Destined for Dubai? Find the right travel insurance for your journey to the desert playground
Dubai is an amazing travel destination. Home to the world’s tallest building, largest man-made islands and biggest indoor malls and entertainment complexes, this desert oasis is a must-see destination on many travel lists.
Do I need travel insurance?
Travel insurance with cover for medical expenses is compulsory when applying for visa to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Furthermore, a comprehensive policy provides protection against both the specific risks of travelling in Dubai and common travel concerns including:
- Emergency medical expenses. Healthcare is expensive in the UAE and travel insurance can cover hospital fees and medical repatriation if necessary.
- Cancellations and lost deposits. This includes cover if you're forced to cancel non-refundable flights and accommodation.
- Theft and stolen items. Cover your personal belongings including cash and expensive items.
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Here are some of the common travel risks to be aware of in Dubai.
- Terrorism. Smart Traveller has reported a number of terrorist attacks in the Gulf region.
- Sexual assault. A woman can be charged with having sex outside of marriage, even if she is a victim of sexual assault.
- Illegal behaviour. Smoking, drinking or kissing in public, swearing, harassing women and dressing immodestly can be considered criminal acts in the UAE.
- Drugs. There is zero tolerance for drug trafficking and the death penalty may be imposed. Some drugs readily available in Australia may also be illegal in Dubai.
- Heat. Temperatures in the desert can reach 50C in the hottest months of June to September.
- Traffic. Notoriously bad road conditions and driving habits mean road accidents are common.
While risks like these would seem to portray Dubai as a risky place to visit, it’s actually regarded as a relatively safe travel destination. Nevertheless, travel insurance that covers unexpected events would be a wise decision, as this recent case study demonstrates:
Sue and Mike's $30,000 Dubai claimSue and Mike were holidaying in Dubai when they decided to take a break from the air conditioned shopping malls and venture into the desert on a local guided tour. Unfortunately, the tour operator they chose did not regard vehicle maintenance as a high priority. After becoming stranded in a sand storm and nearly dying from dehydration, Sue and Mike spent a week recovering in a Dubai hospital. When the bill came to AUD$30,000, they were extremely glad they had taken out comprehensive travel insurance that included overseas emergency medical and hospital cover.
What what was covered?
- Ambulance and initial consultation
- Hospital bed for the week
- Food for the week
Out of pocket expenses
$125 in excess
A small safety investment can go a long way when you travel. Get travel insurance, even if you think the country is safe as you'll never know when it comes in handy.
As well as desert golf courses and indoor ice rinks, Dubai boasts a range of activities for those who like more of an adrenalin rush. These include
- Skydiving. Dubai is known for it's famous Palm Drop Zone, perfect for experiencing sky diving for the first time.
- Bungee jumping. Bungee jump over the jaw dropping city of Dubai in the Gravity Zone.
- Sand boarding. Ride a 4x4 up Dubai's dunes, then Sandboard down in style
- Indoor snowboarding. The famous Ski Dubai resort boast up to 22,500 square metres of indoor snow.
Conditions to be aware of
If you plan to take part in these more extreme activities, you will need to make sure they are covered in your travel insurance policy. Many insurers offer cover for a range of higher risk sports and activities, which you can take out for an additional premium. Conditions of cover may include having an appropriate driver’s licence (where applicable), using a licensed service provider and avoiding unnecessary risks.
If you suffer from an injury or illness while in Dubai and need medical treatment, you will need to contact your insurer’s emergency medical assistance provider in order to guarantee payment to the hospital on your behalf.
For minor treatments
If you only need minor medical treatment that can be taken care of with a visit to a doctor, most insurers will require you to pay the bill up front (usually anything under $2,000) and seek reimbursement when you get home. To do this, you will need to keep all relevant documentation including doctor’s reports and receipts and a police report if the accident was the result of a crime.
The health care system in Dubai
Health care in Dubai can be expensive and it isn’t covered by a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with Australia. The cost of a stay in a Dubai hospital varies according to the level of luxury you opt for, but even the more basic facilities can be expensive without travel insurance.
As well as your insurer’s emergency medical assistance provider, keep these numbers handy in case of an emergency:
- The Australian Consulate-General in Dubai. (971 4) 508 7100
- 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre. +61 2 6261 3305
- Police. 999
- Ambulance. 999
- Coast Guard. 996
- Fire Department. 997
- Water / Electricity. 991
Because the ambulance service is limited in Dubai, many people opt to drive themselves or take a taxi to hospital in an emergency, which usually turns out to be faster.
Entry to the UAE (including Dubai) is fairly straightforward for Australian travellers. No pre-arranged visa is required; you will be issued with a 30-day visitor’s visa upon arrival, which can be extended for a further 30 days. Here are the conditions of the visitor’s visa:
- You must not have a criminal record
- You must have travel insurance as a requirement of the Schengen agreement (if you're stay is greater than 90 days in the Schengen zone).
- You must not be travelling on business (otherwise you will need a special visa)
- You must not have any unresolved criminal charges or unpaid debts (otherwise you may be detained)
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months from your planned date of return to Australia
The best time to travel to Dubai is during the cooler months from October to April, when the temperature ranges from 24C to 35C. June to September can be very hot (up to 50C), and if you travel to Dubai during this time, you could find most outdoor activities unpleasant, forcing you to spend all your time indoors in the air conditioned malls and hotels. This is also around the time of Ramadan, when Muslims fast for a month and when public eating, drinking and celebrating are frowned upon. The cooler months are also the best time to enjoy some of Dubai’s most famous celebrations.
- Dubai International Film Festival. Held in December and featuring the best of African, Asian and Arab cinema
- UAE National Day (2 December). Featuring Dhow races, parades, traditional music and dance performances
- Dubai Shopping Festival. During January and February, Dubai retailers offer massive discounts and special promotions
- Dubai Tennis Championships. From February to March, top tennis players battle it out in Garhoud
- Dubai World Cup. In late March, the world’s richest horse race is held at Meydan racecourse
- Dubai Camel Racing. Held between October and April at the Nad Al Sheba racetrack
The currency in Dubai is the UAE dirham, which equates to around 38% of the Australian dollar. The notes in circulation are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 dirhams. It’s a good idea to exchange some of your Australian dollars for dirhams upon arrival for general day-to-day use, which can be done at the airport or at one of the many currency exchanges found in the malls. Major international credit and debit cards are also accepted in the larger shops, hotels and restaurants, and hotels will often exchange cash and traveller’s cheques for their guests.
Although street crime is relatively rare in Dubai, you should be aware of several scams that are sometimes perpetrated on unsuspecting tourists.
- Woman with sick child. A woman asks for money to get to the hospital to see her sick son or daughter. She promises to pay it back and provides a phone number but is never heard from again.
- Man with injury. A man with a gaping wound will ask for money to pay his hospital bill. The wound is actually faked using pastry and food colouring.
- Men with suits. One or two men carrying Italian designer suits claim to have been exhibiting them at a fashion show. They will offer to sell one to you because they don’t want to take them home to Italy.
- Family in car. A family sitting in a car that has supposedly broken down or is out of petrol asks you for money to get home.
- Door knockers. A woman with a crying baby knocks on your door and asks for money for food. There are often several women with babies working the neighbourhood together.
Here are the questions you should ask before purchasing travel insurance:
- Where am I going? In the case of Dubai, where health care can be expensive, you want a policy that includes cover for emergency overseas medical and hospital expenses.
- How long am I going for? Because Australians can only visit Dubai for a maximum of 60 days, you only need single-trip cover, unless you plan to return in the same year, in which case annual multi-trip cover may be worth considering.
- What are you going to do there? As Dubai offers a range of attractions, not all of which are covered as standard, you may want to include additional cover for the more adventurous activities.
- Are you taking valuable items? Bags are stolen or go missing regardless of destination, so if you’re taking electronics or jewellery, choose a policy that allows you to increase the benefit limits.
- Do you have any medical conditions? Pre-existing medical conditions must always be declared. If you end up in a Dubai hospital because of an undeclared condition, your medical bills won’t be covered.
As with all travel insurance, any policy you consider for your trip to Dubai will contain both benefits and exclusions that will influence the level of cover provided. Things to look out for include:
- Exclusions that unreasonably deny cover, such as no cover for alcohol related events, regardless of whether you were rolling drunk or simply had your drink spiked
- Excesses that are excessively high, meaning claims for lesser amounts are not covered and must come out of your own pocket
- Benefit limits that are too low or are capped at a certain amount, meaning they don’t cover the replacement value of your items
You can read more about travel insurance exclusions here. If Dubai is on your travel bucket list, an amazing time is virtually guaranteed. The safest way to enjoy this exotic Middle Eastern emirate is with comprehensive travel insurance tailored to your needs.