers will be able to skip the test requirement with proof of recent infection.
Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways was one of the few airlines in the world to require all passengers to have a negative PCR test before boarding one of its flights regardless of the rules in their final destination. Etihad immediately dropped that requirement as the new rules came into force on Saturday.
Officials reserve the right to conduct PCR tests on travellers on arrival and anyone subject to the test will be required to self-isolate until they receive their test result.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.